Audiovideo2day experienced the introduction of the Class D amp. It all started with Ice Power modules, developed by Bang&Olufsen. That caused a revolution. Not exactly on the consumer market, but rather the internal one. An amplifier, as big as a fat computer chip, that can deliver the power of a rough 500 Watts. Wow! Later on, names such as Tact Audio, NuForce, Lyngdorf Audio and other appeared... In the latter stages of development, the point was more to give the immense, rough amplifying power finesse, emotion and musicality. More and more manufacturers succeeded. This is the way to go, clearly. Compact, a huge amount of power and close to no heat development. Class D amplifiers led the market to proper, digital amps.
Not so long ago, NAD presented such an amplifier in the Master Series: the M2. With a moderate retail price of roughly €6.000, this amplifier produces a lot more music than its price suggests. That is why, when you read our review of the M2, you deal with a Buying Tip. You can surely understand why we were eager when Cas Oostvogel (Managing Director AND Benelux) asked us to be the first to review the newest digital amplifier, a direct successor of the M2. "Bring us that NAD C390 DD" was yelled throughout the office!
Small M2 with options
Compared to the innovating M2, the NAD C390 DD is not in a Master Series housing, but rather in the well-known, decent housing of the performance hifi- and home cinema productline of NAD. The housing of the Master Series offers more firmness and deals with interferences more ferociously (negative influences from outside, such as, e.g. from electromagnetic fields). With a price setting of less than half an M2 (an NAD C390 DD has a suggested retail price of €2.500), the manufacturer can obviously not deliver a direct copy of the M2. For instance, an M2 has 2 poweramps per channel in a BTL (bridge tied load) formaton, to reach the high amount of power. An NAD C390 DD creates music with a single poweramp per channel. That's why the M2 gives that bit of extra power: 2 x 250 Watt vs. 2 x 150 Watt. Yet the NAD still manages to keep some genetic information in the C390 DD. And then some... In certain areas, the brand new C390 DD is even more revolutionary than the mighty M2. I'll call it a small M2 with options.
Plug and Play
Which options? Players with discs (e.g. cd's) are part of the past, thanks to the C390 DD. And why not? The present day consumer resolutely chooses for current technology and ultimate user comfort. That same present day consumer looks at the NAD C390 and sees both united. A modern music set up can, thanks to the newest of the NAD offspring, only exist out of two things anymore: the NAD C390 and a couple of speakers. Where does the music come from then, one might ask. What is the source? Just like a Sony PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360, this amplifier is just about completely plug and play. NAD has been working with modular designs for a while, all in function of the consumer and a technologically quickly evolving market. I'll explain: on the front is a USB-port, which you can use easily for a USB stick or key. You can then easily browse your music, select your favourite tracks and play them, all on the highest quality possible! In the middle of the front is a display that is big and clear enough even from a decent distance, on which you can clearly follow every action and movement in the menu. An A-B compare between certain cd-tracks and their equal WAV-brother, played from a USB stick, are, at the very least equally good. And to think that in this test a high quality player was used, more expensive than the NAD C390 DD itself...
On the back is another USB-port, which is useful to connect a computer or a laptop. Luckily the NAD clock overrules the PC or laptop one. This is called an asynchronous connection. High quality sound guaranteed! Presenting HD audiotracks (24 bit /192 kHz) becomes child's play this way. The source materiel is digital, signal processing digital, amplification digital... that promises one hell of a listening experience! Lots of dynamics, very little distortion, lots of resolution and hardly any signal affection. These are a few of NAD's core ideas made reality.
The NAD C390 DD is mainly a digital machine. Standard wise you'll find a AES/EBU entrance, 2 optical ins and 1 out, 2 coaxial ins and 1 out. An extra asset is the dubbel subwoofer pre-out and double exectued speakerclamps for bi-wire options.
Whoever thinks of passing their TV sound throughout the amp will not be disappointed with the NAD C390 DD. Or whoever wants to listen to his vinyl collection digitally, has modular options. NAD offers, for a democratically priced surcharge of €249/module, HDMI and analogue modules. These can be built in from the start, or later on. Using a difficult term, NAD calls this MDC design. Such a HDMI module adds 3 HDMI ins and one out. If you add an analogue module, you get a cinch, XLR and phono in. By the way, RIAA corrections happens completely in the DSP part. The option to have access to modules that have technological possibilities, adapted to the needs of the moment, now and tomorrow, give the consumer a clear guarantee for the future. This way you get everything out of your musical investment!
Listening digitally starts with a USB-key, with some popular songs of Trendmöller, Selah Sue and Youn Sun Nah. The digital NAD amp completely controls the pair of Bowers&Wilkins CM9. Music is made in a powerful and dynamic way. A very open and clear sound image is presented inbetween the speakers. The lows on the Trendmöller tracks sound very tight, with loads of pressure. Voices are placed nicely in the surrounding space. Because of this, Selah Sue sounds breathtakingly intimate, and later on even bitchy. Musical flavours on request. Youn Sun Nah is known for her close micing recordings. This is reflected perfectly with the display. I close my eyes and I can feel the outlines of her face. Despite the fact that on this level a decent amount of attention goes into musical details, I feel a hunger for more. The NAD C390 DD has more in stock, and can't wait to show that off.
Literally and figuratively a level higher, there's a pair of Bowers&Wilkins 800 Diamond, shining in wait. Curious, but without any high expectations, I connect the NAD C390 DD to these giants. I get the same sound levels as any other amplifiers, without problems. The amount of control in the lows baffles me. The fact that the NAD M2 matches with these top of the line speakers in itself is a miracle. Same goes for its little brother. It creates music vividly and with lots of certainty. The great fun begins when I switch to HD audiofiles. Yes, the better stuff, 24 bits / 192 kHz, using USB through the laptop. It seems a whole new world has opened. This is what digital amplifiers were made for: maximal resolution, maximal information. Great listening! You just look in and through the music. The Bowers&Wilkins 800 diamond translate everything flawlessly to my pampered ears. An NAD M2 opens up the display just bit more, with that bit more calmness. Compare it to a spunky 6-cylinder versus a V8. Nothing but driving fun. Technically the NAD C390 DD is in perfect capability to control a pair of B&W 800, but they're not the ultimate pair. You'd probably get the best out of a B&W 805 or 804 diamond with it, now that we are talking about Bowers&Wilkins. Myself, I'm most pleased about the high resolution and the experience that comes with it. Piano music, for instance, gets more body, more realness, better timingand more depth. Overall, it seems the display depth has doubled! The sound display seems to climb higher as well, and the timbres sound so very natural. Voices tend to get more air, shape and expression. I almost forgot a stronger amount of layeredness, which makes it easier to distinguish between different musical components, without the loss of homogenity. Whether we are talking about the big drums of Kodo, the virtual piano playing of Mari Kodama, the sweet-voiced voice of Sarah K, the NAD C390 DD brings nothing but musical pleasure.
Nice to know: the digital NAD amp is sensitive to power cables. Investing in a decent powercord almost certainly leads to an even better experience. Connect your amp to a battery, and the party's on! You get, respectively, more rest and a pitch-black musical background. You should also experiment with different USB cables to connect your laptop. The best result is probably obtained with a Audioquest Diamond. These last thoughts are food for though, especially for audiophiles...
Nothing but upsides
+ available power / power reserve
+ sound quality
+ musical resolution (24 bit/192 kHz via USB)
+ tight design
+ functional display
+ plug and play / ease of use
+ modular design (MDC)
I, myself, find the NAD C390 DD even more revolutionary than the M2. The apparatus has, technically speaking, a lot of the M2-genes. Soundwise, this NAD offspring gets the best marks of its class, and even above that. I would call the high plug and play level at least contemporary. The device is ready for the future, thanks to its MDC design. Whoever wants to listen to music in a modern and very qualitative way nowadays, just can't avoid the NAD C390 DD. The label 'Product of the Year' was created especially for exceptional devices such as this digital NAD amp. Buying Tip and a must have for every music lover! Honestly, I look forward to the next batch of derived M2 products (e.g. AV receivers) ...
Parts of the listening test
Bowers&Wilkins CM 9 speakers
Bowers&Wilkins 800 Diamond speakers
Sony Vaio laptop with Foobar player
USB-key with WAV-files
Purepower 2000 (battery-fed)
Price and availability
A NAD C390 DD gets the suggested retail price of €2.500. The device will be available from the second half of December 2011, at authorised NAD-dealers.