Categories :

NAD System Review and Giveaway

By Eric Benoit | Testing Ground | January 15, 2020
Respond

In partnership with Bluesound, NAD, and PSB, Qobuz USA is excited to announce a Hi-Fi giveaway valued at over $4,000!

You have the chance to win a streaming Hi-Fi system comprised of the NAD C 658 BluOS Streaming DAC, NAD C 268 Stereo Power Amplifier, and PSB Imagine X2T Tower Speakers, along with a one-year subscription to Qobuz Premier (Hi-Res streaming).

The giveaway is free-to-enter; simply enter your email and contact information here for a chance to win (contest closes February 14th, 2020, 11:59pm EST):

http://qob.uz/nad-giveaway

While you’re at it, please share the link with your friends, and check out our comprehensive review of the full system below.

NAD Streaming DAC, NAD Power Amplifier, and PSB Speakers - An Immersive All-in-one Digital Hi-Fi System

When it comes to multi-room audio in top-notch quality, things don’t get much better than Bluesound or any product that runs BluOS—the solution for audio enthusiasts who want the convenience of whole-home wireless streaming with true Hi-Res audio capabilities.

Just purchase a BluOS product, add in a subscription to Qobuz, and you’ll be able to stream in Hi-Res using your mobile device, tablet, or computer with a compatible set of speakers.

As all audiophiles will attest, however, a high-quality digital source is only the first step towards streaming nirvana. The choice of streamer, amplifier, speaker, and listening room all make a huge difference in the final quality of sound reproduction.

For medium to high-end listening setups, Lenbrook International’s luxury brands NAD and PSB adopt a more traditional Hi-Fi approach than Bluesound while including the convenience and quality of BluOS streaming.

Qobuz was sent one such system to test and review as part of a giveaway sweepstakes. We came away impressed by the functionality, convenience, and quality on offer, and we highly recommend the system for those audiophiles looking for a top-notch, yet good value setup.

The System

If you’re looking for a brain to power your listening room, let’s just say the NAD C 658 BluOS Streaming DAC (MSRP $1,649.99) has a very high IQ.

It is packed with functionality: a BluOS network audio streamer and ROON endpoint; D/A converter; preamp with line, optical, coax, and MM phono inputs; headphone amplifier; 2-Way aptX HD Bluetooth receiver and transmitter; two proprietary MDC slots for optional future upgrades; your choice of balanced or single-ended outputs for connecting to a stereo power amplifier; 2 independent subwoofer outputs; and a USB socket to play back from a USB thumb-drive or hard disc. It also contains a gigabit ethernet port and dual band Wi-Fi for connecting to your home internet network.

It ships with a calibration microphone for Dirac Live Room Correction software with the option for advanced users to upgrade from the included trial to a Dirac Live Full Frequency version.

The NAD C 268 Stereo Power Amplifier (MSRP $899) is a Class D amplifier offering two 80W stereo channels of output power into 8 or 4 ohms—making it an ideal choice for medium-sized tower speakers—or 300W for mono when bridged with another unit.

Though it is much simpler than the C 658 and does not include a preamp, it, too, contains some tricks up its sleeve, including your choice of balanced or single-ended inputs and a trim control. A generous power supply ensures that the amplifier has ample dynamic power with very low distortion or noise.

The passive, three-way PSB Imagine X2T Tower Speakers (MSRP $1,399/pair) utilize a dual front-ported design with a titanium dome tweeter, one 5 1/4” midrange driver, and two 6 1/2” woofers. The drivers are manufactured from clay/ceramic reinforced injection molded polypropylene. The speakers support bi-amping with four binding posts per speaker, but potential buyers should be aware that the C 268 power amplifier only offers one output per channel and cannot be used for bi-amping on its own.

The Sound

In order to gain useful information about each individual component’s sound, we separated and compared them individually to the other listening setups in our studio.

NAD C 658

We tested the NAD C 658 network audio streamer on Wi-Fi against a Mac mini server (2018) running the Qobuz native app with the PreSonus Studio 1810c USB-C DAC. Both were connected via single-ended input to the Cyrus ONE HD integrated amplifier and Monitor Audio Silver 50 bookshelf loudspeakers with SVS SB-1000 subwoofer.

For the purposes of this review, we did not test the gigabit ethernet connection. A wired ethernet connection, however, usually results in a more stable network signal and optimized sound as compared to the wireless components in most gear.

The C 658 improves upon our desktop setup in two distinct and significant ways: its streaming components are designed and implemented specifically for low-noise and high-performance audio, and its DAC is implemented with the streaming circuit in mind. We expected it to run rings around our system’s noisy USB outputs and operating system, and indeed it did in the Qobuz US studio.

Beginning with Illinois Jacquet’s 1956 release Swing’s the Thing, the benefits of using a network audio streamer rather than a computer quickly became obvious. The low-noise, audio-optimized C 658 provides a cleaner and more defined soundstage, more detail, and more lifelike dynamics than our USB DAC streaming setup.

Highly dynamic and detailed recordings benefit more from the streamer as compared to modern rock, electronic, and other heavily compressed genres. For example, Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City (2013) gains only subtle benefits from the C 658 compared to our other setup, whereas Alfa Mist’s 2019 Qobuzissime-awarded Structuralism—a modern jazz masterpiece—gains a noticeably more immersive and defined soundstage.

Switching to the included headphone amplifier with our 250 Ohm Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro headphones, we auditioned the 2019 Blue Note Tone Poet reissue of Wes Montgomery’s excellent album Smokin’ At the Half Note. On such a wonderful recording, the C 658’s headphone amplifier performed admirably, driving the high impedance headphones with ease and providing slightly more detail than the headphone amplifier included with the Cyrus ONE HD.

Finally, we couldn’t help testing the C658’s MM phono stage with our U-Turn Orbit turntable— although we are a streaming service, we still love our vinyl! Spinning Matmos’ 2013 album The Marriage of True Minds, we were impressed by all aspects of the phono preamp, which offers gobs of detail and a well-defined soundstage. It slightly improved upon the ONE HD’s already-excellent phono stage.

NAD C 268

We tested the NAD C 268 power amplifier by comparing it to the ONE HD integrated amplifier. For playback, we used our studio’s Mac mini streaming setup with the Monitor Audio Silver 50s/SVS subwoofer.

Playing Moodymann’s jazzy house track “Downtown” from 2019’s Sinner: KDJ-48, we were struck by the C 268’s effortless musicality and depth. The ONE HD is slightly harsher and more clinical, especially in the high frequencies, whereas the C 268 has a more laid-back presentation. We were impressed by the switching power supply included in the unit, which provides a relatively noiseless background, even without using a power conditioner.

Overall, we were left with the feeling that the asking price of $899 for this amplifier is a steal for the sound quality it provides.

PSB Imagine X2T Tower Speakers

We utilized our studio’s Mac mini/ONE HD streaming setup with the PSB Imagine X2T Tower Speakers and compared them against the Silver 50s.

While keeping in mind the size difference between the stand-mounted Silver 50s and the tower speakers, we focused on the frequency response, soundstage, transient detail, and dynamic response of each set of loudspeakers to make our comparisons.

Beginning with Teodor Currentzis and Musicaeterna’s sublime 2014 release of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Le Nozze de Figaro, we were struck by the X2Ts’ fun, effortless, and relaxed presentation. The speakers simply disappeared, leaving us to enjoy the opera without thinking at all about the sound quality. In comparison to the Silver 50s, the X2Ts impressed us most with their immersive sense of depth and timing.

Switching genres to DJ Shadow’s “Kings and Queens” from Our Pathetic Age (2019), some shortcomings of the X2Ts became apparent as we listened to the busy beats and high frequency transients in the rapping. The speakers are tuned with a slight lower mid-range boost and neutral high-end, making them slightly less bright in comparison to the Silver 50s. Additionally, the driver material produces slightly deadened transients compared to the 50s, which makes the speakers easier on the ear but offers a bit less detail than we would prefer.

For those who prefer a clinically accurate studio-style sound, the X2Ts are not our first recommendation. If you’re looking for a deep, effortless soundstage with a fully immersive presentation, however, they may be the ideal choice for you.

Dirac Live

We tested the Dirac Live capabilities included with the C 658 to find out whether the overall sound of our listening room could be improved by the software and included measurement microphone.

Setup and measurements took about 20 minutes to complete. We downloaded Dirac Live’s software on our studio computer and followed the onscreen instructions to record a series of full-frequency test tones using the X2Ts. The software analyzed the recordings and created a user-adjustable frequency response and impulse response calibration file that we exported and saved directly to one of five available slots in the 658’s firmware with the BluOS app. Finally, we enabled the correction filter by navigating to the audio settings menu in the app.

The limited trial version of Dirac Live that ships with the C 658 only corrects the frequencies between 20Hz and 500Hz rather than the full frequency range, and we were unsure if it would be enough for us to judge the software’s overall quality. Still, we were eager to test out the trial version, and we were especially interested in the impulse response correction feature, which we have not seen included within a room correction software before.

Even using the limited version, we came away very impressed with its performance. Auditioning the Tomeka Reid Quartet’s Old New (2019, only available in download) with the correction filter applied smoothed out the X2Ts’ lower-midrange hump and allowed the double bass to sit more comfortably in the mix. Similarly, Braindrops by Aussie punk rockers Tropical Fuck Storm (2019) gained a noticeably tighter and more satisfying low end thump throughout its entirety.

At just $99 for the fully featured version, we feel investing in the software alongside your C 658 is a no-brainer.

Conclusion

Costing just under $4,000 in total, this BluOS-enabled NAD system with PSB tower speakers gives you a whole lot of Hi-Fi for your money. Add in a Qobuz Studio Premier subscription and a turntable, and we’re hard pressed to imagine a more enjoyable all-in setup. The network audio streamer, power amplifier, and speakers all work together beautifully to disappear completely when playing a good recording.

Studio perfectionists may want to consider other speaker options with faster transients and a brighter frequency response, but for those who prefer a more laid-back, relaxed, and immersive sound, this system could be perfect for you.

Don’t forget, someone in our audience will be the lucky recipient of this entire system for free—enter our giveaway for a chance to win this fantastic set of gear (contest closes February 14):

http://qob.uz/nad-giveaway

Good luck!

What you've been reading