Goodsound reviews the C 326BEE Integrated Amplifier
April 12, 2010
NAD Classic Series C 326BEE Integrated Amplifier
The name NAD has long been synonymous with quality and affordability. The company was founded over 30 years ago, its name an acronym for New Acoustic Dimension. According to NAD’s website, the founders wanted to use their ingenuity to provide the customer with maximum value, but not at great expense. According to them, going for simplicity and high value encourages the kind of thinking that produces excellence. Having heard of NAD for many years, I was eager to spend some time with their Classic Series C 326BEE two-channel integrated amplifier.
The C 326BEE ($499 USD) measures 17 1/8"W x 4"H x 11 1/4"D and is fairly light for an integrated amplifier, at only 15.21 pounds. Those familiar with NAD gear have come to expect simple appearance -- NAD has long used gray cases and faceplates, and themselves call their amplifiers and receivers "the gray boxes." While the gray helped to exemplify the no-frills nature of the NAD design, I was excited to learn that NAD had produced an entirely black component in the C 326BEE.
On the black-plastic front panel are, from right to left: knobs for Volume, Balance, Treble, and Bass, followed by buttons for Tone Defeat (to remove the Treble and Bass controls from the signal path), seven inputs (Tape Monitor, Video, Aux, Disc, Tuner, CD, MP), a 3.5mm mini-jack for a Media Player (MP), a 1/4" headphone jack, and the Standby/On button. Above the jacks are the IR sensor and the Soft Clipping indicator. While the C 326BEE’s knobs are made of plastic, they felt sturdy.
While nothing unusual, the C 326BEE’s rear panel has ample room for connectivity and all the connections you need: seven RCA inputs, one RCA output, a preamplifier output, two subwoofer outputs, a toggle switch for Soft Clipping, a power on/off switch, inputs for a 12V trigger and IR sensor, and a receptacle for a detachable power cord. There are also a single pair of binding posts that are excellent for banana plugs or bare wires, but cumbersome with spade connections.
The C 326BEE is accompanied by the NAD SR8 universal remote control. The SR8 is pretty unremarkable, and only the device selector, at the top, lights up.
A word about the selectable Soft Clipping feature. According to NAD, this gently transforms the music waveform as the amp’s power output approaches the point of clipping, and thus distortion, resulting in much clearer sound while protecting the speakers. For the duration of my time with the C 326BEE, I left Soft Clipping turned off and Tone Defeat turned On.
The C 326BEE’s power-amplifier section is claimed to provide a continuous output of 50Wpc into 8 ohms across a frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz. This differs from the usual way manufacturers list the power outputs of amplifiers: at only one frequency, such as at 1kHz. During my time with the C 326BEE, it was connected to a Sony CDP-CE375 CD changer and two Klipsch RF-35 tower speakers.
I began with "Haven’t Met You Yet," a single from Michael Bublé’s latest album, Crazy Love (CD, Reprise 520733). I’d been listening to the song over and over on the radio, and was excited to hear the CD version through the NAD -- well-recorded crooner music can produce incredible depth of soundstage, with great tonal variation. I was disappointed. "Haven’t Met You Yet" sounded average, with apparent lacks of enthusiasm and energy. It sounded very prominent, almost screechy, in the highs, while the mids and lows were weak. A bland sound was not what I was expecting, which left me with a dilemma -- was it the recording or the component? I then played another track from Crazy Love, "You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You." This is more of a classic crooner tune, but it was obviously recorded differently from "Haven’t Met You Yet" -- it sounded vibrant, with dynamic tonal changes apparent through multiple voices. The C 326BEE preformed well, handling the dramatic tonal differences without hesitation.
It became obvious that the problems I heard in "Haven’t Met You Yet" had nothing to do with the C 326BEE. In fact, with "You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You," the C 326BEE did a fine job of producing a neutral listening experience. While the NAD didn’t provide any immediately distinctive characteristics, I could appreciate this track, which begins as a classic crooner-piano duet. With the entrance of double bass, the C 326BEE assisted in reproducing the warm sound of the recording that rounded out the bottom end. Just when I was fully engaged in music, a muted trumpet entered. The C 326BEE provided a neutral reproduction -- no screechy trumpet. In short, the C 326BEE passed along the good news about well-recorded tracks just as faithfully as it informed me about poorly recorded ones.
"...the C 326BEE integrated amplifier supports NAD’s reputation for creating affordable yet high-quality hi-fi components"
Keeping with the crooner theme, I moved on to Tony Bennett’s performance of "The Way You Look Tonight," from the soundtrack of My Best Friend’s Wedding (CD, Work Group 68166). The track begins with an acoustic piano beautifully recorded in a well-developed soundstage. The NAD re-created the image of a lone piano sitting center stage with a single spotlight in a 1940s club. I’ve listened to this track many times, but through the C 326BEE I noticed, for the first time, a background noise when Bennett enters. At first I thought it was a rustling snare-drum head too close to the microphone. Instead, it seems to be static or hiss, and was clearly revealed by the NAD. Overall, the C 326BEE did a good job while adding nothing to and subtracting nothing from this track -- a very positive thing -- while also helping me identify an imperfection I hadn’t heard before.
The C 326BEE performed consistently well with rock and alternative music, providing my speakers with plenty of power. Listening to "Never Gonna Be Alone," from Nickelback’s Dark Horse (CD, Roadrunner 180202), I was pleasantly surprised at the powerful sound the C 326BEE produced. The highs on this track have clearly been emphasized, and this leaves the midrange relatively recessed. While the bass wasn’t overly prominent, the lows were clear and defined. Overall, the sound was a touch thin, which I attribute to the recording vs. any effect produced by the C 326BEE.
"excellent sound quality at a reasonable price"
I then cued up "Caoineadh Cu Chulainn (Lament)," from Bill Whelan’s Riverdance: Music from the Show (CD, Universal UK/Zoom 7920825). This features Davy Spillane on uilleann pipes, which produce very distinctive highs, balanced on this track by a full string orchestra. When I first listened to Riverdance, I was impressed with its recording quality -- there’s a significant sense of depth that allows Spillane’s pipes to evoke the maximum emotional effect. Again, the C 326BEE impressed me with its ability to provide a neutral, natural sound. The depth of the soundstage remained impressive, while the uilleann pipe was presented with great clarity. I could envision some kilted Celt standing alone on a mountain peak, playing a lament for his slain brethren. When the strings entered, they added excellent dimension to the soundstage. The C 326BEE was never lacking in its ability to sustain this complex mix.
While I can’t say that the NAD C 326BEE added any particular unique quality to my listening experience, it did a fine job of providing a neutral and unbiased one. The C 326BEE did quite well with a series of musical genres, and had no difficulty with large dynamic shifts. To its credit, and as one would expect, the C 326BEE shone when playing better recordings. Conversely, the lack of refinement in poorly recorded tracks became painfully audible.
Overall, I found that the C 326BEE integrated amplifier supports NAD’s reputation for creating affordable yet high-quality hi-fi components. In the end, for those looking for a solid integrated amplifier that puts out a healthy 50Wpc and excellent sound quality at a reasonable price, they should consider the NAD C 326BEE.
. . . Jarrett Dixon
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