NAD T775 Surround Receiver
NAD T577 Blu-ray Player
PSB Image Series T5 Tower Front Speakers
PSB Image C5 Centre Channel
PSB Image B5 Bookshelf Speakers (Surround)
PSB SubSeries 500 Subwoofer
Total System Cost: $9160 (all amounts CAD)
At the suggestion of Lenbrook Industries Consumer Product Marketing Manager, Denise Babin, I agreed to do a complete review of this one-company/two-brand home theatre system. Maybe I should have thought about it a little longer; it was a pretty big project, as it turned out: an upper echelon Blu-ray player, a powerful and very versatile HT receiver, and 6 channels of reproduction. I brooded about this while I spent the better part of a day or more just unboxing and later measuring all of the speakers.
And giving a decent description of the features of the NAD T577 Blu-ray player and T775 HT receiver will be a major essay, so clean your specs, and I’ll provide you with mine for these fascinating products. There’s also the interesting philosophy and technology behind the new Image range of PSB loudspeakers. This has turned out to be a major review project!
On the audio side, it has, “onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD, and DTS Master Audio 7.1. The T577 sends the decoded PCM via HDMI. Also, the T577 offers 7.1 analogue outputs.” This is a standalone player with the capability to feed high resolution analog video and audio into any 5- or 7-channel HT system. It also has full digital output capability through HDMI, coaxial, and optical Toslink connectors, as well as analog component video outputs. This player is seemingly future and past proofed, though it does not play DVD-A nor SACD discs.
The NAD T775 receiver is also similarly engineered, with plug-in boards (High Definition MDC Upgrade Modules) that can be added for future upgrades or current flexibility. The number of features contained in this receiver can be summed up by the number 16, which is how many proprietary logos are under the photo of the T775 on the NAD web site. These include all the Dolby and DTS modes, optional XM Radio, Audyssey EQ, Crestron compatibility, NAD’s own Soft Clipping, and other features. According to this online brochure, “the T775 is second to none in terms of flexibility and up-to-the-minute digital technology.”
Inevitably, then, it will be close to impossible to elucidate or evaluate all of its many features and possibilities. I’ll do the best I can, trying to find those that matter most to most of us. We’ve already noted the Dolby and DTS options, which are supplemented by NAD’s own EARS and “Stereo Enhanced Surround Modes”. Burr-Brown 24-bit/96-KhZ A/D conversion is used, with similar D/As operating at 192 kHz over 5 channels. There are 5 Custom Presets to store these “unique listening modes, DSP options, tone, speaker and display settings.”Speaking of presets, the FM tuner in this receiver offers 40. It also has RDS display of station information, which I discovered is being used by many stations in the Toronto GTA for format or song information display. I’ll say more about the tuner’s performance below.To make operation easier, “Audyssey Auto Setup and Calibration of all speakers” is possible using the provided microphone, as well as the “Audyssey MultiEQ XT Room Correction with custom NAD developed target response curves.” But, cutting to the chase, that is, normal level setting functions, there’s “direct speaker level adjustment for surround, center and sub,” easily found on the bottom of the receiver’s HTR 3 remote control. More on this remote below.
There are analog and digital inputs aplenty, with 7 analog stereo and 6 analog video inputs joining 4 v1.3 1080p HDMI digital inputs. There’s also cross conversion of all analog video formats, so you won’t get lost in HDMI land. You can still hook up your Laserdisc player and the new Blu-ray, but the comparison might make you want to chuck the LDs, even though you can convert them to HDMI format in play. Several of the inputs are on the front panel, including one for a Media Player, as well as composite and S-video, as well as optical Toslink digital audio. If you don’t want to do 7-channel surround, the back channels can be reassigned to “Zone 2, 3, or 4, or front bi-amp.” The rear panel of the T775 is jammed with RCA jacks, and setup could be a trial, so patience and a steady hand (as well as a professional installer) will be welcome. Luckily, all we were connecting was the matching T577 Blu-ray player. I did so via an HDMI cable. It is also worth noting here that the less expensive ($599) T557 player omits the analog multichannel outputs, so could stand nicely for the T577 in this application.
Finishes on these speakers are either black ash or dark cherry vinyl. I recall Paul Barton last year showing me the Image T5 front baffle assembly, which integrates the speaker baskets with the injection-moulded baffle. This simplifies the manufacturing process and ensures consistent quality control of the drivers when they are mated with the front baffle. The cabinets are unusually stylish for relatively inexpensive models, contoured around to front corners (which also reduces diffraction and improves imaging), and the woofers are inset neatly, their yellow “proprietary injection moulded clay/ceramic-filled polypropylene cones” quite smart looking, with no visible screws or bolts around them.
Another sign of unusual value in the Image line is the use of sturdy gold-plated 5-way connectors at rear, allowing bi-wiring on the T5, and B5.
PSB’s SubSeries 500 subwoofer uses a 12″ driver with a “Woven Fiber Glass Cone” with “Rubber Surround” and 2″ voice coil. Its amplifier is rated at 500 watts rms, and capable of 1500 watt peak power, a “Class H discrete MOSFET” design. The 500 is a reflex type that is bottom ported. It’s wisely designed to roll off its low frequencies near 22 Hz, so the lowest frequencies will not destabilize your turntable or make objects in the room vibrate, while providing very powerful deep bass to its lower limit. Front panel controls are provided for Level, Crossover Frequency, and Phase, these hidden behind the grille cover. The Crossover Frequency is variable from 50 to 150 Hz.
In the other graph above, impedance curves for the T5, B5, and C5 are very closely matched, as expected with identical drivers, ranging from around 8 to 30 ohms across the frequency range. This means that they will be an easy load for any amplifier or HT receiver. All of the measurements predict a very high level of sound quality all around, and this is exactly what was heard from these speakers when used with the NAD T775 receiver. They do live up to their name. For listening, AudioQuest Pikes Peak and Gibralter (centre) cables were used for the front speakers, with Kimber 8TC on the rear B5s. Listening to the T775’s FM tuner, I found lots of stations, even in our below-ground home theatre room, 32 signals in all, using a simple dipole antenna. With a better aerial, it should receive many more stations in excellent sounding stereo.This receiver is also XM ready, which means that if you subscribe to it, with the addition of the “separately sold XM-Mini-Tuner CPC-9000 and XM Mini-Tuner Home Dock” (according to the manual) you can plug it into the receiver. And now that XM and Sirius have merged, this should also be available to all Sirius subscribers, too, via these NAD options. I wouldn’t be surprised to soon see a further plug-in for the T775 that facilitates internet radio. And just one other note on audio setup and performance: I did not use the Audyssey EQ auto calibration, because in the past I have found that my room, being already well treated for the problems it solves, doesn’t get any better through EQ. But I’m sure Audyssey will be a Godsend in many rooms, especially those with asymmetrical open areas or odd shapes. Turning to video performance for the T577/T775 combination, for evaluation, I used the FPD Benchmark disc, DVE HD Basics (both Blu-ray), and the Digital Video Essentials DVD, the latter two discs produced by video expert Joe Kane. I also watched or sampled numerous commercial Blu-ray and DVD releases of high quality.
When performance is this great, superlatives just seemed to pepper my notes. Of course, the viewing was done from the close-to-state-of-the-art Anthem LTX-500 1080p projector, based on JVC’s LCOS video platform on our resident 92″ VuTec pull-up screen, which sits just in front of our permanently resident Pioneer Elite PRO-710HD rear projection set. Grey scales were rendered just about perfectly, colour bars had rich, precise hues, blacks were superb, and geometry utterly perfect from these test Blu-rays and DVDs. Motion tests were also very good, with little judder, an absence of mosquito noise (those pesky little things that fly around the screen in fast action sequences), while pans were generally smoother than you’d see from 35mm film. The only problem I could find in the test material was a bit of red/yellow dot crawl, but I never saw anything like it with real-world video material. And the other good news about the T577 is its video performance with DVDs. Not all Blu-ray players in our as yet limited experience have played DVDs (with their different laser light frequency) as well as Blu-rays, but here the DVD test images were right up there with the best DVD players, such as my Pioneer Elite DV-AX10. For example, the DVD Essentials NASA Shuttle launch sequence looked (and sounded) as good as I’ve experienced with any other player. The video performance through the T775 receiver was so good, I felt no need to look at video directly from the T577 player. But users with complex systems have lots of output options from it, as noted earlier.
I’ve been receiving some outstanding Eagle Rock music Blu-ray discs recently, and they’re just great for evaluating a high resolution system for audio and video. Diana Krall In Rio is a prime example, with superb picture, and excellent sound, though just a hair sibilant on her voice, and here it was as good as I’ve seen and heard it, the sound very natural and dynamic. Similarly, the Quincy Jones 75th Birthday Celebration had an immediacy and power, especially the brass section, that was well beyond anything I’ve heard from Dolby Digital, and the picture was superb (it’s a part of the excellent Live At Montreux series from Eagle Rock). The audio I selected in the menu was dts-HD Master Audio, and it certainly did provide “master audio” sound quality. Another treasure of pictures and sound is the BBC series, Planet Earth, a marvelous 5-Blu-ray set which, though in 1080i/DD for broadcast purposes, looks absolutely stunning. There are 13 50-minute programs in all, with titles such as, From Pole To Pole, Caves, Deserts, Great Plains, Shallow Seas, Seasonal Forests, and so on. Fascinating stuff!
With this system 1080i was distinguishable from 1080p, but only by a small margin. There’s that extra bit of sharpness and depth with a good “p” disc. But I could watch Planet Earth for hours, which is what I will be doing, actually, having played only a couple of the discs so far. On the NAD/PSB system they look and sound wonderful, even if just second-rate video and sound (by the way, the set was a recent birthday gift from Aaron). From Planet Earth I went to A View From Space, one of my favourite demo Blu-rays. The pure blues and blacks of the picture were much in evidence here, with a little bit higher resolution on the best footage than from Planet Earth. Other movie Blu-rays followed, with the same exceptional video and audio results.
And to conclude, perhaps I should say a little more about the sound of the PSB Image speakers. As the measurements indicate, they are very flat in response, with a slight bit of emphasis in the upper midrange (T5 and B5), the C5 having a little extra in the 2 kHz range, which helps articulate dialogue. It’s all just a dB or so, but it does make these speakers provide excellent clarity with movie soundtracks, as well as music.
Bass is exceptionally tight from this system when the subwoofer is properly located and matched, its crossover somewhere near the middle setting. The SubSeries 500 is a really good real-world sub, in that it provides lots of bass power, little boom or doubling, and very high pitch definition. It’s a near-perfect match to the Image Series speakers, if perhaps a little expensive for this specific system.
But I doubt that you could find another true high end home theatre system with the sound quality and video capabilities of the NAD/PSB one for less than $10,000, and you could certainly spend quite a bit more on one that lacks the balance, cohesion, and refinement of this group of components. The Blu-ray player’s exceptional video performance with both Blu-ray and DVD sources combines with the superb video pass-through capabilities and exceptional sound quality of the T775 receiver, which is especially notable for its effortless audio dynamics. And then there’s all that flexibility to build around. If your home theatre upgrade budget approaches $9000, this NAD/PBS system is a killer combination!
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