Home Theater and Sound Reviews the L73
March 5, 2007
NAD has a long-standing reputation for producing quality hi-fi and hometheater equipment. To the value conscious consumer, NAD has stood for performance, value, and simplicity. I could immediately tell that the subject of this review, NAD's L73 DVD player and A/V receiver ($999 USD), embodied at least two of these virtues. Combining a DVD player and a 5.1-channel A/V receiver in one chassis provides value and simplicity. What was still to be determined was its level of performance.
The L73 is visually striking. NAD has replaced their familiar charcoal-gray case with a bright, elegant, metallic one with a titanium-finish front panel. In the center of that panel is an oval, blue-fluorescent display, and directly below that a disc tray of the same size and shape. At the far right is a large volume knob, and below that an input selector, which scrolls among the L73's internal DVD player and FM/AM tuner, and various external sources. To the left side of the display is a multipurpose controller: you can fast-forward or fast-reverse a DVD, or move back and forth through radio station presets or DVD chapters. Below this controller is a panel that covers a headphone jack and a video input for connecting a camcorder or other audio/video device. Various other functions are controlled via 11 small, oval buttons in three groups elsewhere on the front panel.
A cooling fan takes up the left end of the rear panel. In the left middle are binding posts for the five speakers of a 5.1-channel surround-sound system, and to the right of those are CAB/SAT and VCR analog inputs. The L73 also includes a 5.1-channel input for allowing another disc player to be hooked up, such as HD DVD, Blu-ray or SACD. Farther to the right are component-video inputs and outputs, two composite-video inputs, two S-video inputs, one coaxial digital in, an optical digital input and output, a subwoofer output, and 12V trigger output.
NAD rates the L73 at 45W into 8 ohms, 20Hz-20kHz, <0.08% THD, all five channels driven simultaneously. NAD calls this a Full Disclosure Power rating; in this case, that means that an honest-to-goodness 45Wpc with real loudspeakers, and not—as is often the case with massmarket receivers—a simulated load on a test bench.
The L73 has a short list of features. You get plain-vanilla Dolby Digital, DTS, and Dolby Pro Logic II, not the 6.1- or 7.1-channel variants. The L73 also includes NAD's Enhanced Ambience Retrieval System (EARS), a proprietary digital-signal processing (DSP) program for extracting sound information from two-channel recordings and redirecting it to the center and surround channels and subwoofer. Another DSP program, Enhanced Stereo, redirects two-channel information intact to the surround speakers.
The L73's simplicity continues: there is only a single 80Hz crossover point for bass management. Although this doesn't offer the options that a control freak such as I would like, I can forgive NAD this limitation. The 80Hz point is ideal for bookshelf speakers—which, I discovered, worked very well with the L73.
The L73 plays DVD-Audio as well as DVD-Video discs. For this, NAD includes 24-bit/96kHz Crystal Sigma-Delta A/D and D/A converters. NAD's designers reportedly paid a lot of attention to the L73's DACs, using a single master clock to keep the timing of the digital signal correct, thereby not inducing jitter in the digital audio signal, which some say is audible. The ADCs work with all two-channel sources, but not 5.1-multichannel signals, which are passed through intact. The DVD player can output a progressivescan signal through its component outputs. The L73 also plays back VCD, SVCD, JPEG, and MP3 discs.
"...don't be misled by that 45Wpc power rating—the L73 can rock"
NAD's HTR-L73 remote control is versatile, with the ability to learn the codes of your other components. However, although the remote is backlit, the buttons' silkscreened labels aren't visible in the dark.
You need a video display to set up the L73. This can be good news—it makes setup pretty easy—or bad, if you want to use the L73 in an audio-only system. I learned this when, during the course of this review, I sold my front projector. While waiting for the new one to arrive, I found it difficult to navigate DVD-A discs.
The L73's graphic user interface (GUI) is pretty straightforward and easy to navigate. I hooked up the receiver to my front projector using component-video cables, which allowed the GUI to be displayed. In the Audio menu, I set the distance from my seat to the front speaker to 9', the center channel to 9', and the surround speakers to 5'. The L73 takes the simple approach to channel-delay settings, not taking into account distance differences between the listener and the front left versus right or one surround speaker versus the other. Because I used PSB's Alpha B1 bookshelf speaker system for this review, I set the speakers to Small. I then adjusted the levels using the L73's built-in test tones and a sound level meter. The subwoofer level ended up a bit high for my tastes, so I turned this down a few dB.
Despite its relatively modest specs, the L73 performed well in my home theater. The visual quality of the player's progressive scan DVD signal was very good through its component outputs. While watching The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, I was impressed with the L73's gorgeous picture and impressive depth of image. Even on a large (92") screen, I noticed no MPEG decoding artifacts.
Nor did the L73's sound quality disappoint. Although rated at only 45Wpc, its highcurrent amps provided better control over speakers than what I've heard from cheaper, mass-market receivers. The L73 seemed ideally suited to bookshelf speakers such as the PSB Alpha B1s, which I used extensively. At both low and high volume levels, the L73 was always in control of the PSBs, sounding smooth through the upper-bass region and all the way up through the highs. The treble never sounded shrill or fatiguing, even at high volumes. Watching The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, I compared the NAD alone with my 200Wpc Anthem MCA 30 power amplifier. The higher-powered Anthem had a bit more control over the Alpha B1s, producing tighter bass during the racing scenes in the parking lot. The NAD L73 should be ideal for bookshelf speakers in a smaller room; with that combo, you should be treated to involving, high-quality home-theater sound.
"Its sound is superlative, and its picture quality is very good. If you desire a simple solution for a simple home theater, I can't think of a better way to spend a thousand bucks."
Listening to NAD's EARS processing was a pleasure. I compared the multichannel layer of Diana Krall's The Girl in the Other Room SACD/CD [Verve B0002293- 36] to the two-channel "Red Book" track processed through EARS. The sound on the track "Temptation" was of course better from the multichannel SACD layer, but through EARS, the CD track was closer to it than I would have thought. Krall's voice was solidly in the center-channel speaker, and the room ambience surrounded me, just as with the SACD track.
Because the L73 is a one-box solution with a built-in DVD player, I compared it to both my Sony DVP-NS975V SACD player and my Sony STR-DA5ES A/V receiver. In terms of video quality, the L73 was a notch above my Sony DVP-NS975V through its component outputs at 480p. While watching The Two Towers, I noted that the picture quality was smoother, with a more film-like appearance through the NAD than through the Sony, which looked a bit more blocky. The Sony, however, has an HDMI output, which can resize the output to 720p or 1080i. My Sanyo PLV-Z5 projector's native resolution is 720p, so the Sony's 720p output had more detail—evident in the mountain scenes and in close-ups of Frodo's face—than was provided by either player at 480p through its component outs.
The NAD L73 lacks a lot of the more recent features included in the Sony STR-DA5ES, such as Dolby Digital Surround EX, DTS-ES 6.1, and DTS Neo:6. All three of these formats provide separate signals for six speakers and a subwoofer, while the L73 is strictly a 5.1-channel receiver. As well, the NAD's crossover point is fixed at 80Hz, whereas my Sony receiver will allow crossover frequencies from 40Hz to 200Hz, and a different crossover point can be set for each speaker. Such features will mostly appeal to enthusiasts and reviewers (such as I) who change out their equipment a lot. But for a small-room, no-fuss, one-box home-theater receiver, the NAD L73 has all the features it needs.
Although it lacks some of the features and conveniences of more expensive and/or elaborate A/V receivers, the NAD L73 is still a formidable component when used in the context for which it was designed: as a one-box solution for smaller rooms and/or simpler systems. And don't be misled by that 45Wpc power rating—the L73 can rock. Its sound is superlative, and its picture quality is very good. If you desire a simple solution for a simple home theater, I can't think of a better way to spend a thousand bucks.
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