NAD C700 Streaming Amplifier Review
- Sounds consistently good
- Superb overall integration
- Well made and easy to use
- Does its best work via the internal streaming module
- No remote handset as standard (although workarounds exist)
Introduction - What is the NAD C 700?
The NAD C 700 is a self-contained ‘just add speakers’ type device of the sort that has come to dominate the landscape of affordable Hi-Fi over the last few years. It is the most affordable of NAD’s ‘Streaming amplifiers’ (NAD does not make ‘all in one systems’), and not part of the Masters Series unlike the M10v2 and M33. The spec, as we shall cover, is well considered, the form factor compact and of the moment and there’s some surprise and delight features in there too. The omens are good.
The timing of the C 700’s arrival is interesting though. More by luck than design, it has shown up close on the heels of the Roksan Attessa; an amp that occupies the same sort of price point and does so while combining some trad Brit amp values with the same BluOS streaming interface as the C 700. BluOS is integral to what has made these devices as good as they are. Letting other companies use it, while commercially sensible, does carry the risk that they will use it to make something that steals sales off you.
So, we need to see if the C 700 can make good on the promised ingredients, if that specification is just what you need for your system and if it can keep the newly augmented competition honest. Is this another supremely capable one stop shop or have rivals begun to catch up? Time for answers.
Specification and Design
NAD is a pragmatic and thoroughly sensible company and as such, the C 700 is a device that takes elements of the specification of the M10v2 (we reviewed the original M10 but, at the time of writing, haven’t yet made it to the second generation unit) but it isn’t so straightforward as giving you the same thing in a slightly more austere box (more on whether the box is austere or not later).
The amplifier section of the C 700 is very much in keeping with the company philosophy over the last few years. It is a class D type amplifier and NAD has long been an advocate of the topology and its approach goes a lot further than ‘buy a module and park it in your chassis.’ The technology is called UcD and the premise that makes it interesting is that it’s a self regulating, switching amplifier (that is to say, Class D) but the actual amplifier stages that do this are discrete analogue ones. The principles were developed by Hypex but NAD doesn’t simply buy in bits and plug them in. What you get inside the C 700 is very much something specific to NAD.
The numbers are respectable enough. Power is quoted as 80 watts into both 8 and 4 ohms. The NAD can then deliver a peak output of 100 watts into 8 ohms and 125 into 4. Separate to the on paper numbers, nothing during testing has required more than 60% of the entirely linear volume control to deliver the level I’ve been looking for. The reason for the volume being linear is that it is tied into the operation of the amp itself and works in the digital domain (so, for purists reading, anything that the NAD processes, regardless of whether it enters as a digital or analogue input will enjoy a phase as digital).
The amp and preamp section is made available to a selection of inputs that are reduced over the M10 but still reasonably comprehensive. There are a pair of RCA analogue inputs (with the caveat to their analogue operation already given) and both an RCA pre out and a single subwoofer out alongside. Like a few NAD products we have looked at in recent years, this sub output features its own internal crossover which should simplify the process of getting it up and running with your 2.1 system.
The analogue connections are joined by a single optical, coaxial and HDMI ARC connection that means you can use the C 700 for TV duties as well. Sample rate handling is the standard maximum of 32/192 (with no DSD but MQA supported) and, in the manner of a stuck record, I’ll reiterate that, however notionally unspectacular that might feel in the here and now, it is enough for almost all recorded music you can purchase (and even more that you’d actually want to listen to).
There’s no USB input (save for a USB-A socket for connecting thumb drives and networking and a port for service use) because NAD sees you leaning on BluOS for this sort of thing. I’ve written at length about BluOS before so my thoughts, good and bad, about it are well established (largely brilliant, could do with the ability to scrap the queue and accept larger album art files) but it’s worth pointing out that the C 700 shares with the M10v2, M33 and T778, the full colour screen that lifts BluOS from really very good indeed to truly brilliant. The difference is largely psychological; as the Node will demonstrate there’s no ‘need’ for a display to use BluOS but it feels lovely to have to hand. It also flicks over to VU meters on the other inputs and I might be 40 but that’s never not cool. The C 700 also arrives with full Roon readiness good to go as well. Finishing things off is AirPlay 2 and two way Bluetooth.
There’s something else too. The C 700 combines this display with a small selection of physical controls on the front panel. The end result is arguably nicer to use than the all display M10. The volume control becomes a rotary jog dial and it makes setting the C 700 a genuinely pleasurable experience. It is one of the most logical things to use I’ve tested in a while and I cannot see anyone being flummoxed by it.
There is a minor oddity to this though. As standard, for the £1,299 asking price, the C 700 does not have a remote control. For a few people reading this, that’s going to seem unforgivable but there are some riders to this. The first is that, if you use the C 700 via BluOS and HDMI (a fairly common pairing), volume is not going to be something you generally reach for a handset for as the app and TV remote can take the strain. Next up, there is is a remote learning facility in BluOS to make use of an existing remote to control the C 700. Finally, you can order one if you need.
Something else that has been lost over the Masters units is Dirac. How much this matters to you will be dependent on speakers and room. Neither the M10 in my post divorce shed or the M33 in my current lounge really delivered night and day changes after Dirac had been run but this reflects having optimal speaker placement and solid floors. It is only fair to point out though that the competition is not routinely equipped with room optimisation. You’d need to spend another £700 on the Arcam SA30 to get it.
And that £700 won’t buy a better looking or better made product. The C 700 takes the fabulous aesthetic of the M10 and riffs on it. I’ve covered in other reviews that NAD components are less grey than they used to be and it benefits the C 700 hugely. Combine that with the screen and other details like the illuminated NAD logo on the top plate and you have a crisp, clean and thoroughly modern bit of kit. When I wrote up the Roksan Attessa streaming amp, I noted that the styling possibly lacks identifying features to truly make it a Roksan. The C 700 manages to have little in common with older NAD products and yet, it still feels like one. It’s also superbly made. The chassis is metal, the controls solid and weighty and the connectors well spaced and solid. It’s still Hi-Fi for grown ups, just more stylish ones than might once have been the case.
The C 700 takes the fabulous aesthetic of the M10 and riffs on it
How was the C 700 tested?
The NAD has been tested on and off an IsoTek Evo3 Aquarius mains conditioner (reasons to follow) and has mainly been used on wired Ethernet (although wireless has been tested) both with BluOS and Roon. Some brief running has been carried out with the Roksan Attessa Turntable and its on board phono stage into the RCA input and AirPlay via a 2021 iPad Pro. Speakers used have been the Fyne Audio F500 SP and the Acoustic Energy AE1 Classic. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, Tidal, Qobuz and a limited amount of vinyl.
More: Audio Formats
The C 700 is a near perfect example of what NAD has been doing with its amplifier technology over the last decade. There’s nothing in the manner it makes music that has you pointing the finger at Class D… or indeed pointing the finger at anything. NAD has managed to keep the ‘house sound’ of the company while moving over to a completely different topology and the results of this are impressive.
First up, some context. The C 700 is, thanks to a price reduction on the part of the latter, nearly twice the price of a Musical Fidelity M2si, recipient of an Editor’s Choice Award. Because it does (vastly) more than the Musical Fidelity, making a comparison between the two as amplifiers is not as wide of the mark as it might first appear and while the NAD cannot necessarily match the underlying welly of the M2si, the C 700 does have some virtues that the Musical Fidelity lacks though.
The work that NAD has put into its amplifiers has resulted in a device that is consistently sweet. What do I mean by this? Using the C 700 with the AE1 Classic; a speaker about which many thousands of words have been written but very few of which will be ‘lush’ or ‘warm’, the partnership still isn’t exactly cosseting but the NAD ensures that the edge that the Acoustic Energy can demonstrate is largely absent. It does this while never tipping over into sounding warm or lacking in drive and impact when sanity is restored and the Fyne Audio has been used.
This sweetness and balance means you can kick off a day listening to something gentle and tonally glorious like Agnes Obel’s Aventime, potter your way through some Dad Rock, maybe via Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys and finish up with some propulsive Scandinavian techno from Carbon Based Lifeforms and the NAD doesn’t drop the ball across any of them. It forgoes out and out character to ensure that it works seamlessly across a wide selection of content. It is entirely in keeping with what I’ve long associated the brand to be about but even so, I don’t recall it being this effortless.
And ‘effortless’ is the word that crops up a fair bit in the notes. As well as sounding effortless, the C 700 is viceless to use too. It’s interesting to note that, although the BluOS module seems to be the same basic pattern as the one in the Roksan Attessa and they work in exactly the same way, where the Roksan needs you to turn it on before the module comes to life. The C 700 simply starts from the moment you press play. What’s also noteworthy is that the ESS based solution in the C 700 is actually a little warmer and smoother than the Texas Instruments one in the Roksan.
So, it’s better than the Roksan? Not always and this is most apparent with the Attessa turntable brought into play. Even with the phono stage of the turntable being used in both cases, I prefer the analogue performance of the Attessa streaming amp (and to be clear it’s not an absolute given within the… slightly opaque… description of what the Roksan does if it processes analogue inputs exclusively in the analogue domain). The C 700 is a streaming amplifier; it’s an amp that streams, but it is behaviourally more akin to an all in one than Roksan’s ‘streaming amplifier’ is. How much this matters is going to come down to what you plan on connecting to your system.
One final detail that is worth bringing up concerns using the C 700 with mains treatment. I have no desire to get into a long and heated discussion about this. I use the units listed in reviews because they protect equipment from my house and my house from the equipment. I do not make great claims for them removing veils, making my blacks inkier or allowing me to hear something like it was the first time. Nevertheless, NAD noted that their switch mode based PSUs are generally recommended for use without filtering and capacitor bank systems in place. In good faith I have tried the C 700 on and off the filters and my position having done so is that the C 700 continues to do what it does on or off the mains treatment but, depending on what you might have been planning to use one with, it will not hurt to experiment.
It forgoes out and out character to ensure that it works seamlessly across a wide selection of content
NAD C700 Streaming Amplifier Review
I suspect that, for most people looking at the C 700, the final performance of the analogue inputs will be down the list of priorities they might have. The C 700 might ultimately be best used self-contained but when it works this well, I cannot see many people being bothered by that. This is a fabulous streaming based system, partnering a great interface with excellent aesthetics and going on to deliver a performance that will flatter both content and speakers with equal effortlessness. NAD has bottled the same magic that makes their big streaming amps as good as they are and the result has to be seen as a Best Buy.
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