The affordable muscle amp of the eighties and nineties seem quite the threatened species of late. I have such fond memories of legendary beasts of that era which in my world consisted of the NAD Power Tracker, Aragon 4004mk2 and NAD S200. Good memories were made having one of those feeding high-powered systems we often used to drive entire neighborhoods up in arms!
The selection of real world amplifiers in the sub twenty thousand rand bracket became really starved since the turn of the century, especially in South-Africa . The new generation of contenders in this entry-level class all seem so light weight, not only physically. Their power ratings rarely show anything below four ohms, let alone two ohms which may very well be one of the reasons some really well designed loudspeakers of today are easily labeled as amp-killers with not too much consideration to the contrary. With so little real performance below four ohms I suppose it is only natural to call a loudspeaker dipping to three ohms in the upper bass a very difficult load best reserved for an elite contender.
Enter the NAD C275BEE power amplifier with its trademark looks not much different to the old strong-as-an-ox Power Trackers I used to own. The faceplate is void of anything but the NAD logo, one button to power it up and the three customary NAD indicating LED’s for Power, Soft Clipping and Bridging. Clean, no-nonsense lines befitting of an amplifier with similar aspirations to its onslaught in the most important sound department.
When my test sample recently came around as a less than one year-old trade-in, I had to make use of the opportunity to try it in my reference system consisting of components costing in some cases ten times as much unit for unit. The physical weight of the C275BEE made me work for a change, but also demanded instant respect as well as a good recollection of the many times we schlepped big amps around from party to party and house to house.
The NAD C275BEE is built to last. The quality of the case work is as good as ever, but in the power supply department the age-old NAD recipe of not cutting corners is what got me excited about this little bomb shell all over again. In the center between the dedicated amp channels for left and right is seated a substantial toroidal transformer that would not have been out of place in baby KRELLs of the late nineties. Behind the transformer is mounted two generous smoothing capacitors again almost reminiscent of the two substantial canisters fitted to another legend of old, the Naim NAP250.
When I see substance like this in a neatly executed design my heart warms up to the fact that should I be buying one, my money is spent on the right things. With the NAD C275BEE one can see what it is you are getting for your hard earned cash. This amplifier is very well made and the component specifications high.
Driving my resident ‘amp-killers’, the 2012 B&W802 Diamonds confirmed what we all know about the law of physics. When it’s heavy, it’s usually good! The 275’s sound is heavy-weight, punching holes in the air around the loudspeaker-drivers, meaning bass control during those frequent three ohm dips made the NAD do nothing else but come into its own. Bass slam and attack were not lacking or audibly substandard to established references in my mega-buck setup. At high listening levels the NAD neither faltered nor once lost control as I have recently seen a highly respected amplifier of far greater rated output (and cost!) did.
At the onset of its limits, the NAD does exactly the same as the best muscle amps past and present. It keeps going with superior driver control and almost zero audible distortion. Only on pounding dynamic peaks can one sense a little compression, much like a professional limiter at work in a high powered PA system. I can definitely live with this scenario safe in the knowledge that woofer-cones wont come unstuck when the going gets tough!
Overall the 275BEE sounded advanced for its modest price. I could enjoy every last ounce of the benefits there is when switching from a volume-remote DAC to the all time best Audio Research Reference 5SE preamp at the front. The NAD told me no less than a lofty priced power amp (similar to the mighty ARC REF5SE preamplifier) does. What I’m saying is the NAD never obscured anything I already knew of my sources and preamplifiers.
The Audio Research driving the NAD C275BEE painted it’s incredibly desirable panoramic sound-stage with that depth of field that make some sounds present from another dimension all together. To hear all this through the NAD was heart warming at the least, especially to a die-hard NAD-fan of old. The mid-range had beautiful presence even when compared to established references. Separation was just as good and the NAD did an admirable job of keeping complex passages with multiple instruments in dissected suspended relief. This is a very important element of advanced music appreciation and undoubtedly the new NAD amp’s strongest suit.
At the frequency extremes however, the NAD could have sounded cleaner and leaner. The treble showed a tad too much grain for my liking and the upper bass had some excess wallop the better designs steer clear of with obvious conviction. Although seen in isolation these issues are really non-issues, there is a slight darkness to the overall presentation that may well be as a result of the highlighted issues in combination to the other.
Will this be an issue in system context made up of likewise gear? I don’t think so. What I do know is that given these two issues there really hasn’t been that much progress considering my favorite war horse of now twenty plus years, the Aragon 4004mk2, still shows the new kid a clean pair of heels as it did it’s ancestors back then!
To be fair to the NAD it does seem obvious how the engineers played a balanced hand at getting from their design the aspects closest related to musical truth and involvement. The NAD’s mid-range presents everything played through it in a manner befitting of an advanced design that allows for intimate musical pleasure. For it’s price it is doubtful if anything more can be expected or found. This amplifier definitely deserves recommendation, but to get the most from it, a serious source and preamplifier are mandatory considerations.