NAD C 328 integrated amplifier Page 2

Out of the gate, the C 328, like many, didn't cotton to Jackie's bag. Onto the platter of the Thorens I dropped Bluesnik, from 1961 (LP, Blue Note BLP 4067)—the sound was weak, thin, and musically lacked thrust and commitment. Overall tone was solid and resolution very strong, but there was no meat on the bones, no flesh-and-blood bodies blowing the tunes behind these hard bop notes. A cardinal sin: the NAD didn't let the collective genius of Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Drew, Doug Watkins, and Pete La Roca shine; instead, it clothed their majesty in ill-fitting clothes.

I've been on a major Herbie Hancock kick of late, jamming into the wee small hours with Inventions & Dimensions, Empyrean Isles, Thrust, and Mwandishi. So when I played Takin' Off (LP, Blue Note BLP 4109), I was pleasantly surprised to hear the C 328 render this 50-plus-year-old LP's large sound, including a copious low end with purpose and power. Freddie Hubbard's trumpet was appropriately pungent, and Dexter Gordon's tenor saxophone nicely tactile. Throughout my listening sessions with the C 328, double basses never sounded particularly focused or extended, but with many LPs they were warm and full, and quite pleasing overall. Drums and cymbals generally rolled out with excellent definition, as did piano, but another distinct trait I heard with many LPs was a hot transient attack. The NAD sometimes smacked me silly with sharp treble bursts that were none too kind. That quibble aside, the NAD consistently made music with a detailed, very dynamic, natural sound.

Why such a big difference between two albums recorded within 17 months of each other, by the same engineer in the same studio for the same label? Blue Note recording and mixing engineer Rudy Van Gelder was an inconsistent genius. The C 328 revealed the essential, musical truth behind each recording, but didn't necessarily show each at its best, sonically.

The 1973 stereo pressing of Sonny Clark's Cool Struttin' (LP, Blue Note BST 81588) surprised me yet again, the C 328 rendering Paul Chambers's huge double-bass tones with great fidelity and warmth. Clark's piano was a mite veiled, but its tone was very good. The C 328 consistently reproduced the instruments on each record I played with excellent resolution and good tone, if not the best compared to other budget-oriented integrateds I've reviewed. But for a small amplifier that offers far more functionality than simply spinning old LPs, the C 328 was beginning to make its case as a strong contender.


Given the peaky sound of brass instruments on some LPs, I wondered if the C 328's reproduction of treble frequencies was clashing with the Quad S-2s' ribbon tweeters. Those small ribbons are very refined and resolute, but can be deadly with the wrong electronics. I switched out the Quads ($1000/pair) for the Elac Debut B6es ($279/pair), a more likely partner—like magic, the treble cattle prods vanished, and the soundstage grew larger and more inviting. Everything sounded more relaxed, and instruments became fuller, if less well defined than through the Quads.

I continued with Blue Note's greatest hits. Horace Silver's Tokyo Blues (LP, Blue Note BST 84110) hit all my happy-friendly sonic descriptors, my mint LP sounding relaxed and round—less analytical than with the Quads, but still detailed. The sound was very coherent from top to bottom. I could heap more of the same sort of praise on the gentle-giant tones of saxophonist Dexter Gordon on his übermellow Doin' Allright (LP, Blue Note BST 84077). (You want the king of tenor saxophone as swinging balm to all that ails ye, a genteel man of sophisticated swing and sublime jazz pleasures? Sure, Blue Note had the composing genius of Wayne Shorter and the easygoing splendor of Hank Mobley, but Gordon's friendly tone, unerring melodicism, and flinty vitality remain unparalleled. Doin' Allright was just that.)

The Decline of the Compact Disc?
Would the Doin'-allright vibrations continue with CD? These days, many audiophiles are dumping their CDs—which means that this is the time to buy. You say you'd rather play files or stream your digital sounds? Heed my warning: CDs will never stage a comeback like the LP's, but to my ears they'll always sound better than high-resolution files, no matter how upsampled or downcrunched.

I ran an ancient JPS Labs Superconductor digital link from my budget LG BD550 Blu-ray player into the NAD C 328's Coaxial 1 input. But just like the first LP I'd played through the C 328, the first CD—the Christian McBride Big Band's Bringin' It (CD, Mack Avenue MAC1115)—sounded as feeble as my grandfather's lungs blowing Camel smoke across the breakfast table: condensed, dull, neutered soul. McBride's double bass was cut off at the knees and ill defined; his ensemble didn't sound as big as an organ trio at the back of an uptown bar, let alone a 20-piece big band.

Once again, first impressions were deceiving, as became apparent when I played the Hamilton de Holanda Quintet's Brasilianos 3 (CD, Brasilianos BRP006). An extraordinary Brazilian bandolinist known for blending Brazilian choro with jazz, de Holanda makes organic music that breathes, its rich melodies and buoyant rhythms performed here by a virtuosic quintet. I can go years without hearing de Holanda's music, only to be floored all over again next time I hear it. Brasilianos 3 sounded as lovely and palpable, as natural and enthralling as I've heard it, and convinced me of the excellence of NAD's implementation of the Cirrus Logic DAC chip. The C 328's DAC won't turn drivel into desirable—it preferred honesty. But it made my BD player (now available for $66 at most dealers) punch way beyond its el cheapo construction.

More good times followed with CDs from Clean Feed, a Portuguese label that's been redefining small-group free jazz and experimental creative music with such albums as Susana Santos Silva's If Nothing Else (CF348CD), Motif's My Head Is Listening (CF395CD), and Stirrup's Cut (CF378CD). If there's a free-jazz label for the future, a Blue Note for 2045, Clean Feed already has the contest wrapped and sorted. Another jazz CD, Mnd Flo's self-released From Time, provided a giant soundstage and synth-bass tones that sounded downright organic.

Feeling Blue
I explored the C 328's Bluetooth functionality with caution. Except for Naim's mighty Uniti Nova D/A integrated amp-media player, my prior experience of Bluetooth left me with memories I'd no more wish to revisit than my last appointment with the dentist. But I positioned the NAD's antenna at 90° and prayed the streaming gods would be merciful.

Setting up Bluetooth with the NAD C 328 was a breeze, and it was easy to access, every time. I scrolled to the C 328's Bluetooth option using the tiny remote, then accessed the WiFi menu of my iPhone, selected Bluetooth, tapped "C 328," and brought up Spotify—where I had already saved Stephen Mejias's "Weird New Pop" playlist as a favorite. Those glorious sounds greeted me like an old friend. I greatly miss Stephen's pieces on, and I hope he'll return to them at some point. It was he who introduced me to the stunning R&B singer SZA—and there she was, in all her Bluetooth goodness: as with every similarly equipped product I've heard, Bluetooth streaming through the NAD sounded big but compressed.

The NAD C 328 Hybrid Digital integrated amplifier easily met the challenges I set it, making sweet music with minimum fuss. It's picky about the equipment it prefers to associate with, but benefited from its good phono stage and even better DAC, displaying excellent retrieval of information both micro and macro. Its bass frequencies were warm and full, if not extended or particularly focused. I've heard integrateds at this or higher prices with brawnier sound, but none that provided so much music for so little money. Playing LPs or CDs or streaming Bluetooth, the NAD C 328 was a consummate overachiever that never failed to please, given recordings that were up to the task. Pair it with an entry-level turntable and a pair of Elac Debut B6es and you've got a bangin'-good system for under $1500 (all prices: online). In these penny-pinching, frightening times, that's something to shout "Get happy!" about.

NAD Electronics International
633 Granite Court
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1