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NAD run their new M51 DAC at an enormous sample rate, way higher than rivals. Rafael Todes listens to the result.

My first experience of the NAD brand came as a spotty schoolboy, drooling outside my local hi-fi shop, ogling the now celebrated 3020 amplifier. I eventually persuaded my father to buy one, and still remember the moment when I hooked it up to some Acoustic Research AR18 'speakers. It gave a level of reproduction hitherto unknown in my house. Now, years later, I found the new NAD M51 DAC (£1500) a polished performer too.
    NAD's new DAC sports many useful features. It has a remote control with volume control, as it has a fully-fledged digital preamp on board. It shows the precise sampling frequency it has been locked onto, and it also has HDMI inputs, to convert the output of a DVD or Blu-ray player into two channel stereo. An HDMI output enables video content to be sent to a screen, a nice touch to be sure, necessary to show disc menus on a TV.
    An innovation NAD bring to the party is the way this DAC re-samples all material into a pulse-width-modulation signal at a sample rate of 844kHz, controlled by a clock running at 108MHz. The theory behind this is that it eliminates the jitter arising from the conversion stage, and digital ringing is eliminated.
    The unit has a sleek elegance to it.  A full-width but half-height brushed aluminium case surrounds a generous blue vacuum fluorescent screen. There are only two buttons on the front panel; standby and input selector. To control volume, you must use the remote control.
    On the rear panel there is the usual set of inputs:  AES/EBU, Coax, Optical, USB (Audio Class 2) and as already mentioned HDMI. The inputs are all capable of handling up to 24 bit/192kHz. There are both single-ended as well as balanced outputs.
Due to the 35bit architecture employed, the preamp is capable of 66dB of attenuation before there is any loss of resolution. The remote gives the ability to change from fixed to variable output, change the screen brightness, as well as absolute phase inversion.
    So all-in-all, the M51 has a lot of well-thought out features, with a particularly effective digital preamp thrown in. I had no difficulty downloading the necessary drivers from the NAD website to use on my Toshiba laptop.


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