Test Report: NAD T757 A/V Receiver Page 2
NAD makes a good deal of fuss in print about its “music-first” design brief, so given this (and my experience of many an earlier NAD), I expected superior sound from my initial full-range stereo auditions. I was not disappointed. The T757 plays far, far louder/cleaner than you’d expect from a “60-watt” receiver, and in fact I found little if anything to distinguish its 2-channel sound from that of my everyday, 150-watt power amplifier.
For example, clean studio pop like Jackson Browne’s “About My Imagination” (from 2002’s The Naked Ride Home) sounded exemplary: punchy, with excellent bass control, but also smooth, detailed, and full of the subtle, ultra-precise pan-pot imaging I expect from top-shelf, big-studio productions. Whatever I played, the T757 maintained the simultaneous solidity and quickness that’s characteristic of ample, well-controlled power. A favorite recording of Stravinsky’s L’historie du soldat wowed me with wonderfully believable timbres and deep ambience.
The T757 includes NAD’s proprietary EARS (Enhanced Ambience Retrieval System) listening mode for stereo signals. While that’s a hokey acronym, EARS is a simple, highly effective surround mode relying on the ambient phase cues embedded in natural-acoustic stereo recordings, one that seems conceived under the Hippocratic oath of “first, do no harm.” When this was engaged, the Stravinsky disc enjoyed a quietly airy, defined, lifelike presence, particularly notable on the “puff ” of trumpet attacks.
Usually, we listen to movie sound less closely, or at least less critically, than we do music, but there are exceptions. The Blu-ray of Black Swan is a prime example. Tchaikovsky’s ballet music is a star of the show, and the T757 delivered every note of the disc’s DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack with authority and nuance. The fine gradations of hall ambience, from rehearsal studios to practice rooms to main stage, also sounded effortless.
Good as the T757’s performance rates, its human factors score even higher: snappy control responses, an instant-appearing (and -disappearing) pop-up display strip that steps through all the important signal and mode status info in good detail, and lots of other smart touches you don’t notice at first. For example, the receiver’s volume control moves by 1-dB steps, instead of the oft-seen 0.5 dB; most people won’t discern half-decibel changes, so what’s the point? Combined with perfect remote-volume “ballistics,” this makes achieving the desired setting superbly easy. A small point, but what’s the single control you use most often?
One omission I mourned a little is direct-DSD decoding for SACDs — though the T757 reproduced player-decoded multichannel 176/24 PCM just fine, and sounded splendid doing so. Another is the absence of easily accessible channel-level trims. (You must travel to the Setup menu to tweak channel levels, and then cycle back to reset them.)
Any inconvenience here is mitigated considerably, however, by NAD’s valuable Preset routine, which allows you to store 5 combinations of every setup parameter, including listening mode, tone control, and channel levels, crossovers, and delays, for recall either manually or by associating a preset with an input source. When you combine this with the T757’s ability to “delete” unused inputs, and to set the default surround modes independently at each input for incoming stereo and multichannel signals, it should be quite easy to set up an almost idiot-proof system.
The theme of plainness applies to video processing, too: Aside from converting analog video to HDMI, there ain’t none. (NAD says it leaves processing to the TV or projector “where it belongs.”) The T757 passes HDMI and component video (and composite/S-video) signals untouched to their respective monitor outputs, and also digitizes and converts the latter three at their incoming format/resolution to HDMI. That’s all there is, but if you have a Blu-ray and HD cable/satellite source (and realistically, you almost certainly do), what more do you need?
In the “extras” column, NAD’s new model remains true to its roots. There are no network-streaming, wireless, or virtual-surround features — though there are well-thought-out audio-only Zone 2 facilities, complete with a nice, sub-compact second-room remote. NAD’s optional iPod/Phone dock ($159) promises to integrate your iThingy thoroughly into your A/V system, which is pretty much a market necessity today. And there’s an input for an XM Radio antenna (and subscription) for those who can’t get enough data-compressed sound right here on earth.
But one of the T757’s most intriguing extras is easily overlooked: something that NAD calls MDC, for Modular Design Concept. This puts key technology sections — specifically, digital audio and video (HDMI) — on discrete, “card-cage” subassemblies that can be swapped out by a local NAD dealer. (NAD has already delivered large numbers, at $400 to $600 apiece, to upgraders of earlier-model MDC receivers.) So when HDMI spec 2.7c comes along a decade hence — the one with the Smell-o-Vision and Holodeck options — you won’t have to scrap your whole T757.