July 15, 2007
July 15, 2007
NAD C 325BEE Integrated Amplifier
The NAD C 325BEE carries on the tradition of NAD amps of the last 30 or so years: it's a no-frills but very capable reproducer of music. Its immediate predecessor, the C 320BEE, was the GoodSound! Product of the Year for 2005, and the C 325BEE appears to be another winning product.
The "BEE" suffix acknowledges Bjørn Erik Edvardsen, the C325's designer and NAD's director of advanced development. The C 325BEE ($399 USD) combines Edvardsen's innovations of great dynamic headroom, high peak-current capability, and Soft Clipping with two of more recent vintage. First is the PowerDrive technology, which NAD says "adjusts the power supply parameters of the amplifier to best cope with the actual musical signal and specific speaker loading characteristics." Second, the BEE Clamp prevents "thermal runaway" and helps the C 325BEE instantly recover from current overload. That's a good thing—thermal runaway can destroy an amp's output stage in the blink of an eye.
Visually, the C 325BEE is a near clone of most recent NAD gear, bearing a great resemblance to the C 320BEE. It measures 17" wide by 4" high and 11.5" deep, and is available in NAD's traditional Titanium (gray) finish or in Graphite (black). Some people find NAD components a bit sedate, but I find them refreshing. Their forms follow their functions—there's no glitz, no unnecessary flash.
Four large knobs control Volume, Balance, Treble, and Bass. There's also a pushbutton to bypass the tone controls. The five line inputs and two tape in/out connections (only Tape 1 has a monitor function) are controlled by a row of interlocking, light-touch pushbuttons across the center of the front panel. Much to my disappointment, there is no phono stage. However, one input, designated Disc/MP, can be connected to NAD's PP-2 phono stage via a jack on the rear panel, or to an iPod or other mobile player via a 1/8" stereo minijack on the front. There's also a 1/4" headphone jack under the Power/Standby button; plugging in a set of phones mutes the speaker outputs.
The C 325BEE comes with a full-system remote control that can operate any NAD tuner and/or CD player. There is also pre-out/amp-in link to allow insertion of a graphic equalizer or to feed the preamp's signal to an outboard power amp.
"I heartily recommend that you check out the C 325BEE and its stablemates"
Like the C 320BEE, the C 325BEE is rated at 50Wpc at 0.02% THD, but its dynamic outputs are rated well above that level: 110Wpc at 8 ohms or 160W at 4 ohms. As usual with NAD equipment, the circuit-board layout is excellent and the overall build quality is very fine, especially for $399.
Along with the C 325BEE, NAD supplied its two logical source counterparts, the C 525BEE CD player and C 425 tuner (reviews in the works for both). I also used the C 325BEE with my Sony CDP-X303ES CD player. The speakers were from NAD stablemate PSB (both are divisions of the Lenbrook Group): a pair of Alpha A/Vs I've had for about ten years, mounted on 24" PSB stands, and a newer PSB 5i subwoofer, all connected with 14-gauge zip cord. I'm not a huge believer in fancy interconnects, but I did use some that were heavier than those supplied with the NAD gear.
Immediately on setup, the NAD gear sounded smoother than the Onkyo mini-system that normally drives my PSB speakers. With the Onkyo, there's always an edge to highs that makes for an aggressive sound. That never happened when the PSBs were driven by the NADs. The sound remained sweet no matter the volume level—and I played it very loudly in a fairly large room (22' x 13' x 8.5').
That's not to say that the NAD sounded dull. Perish the thought! With highly percussive music—the bass lines in Fourplay's "Bali Run," from Fourplay [CD, Warner Bros. 26656-2] or Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al," from Graceland [CD, Warner Bros. R2 78904], for instance, or the snap of the snare roll in the opening of Steve Winwood's Roll With It [CD, Virgin V2 90946]—there was a real sense of the energy being expended. British audio writers often talk of rhythm and slam; if I understand the terms correctly, the C 325BEE has both in spades.
Any fears that 50Wpc might not be enough power were dispelled near the finale of Bach's "Little" Fugue in G Minor, transcribed for orchestra by Leopold Stokowski and performed by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops on The Fantastic Stokowski [CD, Telarc CD-80338]. At that point the orchestra is full on, led by a terrific bass-drum stroke. There was no sense of strain at all. Overall, it was a fantastic performance.
I've always believed that two of the best tests of a sound system are the female voice and the acoustic piano. In auditioning the C 325BEE with the C 525BEE CD player, I listened to a lot of Annie Ross, Rosemary Clooney, and Alison Krauss. A longtime favorite is Ross's original version of "Twisted," from Lambert, Hendricks & Ross's The Hottest New Group in Jazz [CD, Columbia/Legacy C2K 64933]. In that recording, Ross was, shall we say, intimate with the microphone—if she'd been any closer, she'd have swallowed it—so there are a lot of plosives that momentarily overload the mike just slightly. All that came through the NADs far better than when I played the same recording via the Onkyo mini-system, and yielded much clearer sound. Rosemary Clooney recorded Brazil [Concord Jazz CCD-4884-2] in 2000, fairly late in her career; her voice was huskier than in earlier years and her range had begun to falter. I'm convinced that, to hit the low opening note of the title song, she moved her chin up so that her mouth wasn't aimed right at the mike—if you listen carefully, you can hear a very slight remoteness. On the second, higher note, she returns to her normal position, and her voice is fuller. That came through well over the NAD—nearly as well as I remember it sounding with my reference system (Sony CD player, Linn Majik amp, and NEAR 50 me-II speakers; currently on the sidelines, awaiting completion of my new listening room). Alison Krauss's voice is so ethereal, especially on the title track of Now that I've Found You [CD, Rounder CD325], that you need a system that can handle delicacy. Again, no problem: with either my Sony or the NAD CD player, the C 325BEE integrated gave a magnificent performance.
For piano, I relied on a local release, 82hundred Brill [CD, Strugglebaby SBD-2302], which brings together five excellent Cincinnati jazz pianists on a single instrument: a Bösendorfer conservatory grand that resides at 8200 Brill Road, in Cincinnati's exclusive Indian Hill section. Its owner bought it for himself as a 50th birthday present, but decided to have some pros come in, along with some guests—and oh, by the way, he'd have the proceedings recorded and released (when one lives in Indian Hill, one often can afford to do such things). This is piano music at its best: great players, great instrument, excellent acoustics, terrific miking, and a good selection of tunes. My fave is Leroy Anderson's "Belle of the Ball," performed by Frank Vincent with Michael Sharfe on bass. A gently swinging waltz, "Belle" offers Vincent the chance to exercise his fingers as he goes from quiet hush to full force. The recording is good enough that it sounds fine on nearly any system, but on this one it was a real treat.
"... everything sounded great."
Another favorite is guitarist and song stylist John Pizzarelli, whom I've heard in person in fairly intimate surroundings. A standout on his Bossa Nova album [CD, Telarc CD-83591] is his performance of "Love Dance." It begins with Pizzarelli's voice, his nylon-string guitar, and a shaker to keep rhythm, later joined by a string quartet softly countering the melody. This is another intimate recording, and Pizzarelli is no Sinatra, but his voice transcends mere vocal quality, and his guitar playing is out of this world. Through the Onkyo system—which retailed for about $600, including a pair of small Polk speakers—some of the intimacy seems masked, though I'm not quite sure why. But with the C 325BEE and C 525BEE it was just clean, clear, and, again, sweet. As Pizzarelli scatted with both voice and guitar on the next tune, "So Danço Samba," Ray Kennedy's piano was nicely rhythmic and placed louder than the guitar for most of the track. Yet the soundstaging remained great, with Pizzarelli's voice and guitar centered and Kennedy's piano a bit up and to the right. Very nice.
Speaking of Sinatra, I've always thought that one of his finest, most feeling performances is "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)." I've heard that Sinatra recorded the song shortly after the end of his short-lived and tempestuous marriage to Ava Gardner. There's no doubt that Sinatra called up the emotions of a deep hurt when he sang the song—there's a palpable sense of resignation in his performance that doesn't come through some sound systems. It certainly came through the NAD C 325BEE.
GOODSOUND! GREAT BUY
There were minute, nearly imperceptible differences between the sounds the C 325BEE produced from the Sony CDP-X303ES and NAD's own C 525BEE. The NAD player had a livelier presentation of material, while the Sony player sounded a bit silkier. Overall, I preferred the sound of the NAD mates.
But no matter what kind of material I threw at the C 325BEE, it handled it with aplomb. From Bach to ZZ Top, from Count Basie to Alison Krauss—everything sounded great.
I've always very much enjoyed the NAD equipment I've auditioned. They've always struck me as emphasizing the right aspects of hi-fi: they sound good, they operate well, thought has been put into things that are often overlooked (for instance, how much boost/cut and at what turnover points do the bass and treble offer?), and they have enough inputs and outputs, but nothing frivolous. And NAD does all of this at prices that are little less than astounding, given the overall quality of workmanship and musical performance.
I found the NAD C 325BEE a no-frills but very capable reproducer of music. If you're not into glitz or hype or having the biggest, baddest stereo around, but instead are into the music, I heartily recommend that you check out the C 325BEE and its stablemates. It could be a great investment in satisfying sound.
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