home | user reviews | User Review: C 165BEE Stereo Preamplifier - Published in Audiophile Society of NSW October 2012 Newsletter

User Review: C 165BEE Stereo Preamplifier - Published in Audiophile Society of NSW October 2012 Newsletter

May 16, 2013

Products: C 165BEE Stereo Preamplifier

What can $1200 buy you these days in hi-fi? According to the man in the street, it is still far too much to spend on a whole system, let alone one component, as “I can get fantastic sound out of my $200 iPod dock”. Well if anyone is of such an opinion, I have a bone to pick with you, a femur! Having got this one off my chest, this amount is significant, as it is what I paid JR for a second hand FVP in 1991; it is also what member TL paid for this new NAD full-featured preamplifier including MM and MC phono sections earlier this year. He brought it to my home for a head to head with the FVP, which has been upgraded several times in the intervening years. This review is a report of these findings, with the recordings below played through both preamplifiers. This is a slimline 430mm wide preamplifier, with the compact size due to extensive use of surface mount technology. Of particular interest to me was the switchable MC loading, which I will describe in detail when I report my sonic findings. The hyperlink is included above for further information about the preamplifier, including the instruction manual. After a period of warm-up with a spare AC cable, I initially tested out the line stage with the Meridian CD player with the Mercury CD I was playing at the time, which reflected the its transparency, which was an encouraging start to the session. All listening was subsequently done on vinyl. TL decided to raid my Miles Davis recordings (I have 36 titles, and multiple copies of certain famous ones), hence the dominance of his titles being used in this comparison. We started on “Sketches of Spain” from 1960, which has his famous reworking of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, with the trumpet part replacing the guitar solo. We started with the first load setting, R1 which sounded detailed, but lacking in air. Selecting the second load setting (R2), the music “clicked” into focus, with restoration of the air surrounding the instruments. On the last (R3), music sounded too lush and smooth. We agreed that R2 sounded the most musical, and we stuck with it for the rest of the session. To explain these settings quantitatively, R1 was 40 ohms, R2 100 ohms, and R3 600 ohms. I am not surprised that R2 sounded the best, because this is exactly what I load the Skala into the FVP, hard-wired, and hence I have resisted JR’s advice to change it to 22 ohms, for “a more dynamic sound”. I am primarily reporting on the sound of the NAD preamplifier, not the recordings themselves. However, it was easy to distinguish between the sonic qualities of the originals and reissues which I have listed below, as well as the origin of different pressings. As TL mainly listens to classical music, listening to all this jazz took him out of his comfort zone, and allowed him some useful input into this review. Dynamic contrasts were well reproduced, as well as the timbre of instruments. Where I thought the NAD fell short of the FVP was in microdynamics, and subtle “gear changes’ as the dynamics change, which may well be a tube against transistor issue. This was made clear on my original British RCA on which I concluded the test, and switched back to the FVP. These findings have been confirmed on subsequent audition of these jazz recordings on the FVP. Conclusion The major limitation of this review was that the preamplifier was used out of context, with accompanying equipment of a higher price range. However, firstly I can state that the NAD did not disgrace itself, and compared quite favourably with the FVP, which would be worth $5000-6000 new today. My bias is clearly towards tube gear, and I will not return to solid state, Soulution, BaLabo and Technical Brain included! That having been said this is one solid state preamplifier I can happily live with; however, the SMD technology may cause a problem with repairs should the unit break down. Putting things back in perspective, this is recommended for a good first high end phono preamplifier, and a significant upgrade from small phono stages, such as NAD’s own PP-2 (which Theo used to use), and those in integrated amplifiers and receivers, which more often than not, are included as an afterthought. I like the switching options offered; for those using moving magnet, there are 3 positions for capacitive loading (which are mentioned in the weblink) with a fixed resistive load of 47 kOhm. As far as I know, there are few preamplifiers in this price range which offer this flexibility. In the real world, I do not expect this preamplifier to be driving a tube amplifier, let alone a very high end one; it is best paired with its matching NAD 275 power amplifier; 2 pairs of output terminals (the second one switched) enables you to do full-range bi-amplification (as Theo is currently doing with Marantz PMC-750 and PM-44 integrated amplifiers, with good effect). At the other end, the Lyra Skala, now retailing at $4500, is also a more expensive cartridge than most prospective buyers of this preamplifier would be running. The choices would be good “entry level high end” MC cartridges like the Audio Technica OC-9 (I used to own one, which if modified), Ortofon MC-20 and Rondo, Benz Micro Ace or Glider, Clearaudio Concept, and Lyra Delos at slightly higher cost to the rest. There is more than adequate gain, and you will find one of those 3 load settings suitable for each. Don’t waste your MC loaded at the standard 47k; it will sound way too lush. Those with non-MCs don’t miss out either; good MM models like those from Rega, Clearaudio (Aurum, Virtuoso, Maestro), and Grado moving irons, and Soundsmith strain gauge should be good matches. Even though Grado claims complete insensitivity to load settings, again one should find an optimum capacitive load setting. So, this NAD preamplifier gives you a good range of features, and competent high end sound for your 1200 2012 dollars.

Stephen Chen - Sydney, Australia

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