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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COMMENTS
philipjohnwright's picture

May I suggest Frank Sinatra's 'In the Wee Small Hours' album. It's melancholy personified, drawing you deeper in, painful at first but then you begin to wallow in your feelings, eventually reaching a different state, one where calm prevails.  

So I've been told  :-)

Stephen Mejias's picture
markgurney's picture

Frank Sinatra's 'In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning' was playing as I scrolled down to the comments of this article. Weird.

drumguy48's picture

Out of curiousity, I googled your "local dive" - It looks like the loud music you mention may be detrimental to the structural integrity of the building itself!

Stephen Mejias's picture

Lucky's is a little rough around the edges, but it's in fine shape. I think there are also plans to expand upstairs with a game room.

ack's picture

I ended up getting gifted a really nice bit of Marantz equipment but the NAD C 316BEE
 was top of my list for amplifier before I happened upon my bit of luck. 

Reading the above makes me want to hear that NAD in action so bad.  Are you going to keep the Cambridge and other equipment or are you going to settle in on a reference system based off the equipment you reviewed?

Stephen Mejias's picture

Congrats on the Marantz.

The Cambridge belongs to my uncle Omar, and it's back in his system now. I like the NAD more and more every day and I think it will join the PSB Alpha B1 loudspeakers as my longterm reference.

augustobbs's picture

The Music Hall A15.2? Seems to be nice, with a lot of power, and an integrated phono preamp. Or the Cambridge Audio Topaz AM10 (nice price and phono preamp!)?

Stephen Mejias's picture

I'm not sure about the Music Hall stuff.  I would like to hear it in my system, but Sam Tellig reviewed the a15.2 integrated and cd15.2 CD player in our December 2010 issue, and, with so much great, affordable stuff out there, I'm anxious to get to things we haven't reviewed.  The Topaz integrated and CD player are definite possibilities.

augustobbs's picture

I didn't know that Sam Tellig reviewed the a15.2, I will try to look for that issue. But I'm looking forward for the Topaz integrated review!

sgibson389's picture

Kudos' to you Stephen for recognizing the long term effects of loud music. After a youth of power equipment and loud music, I have made every attempt to preserve what hearing I have left for the last 25 years or so. It is really disheartening to play a test frequency cd and watch the power meters go up and not be able to hear anything! There are also high fidelity ear plugs that lower the sound 20 db but let all the frequencies through for about $15, but in this day of cheap power, sometimes only the max reduction will do. Thanks for the great Entry Level articles.

RevMen's picture

As an acoustical engineer and audiophile, I am very conscious about protecting my ears and am often the only one in the room wearing earplugs.  I was self-conscious about it for a little while, but I got over it pretty quickly.  I no longer have any friends that would care about that kind of thing, anyway.

An audiophile should have audiophile-grade earplugs.  My suggestion to you is to an audiologist and get fitted for a pair of custom musician's earplugs.  You will spend about $130 but they will last you for as long as you take care of them and you know will know they're worth the price the first time you hear clear vocals at a rock show.

The ER-15's are what I have and they're just the right amount of attenuation to let the rock through while still allowing me get as close to the stage as I like.  In fact, loud concerts sound better to me with the plugs in than with them out, as the distortion from over-driven cilia is eliminated.  It's also fairly easy to understand conversation with the people around you.

I tried many of the audio earplugs you can buy at music stores, and most of them were good.  I used the original Hearos with the stems sticking out your ears for a long time.  But the custom plugs are on another planet in terms of sound quality and comfort.  Also, they can be whatever color (or combination of colors) you want and they don't stick out of your ears, so they can be pretty discrete if you're conscious about being the only person wearing earplugs.

NYC_Bill1001's picture

Do not EVER buy anything from Jolida. Two capacitors went bad and they kept my amp for over TWO MONTHS and charged me almost $300 to fix it. NO APOLOGY whatsoever except to tell me their "systems weren't the best". $300 for two capacitors. Two months. No contact from them. EVER.

Their stuff is just rebranded Chinese crap anyway.

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