NAD C165BEE/C275BEE £650/£900

NAD's budget combi looks very promising, but while looks can be deceiving the listening test reveals all

From the original kings of budget audiophilia, comes a particularly well-equipped preamp and a strikingly powerful power amp, all tastefully presented in traditional NAD charcoal black.

NAD is one of only very few brands to include tone controls, although as our Marantz news feature on p8 shows, they might be making a comeback! There’s also a subwoofer output which we don’t imagine too many stereo folks using, but the rest of the facilities are very useful. We’re particularly impressed with the flexible phono stage, which caters for both MM and MC cartridge and even has adjustable loading.

The C275 BEE power amp is a chunky beast with the option to be used in bridged mode if its normal 150 watts isn’t enough for you. It also offers NAD’s ‘soft clipping’ and has a switchable input level control for use with preamps with excessive gain – it would also ease bi-amping with other models of power amp. Like the C165 BEE pre, this is a well built unit, though there’s no denying that component quality is less fancy than in many of the other amps in this group. A notable feature of both units is their use of NAD’s own ‘Class A gain module’, a small circuit board in a metal enclosure which replaces the more common op-amp chip. There are no less than six of these in the ’165. The module is made up from surface-mounted components but all the parts on the amps’ main boards are through-hole.

Sound quality

Once again, comments from our listeners (who of course didn’t know which amps they were commenting on) seemed to reinforce past impressions of the brand, in particular comments about the energetic though not always perfectly controlled sound. Clearly there’s some room for taste here, but the consensus was that the energy was very much welcome and the control not so terribly missed, with the result that much more was said in favour of these amps than against them.

And indeed it does seem that detail is not bad at all, if sometimes just a little untidily presented – but it’s still there. This might not be the amplification package you’d want, if you need to know exactly how far behind the speakers every member of a band is standing, but you will still be able to hear plenty about what (and how) they are playing on their instruments. The sound nicely balances the attack and ‘bite’ of each note with its sustain and decay and there’s no sense of panic as more instruments join in and chords get thicker.

There’s also a great dynamic flow to the sound, something of a hi-fi intangible but something two listeners commented on explicitly. This all ties in with the general feeling of energy and drive and does make for quite exhilarating listening, especially at high volumes (obviously a temptation with all that power on tap). Out at the frequency extremes there is good extension: bass could possibly use a little more tunefulness and the treble isn’t always quite the sweetest around, but they are both more than creditable.

LIKE: Powerful, energetic, exciting and well detailed
DISLIKE: Slight lack of control, though it doesn’t detract much
WE SAY: An impressive pair of units. Only the most demanding detail freak may find the sound a little rough-edged

DISTRIBUTOR: Armour Home Electronics
TELEPHONE: 01279 501111