Into an­other di­men­sion

From a dis­tri­bu­tion co-oper­a­tive to an iconic au­dio brand that brought af­ford­able hi-fi to mil­lions, the growth of the New Acous­tic Di­men­sion con­cept “was a won­der­ful ride”, as NAD’s late great founder Martin L. Bor­ish put it.

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NAD’s au­dio equip­ment to­day is sold in over 80 coun­tries. The com­pany is recog­nised for pi­o­neer­ing work in am­pli­fi­ca­tion from the bud­get mid-range to the highly-re­garded se­ries of Masters se­ries prod­ucts, among them the M2 ‘Di­rect Dig­i­tal’ am­pli­fier recog­nised in our Sound+Im­age Ul­ti­mate 30 this is­sue (see p26). With its sis­ter brand Blue­sound de­liv­er­ing what is ar­guably the best ex­pe­ri­ence avail­able in wire­less mul­ti­room au­dio, NAD to­day is also po­si­tioned to lead the new wave of smart stream­ing au­dio equip­ment. And as it pushes to these new heights, its suc­cess re­mains built on core val­ues es­tab­lished by Martin (Marty) L. Bor­ish, who passed away this July, aged 89. Even back in 1963 when he was a hum­ble na­tional high-fi­delity sales man­ager, he was mak­ing these views clear, in a “dis­agree­ment” re­ported in Phono-Tape Mer­chan­dis­ing, say­ing: “Cus­tomers want equip­ment that looks good in their homes and doesn’t oc­cupy a lot of space. They want in­te­grated com­pact com­po­nent sys­tems that are or can eas­ily be put into cab­i­nets.” In the years to come, Marty Bor­ish would make it just so — and then some.

Group think

The idea for ‘a dif­fer­ent ap­proach’ to hi-fi was de­vel­oped fur­ther at the start of the 1970s through a small group of in­ter­na­tional au­dio dis­trib­u­tors look­ing for mar­ketable elec­tron­ics “with a non-tra­di­tional outlook” — af­ford­able, but truly au­dio-ori­en­tated. Eight Euro­pean dis­trib­u­tors met in Mu­nich, Ger­many, to dis­cuss the con­cept, with plans to dis­trib­ute ini­tially in Ger­many, Italy, France, Switzer­land and UK. They dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of work­ing as a co-oper­a­tive to launch a new brand, and even came up with a name — New Acous­tic Di­men­sion, or NAD for short.

And per­haps most en­thused among this group, and cer­tainly in­flu­en­tial with his ideas, was the gre­gar­i­ous gent at the ta­ble rep­re­sent­ing Acous­tic Re­search in Bos­ton, at the time one of the world’s early true hi-fi speaker mak­ers — Mr Bor­ish again. He was a na­tive of New Jer­sey, and had fol­lowed his fa­ther into the fam­ily op­tom­e­try busi­ness un­til his love of music drove him to­wards the idea of re­tail­ing the nascent breed of high fi­delity equip­ment — he would cater to the ears of cus­tomers in­stead of their eyes. In those days of cir­cuits and mods he de­cided a de­gree of elec­tron­ics ed­u­ca­tion would be es­sen­tial to suc­cess, and he com­pleted a Bach­e­lors in

Elec­tri­cal En­gi­neer­ing along­side the chal­lenge of open­ing HiFi Haven in 1956, his own re­tail shop, in New Brunswick, New Jer­sey. This was a suc­cess, but the ex­cite­ment clearly lay in de­vel­op­ing and de­sign­ing rather than merely sell­ing the ever-im­prov­ing new hi-fi prod­ucts that were ap­pear­ing in in­creas­ing quan­ti­ties and qual­i­ties, and he soon de­camped to Bos­ton, to be­come an em­ployee of Acous­tic Re­search, work­ing along­side in­dus­try pi­o­neers like Henry Kloss and Edgar Villchur. His com­bi­na­tion of en­thu­si­asm and un­der­stand­ing of re­tailer needs saw him rise over his 11 years with Acous­tic Re­search to be­come Pres­i­dent and CEO, and his con­tact with the com­pany’s dis­trib­u­tors and deal­ers both in Amer­ica and overseas led to that land­mark co-oper­a­tive dis­cus­sion in 1972.

What did the mar­ket need? High fi­delity at the time was driven by con­nois­seur clas­si­cal lis­ten­ers seek­ing the high­est fi­delity to concert per­for­mances. But after the mu­si­cal rev­o­lu­tion of the 1960s, the rise of the rock and the im­por­tance of the LP over the sin­gle as the ‘adult’ way to con­sume music, there was a clear op­por­tu­nity to de­liver an af­ford­able path to higher qual­ity sound for younger music fans, one that didn’t re­quire wiring your own cir­cuits or build­ing your own speak­ers — just as Bor­ish had em­pha­sised back in 1963. While there were al­ready pre-built and rel­a­tively mass-mar­ket prod­ucts avail­able, the most rep­utable elec­tron­ics brands of the time were too pricey for many, while the af­ford­able mar­ket was dom­i­nated by poor qual­ity im­ports from global elec­tron­ics gi­ants. And both types of prod­ucts had be­come loaded with func­tions and com­plex­ity that NAD’s founders thought got in the way of the music, and wasted un­nec­es­sary funds.

So the gift that Bor­ish and the co-oper­a­tive com­mit­tee gave to us all was that their goal was not merely to de­liver con­ve­nience and af­ford­abil­ity, but to fo­cus so in­tently on au­dio qual­ity, even if con­sumers couldn’t see it, or didn’t re­ally know that they wanted it.

From some brief his­to­ries of NAD, you’d think that the clas­sic min­i­mal­ist 3020 am­pli­fier was the im­me­di­ate re­sult of this new phi­los­o­phy for mid-range hi-fi. But that was still six years away. The early NAD am­pli­fiers in 1974 and 1975 bear lit­tle ex­ter­nal re­sem­blance to the clas­sics to come. “Solid crafts­man­like fin­ish” was one of their key sell­ing points for the NAD Model 60 (2 × 35W), the NAD 90 (2 × 55W) and the NAD 200 (2 × 100W ‘with Dolby’), with the flag­ship fes­tooned with knobs, switches and VU meters pre­sent­ing just the kind of com­plex­ity soon to be stripped away. But the mes­sages of qual­ity and value were clearly ex­pressed in the com­pany’s 1975 cat­a­logue.

“New Acous­tic Di­men­sion — NAD for short — is a new con­cept in top qual­ity high fi­delity,” it ex­plained ex­cit­edly. “Amer­i­can, Euro­pean and Ja­panese en­gi­neers work­ing with the lead­ing deal­ers and dis­trib­u­tors in the in­dus­try have de­vel­oped a new de­sign phi­los­o­phy — to de­velop and of­fer equip­ment

which will re­pro­duce music so that it is as close to the orig­i­nal as the state of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy per­mits, in a price class which sets new in­ter­na­tional stan­dards for per­for­mance.”

Aside from the “crafts­man­like fin­ish” and two-year war­ranty, the key claim for the am­pli­fiers was the achieve­ment of Flat Power Out­put, so that the rated power out­put was avail­able from “ex­treme bass” to “ex­treme tre­ble”. The re­sponse curve shown in the cat­a­logue is ruler-flat from 20Hz to 20kHz.

The range of VU me­ter-car­ry­ing metal-fronted 1975 NAD prod­ucts also in­cluded three re­ceivers, a tape deck, the NAD 100 tuner, and four head­phones, in­clud­ing the elec­tro­static NAD 20 and the pla­nar mag­netic RP 18. They re­ceived pos­i­tive re­ac­tions from many who heard them, in­clud­ing the press. And crit­i­cally, says NAD with hind­sight, it brought ad­di­tional in­vestors, which made pos­si­ble a new be­gin­ning for the brand.

The next NAD

That 1975 cat­a­logue had shown a NAD logo (re­mark­ably con­sis­tent through­out its 40+ years) po­si­tioned next to the logo for

Acous­tic Re­search. But by 1976 Marty Bor­ish was so con­vinced of NAD’s po­ten­tial that he re­signed his Pres­i­dency at Acous­tic Re­search to set up a new NAD head­quar­ters in the UK. The ques­tion re­mained pric­ing — who could de­sign a high-qual­ity am­pli­fier that could be made at the mid-range prices he wanted to hit?

The an­swer was Nor­we­gian Bjorn ‘BEE’ Erik Ed­vard­sen (pic­tured), who it is de rigeur to de­scribe in terms such as “young ge­nius am­pli­fier de­signer”. Ed­vard­sen had stud­ied in Ed­in­burgh and gath­ered ex­pe­ri­ence at ITT, Dolby Lab­o­ra­to­ries and then at Acous­tic Re­search, from whence he had been in­volved in NAD from its early days as Tech­ni­cal Di­rec­tor, cru­cially forg­ing a re­la­tion­ship with Tai­wan’s Fulet Elec­tronic to achieve low-cost qual­ity-con­trolled pro­duc­tion.

With this ad­van­tage, the grow­ing UK-based team of en­gi­neers led by Ed­vard­sen ex­per­i­mented and re­fined their elec­tron­ics, test­ing new cir­cuits and new con­fig­u­ra­tions.

But they still did not whip out the 3020 overnight. The next range was fi­nalised in late 1977 and re­leased to what was then a rel­a­tively lim­ited dis­tri­bu­tion net­work for the brand — mainly high­end shops want­ing some­thing to com­pete with those mid-fi Far East­ern brands that dom­i­nated the lower price lev­els.

Those prod­ucts in­cluded the 3030, 3045, 3060 and 3080 in­te­grated amps, their power rat­ings in­di­cated by the last two num­bers of the model num­bers… ex­cept, con­fus­ingly, the 3080, which was rated at 90W per chan­nel. Two tuners were also re­leased, the 4030 and 4080, and three re­ceivers — 7030, 7045, 7060 and the flag­ship model, the NAD 7080 (again 90W per chan­nel).

Here be­gan NAD’s fa­mous habit of quot­ing re­li­able and of­ten un­der­stated power rat­ings; the 3080 in par­tic­u­lar is noted as a “world’s first am­pli­fier with FDP into 2 ohms” — FDP be­ing Full Dis­clo­sure Power (see panel).

The rel­a­tively small num­bers of this 1978 range make them a rare find these days, and early re­views were not 100% lauda­tory; the UK’s David Prakel re­mem­bers the pub­lisher of Hi-Fi Sound get­ting “a let­ter ques­tion­ing my parent­age” from NAD’s UK dis­trib­u­tor fol­low­ing a fairly non-crit­i­cal re­view of the 7060 re­ceiver, though this led to a re­view in Hi-Fi An­swers of the 3030 which was far more pos­i­tive. UK PR leg­end Andy Giles re­mem­bers ar­rang­ing for jour­nal­ists to meet the young and en­thu­si­as­tic Ed­vard­sen in per­son, and of course by then there was a new model un­der de­vel­op­ment, rated at a mere 20W per chan­nel, but with a few tricks be­hind its shock­ingly plain fas­cia.

The peo­ple’s am­pli­fier

Fa­mously, the NAD 3020 be­came the best-sell­ing am­pli­fier in his­tory. Not that its ap­pear­ance promised such suc­cess.

“We joked about its mil­i­tary look,” Stereophile’s Jon Iver­son told Stephen Me­jias in a 2013 ar­ti­cle. Me­jias de­scribed the orig­i­nal 3020 as “a rather fu­ne­real but pur­pose­ful-look­ing thing with a drab gray chas­sis and large, block­ish but­tons… and the kind of cheap plas­tic speaker-bind­ing clips that too eas­ily break when care­lessly used.” Yet Iver­son sold “boat­loads” of them, re­mem­ber­ing that “it al­ways out­per­formed any sim­i­larly

priced re­ceiver. It gave us a se­cret weapon with a great story — killer sound, per­fect set of fea­tures, and noth­ing more.”

Crit­ics around the world agreed — there is surely no low-power am­pli­fier in hi-fi his­tory that has re­ceived such praise. The 3020’s ac­cu­racy, mu­si­cal­ity, and seem­ingly ef­fort­less power made it “the peo­ple’s am­pli­fier” as well as the hi-fi hub of choice for thou­sands of stu­dents and first-time sys­tem builders.

“When our cus­tomers bought a 3020, they felt like they had turned the cor­ner and stepped up to car­ing about sound,” re­called Iver­son. “If you walked into some­one’s apart­ment and they had a 3020, you thought to your­self, ‘Yes. This per­son has au­dio dis­cern­ment.’”

That’s a lot of au­dio dis­cern­ment, then, given NAD is be­lieved to have sold more than a mil­lion 3020s, with its on­go­ing vari­ants, the 3020A, 3020B, 3020E, 3020i, and through to the rad­i­cal re­vis­i­ta­tion of the lat­est D 3020 com­pact am­pli­fier bear­ing its num­ber.

So what made the 3020 such a suc­cess? Cer­tainly the sim­ple and un­pre­ten­tious ex­te­rior kept more funds avail­able for the cir­cuits within, and NAD had gone with­out gim­mickry to con­cen­trate on the es­sen­tials. Not that the 3020 was shorn of all ver­sa­til­ity — quite the op­po­site, in­deed. Re­mov­able jumpers on the rear panel al­lowed users to tai­lor the 3020 to their spe­cific needs. So the preamp out­puts could be used with a dif­fer­ent power amp, while for its own power stage there were two sets of in­puts, one of which (‘Nor­mal’) fil­tered both sub­son­i­cally and in­fra­son­i­cally, the other (‘Lab In’) be­ing di­rect.

But per­haps its two big­gest se­cret weapons were its Soft Clip­ping cir­cuit, and a vari­able ‘Loud­ness’ con­trol. The lat­ter en­abled the am­pli­fier to main­tain its sense of balance even at low vol­umes, with lower fre­quen­cies still full even un­der ca­sual use and the am­pli­fier able to de­liver its in­her­ent mu­si­cal­ity.

The Soft Clip­ping cir­cuit was Ed­vard­sen’s mas­ter stroke. It en­abled an am­pli­fier of this price level to per­form be­yond its nat­u­ral abil­i­ties with just the kind of speak­ers with which it might be part­nered, and in sit­u­a­tions where it might be over­driven. In­stead of clip­ping dis­tor­tion, the Soft Clip­ping cir­cuit lim­ited the amount of high-fre­quency en­ergy de­liv­ered to the speaker, rein­ing back gen­tly as the point of clip­ping ap­proached. This not only pro­tected tweet­ers from fry­ing, it al­lowed much clearer sound re­pro­duc­tion, and higher vol­umes than would other­wise be pos­si­ble. Purists with bet­ter speak­ers didn’t need to use it — it could be switched off. But for party time? Turn it on. It was a per­fect im­ple­men­ta­tion for ex­actly the kind of rock and pop fans NAD had al­ways wished to ad­dress.

Our favourite de­scrip­tion of the 3020 comes, per­haps ap­pro­pri­ately, from an­other Nor­we­gian, Karl Erik Sylthe, writ­ing on au­dio­ The 3020 seemed, he says, “ap­par­ently a pin­gle, with its 20 watts. How­ever, tests with speak­ers ac­count­ing for very de­mand­ing loads showed that it coped ex­cel­lently, and served both sound and power ad­e­quate for most tasks from its sim­ple and un­pre­ten­tious cab­i­net, cou­pled with the flex­i­bil­ity pre-out/main-in link pro­vided, and a sym­pa­thetic low price.” With such abil­i­ties, the 3020 be­came an un­likely sta­tus sym­bol.

A plat­form for suc­cess

So with the 3020, NAD de­vel­oped a huge cus­tomer base, which in­cluded a cult-like fol­low­ing en­thused by on­go­ing re­leases. It also re­alised funds for on­go­ing in­vest­ment in in­no­va­tion for its stripped-back de­sign and au­dio-fo­cused en­gi­neer­ing.

In 1981 the com­pany’s 6150 C cas­sette deck was the world’s first to fea­ture Dolby C noise re­duc­tion, while the 3140 am­pli­fier was the first with Bass EQ (then called ‘Speaker EQ’ in its man­ual), pro­vid­ing a 12dB per oc­tave boost be­low ei­ther 45Hz or 70Hz de­pend­ing on your switch set­ting. NAD of­fered three rea­sons for its in­clu­sion — the rapid bass drop-off of many speak­ers, the de­lib­er­ate bass fil­ter­ing ap­plied dur­ing vinyl mas­ter­ing, and the ten­dency of lis­ten­ing rooms to bias mid-bass fre­quen­cies through stand­ing waves,

re­quir­ing a cor­rec­tion in the lower bass. As a fourth rea­son they could have added “and some peo­ple just like more bass”. It’s a pref­er­ence that has sur­vived — ‘Bass EQ’ still ex­ists on the lat­est D 3020, though it’s rel­e­gated to a small but­ton at the back where it can’t be ac­ci­den­tally ac­ti­vated.

NAD’s first CD player came in 1984, and an­other new am­pli­fier tech­nol­ogy in 1985, NAD’s “Power En­ve­lope”, first ap­pear­ing in the 2200 power am­pli­fier and evolv­ing into what NAD to­day calls Pow­erDrive, a patented am­pli­fier cir­cuit that uses a dual-rail power sup­ply that can “han­dle the rough ter­rain, much like an all-wheel drive au­to­mo­bile, slip­ping au­to­mat­i­cally into this con­trol only

when needed”. The re­sult is high dy­namic power and low im­ped­ance drive ca­pa­bil­ity able to con­tin­u­ously drive a four-ohm speaker load at full band­width, and with all chan­nels driven si­mul­ta­ne­ously — or in sonic terms, ex­plo­sive dy­nam­ics and con­trol even with highly de­mand­ing speak­ers.

In 1991 NAD was ac­quired by its Dan­ish dis­trib­u­tor Au­dioNord, which held the com­pany un­til 1999. It wasn’t an en­tirely suc­cess­ful mar­riage. Al­though un­der Au­dioNord NAD de­liv­ered tech­nolo­gies such as NAD LINK and prod­ucts like the NAD 502 CD player and the 302 and 304 in­te­grated am­pli­fiers, which found ac­claim and awards, the new own­ers con­tin­ued to fo­cus on stereo of­fer­ings at a time when many po­ten­tial pur­chasers were look­ing to ex­pand into home cin­ema and sur­round sound. It was 1999 by the time prof­itabil­ity re­turned, and in May that year Au­dioNord sold NAD to an­other NAD dis­trib­u­tor, this time in Canada — Len­brook.

Over to Len­brook

Thank­fully Len­brook didn’t see NAD as “just a brand”, and clearly Len­brook didn’t see it­self as just a dis­trib­u­tor ei­ther. NAD came to Len­brook with its orig­i­nal skill-set in­tact — Bjorn Erik Ed­vard­sen was still with the com­pany, Marty Bor­ish was still a board mem­ber, and un­der the lead­er­ship

of Len­brook’s Robert Brown and Gre­gory Stid­sen, the new team set out not only to build NAD back to great­ness, but to es­tab­lish a group of in­no­va­tive au­dio com­pa­nies, which now in­cludes the Cana­dian PSB speak­ers with leg­endary de­signer Paul Barton, and the Len­brook-de­vel­oped Blue­sound, which launched into the stream­ing mul­ti­room space as the most ac­com­plished of plat­forms (and we gather that Marty Bor­ish wasn’t with­out in­flu­ence in the de­vel­op­ment of Blue­sound).

But it wasn’t an easy start. By now NAD was pro­duc­ing AV re­ceivers, in­clud­ing in 2002 the So­lu­tion Se­ries of all-in-one DVD re­ceivers, but it was play­ing catch-up with mass-mar­ket brands, and had other prob­lems with re­li­a­bil­ity and over­com­plex­ity. Speak­ing at the time, Len­brook’s Chair­man and NAD’s Pres­i­dent Robert Brown told Forbes, “We’ve had to re­design the whole prod­uct line. It cost us mil­lions of dol­lars. But we didn’t have a choice.” It was only in 2003 that NAD hit its stride in this sec­tor, with the pow­er­ful five, six, and seven-chan­nel mod­els of the AVR Se­ries.

Masters of sound

Mean­while in two-chan­nel, Brown hinted at what was to come — “a fancy al­ter­na­tive that ap­peals to music lovers”. Forbes noted that au­dio snobs didn’t con­sider NAD to be truly high-end, while NAD’s “mid-fi mar­ket is

crowded with ri­vals, in­clud­ing premium brands that Onkyo, Pi­o­neer and Sony have cre­ated, the same way Toy­ota cre­ated

Lexus.” Brown was hav­ing none of it. “All those peo­ple who bought their big TVs will come back, and their next pur­chase is go­ing to be in au­dio,” he told

Forbes. “We can sur­vive and pros­per.” And in 2005 came the first Masters se­ries, an­nounced as the ul­ti­mate achieve­ment of NAD’s leg­endary en­gi­neer.

“Bjorn Erik Ed­vard­sen”, read the an­nounce­ment. “Over decades his work has earned 5-Star re­views. But the new Masters Se­ries is his new bench­mark for su­pe­ri­or­ity”. It was based on three prin­ci­ples: “pro­pri­etary think­ing, tech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs and un­sur­passed spec­i­fi­ca­tions,” said the com­pany, so defin­ing a new, more chal­leng­ing level of en­gi­neer­ing. “The Masters Se­ries is built far bet­ter than sys­tems have to be. It has mas­sive qual­ity within. Noth­ing was spared, from the use of one-of-kind “Holm­gren” trans­form­ers, to spe­cial ‘wave form’ heat sinks and hous­ings of thick high-grade steel. In­stead of mere build qual­ity, we call it NAD Build-Artistry.”

As to­day it in­cluded both stereo and mul­ti­chan­nel so­lu­tions, and it did what Brown wanted, defin­ing a new level of per­for­mance for NAD. But the se­cret weapon was still to come.

Go­ing ‘dig­i­tal’

In 2009 NAD’s M2 am­pli­fier swept away any con­cep­tions still cling­ing from the clas­sics that NAD was a com­pany that made bud­get am­pli­fiers. It had the ‘Masters’ tag and stylishly pur­pose­ful de­sign, but the M2’s bold­est shout-out was the promi­nence given to its use of ‘Di­rect Dig­i­tal’ am­pli­fi­ca­tion, in­cluded as part of the model name, no less, at a time when the use of “dig­i­tal” am­pli­fi­ca­tion was still be­ing greeted by your av­er­age high-end afi­cionado with not so much a raised eye­brow as a raised cross.

NAD was one of the first com­pa­nies to in­ves­ti­gate al­ter­na­tive new am­pli­fi­ca­tion types and to de­cide in their favour, and it was cer­tainly the most prom­i­nent to em­bla­zon its de­ci­sion on the re­sult­ing prod­uct at the very top of the fea­tures list as a big bold ben­e­fit. Equally in­ter­est­ingly, though, NAD clearly agreed with the crit­i­cisms laid at the door of Class D am­pli­fi­ca­tion in gen­eral. A white pa­per re­leased with the M2 had NAD’s Greg Stid­sen and Diode Ze­tex’s Craig Bell com­ing to­gether to high­light all the prob­lems of Class D, while ex­plain­ing why Di­rect Dig­i­tal wasn’t like that.

The Di­rect Dig­i­tal method con­verts PCM dig­i­tal sig­nals to 3V pulse-width mod­u­lated (PWM) sig­nals — pulses of fixed height but vary­ing width, as op­posed to fixed width but vari­able value. This can be am­pli­fied di­rectly by FET tran­sis­tors up to ±50V, be­fore pass­ing through a rather crit­i­cal tun­ing fil­ter to drive the speaker out­puts pretty much di­rectly, as the name sug­gests. Ac­cord­ing to NAD it is the im­ple­men­ta­tion of dig­i­tal feed­back at this fil­ter point that al­lows the Di­rect Dig­i­tal to do so much bet­ter than stan­dard Class D, ac­cu­rately cor­rect­ing tim­ing er­rors in the pulses ev­ery 10 nanosec­onds. This “rein­vented feed­back”, as the en­gi­neers put it, de­liv­ered es­sen­tially a com­puter-con­trolled DAC which also am­pli­fied.

To­day the Masters range in­cludes the M32 Di­rect Dig­i­tal in­te­grated DAC-am­pli­fier (pic­tured right), which of­fers 150 of those un­der­stated NAD watts, plus a stereo com­bi­na­tion, the M12 pream­pli­fier and M22 stereo power am­pli­fier, the lat­ter promis­ing more than 250 watts per chan­nel (con­tin­u­ous, full fre­quency range, both chan­nels driven, with THD be­low 0.003% — an unim­peach­able set of power rat­ing dec­la­ra­tions).

The Masters se­ries also still has mul­ti­chan­nel prod­ucts — the M17 AV pream­pli­fier and the M27 mul­ti­chan­nel power am­pli­fier, which de­liv­ers seven chan­nels of 180 watts each.

In­ter­est­ingly nei­ther the M27 nor the M22 use ‘Di­rect Dig­i­tal’ am­pli­fi­ca­tion; only the M32 re­tains that first de­vel­op­ment, though the Di­rect Dig­i­tal process, with­out its high-power stage, is also a core tech­nol­ogy in the M12 preamp/DAC. The other power am­pli­fiers use what NAD calls ‘Hy­brid Dig­i­tal’, which it em­ploys on mod­els right down to its lower prod­uct ranges thanks to the abil­ity to draw on two ver­sions of the Hypex am­pli­fi­ca­tion used in Hy­brid Dig­i­tal (see panel). The top mod­els use Hypex’s Ncore mod­ules, in­creas­ingly found in the most high-end of am­pli­fier brands which have clearly fol­lowed NAD’s lead in ap­pre­ci­at­ing the tech­nol­ogy’s strengths. But the ear­lier and slightly sim­pler Hypex UcD (Univer­sal Class-D) tech­nol­ogy still de­liv­ers re­mark­ably flat fre­quency re­sponse ir­re­spec­tive of load im­ped­ance, and this is ideal for use in am­pli­fiers right down to the lat­est C 338, re­leased this year as the first hi-fi am­pli­fier to come with Chrome­cast built in. We con­sid­ered it a lit­tle blinder of a per­former and fea­tured it on our April 2017 Sound+Im­age cover; we are pleased to learn it has just won it­self an EISA Award in recog­ni­tion of its value and per­for­mance.

In­deed the C 338 seems very much the mod­ern suc­ces­sor to that 3020. And with higher mod­els in­creas­ingly of­fer­ing the op­tion of Blue­sound’s BluOS to bring net­work­ing and mul­ti­room abil­i­ties, and with NAD’s Mod­u­lar De­sign Con­struc­tion giv­ing its higher-end units quick and easy up­grade­abil­ity, NAD’s core val­ues seem as cen­tral as ever to the con­tin­u­ing evo­lu­tion of this unique brand. ‘A won­der­ful ride’, as the com­pany’s late founder Marty Bor­ish put it.

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