TAS C 325BEE-C 525BEE Review
February 1, 2007
NAD C 325BEE Integrated Amplifier And C 525BEE CD Player
Barry Willis, The Absolute Sound Feb. 07
New Benchmarks for affordable audio
TWO YEARS AGO, PART OF MY PITCH TO TAS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF ROBERT HARLEY AND Senior Writer Chris Martens about joining the Absolute Multimedia team was my enthusiasm for affordable high-performance components. "The difference between ultra-high-end gear and mass-market stuff is smaller than ever before—and shrinking," I asserted, to wry smiles. "And somebody aught to be covering affordable excellence."
I've just come away from a marathon listening session involving a $299 CD player and $399 integrated amp, and I'm more convinced than ever that great sound, real soul-satisfying sound, can be had on a painfully tight budget. The gear that provoked this revelation is the NAD C 325BEE integrated amplifier and C 525BEE CD player, new entry-level two-channel components that, right out of the box, had a compelling synergy with a pair of DALI IDON 6 loudspeakers.
Launched at the CEDIA Expo in September, the NAD pieces were heralded as the latest evidence of the manufacturer's commitment to two-channel playback. Also implied in that announcement was NAD's commitment to the huge market of budget-minded music lovers. Incorporating many technical advancements—the "BEE" suffix stands for engineer Bjørn Erik Edvardsen, who was intimately involved in the design of both products—the two components are claimed by NAD to establish new benchmarks for affordable audio.
After extended and enthusiastic listening, I believe this claim is not mere marketing hype. Using Nordost SPM interconnects and speaker cable—I've previously justified this "not-in-the-real-world" hookup by explaining that SPM is so transparent that it reveals all of the components' contributions to the soundscape—the NAD/DALI system delivered stunning detail and layered harmonic textures that were completely unexpected from equipment in this price niche.
The Best of Boubacar Traore [Wrasse] was the first CD I popped in the player, and what an eye-opener it proved to be. The world-weary voice of the Malian bluesman and his backing chorus overlaid with alto-relievo plucked strings and drums emerged in the room like an orchestrated swarm of butterflies.
Perhaps subconsciously expecting a flat lifeless soundstage and a bit of cheap hi-fi shrillness, I was completely unprepared for both the degree of detail and sheer musicality that the NADs delivered. Chrissie Hynde's heartbreaking live cover of Ray Davies' "I Go To Sleep" from The Pretenders' The Isle of View [Warner Bros.] had a dimensionality that we normally associate with much more expensive electronics, and seemed as immediate as it must have been for the audience that sat in rapt silence through her performance. Pacing and bass impact were great too. On Shadowland [Sire], K.D. Lang's thumping country tearjerker "I'm Down to My Last Cigarette" picked me up and carried me along like a high-rolling big rig on an open stretch of interstate. Putting the Gershwin classic "Summertime" through the up-tempo jazz blender is, I suppose, an experiment worth trying, and club diva Kitty Margolis makes an admirable attempt in Heart & Soul/Live in San Francsisco [Mat-Kat]. Her three-piece band works up a lather in this extended improv, every drum whack and every plucked bass string fully articulated by the NADs and DALIs.
Although rated at only 50Wpc, the C 325BEE is claimed to have dynamic power of 210Wpc into 2 ohms, meaning it can deliver enormous bursts of current into very low-impedance loads without bogging down. This ability is enhanced by the "PowerDrive" technology found in all NAD amplifiers which NAD says, "adds huge reserves of dynamic headroom without adding cost by ingeniously marching the amplifier to the speaker load ...adjusting the power supply parameters of the amplifier to best cope with the actual musical signal and specific speaker loading characteristics."
"NAD's C 325BEE/C 525BEE combo is one of the best bargains in audio today."
The amps good sound can also be attributed to "trickle-down" improvements derived from NAD Masters Series products, including a "new DC Servo that eliminates sound coloring capacitors in the signal path," and a "patented distortion-canceling circuit that uses both feedback and feedforward to reduce distortion and improve amplifier stability. The optimized circuit layout lowers internal impedance, improves grounding, and eliminates subtle magnetic distortions."
In use, the C 325BEE was very quiet—residual noise was barely audible with an open input and the volume control turned fully clockwise. But with high-sensitivity loudspeakers like the IKON 6s, there was never any need to push the volume control beyond the 10 o'clock position. The amp was also tremendously dynamic, with open, effortless sonics.
The chassis design is a classic NAD black box and looks almost identical to products the company built 30 years ago. A nice feature is the removable jumpers between the preamp and power amp sections, providing expansion options not otherwise possible. In addition to using the C 325BEE as a preamp feeding a separate power amp, you could also use the pre-out signal to drive a subwoofer, by replacing the pre-out/main-in jumpers with Y-adaptors.
The amp comes with an easy-to-use remote control that also includes all the transport functions for the CD layer. Its volume control operates smoothly and in small increments, allowing precise adjustments to listening level without abrupt changes. The remote offers no backlight at this price point, unfortunately.
"a simply amazing amount of musicality at a ridiculously low price"
The C 525BEE disc player is good sounding by a tad rough ergonomically. This isn't a serious criticism, but an observation that the right decisions were made about where to cut costs to bring the machine to market at under $300. The drawer is undamped and makes some noise as it slides in and out, and the blue-and-white backlit display doesn't have enough contract to be read across the room in high ambient light.
But where it counts the player is very well executed, with improved optical tracking circuitry and a 20-bit Burr-Brown DAC chosen for low-level linearity and resolution of detail. Borrowing much more upscale designs, the C 525BEE has separate power regulators for the digital and analog sections, for lower contamination of the analog output by digital noise. The player also features metal-film resistors and polypropylene capacitors in key areas for accurate frequency response, in addition to high-quality Burr-Brown op-amps in the output section.
Recognizing the likelihood that the C 525BEE might be used as a transport feeding an external DAC, NAD engineers buffered the coaxial output with a transformer from the converter itself. The digital output's 75-ohm impedance is, as NAD claims, ideally matched to digital cables, reducing the potential for jitter or timing errors. Like the remote for the amplifier, the CD player's remote is simple and easy to use, and also without a backlight. Unlike its sibling, it doesn't operate the amp.
The owner's manual says the C 525BEE plays standard CDs plus CD-Rs, and warns about potential playback glitches using off-brand recordable blanks. The player handled every factory-issued CD perfectly, but got a bit balky with one of my Memorex compilation discs—one that's played in every other disc player without a problem, including a now very long-in-the-tooth Marantz CC-65SE changer.
NAD's C 325BEE/C 525BEE combo is one of the best bargains in audio today. The pair offers superb detail, tremendous dynamics, excellent soundstaging, and a simply amazing amount of musicality at a ridiculously low price. I found them not only easy to listen to for many hours at a stretch, but also downright compelling. You may, too. TAS
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