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NAD M51 DAC
Sound quality
Conclusion
Measured performance
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SOUND QUALITY
Using my reference Bel Canto CD2 as a transport, feeding the NAD with a Chord Indigo Plus Digital cable, I listened to some of my reference CDs. The Solti/Decca ‘Tombeau de Couperin’ exhibited a very sweet-sounding treble. An exceptionally beautiful, smooth silky violin section lacked any hint of the harsh graininess that makes analogue worshippers run a mile. This alone would make the DAC a number of friends on first hearing. The sound had a refinement to it, often found in DACs selling at several times the price. The sound stage had a fair amount of left-to-right information, and a little less by way of the front-to-back placement of an orchestra. Reasonable staging, but not outstanding.
    In the bass department, timing was average, but not outstanding. In particular, cello pizzicato was more bloated than some of the cheaper DACs I’ve heard recently, such as the Rega DAC, reviewed a couple of months ago. Not terrible, just not up there with the best. I had a feeling listening to one of the more dance-like movements, that some of the micro dynamics were being understated a bit too much, and that the lilt of the musical line was being ever-so-slightly eroded.


    The Beaux Arts Trio playing Mozart Trios can cause DACs great problems - particularly with the sound of a piano. Very often the percussive nature of the piano and the rapid transients yields a nasty ‘ringing’ sound, just after the initial moment when the hammer has hit the strings. The NAD does quite well on this test, slightly better in fact than my reference Weiss DAC 202. The sound is wholesome, Isidore Cohen’s Stradivarius violin sounds utterly believable. NAD effortlessly captures the silky shine of the violin, a sound not unlike a really fine wine - full of complexity and tonal depth, rounded and smooth with no brittleness to it. Listening to my reference Weiss DAC202, the string sound is a touch less rich, but it separates the three instruments more convincingly, spatially as well as the different textures of the violin and the cello.
    Listening to ‘Ray Gelato’ skillfully recorded on the Linn label, yields a vibrant interpretation by the NAD, particularly outstanding is the realism of Ray Gelato’s voice. There is an accuracy and naturalness which is up there with the best I’ve heard. The plucked double bass isn’t the tightest I’ve heard, but the overall effect is glorious, real quality, especially when Claire Martin joins the proceedings. The NAD particularly captures her presence and the sense of fun the two singers are having.
    Turning to some High-Res material, Charles Mackerras conducting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, again the NAD triumphed with a really sparklingly clean treble, which really suited this excellent Linn recording of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. I have a strong suspicion that the USB/SPDIF bit of the DAC is doing a fine job. I had more difficulty in following the counterpoint when the basses and cellos were playing, as compared to the violins and violas.



 

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