NAD VISO 1 Wireless Music system

Price: $600 At a Glance: 2.1 independently amped channels • Bluetooth and dock connectivity • Tweaked by Paul Barton

The NAD VISO 1 was an immediate hit in my household from the moment it was uncrated. Between my roommate and myself, it received Bluetooth input from an iPad 2, iPhone 4, and iPod touch 2G. The dock played host to two iPod nano 6Gs and two nano 2Gs in addition to the nano 5G actually used for formal demos. Though not portable in the strictest sense—it won’t slip easily into a briefcase or carry-on—the system was still movable, and eager hands shifted it from living room to bedroom to kitchen. It was pressed into service to provide music for ballet exercises, cooking, reading, and bedtime listening.

Shaped like a Hostess Ho Ho, the VISO 1 is roughly 19 inches wide and a foot in diameter. Aspiration to high performance was the motive for this enclosure size. The enclosure is made of a nonresonant ABS/polycarbonate composite plastic with internal ribbing for further strength and is available in gloss black or white. It has a port on the left end and a hardwired power on/off button on the right. A strip of heavy aluminum arcs around the center, providing a home to the 30-pin iPod/iPhone dock. The dock is sturdily constructed with a sliding top piece that provides needed back support for the mobile device—so you needn’t worry about stressing the connector when pressing controls on the touchscreen or click wheel—and rotates for portrait or landscape mode.

The metal strip also includes the logo, two volume buttons, and a source select button, which are augmented on the remote control by play/pause and track forward/back. There is a blue LED at the bottom that indicates power on and blinks when volume is adjusted. On the back are a digital optical input, which may come in handy if your pencil-thin TV has unacceptably awful speakers; a component video output, which supports 480p and 576p—an improvement over interlaced composite and S-video outputs; and a Mini-USB jack that is strictly for software updates. An optional wall-mount (VWB-1, $70) includes a bracket to hold an Apple TV or other media streamer.

Inside is an unusual front-facing driver array extensively tweaked by NAD’s sister brand, PSB, best known for making great speakers. Two full-range drivers cross over to a single 5.75-inch woofer at 500 hertz, allocating all midbass and bass production to the side-ported woofer. The full-range drivers are an aluminum dome/cone assembly with a 1-inch dome in the center and a total diameter of 2.75 inches. Each of the three drivers has a dedicated amp channel (15 watts times two, plus 50 for the woofer) based on the high-end NAD M2 Direct Digital power amp. Crossover, volume control, bass EQ, time alignment, and soft clipping all operate in the digital domain, avoiding potential degradation from passive circuitry. The volume control operates in a 35-bit architecture and therefore does not truncate audible bits at low volumes. There is no simulated surround.

For wireless connectivity the VISO supports Bluetooth aptX, a higher-fidelity version finding its way into Apple, Nokia, and Samsung products. Apple adopted it for all products and OS upgrades starting in autumn 2010. The VISO is backward compatible with earlier versions of Bluetooth. NAD notes that Bluetooth does not deplete battery power as quickly as Wi-Fi. If you want AirPlay, add AirPort Express. As much as I love AirPlay, NAD was wise to avoid the added expense. The VISO and Bluetooth mesh easily: let the mobile device detect the VISO, enable pairing within the mobile device, and go.

The system is easy to operate. Punch the right-side power button, dock your iPod or iPhone if desired, and operate the touchscreen or click wheel as you normally would. The dock is the default input. A press of the source button goes to Bluetooth and then to the optical input. If no iOS device is docked, optical-in is the default. The only notable ergonomic shortcomings are in the remote control: Fastening the lid on the battery compartment was harder than it should have been and the black-on-black legends were nearly invisible.

After a few happy days of informal use, the critical listening began. I ripped three albums in both uncompressed WAV and MP3 at 192 kbps: Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Carlos Kleiber, Debussy’s Études for piano performed by Paul Jacobs, and Richard Thompson’s live acoustic guitar album Small Town Romance.

With the gold nano 5G docked, the full-range drivers had just enough resolution to distinguish the uncompressed WAV tracks from the lossy MP3 tracks. The WAV made the Vienna Philharmonic’s string section a tad more vivid and imaging more solid. Although the MP3 gave up a little resolution and imaging, the difference was subtle, and they were still smooth and listenable even at foreground-listening levels. Switched to aptX Bluetooth, the system seemed to work just as well. Moving on to pre-aptX Bluetooth gave up a little more imaging, though the balance of timbres was still warm and pleasing.

I was impressed with the sure-footed musicality of the VISO’s midrange, especially with Thompson’s vibrant Martin guitar. Bass was solid and tuneful, showing off the pianist’s left hand and the orchestra’s tympani. (NAD claims the system is flat down to 50 hertz, with the port tuned to 40 Hz, and does not hit -6 decibels until 33 Hz.) Overall, this was the best one-piece docking system I’ve ever heard. All it lacked in comparison with a good component system—at the risk of belaboring the obvious—was soundstage width.

But the target audience for this product would rather not fuss with speaker placement or cables. They’re more likely to consider the NAD VISO 1 a step up from small iPod speakers and table radios for ad hoc music lovin’ in that great big world beyond the sweet spot. To feel its addicting qualities, all you have to do is be in the room with it.

NAD Electronics • (800) 263-4641 •

willieconway's picture

With all due respect, what is this article doing on a site with the URL Except for the fact that the device can produce sound (then again, so can a bicycle), it's not related at all to what I come here for. "But the target audience for this product would rather not fuss with speaker placement or cables." - I would claim that the target audience for this site for the most part would love to fuss with speaker placement and cables.

Sorry for the rant but irrelevant content is a very slippery slope and I happen to like this site a lot. Most days.

Porsche Bob's picture

Is this a critique from Tagg Romney or did HT just lift the site restrictions on minimum billion dollar net worth again? I agree completely they're reviewing portable systems for IPods, tomorrow there will be two page missives on (gawd forbid) sub $500K a side loud speakers. I just can't understand why common working people would want to read about AV anyway. Music, it's media storage and all forms of it's technical reproduction are subjects that should be legally restricted to only those with the money and intellectual ability to afford, uhh, I mean understand them. The very nerve! Excuse me now, I have to go sack the entire servant staff for failing to chill the salad forks again...

fringy's picture

And if you are going to do it, please do it right! I have been interested in this, because of the good measurements from the NAD white paper on their website, (they claim +/- 1db from 50-20000hz) and I wanted to see if others could replicate them or if they were manufacturers optimism. (I was kind of hoping stereophile would have a look) So where are your measurements?

Rob Sabin's picture
Thanks for the comments, guys. Our website -- and to a lesser extent our print magazine -- are expanding to address a variety of A/V-related entertainment products and subjects that hit different flashpoints of the home theater lover's lifestyle. Do you own a smartphone or iPod? Do you listen to music? Then this product may be relevant to you, and the fact that it's a high performance solution makes it even more relevant. Do you like movies? Maybe you've noticed we've upped our Blu-ray review coverage, and you'll be seeing more movie-related feature content in print and on the Web site. Bits are cheap -- if you're not interested in something we've posted, skip it. If you think reporting on a high performance dock somehow denigrates our core home theater coverage or the site as a whole, I'm flummoxed how that could be. A "slippery slope?" Really? Hardcore home theater enthusiasts are not the only people who visit our site, nor do we want you to be. We have, in my view, an obligation to introduce the concept of home theater and encourage the purchase of home theater products to a broad range of consumers. The best way to do that is insure we have helpful newbie content on the site in clearly marked areas (something we're working on), and to attract fresh eyeballs to and its resources with a range of product content that supports what people are buying today. We have reviewers who listen to music at home, stream content from Web services, use high performance headphones, and mess with tablets as A/V playback devices. It makes sense to use their talents across all these areas.

As for measuring these types of products -- that's a great idea. Not every product warrants it, but this one would. I'll look into it. -- Rob Sabin, Editor-in-Chief

willieconway's picture

Please don't pretend that this new direction is in line with what I have been promised by your brand so far as a frequent site visitor (and regular ad-clicker) and occasional magazine buyer. And the movies coverage example is bad as movies are the primary reason why we spend money on home cinema equipment. They are relevant, especially with the focus on the technical aspects.

It is of course your prerogative to change (lessen) your focus and become like every other gadget site. You're taking away my reason for visiting/buying and in the grand scheme of things that may not be much of a loss. Time will tell if your call is good.

One last thing: "It makes sense to use their talents across all these areas." No, not necessarily. If you were still focusing on home theater experiences and equipment, your reviewers could execute on that focus regardless of how many MP3s they stream in a day.

willieconway's picture

I complain because I care.

Rob Sabin's picture
Willie, the suggestion made here is that you somehow believe the purity of your home theater experience on our site is sullied by the appearance of other products that might be one or two orbits outside of home theater proper but nonetheless of potential interest to a home theater enthusiast who practices a digital entertainment lifestyle when not plopped in front of his system. I have to say that includes several of us on the reviewing staff now and no doubt many of our readers. Most everyone I know these days streams music at least part of the time from a digital library or music service like Pandora. I know a lot of people now who use their iPads to watch movies and video when on the go, usually with something better than white Apple earbuds.

My question: If Mark Fleischman or Tom Norton reviews a speaker system or TV for us, executed to a particular level of depth and expertise, and that review appears on our website exclusive of a review of a wireless music system like this one, is the review somehow less valid because the NAD Viso One appears below it in the scroll on our homepage? You're still getting the same number of reviews, executed the same way. And if Mark Fleischmann, who has some pretty serious gifts with his ears and ability to write about what he hears, enjoys streaming music and wants to share his recommendations for wireless speaker systems with our public, why shouldn't he? I don't view our URL to be a set of handcuffs, but more a valuable entry point to expose a wide range of consumers to a wide range of home theater and other digital lifestyle products that are becoming popular now. This is what good magazines and websites do; they evolve with their times to serve their evolving audience, or else they die.

If it's a question of "there goes the neighborhood" and your beef is really about wanting the club to be exclusive to hardcore home theater enthusiasts, there are other places to go for that on the web. And the home theater coverage we do execute, which will always remain the core of what we do, will not cater only to the interests of the advanced enthusiast. We have a serious obligation in my view (one we've largely neglected so far) to encourage mass market adoption of any and all home theater solutions, including low end soundbars and HTIB systems that represent the only products that stand between many consumers and the wasteland represented by a flatpanel's built in speakers. So if you'd rather not have to see those reviews and those of wireless speaker systems alongside Tom's exclusive report on the $11,000 Sharp 90-inch LCD we've got coming up, then by all means, don't visit. And if it isn't obvious, I also respond, in depth, because I care.