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November 2017
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
NAD C 388 Digital Hybrid Streaming Integrated Amplifier With DAC, Streamer, MM Phonostage, Bluetooth And BluOS
Quite a bargain on its own, plus you can customize with NAD's MDC cards too!
Review By Brett Rudolph

 

NAD C 388 Hybrid Streaming DAC, MM Phonostage And Amplifier Review

 

  Remembering the days before my "obsession" with high fidelity and the quest for the Holy Grail of the perfect playback system is somewhat like a trip down memory lane. Many of the names found in the world of yesteryear still exist today, but sadly, less than one might hope remain steadfast in their commitment to produce quality components with outstanding performance. One of these companies that remain committed is NAD Electronics.

 

New And Old
NAD has a long history of building high performance affordable audio components. They have done an outstanding job of leveraging their experience in the creation of newer, more functionally rich components. Therefore, when the opportunity to review their latest creation, the C388 integrated amplifier, there was very little thought involved in my decision. NAD's C 388 is the latest in their development efforts. It begins as a somewhat traditional well-equipped Hybrid Digital DAC Amplifier that includes analogue, digital, a MM phono stage and even a headphone connection. However, in addition to the traditional features are some more modern ones. These include Bluetooth connectivity with aptX and smartphone connectivity that features a downloadable application to control it. Finally last, but certainly not least, there are two MDC expansion slots. These allow additional functionality installation later, more on these in a moment.

Overall, a nice package houses some serious capabilities. Visually it is sleek and clean. There are only a few controls on the front, but these serve their purpose without being overly daunting or difficult to use. The remote control is well designed and easy to use. It complements the controls on the unit itself and definitely makes it easier to change sources or access certain functions. The smartphone app is also easy to use and does a great job of controlling the unit as well. Personally, though, I preferred the simplicity of the included remote or even the front controls, call me old fashioned. That is unless you add expansion cards.

 

NAD C 388 Hybrid Streaming DAC, MM Phonostage And Amplifier Review

 

The MDC expansion slots are built to "future-proof" NAD's C 388, by allowing the ability to add functionality later. Luckily, the future is now and my review sample came equipped with a BluOS card capable of Hi-Res Audio playback. Stating simply, it adds Wi-Fi and hardwire Ethernet connectivity along with the ability to decode all major digital formats up to 24-bit/192kHz. In addition, once installed the unit becomes a fully functional music server within the network. However, BluOS goes a step further and gives the unit the ability to be used with other BluOS components or Hi-Res Audio amplified speakers from Bluesound. These speakers, one of which luckily came later in the review, gives the user the ability to use the C 388 as the nexus for multi-room music distribution.

 

NAD C 388 Hybrid Streaming DAC, MM Phonostage And Amplifier Review

Without NAD's MDC card above, and with MDC BluOS card below.

NAD C 388 Hybrid Streaming DAC, MM Phonostage And Amplifier Review

 

Inside The Humble Interior
Do not let the calm, sleek and easy to use exterior lull you into the feeling that the NAD C 388 itself is sedate even without the BluOS module. The amplification is impressive. The Class D amplifier is capable of 150 Watts continuously and 250 Watts instantaneously @ 8 Ohms to allow for peaks without clipping. It capitalizes on both a customized version of the Hypex UcD output stage operating in a fully balanced configuration to allow for exceptionally low distortion and increased precision. Coupled with the amplification is an equally impressive array of digital inputs, analog inputs and output connections. The digital inputs include two optical inputs, one coaxial input and Bluetooth. The analog inputs include one moving magnet phono stage input and two unbalanced RCA inputs. Two sets of speakers connect to the unit by way of five-way binding posts, if desired. These speakers function as speaker A and B respectively. Finally, there is a separate preamp and subwoofer output along with the ability to connect multiple types of remotes.

Again, the expansion cards can be somewhat of a game changer. The BluOS card in my sample added the internet and network connectivity, but others allow for HDMI connectivity, for example. Some are still being developed, but they have at least announced the coming of one that will give 4k capability. Ultimately, what you add is yours to decide, but my suggestion would be to at least add the BluOS module if you want a significant boost in functionality.

 

NAD C 388 Hybrid Streaming DAC, MM Phonostage And Amplifier Review

 

Setup And Review Time
The base C 388 was a breeze to setup. The back of the unit is simple to navigate and allows for easy access to all the inputs and binding posts. In fact, it took less than half an hour to get everything in place and connected. The BluOS came installed and the only connection to make was the antenna. The unit has two when the card is installed, one for the BluOS module and the other for the C 388. The only challenge came when configuring the BluOS module. The original unit came with an older version of the firmware, an upgrade made the task much easier, though you still need patience to get it working correctly.

After the normal two hundred hour, break in period, it was time to put the component through its paces and see what it could do. The first of these exercises focused on the digital realm, so with the new OPPO Digital UDP-205, a favorite lead the pack of musical selections, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. SACD on EMI's label this selection is always a challenge in bass extension, peaks and resolution of imagery throughout the album as it goes from heartbeats to alarm clocks, to name a few obstacles. The playback task made even harder by power hungry Martin Logan Request speakers, but the C 388 handled it like a champion overall. The imagery was fairly well defined and kept a cohesive nature throughout the entire album. The bass extension seemed effortless and it kept its character except for the most subtle places. There it seemed to lose some of its character and became more muddy, but you had to listen hard to hear it.

The nice thing about using the SACD version of the album is that in addition to the remixed stereo layer, there is a higher resolution SACD layer as well. Like the stereo layer, the album is somewhat difficult to playback for some systems, the detail is far more granular and intricate, but there is quite a bit more. That said, the C 388 did a beautiful job of conveying the oftentimes hidden background voices. It also allowed the lush midrange to shine without clouding it by too much bass or treble extension. Finally, although there was a very slight metallic sound, which tends to follow digital amplifiers, it did not remotely intrude into anything but the most difficult passages.

The next selection used in the review was The Band's The Last Waltz on Mobile Fidelity's Label. The original album was outstanding, but the release by Mobile Fidelity elevated it to entirely different level. It takes away all the somewhat questionable aspects related to mainstream mixing while imparting a far more realistic quality that in my opinion only adds to overall enjoyment of the music. In fact, unlike my trusty original CD, this one you can hear the voices without the distortion that many live recordings for the mass market carry. Of course, the downside is that it makes playback far less forgiving.

 

NAD C 388 Hybrid Streaming DAC, MM Phonostage And Amplifier Review

 

The Hybrid Amplifier again did a beautiful job of decoding and playing back the album. In fact, it revealed some inner details that I had somehow missed before this review. The sound of the crowd sounded realistic and engaging, rather than fake and hollow. This in itself is somewhat of an achievement where many systems substantially more expensive fail. In fact, it was so enjoyable that I let it repeat the album again. The number of albums that played through NAD's C 388 was sizable, yet there is not enough space and likely patience for all of them. They represented all genres and overall the results were similar as those mentioned already. Therefore, the last album mentioned will be Andrea Bocelli's Sacred Arias on Phillip's label. Although the playback was definitely consistent with those of other albums, it did somewhat display a slight decrease in the richness of Bocelli's voice This coupled with a slightly brighter tonality made the album less intoxicating then other selections.

Although the review skipped many of the features, one that needs mentioning along with a brief evaluation is the ability to use online music services such as Tidal and Spotify. The smart device app makes connecting them a breeze. In fact, the only way to access them is with the app. It is easy and straightforward. In fact, I found that once I started using them, I tended to use them more often than other formats. Of course, there is a downside with online music services in most cases; the quality tends decrease substantially at times. However, the C 388 seemed to take the material and somehow make it enjoyable to even my reviewer's ears. Of course, to be entirely fair, Tidal and specifically all Hi-Res Music still sounded far better than other services, but one would expect that. The coolest thing is that you could use the Bluesound speaker and listen to something different in another room without seriously wondering if you needed an entirely different system setup.

 

NAD C 388 Hybrid Streaming DAC, MM Phonostage And Amplifier Review

 

Conclusions
NAD's C 388 definitely lives up to the NAD name and reputation for affordable high performance audio equipment. Many components that try and include even less functionality become deficient with regards to one element or another, yet this one seemed to excel at all of them, especially when you factor in the relatively low price point for the basic model without the additional BluOS card. Even with the BluOS card, the price represents quite a bargain in my opinion. If you are budget minded or want a great deal of functionality in one package, you owe it to yourself to put this on a short list of possible candidates. I know that I am.

 

Tonality

Sub–bass (10Hz – 60Hz)

Mid–bass (80Hz – 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz – 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Solid-state integrated amplifier with optional boards
Continuous Output Power: >150 Watts per channel, stereo
IHF Dynamic Power: 400 Watts @ 2 Ohms, 250 Watts @ 8 Ohms
THD:  <0.02% (250mW to 150 Watts @ 8 and 4 Ohms)
Signal/Noise Ratio: >95dB (A-weighted, 500mV input ref. 1W out in 8 Ohms)
Damping Factor: >150
Frequency Response:  20Hz to 20kHz (+/-0.03dB)
Channel Separation: >75dB
Inputs
Digital: Two S/PDIF coax  and TosLink optical
Analog: Two RCA line In, moving magnet (MM) phono preamp (0.3mV input sensitivity ref. 200mV pre-out)
IR remote
Smartphone Control App
12V Trigger in/out
IR in/out
RS-232 Serial port for control
Control4, Crestron, RTI, URC, AMX, Savant, and Elan certified
Dimensions: 17.125" x 4.75" x 15.350" (HxWxD)
Weight: 24.7 lbs.
Price: $1599 (as reviewed with optional card $1999)

Available MDC Upgrade Modules

MDC BluOS
Adds Wi-Fi/Ethernet Network Connectivity with decoding for all major digital music formats, including Hi-Res Audio to 24-bit/192kHz, and support for local libraries and streaming music services. BluOS is the operating system of a wireless multi-room ecosystem that includes speakers from Bluesound allowing Hi-Res Audio to be distributed to every room in the home.

DD HDM-1
Adds three HDMI In (Stereo PCM only, no Surround Dolby/DTS decoding) and 1 HDMI Out for video pass through. Full 3D Video support with video resolution up to 1080p/60. Supports two channel PCM audio with 24-bit/192kHz resolution.

DD HDM-2 (Coming Soon)
Adds three HDMI Inputs and one Output for Video Pass-Through. Supports 4K Video resolutions. Supports two-channel PCM audio with 24-bit/192kHz resolution.

 

Company Information
NAD Electronics
633 Granite Court
Pickering Ontario
L1W 3K1 Canada

E-mail: support@nadelectronics.com
Website: www.NADElectronics.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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