NAD Masters Series Components - Very Classy!

      Date posted: January 1, 2011

NAD Master's Series Tuner
NAD Masters Series M4 AM/FM+ Tuner
Sugg. Retail: $1500

NAD Masters Series M5 CD/SACD Player
Sugg. Retail: $2500

NAD Masters Series M3 Integrated Amplifier
Sugg. Retail: $3500

Manufacturer/Distributor: NAD Electronics International, a division of Lenbrook Industries Limited,
888-772-6555   905-831-6555

NAD has traditionally produced relatively inexpensive audio products, so the Masters Series is more than a step upmarket. Clad in grey and silver cabinets, these components are very elegant. The M3 integrated amplifier is included here, but was reviewed previously by AIG, so I will quote from that review. The tuner and disc player are more recent, and proved to be elegant in operation as well as looks. Let’s start with the M4  tuner.

The reason I added a + sign to the heading above is that the M4 tuner is also capable of receiving either DAB or XM/Sirius broadcasts as well, with appropriate accessories. The DAB operation is limited to the European version, while that for North America can be adapted to handle XM/Sirius (now finally merged after much financial bleeding) with the appropriate satellite receiver’s digital output. NAD also offers the CPC-9000 XM Mini-Tuner and its home dock. Of course, XM/Sirius is a satellite pay radio service that requires a window mounted antenna and the outboard receiver.

The M4 provides 40 presets, which will store a mix of AM, FM, or satellite stations. This is good, since the unit tunes in 125k Hz steps, somewhat cumbersome for manual tuning. But this can also be an advantage in urban areas with many close-together stations. For example, I found Buffalo’s WNED-FM (94.5), sandwiched as it is between a “smooth jazz” (oxymoron) station (94.7) and CBC Radio 2’s strong signal at 94.1, to come in best when tuned at 94.4875. This is the only tuner I am aware of that can be tuned this precisely. You can also tune directly to any frequency using the Enter and then the numeric buttons.

Both Masters components come with their own remote controls, which do not include any of the other’s functions. A universal Masters Series remote is not available, but I am told that the NAD HRTM Learning Remote ($149) will operate all Masters Series components, as well as those of other brands, when properly programmed. The remote for the tuner has, among others, an excellent stereo Blend feature that quieted WNED’s signal from Buffalo significantly, and an Info button accesses information provided by stations from RDS or digital XM/Sirius. You can also dim the tuner’s digital display with another button. Also provided are numeric buttons that store and access presets. You can also scroll through the presets. Another feature is Sleep: according to the manual, “Each consecutive press will reduce the sleep time in preset increments until sleep time is canceled as shown in the front panel display.” Both remotes run on AA batteries, not the smaller and more expensive AAA type, which don’t last as long.

The M4 is, as noted above, very selective, as well as being very sensitive. It brought in 54 stations on our outdoor antenna, most in reasonably quiet stereo. Sound quality on the best signals was outstanding, comparable to our reference Accuphase T101, a classic analog design. The NAD tuner is “Analogue Digital” according to the web site, and offers coaxial and optical digital outs on the European version, but not on the North American edition. It does have a 12-volt trigger input for system remote control, and an IR-in to further integrate it into complete systems. There is also an RS-232 jack.

I did listen briefly to the AM section, but did not hear anything that impressed me. I did note that AM stations are fast disappearing from the dial. A simple FM dipole does come with the M4, and an AM loop antenna. I also used a strung wire AM antenna that I had on hand. The M4 does not do AM stereo, but then, who does any more? The North American version tunes in 10 kHz steps, the European in 9 kHz increments.

And, before I forget, a note about the tuner owner’s manual, which provides 8 languages. The English section of the perfect-bound book is 17 pages of, I presume, 136 or so in total. It seems rather a waste for the English-speaking market to have all this printing, but perhaps it’s cheaper in the long run to do one universal manual. Only the bean counters at Lenbrook can know for sure. There are two manuals provided for the M5 CD/SACD player to cover the various languages.
NAD Masters Series Disc Player
The M5 disc player reproduces CD and SACD discs, but not DVD-Audio, which is pretty much a dead format. It has balanced stereo outputs in addition to RCA, but only for stereo. There are also separate 5-channel outputs for SACD, all RCAs.  Digital outs are provided in coaxial, optical, and AES/EBU formats, so this player should fit into almost any analog or digital system.

I used it in both audio and home theatre rooms, in the latter listening in 5-channel mode to SACDs.  But I started in the former space, auditioning  mostly CDs. The first were a couple I know better than anything else, the Bellingham Sessions, Volumes 1 and 2, which I produced and engineered a dozen years ago. We have sold thousands of these (Audio Ideas AI-CD 011 & 013), and they are still available. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard them sound better. I don’t know if the M5 uses upsampling technology, but they sure sounded good, the Chuck Israels Quartet right in the room with me. Other CDs, pop, jazz, and classical followed, with similarly superb results.

In the home theatre room, the 5-channel imaging was enhanced by matrix side channels from the Sunfire Theater Grand processor, and I was very impressed by the immersive spatiality of the sound of such surround SACDs as James Taylor’s Hourglass, where the percussive start of Just A little More Time With You literally leaped out of the speakers around me. And by the end of Dire Straits’s Money For Nothing, I really did want my MTV. There was so much drive and punch from this player that I was simply astonished. Of course, I hadn’t heard multichannell SACD in this room because our classic Pioneer Elite DV-AX10 does not play multichannel SACD, reproducing them only in stereo. And with the M5 you have to remember to press the Multi button with each disc, or you’ll get stereo (or matrix surround in my case).

Perhaps multichannel music is not for everyone, but I’ve been hooked on it since the ancient days of SQ surround. Even with classical recordings with ambient hall sound, it is much more involving to me than simple stereo. The NAD Masters M5 is one of the best reproducers of all these channels, and makes for a wonderfully inclusive way of experiencing the sound of being there, with full dynamics and ambiance of the original musical event.
NAD Master's series M3 Integrated Amplifier
The M3 amplifier has been profiled before by AIG, and it is now joined by the very expensive ($7000) digital M2 amplifier, designed for well-heeled purists. The M2 provides 250 watts x 2 at both 4 and 8 ohms. According to the NAD web site, “the M2 is the first implementation of a new amplifier technology called Direct Digital Feedback. Co-developed with UK based Diodes Zetex Digital Semiconductor, and using a unique implementation of their patented DDFA architecture, the M2 redefines what is possible with digital amplifier technology.”

Here’s some of what my son Aaron had to say about the more conventional M3 amp in the previous review:  “More importantly, for someone like me, anyway, is that the M3 combo sounds excellent on CDs and LPs: rock solid imaging (especially with a little tweak from the excellent and very finely adjustable Balance control), superb resolution, great bass definition and slam, more than enough power, big, blooming outside-the-speakers soundstaging, sweet unfatiguing treble, and clean, open sounding mids…not a lot to fault really, but perhaps a touch on the lean and clean side.” I should note here that Aaron is used to the Musical Fidelity A3 components’ sound.

Earlier in his notes Aaron writes, “a lot of bottom end grip and control. Reminds me of a Bryston amp in this regard. Definitely more grip and authority than my MF gear [with] a subjective sense of more deep bass.” And later, “they really mate well with the Veritas [v1.8s, like Dad’s] - for excellent driver control.” “If clean, powerful, neutral, and fine is your thing, then the M3 is not likely to disappoint. Should be able to drive damn near anything.”

The Masters Series from NAD  is a line of high end audio components that are actually being sold at prices well below many competitors, with audio and build quality to match the best out there. That sounds like an unbeatable combination to me.

Andrew Marshall


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