Music in the Round #58
NAD's T 187 (footnote 1). Another pre-pro? And not inexpensive at $3000! Why do I care?
First of all, NAD has come to the forefront of established full-range manufacturers as innovators in digital audio. From their original digital preamp, the 118, which I reviewed in the July 1998 issue; to the M2 Direct Digital amp, reviewed by JA in March 2010; to the Masters M51 high-resolution DAC, reviewed last July by Jon Iverson; and their Masters M50 and M52 music-streaming devices, NAD has never simply repackaged available chips and modules, but has always gone their own way.
Second, the T 187 brings modular construction to a midmarket product. Such a design permits hardware updates, which help a product remain current rather than rendered gradually or suddenly obsolete by advances in technology. Modular construction has contributed to keeping processors like the Theta Casablanca III and Meridian Reference 861 up to date, and NAD now employs the practice widely in its product range, from the C 390DD Direct-Digital integrated amp ($2600) to their pre-pros.
Finally, the T 187 includes Audyssey MultEQ XT, as do many of its competitors, but with the unique option of a custom target curve developed by Paul Barton and derived from his work in the labs of the National Research Council Canada. I have long wished to hear what this does, but the only way is with a NAD processor. So here goes.
The T 187 is typical NAD in appearance: simple yet elegant. The front panel is a matte charcoal gray. The large central display panel is flanked on the right by a large and smoothly turning volume knob, and on the left by a control button with navigation ring and central Enter button. In line with these from left to right, and nearly invisible except in bright light, are buttons for On/Standby (LED illuminated), Memory and Info, and a pair of Source buttons for stepping forward and back through the inputs. Below the display are six more nearly invisible buttons: AM/FM/DB, Tuner Mode, Listen Mode, Tone, Tone Defeat, and Front Input/MP. There is a headphone jack below the On/Standby button, and a trap-door panel at the lower right that covers jacks for sources such as a camcorder, video game console, any analog audio or HDMI sources, and composite or S-video sources. One of these also serves as the input for the Audyssey calibration microphone.
While all of these functioned as indicated, I generally found it easier to use the provided remote control, which offers more options, has more easily located buttons, and illuminates brightly when touched or even lightly jostled (though only in conditions of low ambient light). The remote is, in fact, one of the best provided with any AVR or pre-pro. It provides all the functions of the front-panel controls, but instead of stepping through menus and incremental changes, it gives direct access to most of them. From your listening seat you can select among the Audyssey options and, as you listen, tweak the levels of the center, surround, and subwoofer channels. It's also a universal remote that permits control of many attached components, and features macro programming to automate simple repetitive tasks. It was a pleasure to use.
The rear panel reveals the T 187's modular construction. A large subpanel on the left side offers 7.1-channel RCA inputs and outputs, including two subwoofer jacks. Below that is another subpanel with six pairs of stereo analog inputs, and three stereo analog outputs for Zones 24. Below that, a third subpanel has inputs for composite video (3), S-video (3), and component-video (3), and one component-video output. To their right are two smaller subpanels. One has HDMI inputs (3) and outputs (2), along with digital coax inputs (3), optical inputs (3), and one each coax and optical outputs. The other subpanel adds three more HDMI inputs, an Ethernet jack, and a 1/8" audio jack for a mobile player. Above these, mounted directly on the rear panel, are antenna connections, XM and RS-232 connectors, and 12V and infrared control inputs and outputs. The chassis-mounted array is completed by a power switch, an IEC AC power inlet, and, increasingly rare these days, a switched AC power outlet. It takes only a little reflection to appreciate how NAD's use of individual modules permits different combinations and permutations of features, making possible reuse of the modules across other models, and easing NAD's incorporation of new features and connections as they become available.
The T 187 also offers the option of using the analog inputs while bypassing all D/A and A/D conversions and DSP, including the bass management and speaker settings. Interestingly, the tone control functions remain effective during analog bypass.
As is becoming common, the T 187 comes with only a printed quick-connect guide; its full manual is on a CD-ROM or can be downloaded from their website. I find this rather clumsy; the quick-connect guide is simplistic, and the virtual manual is more tedious to consult than a printed one. Nonetheless, I found it no more difficult to set up the T 187 than other comparable products, and NAD does provide a nice map of the default input/output connections and settings. As on most such components, the association of rear-panel connectors for audio and video to a particular logical input can be accomplished by accessing each input in turnbut NAD also provides a handy single screen with a table view of all inputs and their options. I found this much easier to use, and hope that other companies adopt this feature. Navigation of the setup menus was easy, though I had to adapt to a quirk in that selecting a highlighted option required pushing the right-arrow button rather than the more intuitive choice of the central Enter button.
I connected the T 187 to a number of sources via its HDMI, digital coax, and analog inputs, and to the Bryston 9B amp that powers my Paradigm Reference/60 speakers. For the latter connection I used Harmonic Technology Harmony Rainbow cables, whose brightly color-coded leads and RCA connectors simplified the task. I also ran the system for a couple of weeks before doing an Audyssey calibration, to get a feel for the T 187's fundamental qualities as well as to short-circuit any complaints of insufficient burn-in from those who believe in that phenomenon.
From the get-go, the sound was excellent: full-bodied, with a satisfyingly smooth yet detailed treble. The T 187 locked swiftly to each source or channel when I switched to it, without noises or hesitation. While the HDMI handshake typically mutes the audio when the display is turned on or off, the T 187 did that only at turn-on. Thus, I could use the on-screen display to set up a particular source, and continue listening without interruption when I turned the display off. A minor detail, perhaps, but just one of many little things that added to my pleasure in using the T 187.
Footnote 1: NAD Electronics International, 633 Granite Court, Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1, Canada. Tel: (800) 263-4641, (905) 831-0799. Web: www.nadelectronics.com.