Home Cinema T 163 and T 973 Review
May 28, 2005
With the NAD combination we're much closer to upmarket receiver money: for the price of the most expensive systems in this test, you could easily buy the NAD processor and amp. A good DVD player, an accomplished speaker package and a projector. That's got to be a tempting prospect—provided, that is, the performance of these components isn't a million miles off what the really costly stuff can achieve.
The T 163 is the size of many a conventional AV receiver, and that bulk isn't made up of fresh air: there's an internal FM RDS/AM radio tuner as well as processing for Dolby Digital EX/DTS-ES, Dolby Pro-Logic II/DTS Neo:6 and a range of proprietary modes for music sourced from stereo. EARS (Enhanced Ambient Recovery Circuit) gives a surround mix, with a solid front soundstage, while Matrix 7.1 puts you in the centre of the music. Stereo Enhanced 1 is a party mode, while Enhanced 2 uses the rear speakers for background listening.
The unit also has a stereo bypass mode for pure audio listening, and here are 7.1-channel analogue inputs for a DVD-A/SA-CD player along with the outputs to feed to the power amp, the latter buffered for low impedance and high current to feed long cable runs. There's also generous conventional input provision, both analogue and digital, plus video switching on component, S-Video and composite connections, extensive remote options, and a Zone 2 output with its own "credit card" remote control. All the inputs are assignable and can be renamed, and up to five surround/bass management presets can be easily stored.
The power amp is a simpler device, but makes up for this with grunt, mass and bulk. This is a full seven-channel amplifier, capable of delivering 140W per channel, and each amp is a separate section, with only the power supply shared. The company goes on to point out that the amp can deliver 450W per channel into a 2 ohm-load for momentary peaks, uses Class A FET input and driver stages for each channel, with a gain control available on each input, and high-quality discrete output stages.
NAD's soft clipping system, long a feature of its amps, protects speakers should you drive it beyond its limits—which should be pretty tricky—and there's also the company's PowerDrive circuit topology, which allows the amp to sense the impedance of the speakers with which it's being used and adjust itself to give peak performance at all times. And that's about it for the power amp, other than the provision of 12V trigger switching to match that on the processor.
The combination is simple to set up and use, thanks to the T 163's clear onscreen menus and the ability to get into the channel levels directly "on the fly", enabling adjustments to be made while you're watching a movie. Set-ups can also be saved in five AV presets, allowing you to have one balance for movies, for example, another for TV and a third for music. The processor can also be controlled from a PC using optional software, or by industry-standard integrated control systems.
In use the NAD duo only displays one minor flaw: when a quiet sequence follows some protracted action at very high levels, the rush of the T 973's triple cooling fans can be a little obvious, but careful location of the amp, bearing in mind that space is needed for air circulation, will muffle this. That and the lack of Pro-Logic IIx processing aside, this is a highly competitive package given the price, and will delight buyers wanting the benefits of a two-box amplifier package without having to spend a fortune.
The T 163's channel steering is fast and accurate: we're not too sure about NAD's 10/10 rule, which suggests that you'd need to spend ten times more to get ten percent more performance, but, for the money, this processor is very good indeed. It has a clean, enjoyable sound with music in stereo and multi-channel, and plenty of thrills with movies.
"For just over £2000, this is a steal. The processor is accurate and dynamic, and that big power amp is one of the best value-for-money set-ups on the market."
But the T 973 is even more of a star, with bags of power on tap, and a really deft punch and drive, it even sounds convincing with some of the more expensive processors here. In fact you might consider partnering the Rotel RSP-1098 with the NAD T 973 power amp to offer a value-for-money seven-channel system—with the power amp hidden away, no-one need ever know the trousers don't match the jacket!
For even less money the NAD system is a fine choice, undercutting the next more affordable package here by £2000+, and still more than capable of powering out Flight of the Phoenix in scintillating fashion. Perhaps the bass is a little softer and the atmosphere slightly closed in, but that's about it—and as a first step into the field of home cinema separates, the NADs have much to commend them.
Here we have a highly flexible processor with real audiophile/home-cinema-enthusiast appeal, partnered with a power amp capable of storming force, both for instantaneous effects and sustained running at high levels, not to mention highly enjoyable with a wide range of musical styles. The conclusion is simple: this isn't the best home cinema combination in this test, but it's hard to argue with the value for money on offer. Feature Hi-lights
1. It looks very NAD!
Looking more like a conventional AV receiver than any other processor in this group, the T 163 comes in the usual NAD styling, which is either purposeful or drab depending on your point of view!
2. Solid engineering
As with other products in this company's line-up, the rather basic look allows all the money to be spent under the lid: the company believes in engineering first, and style a close second
3. The power pack
With 7x140W on tap, the T 973 has the company's PowerDrive circuitry to let it cope with tricky speaker loads. The soft clipping system is the final line of protection against severe abuse. Get connected
As we've come to expect from this group, the NAD processor has flexible input and output socketry, with only digital video and digital multichannel audio connections being absent.
4. Input control
Each channel on the T 973 power amp has its own input gain control, which can be handy if you're using speakers of wildly differing sensitivities, or simply to make the most of the power.