Ever since NAD’s Modular Design Concept (MDC) A/V receivers were first announced, I’ve wanted to review one, and now the moment has arrived. I’ve just received, unpacked and installed NAD’s second-from-the-top model, the T775 and have begun listening to it in The Perfect Vision Audio Lab, and I’ll share some first impressions in just a moment. But first, let me provide some background.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, NAD’s MDC initiative involves several very good ideas whose time has surely come.
First, the MDC concept is driven by the notion that technology is evolving very rapidly and not always in predictable directions. Some manufacturers respond to this problem with a shotgun-like, “let’s-include-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” design approach, but NAD has what I think is a better idea. NAD’s idea is that the only way make an expensive A/V component “future proof” (or at least relatively future proof) is to make it easy to update, not just on a firmware but also on a hardware level, in the years to come. Accordingly, NAD has designed its MDC-series receivers with two modular bays or computer-style card slots—one for installing circuit modules that provide critical video processing circuitry and the other for audio processing modules. Imagine the freedom and piece of mind that this gives prospective buyers.
Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that two years from now Dolby and DTS both come up with new über-CODECs that introduce a hypothetical digital audio format that offers twice the sampling rate of today’s highest resolution format (i.e., 384kHz/24-bits). Naturally, no present day A/V receiver would be ready to handle those CODECs, nor would one have the requisite 384/24 capable DACs. For most home theater enthusiasts, the solution would a loud groan, followed by plans to sell off one’s “old” AVR in order to buy a new one that’s ready for the new CODECS. But for owners of NAD’s MDC receivers, the situation would be much different. For them, the game plan would simply be to wait until NAD released a new audio module that supports these hypothetical new CODECs and their attendant 384kHZ/24-bit digital audio files. Then, at his or her leisure, the NAD owner could buy the new module and have it installed (probably along with a firmware update of some kind) by their local NAD dealer. There would be no need to replace the entire receiver, because the MDC approach would allow the owner to replace only those parts that really required updating.
The same situation applies vis-à-vis video updates. We are, for example, on the cusp of some sort of 3DTV revolution, though none of us can be sure exactly what direction(s) upcoming developments may take. But no matter what happens, buyers of NAD receivers with MDC features should be able move forward with confidence, secure in the knowledge that—if 3DTV takes off as manufacturers hope—NAD will be able to produce a new video module that incorporates whatever unique technical twists and accommodations 3DTV might happen to require.
A second point that’s worth noting is that NAD’s MDC concept takes into account the fact that different enthusiasts may have very different priorities, which is why it’s a wonderful thing that NAD has put its video and audio circuitry on separate modules. In my experience, some home theater enthusiasts are video mavens first and audiophiles second, others invert the order (audio first and video second), and still others care passionately about both sides of the equation. The beauty of the MDC concept is that you decide which (if any) upgrades you want, and when to install them. Now that’s my kind of future proofing.
Notes on the T775
To give you a quick snapshot of the T775, let me quote directly from NAD’s press release, which has this to say.
“The T 775 AV Receiver includes the new AM 200 and VM 100 MDC Modules. Like The T 785 HD, the T 775 HD boasts dual 32-bit Aureus 7.1 high-speed DSPs by Texas Instruments, Audyssey's MultEQ XT, Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume; decoding for Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD Master Audio.”
“The T 775 HD employs the latest version HDMI 1.3 Repeater from Analog Devices. All input resolutions up to 1080p are fully supported at the output as well as cross conversion of legacy analog formats. All existing analog inputs are also available for up-conversion to HDMI output. Deep Color and xvYCC Expanded Color Space are supported to fully realize the highest possible video resolutions, now and for the foreseeable future. The NAD T 775's HDMI repeater also generates an on-screen display (OSD), and de-interlaces standard-definition legacy formats.”
The T775 is conservatively rated to produce 7 x 100 Wpc at 8 ohms with all channels driven, and sells for $2999—making this one of the most expensive AVRs The Perfect Vision has reviewed in recent times.
My very first impression of the T775 was to think, “Ohmigosh is this thing ever heavy!!!” The T775 tips the scales at a none-too-dainty 56.66 pounds in its shipping carton—a figure driven, at least in part, by the gimongous power supply visible through the unit’s too vents. On the bottom there is an entire row of cooling fans (that’s right, fans, plural), meaning that the NAD will stick right with you, even if you like to drive relatively insensitive speakers to high volume levels.
Rear panel layout is very straightforward, so I had basic wiring connections completed in no time. Basic setup, however, took a bit longer than I expected, in part because NAD’s remote control employs the Enter button in a counterintuitive way that seems almost the reverse of standard practice. The basic gist of things is that, with the NAD, you typically use the Enter button to toggle through basic menu categories (whereas most manufacturers would have you do that via the Up/Down cursor buttons), and then select options or values you wish to set by clicking either the Up/Down or Left/Right cursor buttons (again, the reverse of standard practice). After a fair bit of practice you eventually get used to the NAD control conventions, but they feel, well, backward at first.
My one other minor gripe is that the remote (or perhaps the T775’s remote sensor) has a very narrow viewing angle, meaning that you have to aim the remote straight at the receiver to have any hope of your commands getting through. I also found that the range of the remote seemed pretty limited, too (about 10 feet at best). I’m planning to contact the NAD folks to see if these kinds of issues are common, or perhaps unique to my review sample.
Once I got set-up procedures sorted out and ran a basic Audyssey calibration on the speaker system currently in The Perfect Vision lab, I made another interesting discovery. Unlike many implementers of the Audyssey MultEQ system, NAD not only offers the standard Audyssey EQ setting (labeled Audyssey, Flat, and Off), but also provides a unique NAD EQ curve. While differences between the standard Audyssey target curve and the NAD target curve are subtle, my listening tests lead me to think I will wind up with a long-term preference for the NAD curve overall.
I don’t want to jump the gun and make premature pronouncements on the sound of this receiver, but thus far it has created strong positive impressions. The NAD’s overall sound and “feel” remind me of results that, in the past, I’ve only been able to achieve with very costly, separate, high-end A/V controllers and multichannel amps. As I’ve listened through the NAD thus far, I’ve found myself evaluating it in much the same way I might listen to very fine high-end stereo components. The NAD is so refined, so subtle, and yet so muscular and unflappable that it invites extremely serious, no-holds-barred critical listening—acid tests that not all competing AVRs could pass (at least not with flying colors, as the NAD appears to do).
I’m looking forward to spending more time with the NAD and to presenting my findings in an upcoming full-length review in The Perfect Vision. In the meantime, I encourage you to give NAD’s Modular Design Concept some thought; it seems to me to be a good way to preserve (and in some sense to “future proof”) your investment in fine A/V components.