The Entry Level #7 Page 3

In my small listening room (10.5' W by 13.1' L by 8' H), I never felt that the JoLida FX 10 lacked power—not with the PSB Alpha B1s, and certainly not with the vibrant-sounding, high-sensitivity (92.5dB) Klipsch B-20s—but I did get the sense that music wasn't fully articulated. The highs lacked air, the mids some delicacy and voluptuousness, the bottom impact. That said, I always enjoyed music while the FX 10 was in my system. It was only in comparing it directly with other amplifiers that I remembered what I was missing. Such is life.

NAD C 316BEE integrated amplifier
And life is good. Smaller and sleeker than the Cambridge Audio Azur 340A, and with a more modest, more attractive front panel, the NAD C 316BEE integrated amplifier ($349) measures about 17" W by 3" H by 11" D and, like the JoLida FX 10, weighs 12 lbs. I love the size and shape of this little BEE. The rear panel is cleanly arranged, with five inputs, Tape Ins and Outs, a rocker switch for power, and a single set of user-friendly binding posts for easy connections. On the front panel there's a small Standby button, input-selector buttons, a headphone jack, an iPod minijack, and a large Volume knob. Smaller knobs for Balance, Bass, and Treble are also offered, the tone controls defeatable via pushbutton. The included remote control is small, light, and contoured to fit comfortably in the hand. The C 316BEE is named for Bj?rn Erik Edvardsen, NAD's director of advanced development, and descends from Edvardsen's famed 3020 integrated amplifier, which is ranked No.19 in Stereophile's list of The Hot 100 Products: the most important hi-fi components of all time. The 3020 sold well over a million units in its time, and still demands good money on auction sites.

Several years ago, long before anyone had ever conceived of "The Entry Level," I sat quietly at a dinner table along the back wall of Peacock Alley, in the grand Waldorf=Astoria Hotel. To my left was Kal Rubinson, across from me were Sam Tellig and John Atkinson, to my right were members of NAD's engineering and marketing teams, and all around were history, knowledge, and decades of dedication to music and sound. From above, however, tuneless piano music poured down over our table from surprisingly bad ceiling speakers. In this respect, Peacock Alley was only slightly better than Lucky 7. Someone asked, firmly, for the music to be turned down so that we could enjoy our conversation. I didn't have much to add to the evening's discussion, but soaked up as much information and history as possible. Someone brought up the old NAD 3020 integrated amplifier, and the voices lowered to hushed reverence. "You should listen to the latest model and write about it on your blog, Stephen," JA advised.

That never happened, but here we are.

Sticking with the Klipsch Synergy B-20 speakers, I replaced the JoLida FX 10 with the NAD C 316BEE and immediately heard what I'd been missing. Music was presented on a wider, deeper soundstage, with more detail and better delineation of images. Voices and instruments were given more space to breathe, and the overall sound was clearer and more open, allowing sounds to bloom into my listening room with greater intensity, and vanish from it with delicacy, style, and grace—through the NAD, sounds knew how to say hello and goodbye.

I returned to John Fahey's Old Fashioned Love and cued up "Marilyn." The C 316BEE's harmonic integrity and enhanced delineation of inner detail freed Woodrow Mann's full-bottomed guitar from Fahey's burnished strings, while the amp's greater weight and body seemed to anchor all of the musical elements, for a more coherent and emotionally compelling listening experience.

The NAD seemed to have a stronger grip on the music, and an equally strong grip on me. Was this due to its greater output power? I don't know. Maybe. The C 316BEE uses a new variant of the PowerDrive technology found in NAD's Master Series components, which is said to maximize the short-term dynamic power sent to the loudspeakers. While the C 316BEE's continuous power output is a claimed 40Wpc into 8 ohms, NAD says that its dynamic power—measured on 5ms peaks—is around 100Wpc into 8 ohms.

Power's great, but I also value grace. The NAD C 316BEE had that, too. I again played Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman"; the NAD's rounder, more fully expressed bass and heftier, fleshier overall sound resulted in a forceful, authoritative performance. But I was more impressed by the NAD's ability to follow complex musical passages and make clear, truthful distinctions among musical instruments. While the JoLida FX 10 did a fine job of separating instruments in space, the NAD excelled at imparting the natural colors of Coleman's alto sax and Don Cherry's cornet, pulling the instruments apart and bringing them together beautifully, as if in fluid dance or warm embrace, as the song twisted, unraveled, turned, and walked away.

So I was again surprised: I didn't love the JoLida FX 10 as much as I'd hoped I would, but I loved the NAD C 316BEE more than I'd expected to.

It's now 11am, and the gray Sunday sky is beginning to clear. A moment ago I stepped away from the computer, wondering if Nicole or Natalie had been in touch. Just as I reached for my cell phone, it gave its little whirring signal, alerting me to a new text message.

NATALIE: Brunch?

Exactly what I was hoping for.

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