NAD T 753 A/V Receiver
Years ago, I crossed swords with the editor-in-chief of a magazine that covered tech only in passing. His deputy editor took me aside, and a reflective look came into his eyes as he explained why his distinguished boss hated my work: "There's a kind of hardheaded practicality to him, and the whizbang stuff you write just leaves him cold. High-end cars he understands, but not high-end audio, and he wants you to convince him that this stuff is really worth paying good money for." Ever since then, I've tried to recognize that hardheaded practicality when I run across it—especially in readers.
NAD's T 753 reminded me of those two guys even before I'd hit the power button. Hardheaded practicality is what NAD is all about. Beneath the ageless matte-gray uniform—a no-nonsense look that's held steady for 30 years—is a definition of high-end that gives value and performance greater weight than mirrored front panels, technical rhetoric, or mystique. Nearly everyone making surround receivers claims to provide the best bang for the buck. With NAD, though, it isn't just a marketing slogan; it's virtually a religion. NAD omits needless features with the same ruthless single-mindedness that drove the Puritans, who also shunned fancy dress, to behead King Charles I of England.
This 53-pound receiver is rated at 70 watts per channel. If past NAD products are anything to go by, the gap between rated power and our lab measurements won't be a mile wide. Conservative power ratings distinguish NAD from manufacturers for whom 100 is the magic number. The back panel has a fan, whose whisper didn't intrude on low-level passages.
The front panel is rigorously simple. It would be nice if the source-select and surround-mode controls were somehow more easily distinguishable from the others, but perhaps that would be like expecting a Puritan to put peacock feathers in his buckled hat. Only the remote—which learns both individual codes and macros—dares to be un-NAD by differentiating buttons by size and shape and even a little color-coding. Who's responsible for that? Off with his head!
For multizone use, a second, credit-card-sized remote is also provided. It sends separate on/standby codes to the receiver so that the stereo extra-zone channels can be on while the main 6.1-channel group is off, and vice versa.
Setup contained few surprises. Menu graphics are simple and not especially appealing. There is no transcoding to join the composite and S-video inputs with the component video output. The graphic user interface isn't visible through the component video output. I've just finished reviewing a gaggle of home-theater-in-a-box systems, and every one could output menus through the component output. Of course, the NAD can outperform any of them sonically, but it's regrettable that so many makers of $1,000 receivers don't provide the same functionality available in $500 compact systems.
As I jammed in triple trios of component video cables for my display, HD cable box, and universal disc player—and the half-dozen analog audio cables for the disc player—it occurred to me that these bulky analog interfaces will soon be considered absurd anachronisms. That day can't come soon enough.
Running the Gauntlet
I begin every review by running through a warmup CD-R whose primary virtue is not acoustic all-inclusiveness but simply the fact that these tracks haven't worn out their welcome after hundreds of listenings. The disc includes unaccompanied chorus, various folkies with distinctive voices, an acoustic guitar and string bass, a chamber group, a guy playing an acoustic steel guitar in a shed, a heavily layered pop production, an electric guitar duel, and three different-sounding heavy-metal tracks.
The T 753 got through all of them without favoring any particular style, although I did notice that the guitars, violins, and cellos had plenty of wood, the voices were perfectly natural, and the heavy-metal tracks—each with its own distinctive feel—were painless even when my SPL meter hit the 95-decibel mark. The personality that asserted itself was generous, tolerant, and musically omnivorous. To put it a different way, the soundstage was big, distortion was hardly a factor at all, and I felt no particular urge to avoid any part of my music library in subsequent days of listening. A wide-open road stretched before me. I could listen to whatever I wanted, which can be tremendously liberating.
I started with three Brahms string quartets from Brahms: Chamber Music, complete on 12 CDs. Brilliant Classics, based in the Netherlands, also offers the complete works of Bach on 160 CDs; the mere thought makes me salivate. In this case, the hardheaded Dutch scavengers had licensed a 2000 recording by the Tokyo Quartet, and the NAD receiver delivered it with such a sweet string sound that it was hard to resist the temptation to play all 12 discs.
A harder test came in the form of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as recorded in 1962 by Herbert von Karajan. The SACD release does not soft-peddle the Berlin Philharmonic's close-miked string sound, which delivers quite a sting when the orchestra is playing at its fastest and loudest, and neither did the NAD—this is the only recording that moved me to sharply lower the volume. The individual and chorus vocals in the final movement were beautifully fleshed out and in perfect focus, with an almost holographic presence.
Bridge Between Worlds
Frank Zappa served as my bridge between orchestral music and rock. QuAUDIOPHILIAc, a new DVD-Audio release based on 1970s quad recordings, starts with three live orchestral pieces. The instruments seemed to rear up from a well of inky black space, making the rapid mood shifts of Zappa's restless compositional style twice as unnerving, until he released the tension with an undulating wah-wah-drenched guitar solo that seemed to come from everywhere in the soundfield at once.
The guitar binge continued with Living Colour's Collideøscope, a DVD-Audio surround mix that sounds good when played loud on just about any system—it's an ambassador of loudness—but reveals more of its electric tone colors when heard through gear capable of nuance. The NAD receiver turned it into a varied procession of rich, soft pastel fuzztones.
By this time, I had a healthy respect for the T 753's dynamics. But what would happen if I shut off the subs and ran my Paradigm Reference Studio/20s (with a sensitivity rating of 86 dB) full-range? To find out, I ran through several scenes from Lord of the Rings: Return of the King with and without the 8- and 12-inch subs that I normally use in tandem. Losing the 12-inch driver diminished the stomping of giant elephant feet in the siege of Minas Tirith.
Even so, the receiver delivered a satisfying level of volume in my 19- by 14- by 9-foot space. I could have switched on the "soft clipping" control on the back panel, which minimizes clipping distortion by limiting power to all channels during peak moments, but I preferred the dynamic oomph I was getting with the control switched off.
Practically the Best in Its Class
I'm sold. By receiver standards, this one achieves high-end performance in neutrality, dynamics, and versatility. In fact, it sounds better overall than any other $1,000 receiver I've heard in the past year, and I've been through quite a few of them. If my hardheadedly practical nemesis were to call me up out of the blue, the NAD T 753 is what I'd recommend. It's a certifiably great receiver, and I wouldn't hesitate to live with it for a good long time.
* Mark Fleischmann is the author of Practical Home Theater, available through www.quietriverpress.com.
• Maximizes sound quality per dollar
• Minimizes features ruthlessly
• Uniform is sexy