Will NAD's AV Masters Series live up to its name?
What is the NAD M17 AV Processor and M27 Amplifier?What we have here for review are two superbly built products that ooze high-end status and promise stunningly good performance, all for a sky high price of course. Heading up this super duo in the Masters Series is the M17 AV Processor which at £4,500 offers up a touch screen, processing for every available sound format bar Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, digital and legacy analogue inputs and outputs all wrapped in an expensive looking metal case. The M27 Seven channel power amplifier does exactly what it says on the tin and provides 7 balanced or line-inputs and 180W per channel with all being driven. The M27 is separately priced at £3,500.
So can the NAD Master Series provide the type of audio performance to make us forget about the missing immersive formats and the £8,000 price tag? Let’s find out…
NAD M17 AV ProcessorWe start our review by taking a closer look at the M17 AV Processor and the first thing that hits you is the build quality. This is an expensive looking metal chassis with a minimalist front panel, air vents cut into the top of the unit and around the back there is a well laid out set of connections. The unit sits on solid metal spiked feet which also come with optional magnetic discs (for use if you’re mounting the processor on top of the amplifier to prevent scratches). There is also a nice weight to the unit which again adds to the feeling of quality.
At the front we have three items that are placed within the metal panel design. To the left is the NAD logo, centrally there is a large colour touch screen and to the right is the Volume knob. There is no doubt that the touch screen is the most prominent item here and immediately draws your attention. The screen presents important information such as audio codec, source selected, volume and others and does so in such a way as to keep the display looking clean and uncluttered. It is also a touch screen, but like the touch sensitive power buttons on the processor and amplifier, they are fussy about how you actually touch them. You almost have to present your finger tip as gently as possible, with the briefest of actual skin contact with the power button, whereas with the touch screen we found jabbing your fingertip in a repeatable manner worked better than wistful slight glances of skin contact. The problem with that approach is sometimes it connects too well and you jump past the source you want with too many jabs, plus it leaves smudgy fingerprints on the screen surface so you are constantly cleaning the display. It is important to switch the unit off to clean the screen otherwise you might hit it with some skin off the side of the cloth you’re using and it changes sources when you didn’t want to. What we are getting at is the touch surfaces are either too sensitive and don’t always work or the exact opposite – and don’t always work. Finally the touch screen can be dimmed for use in a cinema room, but annoyingly we couldn’t find any way of turning it off completely. We also have to mention the volume knob for a second. The resistance, weight and precision give it a stunningly tactile feel. Sorry, but I just had to add that in as it is pretty special.
In terms of audio formats the M17 can decode everything except the new immersive formats. The newer immersive formats, like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X we are told can be added thanks to NAD’s MDC (Modular Design Construction) in the near future. A future update will also include HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 for 4K video which is currently missing from the M17 in its present form. So, you might be looking at the price of £4,500 for this AV processor and wondering why you would even consider it given it is currently far from being future proof. Well MDC is a NAD innovation which allows the circuits and software inside the processor to be updated as and when new technologies are introduced. The HDMI 2.0 and HDCP update will be done for free to those who buy the processor now and that should happen near the end of summer. The Dolby Atmos update is likely to be nearer the autumn time and will probably be a paid optional extra and we are waiting to see if that will include Auro-3D and DTS:X as well. But what it does point to is that the M17, although expensive on first glance, can present a limited but valuable option of upgradability over the next few years thanks to the modular design ethics.
So are we missing anything else that might be considered important on a modern AV Processor? Well I guess that depends on the end user and what your ultimate goals are for your AV system. For too long now manufacturers seem to have been adding every single new technology to up-sell their AVRs and AV processors to such an extent that looking at the front of some units presented you with rows of logos all proclaiming their compatibility with various streaming services, operating systems, EQ devices and so on. There is no doubt that many of those technologies have moved the game on and added some very useful resources and features. But it can also be said that many are pretty useless and redundant and there to make up the marketing numbers. And the one question that often gets forgotten in this rush to have it all is what does it sound like? So, while on first look the M17 might seem expensive and lacking in some future technology needs, thanks to MDC it will be updated over the lifetime of the unit and it appears to be built from the ground up for sound quality first.
If you are looking for networking, Bluetooth, streaming or internet features then you won’t find those here either. There is a LAN port but use of this appears to be restricted to using the Control App and we didn’t test this as our premises are WiFi networked and not wired in the cinema testing room. Finally there is Audyssey MultEQ Pro and provided mic for auto room correction if you so desire.
We did find a few issues with the M17 up and running. First of all the menu system feels old fashioned and navigating around doesn’t feel intuitive to start with. For example you expect pressing the enter button on the remote would enter the option selected, but that it is not the case. Usually it is the left button to enter and up or down to change the settings. You get the hang of it after a while, but it doesn’t work as initially expected. We also found a big issue with the HDMI handshake between the Panasonic Blu-ray player, the processor and our JVC X700 projector. Every time we loaded a Blu-ray or that Blu-ray is switching between menu screens etc. we would lose the image and have a blue screen. The only way to fix this was to switch the M17 off and back on again. This was reported to NAD HQ but they were unable to replicate the issues we had. We also consulted with a Forum member who owns an M17 and they also didn’t have the same issues, so we will put it down to a one off on this occasion as we have no evidence that it is an issue for all M17’s.
Around the back of the M17 we are presented with a clean yet packed back panel of connections and inputs. The first main connectors we see are the 8 Balanced XLR outputs (7 channels and 1 subwoofer) and to the right of these are the unbalanced RCA outs (9 in total including 2 subwoofer outputs). For this review we were kindly sent some balanced XLR connectors so we could run the M17 and M27 at their best.
Under the XLR outputs are the analog audio RCA inputs for 7 channels and 2 loops (Or these can be used as extended zones 3 & 4) with a Zone 2 output rounding off this row of RCA connections. Under these are 3 RCA video inputs for composite and one output along with two sets of component inputs and one output and two further composite outputs. To the right of these are the digital audio slots with 4 RCA and 4 Optical inputs and 2 outputs for each. Finally there are 6 HDMI 1.4 inputs and two outputs and a LAN port. The M17 also supports triggers and control ports for professional installation and multiroom system control and IR.
The last item to look at with the M17 is the remote control. You know you are dealing with an expensive product when the remote control feels like it was sculpted from a solid block of aluminium. The chunky and angular design sits in the hand with the kind of weight that just says class. The long and slender body is silver and the button face is black with a neon blue backlight behind the buttons. Every button press feels soft, yet confident and you have direct access to everything you will need during normal use in a well thought out and laid out design. Far too often, especially with high-end products, the remote is forgotten about and usually a cheap plastic manufacturer's clone that feels like a last minute addition to the package. Not the NAD. It feels expensive and matches perfectly with the feeling and design of the processor and amplifier.
The remote feels like it was sculpted from solid aluminium. In other words ... expensive!
NAD M27 Seven Channel Power Amp
Our most powerful amplifier ever proclaims NAD in the M27 brochure. This seven channel power amplifier is a Class-D design using nCore Technology licensed from Hypex. Rated at 180W continuous power per channel, the M27 can up that to 300W dynamic power per channel, all channels driven. Due to the design used NAD claim that the M27 is ready for those movie soundtracks with fast, powerful dynamic changes and difficult loads, but at the same time with the NAD Powerdrive circuitry they claim musical and relaxed sound quality can be obtained. Using fully balanced connections there is no noise floor when using the Power Amp with some 4 ohm M&K S150mkII LCR speakers, S150T tripoles and a couple of V12 subwoofers in our cinema system.
The design of the chassis matches that of the M17 and the build quality is exemplary once again, with a high level of workmanship on show. The top plate yet again has air vents cut into it and even though this is a Class-D design amplifier there is still a degree of heat escape. The unit has a good weight that compliments the build quality, yet it is also not as heavy as a conventional amplifier offering the same power output and dynamics.
Around the back we have a dip switch on each of the seven channels to select RCA unbalanced or XLR balanced inputs. Under these connections are the chunky speaker binding posts and to the right side is the power switch and socket, and that is your lot.
Sound QualityOver the last month or so I have had quite a run on AVRs, speakers and now this NAD combo in the review room. It just so happens that these landed at the same time as the MK S150 and MP150 speakers as part of review packages. The MKs love power so the NAD M27 had better be as good as the brochure boasts. The other plus point of the MK speakers is that they are very neutral and transparent to the source. A clinical sound yes, but one where they can pick up every fine detail contained within the sound mix. They are also excellent speakers for listening to AVRs and this Pre/pro package, as again any issues will be flagged. During the time we tested the NAD’s we also had Yamaha, Denon and Onkyo AVRs from differing price points in the market at hand.
The first question that springs to mind is the price vs performance vs the features argument. It is safe to say that at £8,000 the M17 and M27 package is the most expensive to have passed through our review room recently. It is also the best sounding of all the available units here in our room. But in terms of connectivity, EQ, WiFi, streaming and internet features, the Yamaha and Denon run rings around the NAD package. OK, so the amplification is not as good in the AVRs and they struggle to be as open and neutral with movies and music in direct comparison, but the other point pops up – are these AVRs 8 times worse in terms of sound quality compared to the NAD system? There’s nothing like playing devil’s advocate in justifying a very subjective subject matter like audio quality. At the end of the day the NAD’s are superb and only you will be able to answer the other questions based on your needs and your budget. So, just what stands out with the M17 and M27 package in terms of sound quality?
It might sound clichéd but the first impressions of the Processor and Amplifier was the sense of scale and power they introduced to proceedings. The MK’s love power and there is plenty on tap from the M27 to almost turn them into a different kind of speaker to those hooked up to the AVRs. During very well known demo scenes I use for all review testing, it was clear that the dynamics of the NADs along with the Speakers were fantastic for movies and this surprised me. There appears to be a slight roll off at the top end, almost like that found with a THX mode and their ReEQ. However that doesn’t mean it is a bad thing at all as dialogue never ever sounded sibilant and I wasn’t aware of any drawback with high frequencies in the material I used to test the units. If I had been using any speakers other than the MK and their clinical naturalness I probably wouldn’t have noticed this. A noticeable difference with the NAD set up vs the usual AVR was the tightness and cleanness of the bass performance. Although again this was subtle it did stand out and added to the feeling that the M17 processing and output was well executed and the sound produced was expansive, highly detailed and when required, devastatingly dynamic.
During the rocket launch in Interstellar there is a busy mix of low frequencies of the engines, the rattles inside the cockpit and mumbled dialogue as the stages of the launch go ahead. It is loud and brash at times and then as they hit space, silence. Just like that. Then we switch to a current favourite which is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I have described this scene in great detail in previous reviews recently, but I don’t think it has sounded any better than when through the NADs and MKs. The immersive rain and thunder claps that rumble the low end, while Caesar’s breath at the start of the clip has depth and weight, and is then replaced with a quiet, but distinct choir. When the chase of the deer finally hits top gear the mix gets complicated, yet you can pick out different layers. You have the human voiced choir almost screaming as deer body’s crash down hills and ape calls ring out all around. The dynamics of the NAD system are surprising from a company many will associate with laid back, clinical 2 channel products. They have managed to produce an outstanding power Amp and Processor with the M17 and M17. They really do perform to the highest levels you would expect at the market position and price point. Added to the clarity of the presentation is an effortless dynamic performance that instantly copes with large changes in volume on screen and does so with speed and power. When added to a speaker system like the MK’s they produce a formidable partnership of stunningly powerful, dynamic and immersive surround sound. We were very impressed and the issues we highlighted above with missing features do seem to pale when you get down to what these units do best.
NAD are well known for their two channel product heritage and as such you would expect that when fed a HiFi source the M17 and M27 would sound great. Well we are happy to report that that is indeed the case here with a superbly clean, fast and detailed presentation of music. We hit them with a whole host of genres and styles of music and not once did they flinch. There is a great sense of openness to the front soundstage that allows voices to be placed exactly as mixed. An old favourite is Annie Lennox with an album track called Cold. Here there is a jazz drum and deep bass (in a very slow tempo) and within the song are complete stops. Here we can pick up the intake of breath before the next line of the song, and the fast stop of the bass and drum, before we are off again with the next verse. There is a weight and wraparound of the drums and bass against the vocal of Lennox that almost puts her in front of you in the room. You can also feel the tenderness and delicate touch of her vocal with the distinct intake of breath sometimes caught between lines. Switch this to Metallica’s S&M and although the style changes, the NADs still offer excellent dynamics between the drums and bass, while managing the high frequencies and attack of the brass section of the orchestra and the distinct vocals of James Hetfield. There is a lot going on but once again there is a layered performance where all these separate areas fighting for your attention are provided a wide and expansive soundstage to do their thing, and still stand out against all that is going on. And even when pushed loud, as you do with metal, there is no breakdown into a distorted compressed mess; instead there remains this expansive sound without any sibilant highs and a clean dynamic breathing power to it all. It’s impressive! Very impressive.
Every now and again a product comes into the review room and makes you want to rediscover or find old clips, tracks and movies you haven’t seen in a while because the performance on offer is so good. The NAD M17 and M27 are such products and I have been rediscovering quite a few of my old movie and music favourites. In terms of outright performance the NADs nail it.
NAD M17 and M27 Video Review
- Excellent audio performance with movies
- Superb musicality
- Bomb proof build quality
- Modular design should make it somewhat future proof
- Fantastic remote control
- Looks and feels high end and expensive
- It's expensive
- Hand shake issue with HDMI
- No Dolby Atmos, DTS:X or Auro 3D at the moment
- No WiFi
- Lack of modern networking and streaming capabilities
- No 4K Video capabilities or pass thru at present
NAD Masters Series M17 AV Processor and M27 Amplifier ReviewThere is no doubt that £8,000 is not pocket change to anyone reading this review. Purchases like the M17 and M27 are once every 5 or 10 years for most enthusiasts and with that kind of layout, mistakes can be very costly indeed. We always state that you should get a demo of the products we review, if you are interested in buying them, and that is certainly the case with the NAD combo.
Let’s look at the negatives we did find first of all. There are things missing such as the immersive formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X and 4K video with HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 compatibility. However with the MDC design of the M17 processor NAD state that they can offer updates to these formats as they can swap out circuits and software. This should give some peace of mind that the investment into a product like this is protected for at least 5 years and you won’t get left behind. But this does all rely on NAD fulfilling those aims and the immersive add-ons, when they come, will have to be paid for on top of the £4,500 for the actual unit. There are also some items not likely to appear on the M17 such as WiFi, networking capabilities and streaming services normally found on the latest AVRs and this may or may not be an issue for you. We also encountered pretty severe handshake issues with the HDMI switching on the M17 and while we have no evidence that this will be an issue for other M17 units, you should be aware of the issues we found.
However, the M17 and M7 are built to perform and we have no negatives were performance is concerned. Both units have build quality that is almost bomb proof and a finish that screams hi-end. There is no doubt they are well screwed together and around the back they offer an excellent selection of connections, including full balanced XLRs between the two units. The volume knob on the M17 is also a star attraction with a feel that few knobs will ever master. Finally in terms of presentation and build the supplied remote control is a thing of absolute beauty.
Getting down to movie and music playback is a joy in itself with the NAD duo. Immersive, cohesive, dynamic and powerful are not merely clichés but perfectly describe the performance on offer here. When spending this kind of money you are getting into diminishing returns and there is no way that these units are 8 times better than a cracking £1,000 AVR, but they are better and do offer power and performance not seen from any modern AVRs. We are also not talking about things so subtle you hardly notice either. Bass is tighter and better defined for a start and there was a breath of fresh air blown into the MK speakers we were using with the M27, thanks to its 180W of power and fantastic dynamics (it can hit peaks of 600W when required). There is a step up in the overall ease of performance with the NADs over an AVR setup that is easy to hear and experience. These are very impressive units and provide a stunning performance with movies and music. The value for money and diminishing returns questions can only be answered by the end user, but for us we were blown away and we highly recommend you add the NAD M17 and M27 to your demo list.
Value For Money7
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