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Best iPod Speaker We Have Heard-NAD VISO 1

November 30, 2011

Hands-on Review: NAD VISO 1 iPod Music System

By Gordon Brockhouse

Best sounding iPod speaker dock

Canadian-owned NAD has a worldwide reputation as a manufacturer of high-quality amplifiers. This is its first iPod speaker, and the first of a series that departs from the traditional audio-component mold.

Priced in Canada at $700, the VISO 1 is aimed at listeners who want audiophile-quality sound, and are willing to pay for it. A strikingly handsome product, the VISO 1 has a cylindrical body covered on the front in black grille cloth, with input and output jacks on the back. A brushed aluminum ring gracefully suspends the iPhone-compatible charging dock above the centre of the speaker itself.

All-Digital

The dock is different from those in many iPod speakers in that it accepts a digital audio stream from the attached iPod, rather than an analog audio signal. That means the iPod's analog circuitry is bypassed, and all processing is performed by the NAD system.

In the case of the VISO 1, that pays significant dividends, because it's an all-digital design, employing technology from the company's acclaimed M2 Direct Digital Amplifier. NAD's all-digital design allows for high power output from a compact package, with very low noise and distortion.

In a one-piece system like the VISO 1, the Direct Digital design has another benefit. The sound can be tailored, or "voiced," to complement the characteristics of the speakers and cabinet. The result, NAD says, is frequency response that is unusually linear for a compact one-piece system. For example, the VISO 1's processor is programmed not to deliver lower bass sounds than the speakers can produce, because that just causes distortion. Overseeing the acoustic design of the VISO 1 was Paul Barton, head designer for PSB Loudspeakers, a major Canadian brand and NAD's sister company.

Bass is produced by a single 5.7.5-inch ported woofer, powered by its own 50-watt digital amplifier. Mids and highs come from dual 2.75-inch full-range drivers with one-inch aluminum domes in the centre, each with its own 15-watt amp. The VISO 1 uses an active digital crossover to direct the sound to the appropriate drivers. Not only is a digital crossover more precise than the analog crossovers typically used within speaker cabinets, it's also more efficient, so that more power from the amplifier reaches the speaker.

NAD VISO iPod speaker system wins gear of the year award

Wireless Sound

Unlike many new iPod speakers, the VISO 1 doesn't support Apple's AirPlay technology. But it does have built-in Bluetooth, so that you can transmit sound wirelessly from an iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, or from any device with Bluetooth. That can include Android tablets and smartphones, BlackBerry devices, and many recent notebook PCs. The NAD employs Bluetooth aptX, a version of Bluetooth optimized for audio quality.

While Bluetooth is more universal than AirPlay, and easier to set up initially, it's a little more complex in day-to-day use. For wireless playback, you have to pair the your device with the VISO 1 just as you would with a Bluetooth headset. There's no problem with pairing your device with multiple Bluetooth products, for example a headset when you're out and about, a speaker when you're at home. If you've paired your music player with more than one Bluetooth product, you'll have to go into the Settings menu to select the product you want to connect to.

Other than Bluetooth pairing, using the VISO 1 is dead-simple. To play music from an iPod or iPhone, just put it in the charging dock in the centre. You can rotate the player for a horizontal view, which is nice if you're watching a video. On the back is a set of component-video outputs, so you can listen to the soundtrack of an iPod movie through the VISO 1 while watching on an HDTV. There's also an optical digital input for connecting a CD or DVD player. The rear-panel USB port is strictly for firmware updates.

To switch sources, you press the "S" key on the supplied remote control, or on the metal ring above the iPod dock on the VISO 1. The VISO 1 body also has keys for raising and lowering volume. In addition to source-selection and volume keys, the remote has mute, pause/play and track forward/back buttons.

Listening

The big question, of course, is how does the VISO 1 sound? In a word, glorious. To put it another way, it sounds like a pair of PSB speakers powered by an NAD amplifier. Audiophiles will know that that's high praise indeed. The VISO 1 can play loudly enough to fill a large room with sound, and it delivers astonishingly deep bass for a one-piece system.

Listening to "Ain't No Cure for Love" from Leonard Cohen's Live in London album (recorded onto iTunes in AAC format at 320kbps), I was impressed by the solid, well-controlled bass. Cohen's gravelly baritone voice was produced without a touch of boom. Dynamics were amazing for a one-piece system.

A wonderful album that I had purchased from the iTunes store (Now Would All Freudians Please Stand Aside?) by classical pianist James Rhodes sounded big and powerful, with superb heft in the bottom octaves, and lots of sparkle and expression up top.

Occasionally, I noticed a papery quality on female vocals ("Personal" by Stars for example). And while the VISO 1 produces spacious, dynamic sound, it can't match the spaciousness and dynamics of a high-quality conventional component system. But that's an inevitable result of its form factor. The Digital Direct design enables the VISO 1 to push the laws of physics to their limits, even if it doesn't transcend them.

Occasional nitpicks aside: there's no question in my mind on the merits of this system. The bottom line: this is the best-sounding iPod speaker I've ever heard.

PLUS

  • The best sound we've heard from an iPod speaker
  • Can play loud enough to fill a large room
  • Fabulous styling

MINUS

  • No support for AirPlay

 

To download the full issue and article from Here's How, click here.

For information on NAD VISO 1's "Gear of the Year" Award, click here.

Related News and Reviews

VISO 1 Wireless Digital Music System

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