Sugg. Retail: $800.00 (CAN)
This DVD/CD receiver feeds only two speakers with its 50 watts rms, but adds SRS TrueSurround two-speaker enhancement for quasi-surround sound, something I’ll comment on below. It plays DVDs, of course, and, naturally CDs (it also plays CD-Rs and variants, MP-3, JPEG, and WMA discs), and can be the centrepiece of a reasonably priced home theatre system.
With composite, S-video, and progressive scan component outputs, it can feed virtually any display device of any quality, and 3 outboard inputs are provided, labeled CABLE/SAT, VCR, and VIDEO 4 (front panel RCA, S-video) plus the internal AM/FM tuner and DVD. The L53 also provides a subwoofer output with 12-dB adjustment capability. There’s a lot in this compact box, with the ability to handle new outboard components in addition.
As far as amplification is concerned, the fact sheet notes this: “High current power supplies, discrete transistor output stages, and carefully selected components and circuit layout ensure vanishingly low levels of distortion and crisp power delivery.” As far as I can tell, it does not feature NAD’s traditional Soft Clipping circuit, but it may well be secretly built in to save us from such distortions.
The tuner section features RDS on FM, and has a 75-ohm coaxial antenna input, which makes it easy to hook up to cable or an outdoor antenna, those with 300-ohm connections requiring a balun adaptor (not supplied). In our station reception tests from our outdoor Lindsay double dipole omnidirectional antenna it received 34 stations, a somewhat modest count for today’s receivers when some can approach 60 listenable signals. It was neither all that sensitive nor very selective, with strong stations washing over nearby weaker ones. If you listen to mostly local radio, fine, but this is not a DX champ. The RDA function did display names of stations, ie; The Edge, Jack FM, New Chay, CHUM FM, and Q 107. It’s a good tuner for occasional listening,and I suspect most buyers of this receiver/player will use it primarily for DVD playback.
The DVD player performed well until it decided it liked the movie High Fidelity too much to eject it. About 10 minutes of playing with front panel buttons until we got a Stop indication on the LED display was what was required, and allowed release. Microprocessors get confused, too. Maybe it was that the L53 was tested just before with the Video Essentials disc (feeding our ISF-calibrated [by Rick Ho of London Audio] 64″ Pioneer RPTV) that made the player temporarily tray retentive. This occurred only once.
The picture from composite and component outputs (supposedly a worst case/best case scenario, respectively) was very good in both instances, with a little more colour saturation and black density from the latter, and a slightly less vibrant picture from the former. In the test patterns for grey scale (on component out) I could see a slight loss of detail and low-level grey-to-black gradation. This made scenes shot at night a little (like many in High Fidelity) darker and less detailed, while, conversely, bright scenes had plenty of detail. A solution might be to turn up the display’s brightness a bit to moderate the over-contrasty component picture. Also, you may have to adjust your TV’s aspect ratio to suit various DVDs; the L53 player seems to default to anamorphic mode, but that picture did not fill my screen, Zoom mode on the TV required to get the picture right. With non-anamorphic DVDs, such as the The Magic Of Flight (IMAX), you have to make sure to choose a display mode that works with your monitor, either cutting a bit off the top and bottom to fill the screen (my preference), or the original shape of the picture, which will leave unused areas of the screen on both sides; stretch modes merely distort the picture and make people fat, so I avoid them.
In general, the video performance of the L53 is excellent, though no comparison with our reference setup (Pioneer Elite DV-AX-10 player, Sunfire Theater Grand processor II, and Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature amplifier), which costs roughly 20 times more. I suspect, too, that owners of the NAD will not be using large high resolution displays with it, and the picture quality can be quite outstanding on screens from 40″ on down.
Audio performance was very clean and open, with the typical clarity of NAD components in stereo mode, especially with well recorded CDs. We tried some of our own minimalist-miked recordings, including the jazz pair with the Chuck Israels Quartet, and numerous other favourite discs. In every case, the L53 provided more than satisfactory performance sonically. I first tried the SRS option with a music CD, and was quite dismayed at the spatial effects heard; I do not recommend it with music, but SRS should enhance most DVD soundtracks, where it certainly gets the sound outside the speakers. In some cases the centred narration or dialogue was reduced in level relative to the left and right, without the SRS adding any appreciable phantom sound from behind. SRS level is not adjustable.
Watching a number of DVDs, while experimenting with SRS, I found it could work well on many films, adding spaciousness and increasing apparent dynamic range. I enjoyed watching and listening to such DVDs as Dolphins, The Magic of Flight, and Stormchasers, all IMAX films with pristine video and sound, and some of the best surround effects around. Though these were less enveloping than with discrete speakers, they were still much more effective than straight stereo. I also sampled some of the same movies mentioned in earlier reviews with good results.
Finally, a thought or two about the supplied remote control, which is dedicated to the L53, but similar to other current NAD remotes. It’s quite long and narrow, lights up, and has all the requisite buttons, but I found it less than intuitive, especially the DVD controls near the bottom. Volume is, happily right in thumb range. It is a learning type, but with the L53 being an almost complete system, what’s to learn?
All this said, NAD has packed a lot of flexibility and sheer audio and video performance into the L53 receiver/DVD system at a quite amazing price (which makes my nitpicking seem a little silly). With a good pair of speakers, the L53 can provide a complete, compact home theatre which will excel in small to medium sized rooms.
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