NAD 5000 CD player
The 5000's power supply uses a single transformer driving eight individual supplies. Among these are separately regulated supplies for the D/A converter and analog circuits. Star grounding is used.
As one of the new generation of "1-bit" players, the 5000 utilizes Matsushita's MASH (Multistage Noise Shaping) chip set. 32x-oversampling is used with third-order noise shaping. Separate D/A converters for each channel are contained within the single MASH chip.
The analog stages use Signetics NE5532 dual op-amp chips. The digital filter capacitors are polypropylene-film; the single capacitor in the main signal path (fixed output) is an electrolytic with a film-capacitor bypass. All signal-path resistors are 1% metal-film.
The NAD has the usual CD-player operating features, none of them news with any CD player: repeat play, A-B repeat, programming, scanning, remote control, fixed and variable outputs (the latter controllable from the remote, though with no fixed indication of volume position, footnote 1), headphone output fed from the variable output, and a digital output which appears to have been carefully designeda buffered, RF-filtered, transformer-coupled, 75 ohm output digital feed. It also has one unique feature (though not unique in NAD products)a so-called CDR compressor. This circuit, selectable when desired, is useful for low-level listening or in making tapes for automotive useespecially of classical music whose full dynamic range is useless in such an environment. The CDR compresses the dynamic range in the digital domain by means of a Yamaha DSP compressor chip operating before the MASH filter and DAC.
The NAD did give me some intermittent tracking difficultiesnearly always at the beginning of a disc. This occurred primarily in the pre-critical listening phase of my getting to know the NAD, so I failed to note (to my chagrin) the specific discs which mistracked. But I did note that occasionally a disc would begin rotating within the player with more mechanical noise than usual; on one of these occasions it duplicated the skipping problem. Reseating the disc in the tray and starting over cured the problem. This disc, incidentally, had one of the small, white, centering rings used with the old Mod Squad disc damper. That may have caused the problem, but I could not confirm this. Many of my discs have this ring in place.
The Inside Story
The NAD's fairly lightweight metal chassis encloses a transport typical of modestly priced CD players, and one large circuit board, which takes up about half the internal space. What appears to be the digital section of this board includes a single, large NEC chip and other chips from Sony and Toshiba. The analog section makes use of both ICs and discrete components. Although recognizing circuit-board "grades" is not my forte, this board appeared to have been made from a more "standard-grade" material than that in the other, more expensive players here (except for the digital board in the Mod Squad Prism II). The large number of miniature electrolytics on the board and very open chassis layout suggest that legions of potential modifiers may be warming up their soldering irons and stocking up on bypass caps and Wonder solderready to void their warrantees in pursuit of that last iota of performance. But recall that only one of these caps is said to be in the signal path, and that one is already bypassed.
"What's a nice little player like you doing in a place like this?" That's what I thought as I began auditioning the NAD. Could a modestly priced CD player hope to compete in this class? Was I being unfair to the NAD to even force it to try?
The NAD was not outclassed. No, I'm not about to tell you that I found a budget player which bettered the best of the higher-ticket machines, that knocked them off the shelf and removed their justification for existence, save that they have more sex-appeal. But the 5000's performance did not betray its price; it was perfectly comfortable fronting a system far more expensive than those in which it's likely to be found. If you're still awaiting the full evolution of digital, and believe that spending big bucks at present on an up-market player is money down the drain (footnote 2), the NAD might just keep you happy halfway to the next millennium.
If the NAD made a single overriding impression, it was that of overall listenability. It had no major points of superiority in the company of high-ticket players, but neither was it seriously outclassed in any area. It had neither the most open, detailed, or delicate highs, nor the tautest, most subterranean lows. But its bottom end was extended, deep, and respectably well-defined. And its top end, while it had a trace of crispness and was just slightly etched next to that of the best of the more expensive contenders, was clean, open, and lacking in obvious grain. On Leo Kottke's outstanding A Shout Toward Noon (Private Music 2007-2-P), fine fingering details were fully developed, with no transient smear or grain. I did note just a trace of spurious edge or etching to the highs, but it was less than a minor distraction. Perspectives were right onneither forward and pushy nor laid-back. Instrumental timbres were believable, the soundstage well-defined. My Blue Heaven was open and spacious, with good detailing; hi-hat sparkled, without splash or ringiness. Again, I caught a bit of mid-treble emphasis, but again, it caused me about a half-second's concern.
The NAD 5000 gave up a trace of that ever-popular "palpable presence" to the Esoteric, CAL Aria Mk.III, and the Sony CDP-77ES, but, auditioned on its own, I never felt deprived. It made me want to continue to listen to particularly good CDs longer than I had intendeda characteristic it shared with the same three players. And it never left me itching to find out how it compared with them.
Ultimately, of course, I did make just such a comparison, specifically with the Esoteric. At 16 times the price, the latter bettered the NAD, but left it not even close to battered. The Esoteric's primary advantage over the NAD was an overall sense of refinement: It was sweeter and more natural at the top, with a more delicate rendition of fine details, including ambience. Voice could tend a bit to edginess with the NAD, but this was not a common factor across a wide range of recordings. Voice, in fact, was sometimes a trace livelier on the NAD, though less liquid and smooth. On full-scale orchestral material the Esoteric came across as the more three-dimensional. It also had the more solid low end, though the difference here over the reference system was not dramatic.
After I finished with the primary listening evaluations, I made a brief check of the NAD's compression feature (CDR). For this, I listened over headphones driven from the headphone jack on the NAD itself. On the CDs I sampled, the level reduction of loud passages was not noticeable, but the level increase of soft passages was clearly audible. Music with a wide dynamic range sounded louder overall, which is just what should happen, when you think about it (musical pianissimos are generally more common than crescendos on such material). Unfortunately, background noise in the CD was also increased in level, noted not only on analog-based CDs, but on an all-digital Telarc as well. But since the point of CDR is to allow you to listen at a lower level or make tapes for use in a noisy environment, this should not be a problem. In fact, the gain in S/N available with the typical cassette deck (from being able to record the now more limited dynamic range material at an overall higher level) should more than make up for the increase in audible program noise caused by the compression.
It occurred to me in the course of these evaluations that the audiophile world seems to be going the way of the separate processor for CD. Comparing these players with the $8000 Esoteric combination is all well and good, but how might a more real-world processor/transport fare against them? To find out, I decided to use the highly regarded Meridian 203 driven from the digital outputs of the NAD 5000. Keep in mind that when RH reviewed the 203, he drove it from the Esoteric P-2 transport to hear it at its best. For this comparison, I purposely chose to use a far more modest transport; the NAD combined with the Meridian results in an overall "player" which costs $1500. This is close to the $1700 price of the Sonythe player I chose to do battle with it.
How did it turn out? I heard the same things, in general, that RH heard from the Meridiana slightly forward midrange and an open if very slightly bright high end. Bass was solid and secure. The Meridian (combined with the NAD) had a bit of the forwardness of the Philips LHH500, though with a far cleaner top end (footnote 1). All 1-bit systems use a very high clock rate.
There are better CD players in this survey than the NAD, but none is dramatically better in all areas. Better in ways that are significant to this reviewer? Certainly. Better in ways that may be significant to you? Perhaps. But improvements gained at substantial increase in cost? Definitely. As I reflect, at the end of this survey, on my experiences with all of these players without reference to my copious notes, the strengths and weaknesses of each, as I heard them over the reference system, stand out in my mind. Except for the NAD. Except for the fact that it was slightly crisper and less subtle in its high-frequency reproduction, no particular positives or negatives instantly rush to mind. I consider that a very positive observation. The 5000 is a good-sounding player that stayed out of its own way and, more important, out of the way of the music. A solid performer that didn't better the best of the more expensive players here but was not humbled, either.
If your pocketbook, or even just your ears, tell you that you'll be happy with the NAD until the next big breakthrough, I won't drop by to argue the point.
Footnote 1: Though it reverts to 20dB at turn-on.
Footnote 2: Didn't everyone have a relative like that when color TV was introduced? "I'll wait till it's perfected."