A review project I’m presently working on involves one of NAD’s next-generation AVRs, specifically the T 757 ($1600). If you’ve seen any of NAD’s latest series of receivers, then you might agree that they seem to be inspired by a “less is more” design approach. Where many AVRs seem to be sprouting features, functions, buttons, and switches by the fistful, NAD’s receivers appear, if anything, to be moving in the opposite direction and thus offering a clean, simple, elegantly minimalist design aesthetic.
To appreciate what I mean, just take a look at the faceplate of the T 757. In comparison to many AVRs, which look like something pulled out of, say, a NASA mission control panel (meaning more knobs, buttons and doo-dads than you can shake a stick at), the T 757 at first seems almost impossibly austere—almost as if somebody forgot to provide enough controls for you to actually be able to run the thing. But after a little familiarization, you quickly realize that what’s really happened is that NAD has stripped away everything non-essential and/or distracting, leaving you with only the controls you actually need and will use on a regular basis. Think of the design, then, as eliminating clutter and focusing on the essential—an emphasis that, come to think of it, the T 757 shares in common with another versatile yet minimalist component; namely, Apple’s ubiquitous iPod.
On the faceplate of the receiver you’ll find an on/off switch, a cursor ring and enter button, a menu button, a listening mode button, a pair of go-forward/backward source selector buttons, an extra large vacuum fluorescent display, a large multifunction/volume knob, a headphone jack, and a neatly covered little input bay—and that’s pretty much it. There is not, for example, one of those widely used pull-down faceplate doors that conceals row upon row of buttons and knobs, nor is there any need for one. Again, NAD provides everything you really need, and pretty much nothing you don’t, though it would be a mistake to interpret this minimalist simplicity for a lack of substance (unless you actually are a techno-gong’n’whistle junkie, in which case this probably isn’t the receiver for you). On the contrary, in keeping with longstanding NAD practice the T 757 deliberately foregoes trendy, flavor-of-the-month features in the interest of pursuing two things: meaningful flexibility and pure sound quality.
To make good on the first objective, flexibility, the T 757 is designed to accommodate NAD’s by now familiar MDC (modular design construction) architecture, through which it is possible to update the receiver over time by installing new preamp and I/O modules that will enable to the AVR to keep pace with emerging technologies over the years. It’s a cool idea, in that NAD basically allows you to revise the front-end features of the AVR without having to replace its perfectly fine amplifier section, which presumably will need no updating. Granted, new MDC modules can be (or at least thus far have been) a little pricey, but the point is that the whole MDC concept takes a certain “waste not, want not” mentality vis-à-vis home theater electronics, allowing you to buy the core receiver just once and to enjoy it for years, while still having the freedom to make updates if or when really appealing and worthwhile technical advances come along.
Perhaps the only area where I feel NAD may have taken minimalism a little too far involves its choice of what is by far the simplest, but also perhaps the least sophisticated, form of Audyssey room EQ I’ve ever encountered in any AVR—a version known simply as Audyssey Setup. Up to this point, the most basic form of Audyssey I’ve found in any AVR is the Audyssey 2EQ system, which takes just three sets of room EQ measurements (from, of course, three different listening positions) before calculating EQ correction curves. But Audyssey Setup as used in the T 757 takes simplicity to an extreme by taking just one set of measurements (which seems to run counter to Audyssey’s traditional emphasis on creating EQ/time correction curves that will effectively broaden the listening sweet spot). The good news, however, is that NAD’s version of Audyssey Setup automatically incorporates the NAD-specific target curve found in some previous-generation Audyssey-equipped NAD receivers. This is in my view an important point since my past experience was that NAD’s target curve arguably sounded better than Audyssey’s own curves did.
The key ingredient in any NAD A/V receiver, however, is always the amplifier section and in this area the T 757 does not disappoint, though NAD’s specifications tables are so inherently conservative that they might give those accustomed to (and easily wowed by) inflated receiver specs an moment of temporary shock and/or heart failure. In a world where just about anything with a working pilot light claims to produce 100+ watts per channel, the NAD steps up to the line with seemingly underwhelming power output claims of “only” 7 x 60 watts per channel. But the correction factor to bear in mind is that NAD, unlike most other AVR makers (except for Anthem), rates power output with A) all seven channels driven simultaneously, B) all seven channels driven from 20Hz – 20 kHz, and C) all seven channels producing vanishingly low levels of distortion. NAD regards this as the only right and proper “real-world” power rating system, whereas most mass-market AVR makers tend to avoid such stringent ratings like the plague, largely because they tend to expose weaknesses, if any, in amplifier section designs. We applaud NAD’s (and Anthem’s) tell-it-like-it-is honesty in specifying power output. Still, recognizing that some are bound to be fooled by the lightweight spec methods other manufacturers use, NAD allows that, if rated by not-very-stringent FTC methods, the T 757 could claim to produce a whopping 7 x 120 watts per channel (which shows you just how inflated the other guys’ specs really are).
Personally, I tend to think of NAD’s approach as one whose motto could be, “spec softly and carry a big stick,” since the fact is that NAD’s receiver almost always sound more dynamically robust and accomplished than their modest power rating numbers would suggest. And that, I think, is the whole point; NAD would prefer to give you a multichannel amplifier that actually sounds like a killer in reality, rather than merely looking like a killer product on the undemanding pages of a product brochure. Give me the real deal, any day of the week. The proof, remember, is always in the listening, and—judging by the listening experiences I’ve had with the T 757 thus far—it’s an area where the T 757 is a muscular musical (and cinematic) performer.
In keeping with NAD’s less is more theme, the T 757 provides high quality video format conversion to HDMI, but deliberately does not provide video processing, since NAD strongly believes video processing should be handled in the display (or perhaps in source components), but not in the AVR. Their argument is that some AVRs attempt so much video signal processing that they actually wind up making picture quality worse. Food for thought, don’t you agree?
One other aspect of the T 757 that I really must mention is that the visual themes of simplicity and ease of use are carried through on a deeper conceptual level in the set up and adjustment menus the receiver provides. While menus won’t necessarily seem radically different from others you may have encountered in the past, there’s a certain underlying clarity of logic and organizational structure in the T 757 that makes its user interface feel simpler and less convoluted than others of its ilk. This, to my way of thinking, makes both the initial setup experience and day-to-day use more comfortable for the NAD owner. Part of the goodness, here, is that NAD has shown both the vision and the courage necessary to strip out superfluous and/or questionable features and functions, leaving you with essentials that really are, well, essential. The only area where I might quibble with NAD’s design choices, however, is that this receiver does not make it particularly easy to adjust channel level trims on the fly (something I personally feel all AVRs should be able do). But apart from that one drawback, the NAD is really simple and straightforward to use (meaning my kids, naturally, had all the basics figured out in a matter of minutes).
Watch for our upcoming full length review of the T 757 in The Perfect Vision/Playback. Until then, happy listening.