NAD C 725BEE Stereo Receiver

Key Features
• 2 x 50 watts (continuous power, 8 ohms) • PowerDrive circuitry for high dynamic output • Optional Soft-Clipping feature • All analog preamp section • 2nd Zone output and control connections • AM/FM tuner with 40 presets and RDS playback • SR8 multi-component remote • ZR5 zone remote • 5 RCA analog source inputs • Dataport for optional IPD2 iPod dock ($159) • Front-panel mini-plug input • Subwoofer output • Main in/Pre Out connections • 12v trigger output • IR in/out and RS-232C control ports • A and B speaker outputs

There is something comforting about the simplicity of an audio component whose sole purpose is the pursuit of music. I was quickly reminded of this as I began setting up NAD's C 725BEE stereo receiver. In this day of home theater with its multichannel this and lossless that, the C 725BEE is clearly a throwback to an earlier era - though with some modest updates to make peace with the digital world it lives in.

At $799, NAD's stereo receiver is sort of pricey for a model with modest 50 watt-per-channel (continuous power into 8/4 ohms) power rating. But it's worth noting that the C 725BEE's rating doesn't fully reflect the resources it has available. NAD uses a circuit topology it calls PowerDrive to extract high levels of dynamic or "peak" power from its amps by essentially "fooling" the amp into thinking it's bigger than it is. PowerDrive monitors the load at the speaker outputs and automatically connects a second high-voltage rail to the power supply when the signal demands it. This is said to allow momentary, short-term power peaks of about twice the amplifier's continuous rating while retaining low distortion, and also makes the receiver more stable with 4-ohm speakers or others that represent a difficult load. I've frankly never been convinced by claims that instantaneous peak power capability somehow makes up for all-out brawn in an amplifier. But when it's NAD talking - a brand with a rich audiophile history that includes many award-winning products - I'm all ears, so to speak.

Aside from having fewer buttons than a typical A/V receiver, the C 725BEE looks pretty much like a traditional black box. The front panel is nicely laid out, with source buttons located dead center below the display, pushbutton controls for the FM tuner left of the display, and knobs for volume, tone, balance, along with a Record Out/Zone 2 source selector, grouped together on the right side.

Build quality is mostly outstanding. The chassis is solid and weighs in at 20.5 lbs, which reflects a robust power supply driven by a toroidal transformer, the type preferred for better audio amplifiers due to their efficiency and freedom from mechanical hum. The high quality rotary controls and momentary pushbuttons (all connected to switching relays) have that reassuring feel of fine componentry. Too bad, though, that NAD cheaped out with hollow plastic knobs that detract somewhat from the sure feel of the switches and the smooth, tight action of the volume control. It's a small detail, but I do expect more from an $800 stereo receiver.

NAD supplies two remotes to control the unit. The model SR8 handles all the receiver's functions and controls up to three additional NAD components, though none from other brands. The ZR5 is a compact 12-button remote intended for use with an IR repeater in a second zone; it controls basic functions such as volume, source, and tuning presets. The SR8 was hardly a model of intuition. I erroneously hit the large Device buttons at the top of the remote to select source components before learning that it's really the number keys below that subtly double as source keys. (The Device buttons just change the component mode when the remote is used as a universal.) But the ZR5 proved quite able at handling most day-to-day usage, and I loved its simplicity.

Of course, it's circuitry that really sets the C 725BEE apart from the run-of-the-mill receiver. To begin with, it features a fully analog preamplifier section - there are no digital inputs, period, not even for decoding the Toslink or coax output of a CD transport or player. Analog RCA inputs are provided for five line-level sources labeled CD, DISC, AUX, TAPE, and MP, with the latter standing for media player and set aside for plugging in the output of an iPod or dock. Notably absent is a phono input to directly accept a turntable; the manual suggests using the DISC input to connect a separate phono stage such as NAD's own PP-2 ($129) and PP-3 Digital ($199) models. I found this an annoying omission given this component's audiophile roots and its price, especially with vinyl in resurgence these days among music lovers. Said music lovers may also bemoan the lack of integrated XM/Sirius satellite radio compatibility, a feature that can be found on a few other stereo receivers.

On the plus side, the C 725BEE has a number of other thoughtful features that will be of interest to custom installers. One is the inclusion of a 12-volt trigger output, which can be used to turn on and off an amplifier in a second zone. There is also an RS232C port for control via a Crestron, AMX, or other automation system, as well as by a Windows PC using NAD proprietary software. And there are IR ports (both IN and OUT) to enable control of the receiver from a remote location, or to allow you to control your source components by pointing a remote at the receiver.

Other connections include the line-level Zone 2 stereo output, Pre-Out and Main-In connections, and a line-level subwoofer output that can be fed to a powered sub. Four speaker binding posts for an A and B pair are provided; these are heavy plastic connectors that will accept banana plugs, some smaller spade lugs, and pins or bare wire up to about 12 gauge thickness.

A final connection worth mentioning is the data port for NAD's own model IPD2 iPod dock ($159), which NAD supplied to me with the receiver along with a NAD C 545BEE CD player ($499). Besides charging your iPod whenever it's docked, the IPD2 feeds line-level analog audio to the receiver's MP input and an S-video output to your TV for viewing video stored on an iPod. Music tracks are identified on the C 725BEE's front panel via the data link, though you still need to look at the iPod screen to navigate menus via a supplied credit-card remote or the receiver's SR8 remote set to its MP device mode. (In lieu of a dock, the C 725BEE also sports a mini-plug audio jack on the front panel that overrides the MP line-level inputs to facilitate a portable player.) The dock was a welcome addition to the setup, though for the same price some might prefer a third-party docking station that allows you to navigate the iPod from across the room via your television screen.

(As an aside, the C 545BEE CD player, while not the subject of this review, got some face time in my rack and availed itself well against my much more expensive reference DVD-Audio/CD player. It excelled on torture tests like massed orchestral strings that quickly expose the stridency and thinness of inferior CD players, and it let my audiophile recordings shine through with appropriate tonal accuracy, wide dynamics, and dimensionality. With its smooth digital-to-analog conversion and an obviously well designed analog output stage, this player struck me as a pretty good deal for the money.)