NAD T 775 A/V Receiver (TPV 88)

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NAD T 775 A/V
NAD T 775 A/V Receiver (TPV 88)

Within the home theater marketplace, NAD has earned a reputation as a firm whose roots are firmly grounded in the high-end audio tradition, yet as a maker of products that, though they may be premium-priced, are nevertheless affordable. Yet in almost every way possible NAD offers prospective buyers cues that its core values and priorities are different from those of most mass-market manufacturers. In essence, NAD is about sound quality first and almost everything else second. As a result has never been very interested in the game of “specsmanship” for its own sake, nor does it care about being first to market with the latest/greatest technical gongs and whistles (except, of course, in cases where said new technologies make for an audibly better user experience). But when NAD does make strong new technical moves, you can safely bet it will do so in ways calculated to make either a difference in perceived sound quality or to add long-term value to its products. A good case in point would be NAD’s T 775 A/V receiver, which is the subject of this review.

The T 775 is the next-to-the-top-of the line model in NAD’s new range of MDC (Modular Design Construction) receivers, where audio and video functions are each supported via separate, modular, plug-in circuit boards that fit in the receiver’s rear panel. The MDC approach offers several benefits. First, the MDC approach allows NAD to assure prospective buyers that—even as audio/video technologies rapidly change and evolve—the T 775 will not become obsolete because it will be possible to buy new audio or video boards to update the receiver over time. Contrast this to the typical mass-market approach where, to be blunt, technology updates more often than not entail replacing old units with new ones—lock, stock, and barrel. Second, the MDC approach frees NAD to design a receiver that, in a very real sense, is a performance-oriented A/V tuner/amplifier platform designed to last for years and years. While new features may come and go (and MDC components can flex and adapt with them as necessary), the core tuner, preamp, and amplifier sections of an NAD receiver remain rock-solid and unchanged over time. In short, MDC gives NAD owners the freedom to swap out audio/video feature sets over time, while preserving their investment in high-quality core electronics. That’s an approach I can respect, can’t you? 

From a business perspective, NAD is what might be termed a “fast follower,” in that it closely observes emerging technical trends, but follows them only once it is convinced they add real sonic benefits or tangible value (in other words, NAD products imposes a built-in technical “BS filter” of sorts). Several examples can be drawn from the T 775. First, it provides—as NAD products have traditionally done—extremely conservatively rated power specifications. In an industry where at least some level of spec inflation is de rigueur, NAD takes the opposite tack, honestly rating the T 775 at 2 x 130 Wpc for stereo operation, or 7 x 100 Wpc for 7-channel operation, with both specs taken at very low distortion levels. NAD’s power numbers may seem underwhelming at first, but in my experience they’re scrupulously honest and reflect the underlying muscle and sophistication of the firm’s amplifier designs. Similarly, NAD has equipped the T 775 with Audyssey’s MultEQ XT room/speaker EQ system, but with a very interesting wrinkle. Where most Audyssey adopters offer three standard equalization options—Audyssey EQ “On,” Audyssey EQ set for “Flat” response, or Audyssey EQ “Off”—NAD has negotiated the right to offer a fourth EQ option for the T 775; namely, a proprietary NAD EQ mode, which we will discuss in more depth later on. The point is that NAD is continually looking for ways to push the sonic envelope—to deliver that elusive “something extra” that will matter to performance-minded enthusiasts.

Does this entail a price premium? It does, though not an outlandish one. The T 775 sells for $2999 (where competing models from mass market manufacturers might sell for roughly two-thirds that sum, give or take a bit). Thus, a key question to ask is whether the NAD’s sonic “extras” and other “intangibles” make it worth what it costs. I’ll attempt to address that question in this review.

OVERVIEW

Consider this AVR if: You want an A/V receiver that, more than most, offers the sonic qualities—such as openness, transparency, resolution, and robust dynamics—that are typically associated with A/V separates (that is, separate high-performance A/V controllers and multichannel power amps). Also, consider this receiver if you appreciate a product whose “Modular Design Construction” architecture offers a meaningful degree of future proofing in a world where new technologies are evolving rapidly. Above all, though, look at this AVR for its pure, natural sound quality.

Look further if: You need or want to be the first enthusiast on your block to own a receiver with all of the latest/greatest technologies. This receiver provides just 7.1 channels with 100 Wpc, where some like-priced competitors offer 9.1 channels with higher claimed power output per channel. Similarly, the NAD does not incorporate decoding features for Audyssey or Dolby modes that support so-called “height” or “width” channels. But that said, note that the NAD’s core sound qualities are among the best you’ll find in any AVR at any price.

Ratings (relative to comparably priced AVRs)

  • User interface: 7
  • Sound quality, music: 9.5
  • Sound quality, movies: 10
  • Value: 9

FEATURES:

  • Very conservatively rated at 7 x 100 Wpc or 2 x 130 Wpc
  • Dual subwoofer outputs
  • Standard Audyssey EQ options, plus Audyssey-approved proprietary “NAD EQ” mode.
  • Tuners: The receiver provides standard AM/FM reception and is XM satellite radio-ready
  •  Provides support for optional NAD iPod dock.
  • In addition to standard Audyssey EQ options, the receiver also incorporates a proprietary, Audyssey-approved “NAD EQ” mode (see sidebar, below).
  • Proprietary NAD “EARS” (Enhanced Ambience Retrieval System” mode, which is geared for use with stereo source material and that promises to extract “the natural ambience present in nearly all well-produced stereo recordings.” NAD adds that the EARS mode “does not synthesize any ambience or other sonic elements and thus remains truer to the sound of the original musical performance than most other music-surround options.”

Features NAD’s Modular Design Construction AM 200 Audio Module, which provides:

  • Dual High Speed DSPs with 32/64 bit Floating Point architecture.
  • Dolby Digital TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital, Dolby ProLogic IIx decoding.
  • DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio, DTS Digital Surround 96/24, DTS Neo:6 decoding.
  • EARS, Enhanced Stereo, Enhanced Bass.
  • Audyssey MultEQ XT room correction with support for Audyssey MultEQ Pro.
  •  Audyssey Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ.
  • 3 Coaxial SPDIF Inputs, 1 Output.
  • 3 Optical SPDIF Inputs, 1 Output.

Features NAD’s Modular Design Construction VM 100 Video Module, which provides:

  • HDMI Repeater.
  • 4 HDMI Inputs, 1 Output.
  • Converts analogue video to digital HDMI.
  • OSD on HDMI.
  • Supports all SD and HD video resolutions up to 1080p.
  • De-interlaces 480i/576i to 480p/576p.
  • Support for Deep Color and xvYCC color space.
  • Real time support for data (like RDS text, iPod navigation, etc.).

USER INTERFACE

The T 775 features a simple graphical user interface (GUI) and setup menu that is highly intuitive and easy to navigate.

Because Audyssey’s MultEQ XT room/speaker EQ system is a vital, integral part of the T 775, its setup and control procedures should be part of our User Interface discussion. My finding was that the NAD (GUI) guides you through Audyssey automated speaker setup in a straightforward way, though with less graphical clarity (that is, fewer illustrative onscreen diagrams and the like) than I have seen in some other Audyssey implementations.

Here are three important hints for best Audyssey results:

  • Make sure you place the included calibration mic at ear level for a seated listener (ideally by mounting the mic on a camera tripod that you can move from one listening seat to another).
  • The MultEQ XT system allows you to take eight sets of room measurements, and we recommend that you use all eight (Audyssey’s modeling of the room/speaker interface gets better as you capture more data). For best results, take the first set of measurements from the most central listening position in the room (typically the position you would use most often). Then, take the second through eighth sets of measurements from other frequently used listening positions (or from locations near those seating positions).
  • Do the Audyssey setup when your room is as quiet as possible; the system is very reliable, but in my experience it can be thrown off by spurious room noises, such as footfalls, cars passing by, aircraft passing overhead, household HVAC fans, etc.). For this reason, it sometimes works best to do Audyssey calibrations either late at night or early in the morning.

The Audyssey system significantly simplifies system setup and adds readily apparent sonic benefits. Contrary to common audiophile wisdom (which can sometimes entail a bias against DSP-driven EQ systems of any kind), I find that Audyssey does not blur or diminish subtle sonic characteristics in good speaker systems; on the contrary, it leaves the core sound of speakers intact, while smoothing and balancing their in-room frequency response. But note: even if you do not want to use Audyssey EQ settings (and remember, you can turn those EQ setting off at any time, if you wish), it is still a good idea to use the Audyssey system to handle basic speaker system configuration/setup tasks, such as setting speaker sizes, distances, channel levels, and—especially—speaker-to-subwoofer crossover frequencies. Do be sure to check out the NAD EQ mode, which we’ll discuss in some detail, below.

While I have strong positive reactions to the basic Audyssey EQ/NAD EQ system, I have somewhat mixed reactions to Audyssey’s Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume functions, and I recommend approaching both with some caution. While the Audyssey Dynamic EQ function offers potentially worthwhile benefits for those who listen at low-to-moderate volume levels, adjusting EQ curves in keeping with the volume settings you’ve chosen, I personally find that the Dynamic EQ function seems to undercut clarity a bit (which the basic Audyssey EQ/NAD EQ system does not). My basic complaint is that the Dynamic EQ system seems to impart an ever-so-slightly bass-heavy sound. The Audyssey Dynamic Volume function, in turn, can be very useful for those listening in apartments—especially in terms of managing volume levels late at night—but seems to undercut clarity further still. My suggestion, then, would be to try both functions for yourself and make your own judgment as to whether their benefits outweigh potential drawbacks.

__________

Sidebar: About the NAD EQ Curve

As I mentioned above, the T 775 offers not only the standard “Audyssey EQ” response curve, but also a special “NAD EQ” curve, which raises an important question: what’s the difference between the two? I posed this question to Greg Stidsen, NAD’s Director of Product Development, who offered a great deal of useful background information.

First, Stidsen explained that it was a natural choice for NAD to explore digital room correction solutions in general, and to collaborate with Audyssey in particular. This is partly because of NAD’s long association with TacT’s Peter Lyngdorf, Stidsen observed, who “had sold his interest in NAD to pursue the development of the TacT room correction (system) along with V. Bosovik many years ago.” But apart from its familiarity with the Lyngdorf and TacT’s efforts in the room correction field, NAD also had a great deal of prior experience in working with Audyssey co-founder Tomlinson Holman (of THX fame), since “NAD developed the first THX product, the 208THX amplifier.” Putting these two factors together, it was perhaps inevitable that NAD would want to incorporate Audyssey features in its receivers, and indeed NAD worked closely with Audyssey as it developed successive iterations of its systems, including the MultEQ XT system incorporated in the T 775.

But, says Stidsen, the key issue for any room correction involves the fact that “all of these adaptive correction systems base their correction on a measurement of the existing acoustic 'fingerprint' of the speakers and their interaction with the room. The system doesn't know what the overall  'correct' or 'target' response should be; this needs to be programmed into the system.  There are several theories about what the target response should be…”

Expanding on this point, Stidsen explains that, “in a nutshell, most speakers are designed for 'flat' response in an anechoic chamber. When that flat responding speaker is placed into a typical room, the bass response is elevated due to 'room gain' and the high frequencies are absorbed by walls and furnishings.  The resulting response in the room is very different from the response in the anechoic chamber, which mimics a 'free space' response.  All recording engineers use a speaker in a room to monitor their recordings, and the acoustic balance of all recordings reflect this reality.  If you make a speaker/room combination 'flat' (an option on the T775) it will sound 'thin' and 'bright' with too much treble energy and not enough bass. The Audyssey setting compensates for this by increasing the bass and decreasing the treble”—a setting that Stidsen and others at NAD perceived as sounding good, but also a little “like a ‘loudness control’ had been applied.”

While acknowledging that many listeners like the effect of the standard Audyssey EQ setting, the NAD team felt that with some extra time and effort it might be possible to produce an even more natural sounding alternate EQ curve—one that would potentially hold even greater appeal for critical audiophiles. Accordingly, NAD worked out an arrangement with Audyssey where, as Stidsen put it, “Audyssey allowed us to include our own target (EQ curve) as long as we also included theirs.”

According to Stidsen, the NAD EQ curve “was developed in the NAD Lab with help from our sister company PSB Speakers.  Steve Wilkins from NAD (developer of EARS) and Paul Barton (of PSB) did most of the acoustical measurement and analysis.” The NAD team felt the standard Audyssey EQ curve added “a little too much energy in both the bass and treble (regions),” so that NAD’s strategy was to try for an EQ approach that was “a bit more sophisticated and uses a couple of 'shelving filters' in the treble response and a bit less emphasis in the bass region. Our goal was to leave intact the character of the loudspeaker as it would be heard in a room with favorable acoustics.” Stidsen observes that, “if you have your front stereo speakers well placed and you have a good room, the NAD target curve will sound very similar.”

While conceding that, “the NAD curve has less 'wow factor' than Audyssey's,” Stidsen adds that, “we think it is more natural and satisfying over time.”

With the T 775, however, the great news is that the choice is entirely yours, since the receiver provides both the standard Audyssey EQ curve, the NAD EQ curve and a ‘flat’ setting, plus the option of turning EQ off altogether.

While I can see merits in both the Audyssey EQ and NAD EQ curves, and I spent a great deal of time comparing the two, I found I preferred the NAD curve over the long term, finding it let even more of the speaker system’s distinctive personality shine through, while still providing a useful degree of in-room response smoothing. But by all means try both curves (or none at all), to see which works best for you.

_________

REMOTE CONTROL

The T 775 comes with a backlit remote that, on the whole, I found very easy to learn and to use. In particular, I liked the way the remote encourages on-the-fly adjustment of channel levels, and also facilitates on-the-fly comparison between surround processing modes.

There were, however, two problems I noted with the remote control. First, I noted that NAD has chosen to break with what I consider an accepted industry remote control interface convention. In most remotes, up/down and left/right cursor buttons are used for navigation, while a central button is used to perform Enter or Select functions, but the NAD remote does not entirely follow this convention. Instead, up/down buttons are used for navigation, left/right buttons give access to sub-menus, and then up/down buttons are used again to select desired options (your instinct will be to press the center button to select options, but that’s just not how the NAD rolls). Is this somewhat confusing? Yes, but it’s also something that, with practice, you’ll learn to work around.

Second, I found the remote was fairly limited in range and quite fussy about being positioned directly in front of the AVR—not off to the side or above or below the receiver—in order to work correctly. NAD suggested that I try installing a fresh set batteries, which I did, but the battery swap only marginally improved the situation. NAD indicated that it had not experienced problems with range or reception angle for its remotes, but when I mentioned the matter on a blog I wrote on the T 775 for our Web site, www.avguide.com, at least one reader mentioned experiencing the same problems I had. If you decide to buy a T 775, then, make sure your dealer is willing to work with you to make sure that your remote functions as it should. 

VIDEO PERFORMANCE

The receiver’s HDMI repeater function and deinterlacing functions performed transparently, without adding any apparent noise or artifacts.

 

SONIC CHARACTER

Let me come right out and say it: superior sound quality is the reason to want this receiver, and this is because it doesn’t sound like a typical AVR at all, but rather more like an expensive set of A/V separates. But what does that actually mean in practice? Several things.

First, the T 775 handles complex musical or cinematic sonic details with an almost casual, offhanded ease. Small details are never exaggerated, spotlighted, or overdramatized, but rather are just there—simple, pure, accessible, and unadorned. Even on complicated orchestral material or densely layered soundtracks, the NAD remains as unflappable as a UN translator in the midst of a heated debate; it just relays the information it’s been given in a faithful, accurate, and unflustered way. Perhaps as a result of this, the NAD does a much better job than most receivers of filling in the spaces and background textures between notes, voices, sound effects and the like, always supplying both content and context for the sounds you’ll hear.

Second, the T 775 typically sounds dynamically unconstrained—and frankly sounds more muscular than its published power specification might lead you to expect. With most receivers, we unconsciously brace ourselves for slight signs of compressions, congestion, or even stridency that can result when the sonic going get rough. But with the T 775 in play you gradually learn to relax as you come to realize that it is more or less unfazed by large or small-scale dynamic swells in the material (well, except in those case where owners insist on listening at absolutely ridiculous volume levels). But even under the direst circumstances, owners have the option of switching on NAD’s proprietary “Soft Clipping” circuit, which allows the amp to endure (and then recover from) moments of dynamic overload in a sonically graceful way. Note, however, that while “Soft Clipping” clipping circuit can prove a lifesaver when overload is expected, the T 775 actual sounds subtly purer and cleaner with the circuit switched off. Choose wisely.

Third, the T 775 offers the characteristically smooth, rich tonal balance I have come to regard as the NAD “house sound.” This sound is, perhaps, tipped just slightly to the warm side of absolute neutrality, but from musical or cinematic perspective this is far, far preferable to sounds that are skewed in the other direction; that is, toward a cold, austere, “spotlighted” presentation that, while initially impressive, can prove sonically fatiguing over the long haul. The appeal of the NAD “house sound” is that it is unfailingly welcoming, engaging and, I think, relaxing so that it makes you want to keep listening for hours on end.

Movie/Soundtrack Performance:

To experience the delicacy and refinement of the T 775, try listening closely to the first conversation between Amelia Earheart (Hilary Swank) and George Putman (Richard Gere) in Amelia. What the T 775 will reveal, and in an effortless way, is the very hard work that Ms. Swank has put in to mastering the crisp diction and somewhat unusual cadences of Earheart’s distinctive voice. Earheart was very well spoken and had gift for precise, eloquent word choices, which Swank mimics so beautifully that you almost feel she has transformed into an entirely different person—truly “inhabiting the role,” as the old saying goes. (You can verify the effectiveness of Swank’s work, by the way, by watching the extras for Amelia, which include some early newsreel footage that captures the sound of Earheart’s unusually crisp, clear speaking voice.). With the several different speaker systems I used with the T 755, the receiver consistently exhibited an uncanny level of natural clarity in reproducing the sounds and delicate—almost subliminal—inflections of human voices.

But as you might expect, the T 775 is very good at handling much larger scale passages, such as the hand-to-hand battle in the shipyard that takes place in chapter 13 of Sherlock Holmes. As the relatively compact and agile Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) is pursued by the behemoth Dredger (Robert Maillet), you not only sense but hear the futility of Holmes’ evasive maneuvers as Dredger, bearing an enormous long-handled maul that has already proven too heavy for Holmes to lift off the ground, shatters giant shipyard beams and braces as if they were toothpicks, then picks up an enormous cast iron chain and flings it at Holmes as if it weighed no more than a pair of nun chucks flying through the air in a Bruce Lee movie. The big NAD does a great job of capturing the explosive force of the beams bursting, the clanking of the links of the massive chains, the loud but futile “pop” of Watson’s pistol being fired in Holmes’ defense, and—finally—the deep, ominous groan of the ship breaking free from its dry-dock supports and sliding into the Thames, dragging heavy chains, capstans, and other debris with it as it goes. The T 775 has enough sheer dynamic “oomph” to let giant-scale sound effects like these really expand, “breathe,” and fill the listening room.  

Music Performance:

But good though the T 775 is as a cinema receiver, it is truly a “music first” component—just as NAD advertizes it to be, which implies that for all its muscle this receiver give even greater emphasis to refinement and sonic subtlety. For proof of this, try listening to the Conspirare choir’s rendition of the Dolly Parton song “Light of A Clear Blue Morning”, as heard in A Company of Voices/Conspirare in Concert [Harmonia Mundi]. For those unfamiliar with Conspirare (the name means, “to breathe together”), it helps to know that the group is a sophisticated and eclectic choir that—under the guidance of Artistic Director Craig Hella Johnson—is working to inject new energy and life into the world of choral music. To this end, the choir sometimes chooses “pop” songs, such as “Light of A Clear Blue Morning” as its musical vehicles, but treats them to astonishing new arrangements that impart refined structures, polish, sophistication, and deeper meaning that provide a whole new take on familiar material.

“Light of A Clear Blue Morning” opens with a simple, haunting piano passage, where the T 775 really lets you hear the sound of the instrument reverberating and resonating within the interior of Austin’s Long Center for Performing Arts. Then, the main lyric of the song is taken up by the powerful, crystal-clear voice of soprano soloist Kathlene Ritch, whose voice gradually soars and swells, lifting the song up to the hall’s highest balconies. Finally, the rest of the Conspirare choir joins Ritch, with individual choir sections taking up and expanding upon, individual lines or phrases drawn from Parton’s lyrics. The effect is enchanting, as if the song is literally unfolding and slowly filling the hall with its power. The NAD does a fine job with Ritch’s voice, and gives palpable body and presence to the choir sections as they join in. But perhaps the most amazing quality of all is the manner in which the T 775 deftly captures the echoes and reflections of sounds within the recording, creating the really believable illusion that you are enjoying the performance within a large, warmly resonant concert hall. (The effect was especially significant to me, since I had the privilege to be present in the Long Center when the original recording was being made.).  

Bottom Line:

NAD’s T 775 is a premium-priced A/V receiver that puts its primary emphasis on sound quality—taking what NAD would characterize as a “music first” approach. The receiver is rich in those feature that matter most, but at the end of the day it is a product that is more about delivering sonic power and refinement than providing the latest features, functions, or technical gimmicks du jour. The receiver’s ingenious MDC architecture does, however, offer a welcome measure of future proofing that should help preserve your investment.

For the price of the T 775, the fact is that you could buy an AVR that offered more channels, (ostensibly) more power, or more expansive feature sets. But that said, I think you would be very hard pressed to find a receiver that sounds better than—or even as good as—this NAD, which to my way of thinking makes the T 775 the smarter buy in the long run.

SPECS & PRICING

NAD T 775 7.1 channel A/V receiver

Power output: 7 x 100 Wpc @ 8 ohms, or 2 x 130 Wpc @ 8 ohms, with channels driven from 10 Hz – 20kHz ± 0.3 dB at less than 0.05% distortion.

Decoding formats:Dolby Digital TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital, Dolby ProLogic IIx, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio, DTS Digital Surround 96/24, DTS Neo:6, proprietary EARS mode, Enhanced Stereo, and Enhanced Bass mode, multichannel PCM (up to 7.1 channels at up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution). 
Video inputs/outputs:six analog video inputs (all S-Video and composite, 1 front panel); three component video inputs (HDTV compatible); three analog video outputs—two tape (composite and S-Video) and one Zone (composite); four v1.3 1080p HDMI digital audio/video inputs; four video monitor outputs (HDMI, component, S-Video and composite formats).
Audio inputs/outputs:seven stereo analog audio inputs (one front panel); three stereo analog audio outputs (two assignable as Tape Out, or as Zone 3 and Zone 4 Outputs with independent source and volume control); one 7.1-channel analog audio input (for DVD Audio/SACD/etc.); seven digital audio inputs, (3 coax and 4 optical, 1 front panel); two digital audio outputs (1 coax and 1 optical); preamp outputs for all 7.2 channels (2 Subwoofers); four v1.3 1080p HDMI digital audio/video inputs; one XM satellite radio antenna module input; AM/FM Radio tuner; one headphone output.
Other: RS-232 port (1 in), 3 x IR Outputs, 1 x IR Input; 3 x 12V Output Triggers, 1 x 12V input; auto calibration mic (1)
Dimensions (HxWxD): 6.125" x 17.125" x 16.56"
Weight: 50 pounds
Price: $2999

NAD Electronics International
(800) 263-4641
www.nadelectronics.com

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