NAD, lesser known as New Acoustic Dimension, entered the audio industry back in 1972. Over the last 35 years, NAD has earned a legendary reputation for bringing forth great quality audio components at reasonable price points. There have been countless excellent products under the NAD umbrella during the company’s history.
The recently introduced Masters Series is NAD’s testament to 35 years of experience and a stronger focus on the discerning audiophile audience. The two Masters Series components that I am reviewing here are the M3 Dual Mono Integrated Amplifier and the M55 Digital Disc Player.
The rugged chassis of each component is constructed out of 2 mm thick steel plates and complemented by a nearly 3 cm thick front panel, made out of aluminium and zinc. Only a minimal number of essential controls are present on each front panel. Thanks to its combination of silver and gray, the Masters Series has an industrial look that is simply gorgeous and timeless.
The M3 follows a class A design and has the ability to output 180 watts at 8 ohms (with 0.004 THD), 480 watts at 4 ohms and 785 watts at 2 ohms. It has a rated damping factor that is greater than 150 and a signal-to-noise ratio of 103 dB. The front panel contains a large volume knob plus buttons for source and recording selection, zone 2, mode (stereo, mono, left/right channel), channel balance, tone, biamp, and speaker selection. The back of the M3 houses six RCA inputs as well as a single balanced input pair. Two sets of pre-amp outputs and one set of record outputs are also present. From factory, the amplifier and the pre-amplifier sections of the M3 are bridged together with a jumper, which can be removed if you choose to use a different power amp with the M3. Eight speaker posts that can accommodate two pairs of speakers are also found in the back. The M3 comes with two remotes: a main full-featured remote (capable of controlling the Master Series disc players) and a smaller remote for the second zone.
The M55 is a universal disc player capable of tackling most of today’s optical disc formats including CDs, DVD-Audio, SACD, MP3, WMA as well as DVD-Video. A Faroudja DCDi video processor is found on-board, which up-scales 480i video to 720p and 1080i. Audio outputs include separate 2 and 5.1-channel analogue, coaxial and optical; video outputs comprise of HDMI, component, S-video, composite and VGA. There is also an IR remote input, an RS-232 port, a 12 volt trigger and IEC connector allowing for a detachable power cord. The M55 provides bass management for DVD-Audio and SACD discs.
Of course, sophisticated looks and superior build quality don’t mean anything without a performance to match. There was only one way to find out how this duo sounds – I set it up in my living room and began listening.
My first observation about this Masters Series system was its excellent ability to pick out the details from the music. It performed this as well as some single-ended tube amplifiers, and without any artificial harmonics added. Every musical detail had a life-like presence, with full body and texture. What I heard were startling amounts of subtle spatial cues and reverberant tails, in a perfect scale and space. But the M3 isn’t an amplifier that shows too much, too soon. It didn’t congest the sound into a syrup of blurred harmonics like some amplifiers do. Instead, it produced a gentle, non-fatiguing sound.
Another highlight of this system was its talent to represent all of the frequencies in a well-controlled fashion. The bass was exceptionally low and detailed, and the treble was pristinely articulate. The only one aspect that lacked very slightly in my opinion was the soundstage, which I found to have a little less depth than in my reference system.
During the next few weeks, as I listened to various assortments of music in the background, the Masters Series pulled me to my sweet-spot chair and made me rediscover many of the recordings from my collection.
Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon SACD drew an amazingly detailed sonic picture. It was a real treat to be able to dissect the tracks on this disc, from a guitar amplifier in a sound room to a raw electrical bass sound of an EMS modular synthesizer. Yet the sounds weren’t analytical or detached.
With my initial impressions formulated, it was time to put the Masters Series to the real test and play some classical recordings. Most music systems won’t be challenged a great deal by rock or pop recordings, but a full orchestra is much less forgiving.
When listening to Beethoven’s Concerto in D, Op.61 off to Living Stereo SACD, I could clearly hear the resonance of the various string instruments. The details were so natural, that I could also hear the bow being pulled back against the strings. The slight vibration of the bow against the strings gave substance and texture to the sound, resulting in a vivid realism of the instruments.
I reflected back on my initial observation of the soundstage and decided that it was perhaps a slight misunderstanding on my part of just how inartificial of a space these components recreated. With various SACDs, I also discovered that the components played with an extra amount of air, which resulted in a much more real-event presentation.
The marriage of the M3 integrated amplifier with the M55 disc player was simply meant to be. The two components complemented each other’s strengths, together creating a sonic picture full of synergy. The sound of this duo reminded me of much higher-end products that I have listened to over the years.
Regular CDs played back through the M55 sounded down right better than I could have imagined. Some of the CDs that I listened to could be almost mistaken to be high resolution versions of the albums. The player did not make the audio warm, soft, fuzzy or sound like it was analogue. What it did do, and with flying colours, was extract every nuance of information and placed it exactly where it belonged in the sonic picture. Like the M3 integrated amplifier, the M55 produced a truly life-like performance. “Fluid” is a word I found myself using often to describe this audio system’s characteristics. Sure I could still hear the difference between SACD (or DVD-Audio) and regular CDs, it just wasn’t as obvious and more noticeable only when going from a high-resolution disc to a standard CD.
I did however find one slight annoyance with the M55. When advancing or going backwards through disc tracks, the player produced a slight pop in the speakers. This was somewhat unexpected from a disc player of this caliber.
DVD playback was superb on the M55, matching some of the top up-converting disc players, like Toshiba’s HD-A1 HD DVD player (when used to play standard DVDs, of course). Standard 480i DVDs looked stunning when up-converted to 720p and 1080i through the HDMI connection. The details were crisp and the resolution provided some extra depth to the picture. Yes, the M55 was able to breathe some new life into my existing DVD collection.
Finally, I also tested the M55’s surround sound capabilities by connecting it to my Marantz SR8500 A/V receiver. Not surprisingly, the M55 delivered an audio performance worthy of a fine stereo audiophile player, only this time in more than just two channels. It added richness to movies and multi-channel recordings, greatly enhancing my listening experience. The sounds of footsteps and cash registers shifted around my room with effortless fluidity when listening to the Pink Floyd SACD in surround sound. The sound quality appeared to be seemingly the same from the M55’s surround output as I got from its two channel outputs.
When it came down to performance and functionality, the M3 Dual Mono Integrated Amplifier and the M55 Digital Disc Player from the NAD Masters Series were both exceptional. They exceeded my expectations for components in their price ranges and often displayed characteristics that I would associate with more expensive components. These Masters Series components certainly meet NAD’s slogan “powered by passion”. I had a particularly difficult time writing this review because each time I sat down to audition the components, I was drawn in for extended listening sessions. Isn’t that what passion is all about? Enough said. Now let me catch a few more songs.
Distributed in Canada by Lenbrook Canada 905-831-6555
Price: M3 $3500 CAD, M55 $2500 CAD
NAD Master Series M3
• Power: 180 watts X 2, 10Hz – 20kHz, with 0.03THD, both channels driven into 8 or 4 Ohms
• 7 inputs, including 1 balanced XLR
• Tape/Zone 2 output
• Speakers A/B
NAD Master Series M55
• Plays back: DVD-Audio, SACD, MP3, WMA and DVD-Video
• HDMI HD Output
• Faroudja DCDi circuit for 480i (DVD standard) video upconversion to 420p, 720p or 1080i
• Bass Management for DVD-A and SACD