home | user reviews | User Review: M51 Direct Digital DAC - A true winner - excellent sound (very "undigital"), and great user conven

User Review: M51 Direct Digital DAC - A true winner - excellent sound (very "undigital"), and great user conven

November 30, 2012

Products: M51 Direct Digital DAC

This DAC is a great bargain and a true winner! And it has great functionality as well - I guess it takes to be a brave Canadian to dare add a HDMI input to a high-end DAC! Every DAC in the market should have had it for the last 5-8 years - but only by the late 2012 we finally get a great HDMI DAC. Here is my love story with NAD M51. Last year I have finally moved from my trusty-rusty Benchmark DAC1 to a reference-level dCS Delius. The sonic difference was of substantial magnitude to justify the price hike (the highs were especially delightful), but some seemingly small issues have been bugging me constantly. First was very long signal locking time - I usually lost first second or two from the start of each album. The second was the DAC's inability to get 192 kHz signal from single wire, be that S/PDIF or AES/EBU (to input it I would have to get some expensive professional hardware to receive the signal and break it into 2 x mono AES/EBU). These two things irritated me a lot, and I sold the dCS this summer, despite its wonderful sound. I needed a normal unit that can accept 192kHz on optical and coax, and I wanted HDMI. I was preparing myself to shell out about $4k +30% import tax for a highly modified Integra DHC-80.3, when I heard about some rumours about a super high-tech DAC from - guess who! - NAD, which had the features I wanted, and which was selling out like crazy in Moscow (I live in Russia), with customers lining up for preorder. We had no local dealers in my region so I flew over to Moscow to listen to it, and it made some very positive impressions working into big McIntosh monos and Sonus Faber Liutos, and confirmed the good impression with a small wooden Air Tight EL84 intergated working into Triangle Antals. I bargained, got some discount and took the DAC home. And guess what - it sounded a lot better than the shops demo! It was as if my ProAcs started to smile when playing. The most important aspect of the sound was ease - it sounded very analogue, "undigital", without anything to hurt my ear or irritate my "music nerve". Much better than Benchmark, and though highs were not as airy and super-detailed as dCS, I wasn't missing it anymore. This relaxed, balanced but detailed presentation with good atmosphere and stage, good tone colours, ever so slightly warm and forgiving of poor source material made it very enjoyable for long term listening. AND it syncs well! AND it has a remote volume! And it finally has a HDMI. A few suggestions for the fellow audiophiles - take time to experiment with analogue interconnects - I found M51 to be dramatically responsive in this regard - more so than many other hi-fi products I know. In my system, I was more successful with solid core silver (Audioquest) rather than with silver plated (Nordost) or silver litz (Kimber) cables. Need to try Mundorf SGW305 some time. Ok, now to some negative impressions: 1. The PC driver as of Dec. 30th 2012 does not support Windows8. What a bummer!!! NAD, please get ready with both x86 and x64 Windows 8 drivers ASAP! 2. When I switch my display from HDMI-connected M51 to some other source while playing music from HDMI source on M51, the DAC looses sync for some 3 to 5 seconds. I hope this can be corrected in the future firmware upgrades. Otherwise, it works like a fine Swiss watch. I can only congratulate NAD with a really fine product, an example of the great things that can happen when out of the box thinking meets great engineering. I know this little wonder will make quite a bunch of music lovers around the world smile happily! Thanks, NAD, I am enjoying music quite a bit more than I used to. Keep up the good work! Vladimir Afaunov - Sochi, Russia

Vladimir - Afaunov

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