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Home Theater Mag Reviews the T 747 AV Receiver

May 24, 2010

Read to Takeoff

Paring life down to the essentials is a fine art. You should aim to reduce the quantity of stuff in your life and increase the quality of what remains. This may take some work. You may need to sit down with the entire contents of your sock drawer and discard all the ones with rather large holes. But then you experience the joy of buying (and wearing) beautiful new socks. And the daily need to find two good ones that match will become less onerous.

Designers of A/V receivers have a major sock-drawer problem. They rarely throw anything out, and they continually add new stuff of varying merit. For the consumer, this makes buying and using the product harder than it should be. First, you have to read spec sheets to find the things you really want (gray, argyle, light wool, black, casual, cotton, etc.). Then, you need to match the feature to a line in the user interface or a button on the remote. Is it this button? No. Is it in this menu? No. What does the manual say? Where is the manual? Where am I? Is this Venice?

Choices, Choices

To keep consumers from roaming the world barefoot, NAD limited the T 747 A/V receiver’s features the things that make the AVR sound good and things you’ll likely use. You get Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio lossless surround decoding, four HDMI 1.3 inputs, Faroudja DCDi video processing, and auto setup and room correction. As with all 2009/early 2010 A/V receivers and surround processors, you don’t get 3D [At press time NAD informed us that three of its higher-end Modular Design Construction AVRs, the T 765, T 775, and T 785, priced between $2,499 and $3,999, will be dealer upgradeable to HDMI 1.4a and 3D.—Ed.], and you don’t get a lot of useless DSP modes or height and width channels.

Some of NAD’s choices may be debatable. For example, to access a digital music library, the T 747 has a port for an optional iPod dock, but it doesn’t have a network connection for PC access or Internet radio. It includes Dolby Virtual Speaker, which simulates surround effects from two speakers. But it doesn’t have Dolby Volume, which tames movie soundtrack extremes, nor does it have its THX or Audyssey equivalents. The old-school Dolby Digital Midnight Movie mode is present, but it only works with old-school Dolby Digital signals.

My contact at NAD told me it’s prohibitively expensive for a small company to implement the new low-volume listening modes. That may change someday, and NAD is considering Dolby Volume, et al., for future models.

NAD primarily aims to appeal to the surround audiophile on a budget. As one of the legendary “low end of the high end” brands, NAD puts your $1,299 to work. The T 747 produces listenable and nourishing sound, and it ignores most other distractions.

The front panel is simple, per NAD tradition. It features a navigation ring at far left with a couple of buttons, including one that cycles among the listening modes. The other side of the display hosts a pair of small source-select buttons and a volume knob. The remote control is simple and surprisingly attractive, with a high-gloss black front and a rounded back. The graphic user interface (GUI) is also reasonably attractive, but the font is unusually tiny. NAD likely designed it with extrabig screens in mind. With my city dweller’s 32-inch set, I had to sit on the floor in front of the TV to see the menus.

Like most AVRs, this one includes automatic setup and room correction. Unlike Audyssey’s and Trinnov’s versions of this technology, this one allows only one position for the setup microphone. The manual says that 5.1 and 7.1 configurations are eligible for automatic setup. (I performed a manual setup for my 5.0 configuration.) The system emits test tones and senses the noise level around each speaker, the number of speakers, as well as speaker distance, level, and size. Then, it applies equalization to each channel. You can turn off the EQ later if you prefer the straight sound of the AVR. You can also use multiple speaker settings (large, small, with or without sub) with the AVR’s presets. It performed beautifully without EQ.

One small quirk turned up in the manual setup. The center and surround channels were 10 to 12 decibels lower than the left and right (when set at zero). It turned out that the input I was using was set to Dolby Virtual Speaker. When I changed it to Dolby Pro Logic IIx, the levels evened out, and after I set them with a meter, none of the differences was larger than 2 dB. This was a pretty trifling matter. It was a setting and not a design flaw, and it possibly wasn’t even a factory-default setting.

NAD’s official power rating is 60 watts per channel with all channels driven. In stereo, the number rises to 110. Like Harman Kardon and a few others, NAD specifies power conservatively, so don’t jump to the conclusion that this product is inferior to rivals that claim to have 100 watts or more per channel. In my listening sessions, I was surprised by the bass this AVR could muster with my reference speakers’ five 7-inch woofers. This thing’s power supply is no lightweight.

While this AVR isn’t laden with junk features, it has a few slightly unusual ones. It can set up to five A/V presets that each encompass multiple settings. These include the preset Name, Listening Mode (Dolby Pro Logic IIx, etc.), DSP Options (such as lip-sync delay), Tone Control (Bass, Treble, Defeat), Speaker Setup (Large, Small, etc.), and Front Panel Display Setup (you can dim the display or set it to confirm commands and then fade). You can press the remote’s A/V PSET key and a numeral to summon any A/V preset you choose. Someone at NAD has been feeling our pain.

In lieu of the DSP junk modes that clutter most AVRs—Hall, Church, Jazz Club, and other hole-riddled sock-drawer no-hopes—NAD provides a single EARS mode. According to the manual, it “extracts the natural ambience” from stereo recordings, but it “does not synthesize any ambience.”

For analog purists, the T 747 has an analog bypass mode that takes DSP out of the loop. This means bass management settings are not in force, although the tone controls do work.

Associated equipment for this review included five Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 speakers run full range, an OPPO BDP-83SE Blu-ray player, Luxman PD-289 turntable, Shure V97xE cartridge, and Bellari VP530 tube phono preamp.

Moving Pictures, Moving Sound

Every so often, I come across a movie soundtrack that’s so restlessly inventive and evocative, it outclasses the rest of the movie. This was the case with the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack of Push. It’s the story of misfits who have various kinds of superhuman powers and are relentlessly pursued by power-mad military bureaucrats. I’m not knocking the acting, writing, or directing, but the continuous gush of effects and musical snips that filled the soundfield was an emotional experience in itself. It showed off the NAD’s bottom end and reached low enough to activate my room’s slight standing wave while retaining much of the character of true midbass. The warm midrange established a high comfort level that let me keep my hands off the remote for three-quarters of the movie’s running time. I finally dropped the volume toward the end, when the action ramped up.

The Shawshank Redemption is in Dolby TrueHD. The 1994 source material and mixing style show their age, with limited panning in the surround channels. However, they still served the movie’s dramatic ends. Morgan Freeman’s voiceover, recorded with virtually no reverb, seemed to place the distinguished flesh-and-blood actor right in front of the speaker. The most ambience-rich scene is the highly emotional episode in which Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro goes through the prison PA and penetrates hundreds of souls, including mine. The orchestral parts, while not without a slight source coloration, were fulfilling.

Leatherheads’ DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is graced by a Randy Newman score. It’s richly permeated with Dixieland jazz. It’s also informed by the composer’s unique ability to access emotions and atmospheres that are uniquely and proudly American. It was a treat to listen to this high-quality, beautifully recorded multichannel music via the NAD. It felt like slowly eating a large box of chocolates, but without the disastrous side effects. Newman has a cameo as the pianist in a rowdy speakeasy, but George Clooney and Renée Zellweger carry the narrative and mine the scripted humor for all it’s worth. As with the other films auditioned, dialogue was clear as a bell.

Hit Me Again

Although I know what to expect from a lossless source and an audiophile AVR, the DVD-Audio side of Jane Monheit’s Come Dream with Me DualDisc still whacked me upside the head. One of the nation’s best living jazz singers walked right into my listening room. True, the surround mix placed her graceful, luscious voice more in the front left and right speakers than in the center. For systems that don’t have perfectly matched center speakers, this is an unwise accommodation. Still, the sense of unmediated contact with a great singer (and minimal instrumentation) truly stunning, moving, and a lot of other shopworn words that don’t quite live up to the experience. You had to be there—and the beauty of it is, with a moderately priced AVR and a still-in-print multichannel disc, you can be there.

I decided to remain in the high-resolution universe, and I played through the four sides of The Who’s Quadrophenia LP. The album’s opening soundscape, pungent with rain and surf effects, benefited from the Dolby Pro Logic IIx stereo-to-5.1 music mode. The drums had the right weight—I didn’t need whatever extra punch a sub could have provided. Bass filigrees occasionally popped tunefully out of the mix. Monumental throat-shredding vocals, slashing guitars, zingy synth, and percussive piano formed towering walls of sound. Thanks to the musically adept amplification, the joys of vinyl, and the warming effect of my tube phono preamp, I could hear all of it as it was meant to be heard—loud. When I thumbed through the photo booklet that came with the gatefold LP, I remembered how scary some of these troubled-teen songs seemed to me when I was younger. Now they have the resonance of ageless art.

NAD recommends its EARS DSP mode for “natural, acoustic” stereo recordings. Henri Honegger’s triple-LP set of Bach solo Cello Sonatas qualifies. EARS had a natural sound, remarkably like the DPLII Music mode. If you know my reviews, you’ll recognize that as a compliment. You might argue that this set (recorded on analog tape, delivered on LP, and enhanced by the Bellari’s one little tube) is the perfect storm of retro analog technology. You might consider it sacrilege to pass it through DSP-driven stereo-to-surround adaptation. But I trusted my ears over dogma. Both DPLII and EARS were an improvement over stereo, with or without the analog bypass mode. The sound was more open, better focused, more coherent, and more audiophile (that word again). Note to my heirs: At press time, my nearly faultless 1976 Telefunken pressing, bought as a $6 cutout, was selling for more than $500 on eBay. Maybe some day I will convert it into a rent payment. But not yet.

True, NAD isn’t the first name that you think of in connection with surround electronics. Its well-known two-channel pedigree is almost a liability in our neck of the woods. But the T 747 prioritizes what a home theater listener really needs. Chiefly, it delivers impeccable amplification that can tell a cinematic story and weave a musical spell. The NAD’s one serious omission, largely for movie listening, is one of the new low-volume listening modes. However, in practice, the sound was so sweet that I didn’t fiddle with the master volume except in extreme cases. For music, and with speakers of appropriate sensitivity, this product does the job like a master. Pull your socks up and give it a listen.

Lab Mesurmente from Home Theater Magazine Video Test Bench from Home Theater Magazine

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