Sound and Vision Reviews T 785 AV Receiver
March 11, 2010
The A/V electronics maker NAD may be more easily defined by what it is not than by what it is. NAD is not a brand of a huge Asian multinational firm, whether Japanese, Korean, or Chinese. It is not a small, high-end American company. And it is not a private label for some huge big-box chain.
What NAD indisputably is, is unique on today’s A/V scene. The firm is small and international, with design offices in London, Toronto, and Hong Kong, a corporate center in Ontario, Canada, and distributors around the world, with manufacturing contracted to select Asian factories, usually on a product-by-product basis. And the products themselves eschew features and flash for solid performance basics, frequently with a proprietary technological twist or two. This approach necessarily means that NAD is not often first to market with a new standard or processing mode, but it also means that it can enjoy a period of contemplation and refinement before jumping on (or off) this or that bandwagon.
Such would appear to be the case with the firm’s new top A/V receiver, the T785. NAD is a good 12 to 18 months behind the big Asian brands when it comes to HDMI 1.3 connectivity, Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD Master Audio processing, and high-def video upconversion — all features found in its new receivers. But the firm has used that time wisely, designing entirely new modular underpinnings for the T785 and its sibling T775 and T765 receivers (and T175 surround preamplifier). In essence, these receivers devote half of the component’s chassis to a seven-channel amplifier with a unique, twin-toroidal power supply and the other half to a computer-like “card cage” with five slots to accept modules.
As it stands, the T785 comes with three standard modules that deliver the input/output basics. In addition to these, it features the AM200 audio module, which incorporates Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio processing (and all the rest of the Dolby and DTS broods, of course) via high-speed Texas Instruments audio DSPs, and the VM200 video card, which delivers top-tier video processing and onscreen graphics via Sigma Designs VXP silicon. Future options will offer at least some protection against the obsolescence so dreaded in the A/V world. An HDMI v1.4 module is currently in the works, and third-party options — including a Control4 home-automation integrator — are also pipelined.
The T785 looks handsome in the classic NAD way, with its dark-charcoal-gray chassis, simple Euro-styled controls, and uncluttered front panel. Hookup was facilitated by nicely staggered, heavy multiway binders for all seven speaker connections, a generous complement of HDMI inputs, and Audyssey’s automated setup routine for speaker calibration and MultEQ room/speaker correction. The NAD receiver’s crisp onscreen displays are simple and text-based, but they pop up and down ultra-fast — a very welcome attribute.
So is NAD’s new flagship T785 the perfect A/V receiver? Pretty damned close
Audyssey’s routines worked their familiar magic, determining my speaker layout and setting appropriate crossover points in all cases, as well as dialing in relative channel levels that correlated nicely with my subsequent checks using a handheld meter.
The first job of any high-end A/V receiver is to deliver audio amplification that rivals that of serious separate components, and in this the T785 succeeds admirably. Its 7 x 120 watts output effortlessly drove my everyday speaker suite, which is slightly lower in sensitivity than typical systems, with both authority and finesse during both stereo and multichannel listening.
With the T785 cracking the whip, that old warhorse the Saint-Saëns C Minor “Organ” Symphony on a Telarc CD delivered its full complement of aural power and glory. The final movement blends the breadth and depth of the late-classical orchestra with that of a large pipe organ, with results that can easily overwhelm an audio system. But the NAD never displayed anything but controlled, musical, tonally refined playback. It also displayed impressive brute force. When I cued up the multichannel DVD-Audio disc of Donald Fagen's Kamakiriad, I was rewarded by truly studio-control-room levels of dynamic smack and clean, full-range SPL.
An equally important task of any flagship A/V receiver is to provide convenient, competent switching and integration of standard- and high-def video sources, and the NAD shone here as well. The T785’s HDMI switching was quick (well, as quick as HDMI switching gets...) and glitch-free, and its video processor delivered clean 1080p upconversion from analog and digital sources. What’s more, the T785’s extensive noise-reduction and other video-processing options delivered one of the better presentations of standard-def video I’ve seen when suitably tweaked, working particularly well with lesser-quality signals. (No, the T785 doesn’t make crappy broadcasts look just like hi-def, but when you’re watching a poor-quality SD college hockey game, it helps a lot.)
A final item worth mentioning is NAD’s Audyssey implementation. Rather than just contenting itself with Audyssey’s own notion of “corrected” room and speaker response, NAD worked to implement an additional “NAD EQ” curve, available from the DSP Options menu. Compared with the Audyssey standard “target curve” (also userselectable), this yielded a subtly but distinctly warmer, less “analytical” timbre, most noticeable on music passages rich in mid-treble such as massed strings. On my system, which is quite flat and extended at high frequencies, I indeed preferred it.
As expected, the receiver passed my favorite Blu-ray Disc movie-scene obstacle courses without breaking much of a sweat. Thanks to NAD, I watched the Bollywood-inspired Across the Universe with more pleasure than expected. The T785 presented its just-okay Dolby TrueHD soundtrack with great transparency and precision, although it also had the effect of making the continual Auto-Tuning of the two leads’ singing voices painfully evident.
The T785’s audio and video performance was immensely satisfying, but it was its sheer everyday usability that stole my heart. The supplied HTRC1 remote controller is a heavy, handsome object that eschews touchscreens or modal operations for well-spaced keys, sensible graphics and key shapes, full backlighting, and almost perfectly intuitive operation. It also carries two of my favorite features: always-available, dedicated volume-trim keys for surround, center, and subwoofer channels, and a DISP key that pops up a translucent bottom-of-screen panel showing information like current surround mode and A/V signal details.
Now, the T785 is short on features per se — to its credit, in my book. One that it does have is an unusually intelligent multizone scheme, which includes a supplied, secondary cardtype remote controller for one of the three possible remote rooms/zones, and an assignable stereo-mix digital output for another. A second that deserves special mention is NAD’s Preset scheme, a simple set of five memory locations. Each of these can store a combination of surround-mode and DSP options (which include the all important Audyssey MultEQ, Dynamic EQ, and Dynamic Volume settings), tone controls, picture controls (aspect ratio, edge enhancement, noise reduction, and brightness/contrast), plus speaker- setup selections including all the size, crossover, and level calibrations or adjustments. A moment’s reflection should convince you of how powerful this simple arrangement is: You might design one preset for full-bore, fulldynamics home theater playback and another with moderate Dynamic EQ/Volume processing plus brighter pictures dialed in for casual, daytime viewing.
So is NAD’s new flagship T785 the perfect A/V receiver? Pretty damned close if your interest, like mine, lies more in pure performance and less in features or flash. It’s not cheap, but the top end of a maker’s lineup rarely is, and the unit’s excellent performance, peerless livability, and unique antiobsolescence engineering justify the cost.
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