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NAD M51 Listening Impressions...


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#1 Lil Caesar

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 03:09 PM

Hello ALL,

Given the extremely large amount of interest and largely positive commentary surrounding this device, I'm going to provide a number of observations. Please consider that I have only had the unit for precisely one week, and I am quite possibly the first owner in the country to have spent considerable time with it, so these comments are by no means conclusive - merely my own thoughts.

I've been fortunate enough to have spent 75+ (no that's not a typo) hours with the NAD M51 over the past seven days. It was run in and initially compared to both a Schiit Audio Bifrost and Pro-ject DAC Box Fl via a YBA "Passion" Integrated Amplifier. On Saturday afternoon I was kindly loaned a pair of Valvet "A3.5" Class A Monoblocs from fellow SNAer Yoshio. I now have some idea of the NADs' performance as both a standalone DAC and Pre-Amp.

To provide context, please find below an image of my listening environment and journey to date...

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I have spent some time with the following DACs over the past six months:

Musical Fidelity M1
Rega DAC
Audiolab M-DAC
Lampizator "Level 4"

I will make some references to these units but I will do so from memory so please consider these to be very personal and subjective comments within the context of my system and room. Speaking of system - my floorstanders are Sonus Faber Luitos acquired in September last year, along with the previously mentioned YBA Amp and Transparent Audio Labs XLR interconnect and speaker cable.

My preferences are generally for a slightly warm and forward sounding presentation. The Luitos provide the warmth courtesy of their light colouration in the lower mids and bass and slight rolloff of treble, whilst the YBAs' exuberance presses the soundstage forward. At higher SPLs, my room betrays me with brightness and harshness in the treble and considerable loss of definition in the bass. I have attempted to subdue this via the treatment on the walls visible in the above image.

Given the acoustic situation and my ideal sound signature, DAC selection has been difficult. Fatigue eventually sets in with any DAC that exhibits brightness in the treble. I have also developed a keen sense for any colouration.

Finally... The M51...

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In short:

Absolute Transparency
Complete Neutrality
Very High Level of Detail Retrieval
Presentation of Soundstage Proportionate to the Recording

The NAD M51 is perhaps best described as a studio-grade reference-quality device. Quite a claim I know, but within my experience it has displayed characteristics not found in any of the sub $1k devices I have listed above. For this reason, I will leave comments in reference to the Lampi DAC until the end.

The Bifrost and Rega DACs are everymen, slightly laid back in their presentation, smooth and completely inoffensive. Their treble is controlled, their is sufficient bass definition and information for most people and a pleasant amount of detail is retrieved . They stage wider and deeper than the Pro-ject NOS DAC, and remain utterly composed with complex music which the NOS DAC does not. Tonality however, varies.

Using my NOS DAC as reference, the Rega favours lower mids and upper bass, whilst the Bifrost favours upper mids. Neither situation is a fault in my view, just an observation. The M51 has absolutely no colouration. It is completely tonally pure to the source. At first this was not apparent., but once I changed Amps and moved to using the M51 as Pre and DAC it become quite clear.

The MF M1 DAC and Audiolab M-DAC are also largely free from colouration, and they are also fully balanced DACs like the M51. However they have their own quirks. The MF M1 has deeper and clearer bass than either the Bifrost or Rega, it is also somewhat forward sounding and courtesy of its upsampling to 192k - prone to brightness in my already forward sounding system. Quality recordings were rewarding, almost everything else was not.

Likewise the sabre chipset in the M-DAC had an even greater sense of bass depth and clarity, coupled with phenomenal detail retrieval and palpable presence. It was extremely forward sounding, creating a massive stage. With the MF M1 the stage was a one-size-fits-all affair, the M-DAC however was more clever, and adjusted a little with each recording, BUT NOT SPECIFICALLY TO SUIT THE RECORDING. It made everything larger than life, and put it uncomfortably in your lap.

The M51 on the other hand, behaves like a sophisticated lens, constantly altering its aperture and focus to suit what it is being fed at every given instant. The M-DAC arguably plumbs deeper and stages both wider and deeper of its own accord, but it lacks the M51's ability to deliver subtlety and nuance. The M51 offers the most controlled and highly articulated presentation I have experienced, which tempts you to turn up the volume without paying too higher a price.

Lampizator L4 vs NAD M51

Lets make a couple of things clear here. The Level 4 Lampi costs $5,500. The M51 $1500 at current list price. They are very different machines. The Lampi uses a true tupe output stage, runs entirely at Class A and uses a 32 bit 192k delta sigma chipset. The M51 uses a 35 bit 844K PCM to PWM process and is all solid state.

If emotional weight and euphonic charm is important to you, the Lampi wins. I was initially naive in my time with the Lampi, and suggested the it was only a marginal improvement over the Bifrost. This is not the case. The Bifrost tricked me with its effortless and easy-going nature. It was only when the Lampi returned to its owner that I realised just how much was missing. It is the best soundstaging, most musical DAC I have ever heard. Period.

The other side of the argument is this - the sheer pragmatic value of the M51. With its high quality finish, modest dimensions and connectivity, it ought to earn high WAF. But boring matters of practicality aside, the M51 achieves without the aid of valves - most of the Lampi's other virtues - being a holographic soundstage, fatigue-free treble, excellent detail retrieval and a sense of complete and utter composure regardless of source material.

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M51 as PRE and DAC

When I moved from the YBA Integrated to using the Monoblocs the scene altered considerably. This is where the real value equation of the M51 hit home. Whilst the Lampi is the more musical device, if you allow the M51 total control, and amplify to taste - you will be rewarded. This is where the device moved from being merely a four-figure DAC to something truly special, in and of its own accord. It has no presence in your systems' acoustic signature, and simply provides a fluid gateway to the music.

I got EXACTLY what I was looking for with the Class A Monoblocs. A greater sense of body. Better channel separation. Increased dynamics. Better bass response. And I knew it was the Amps. I know my room, I know my speakers. I didn't really know the M51 until that point. A veil had been lifted, and what was initially good detail retrieval became something else. And that is all the M51 contributed. An unflappable ability to deliver the music and no real sense of its own existence.

It does not give a warts-and-all performance like some high-end devices, nor the slight warmth, colour and absolute sense of ease associated with the Lampi. It remains devoted to honestly rendering the source material. I never thought something so transparent and neutral could sound so musical. Oh wait. It doesn't. The music is musical, the M51 is merely the ideal gateway. The amps, speakers and room contribute - but the decoding remains pure.

Your mileage will no doubt vary, and yes I'm clearly a very happy camper. Take from this what you like, I for one - have no further interest in playing with DACs.

Regards,

Lil C

^_^ Cookies are Sometimes Food -_-


#2 cazzesman

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 03:22 PM

Cool :thumb:

Regards Cazzesman

System - CAPS (Lagoon 128g SS HD + Sotm USB Card) + Synology NAS DS411 Slim - JRiver 18 - Elijah Isolate USB Cable - Audiophilleo 2 + pure battery power - RCA Direct into NAD C390DD (set to dual preout) into SGR CX4F Speakers.     (2 x Aqvox Low Noise Power Supply , Ear Science Power Box) - WDLive for TV and Movies - Yamaha DVD S1700.


#3 bee200sx

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 03:41 PM

That was a very informative read thanks Caeser :thumb:

#4 A J

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 03:50 PM

Consistent with my findings - I was considering the Audio GD REF7.1 but had never got a chance to hear it. Up until now the most engaging DAC I have had in my system was a L1 PDX, the most natural and non fatiguing the Teddy Pardo Teddydac, the most accurate a Bel Canto DAC3. The NAD seems to take the best qualities of all and delivers an outstanding result, and the feature set is a total proposition. I am running mine direct into a Fetzilla (DIY baby son of Naksa) into ML1's, lovely engaging sound. I have spent now about 20 hours listening to all sorts, DVD, Blu Ray, CD, streaming, Apple TV. I haven't tried the USB port yet as the HTPC is feeding an HDMI port, one less wire to worry about.

Listening to stereo & stuff............. :)


#5 GraemeB

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 04:28 PM

Thanks 'lil c', your review and observations of the M51 have helped me realise that, yes, my dream DAC is STILL the Lamprizator 4, which I saw recently saw for sale for a mere $6000. However, economic 'reality' rudely intervened, and I put my bank card away, grateful I'd come very close to not being able to afford to eat for the next three months!! Given what you describe I'm hoping I can 'get by' with the M51, which should arrive next week, Australia Post permitting!

I pray that the almost-ruinously seductive lure of the Lamprizator will fade as my ears party to the transparently musical sounds emanating through the M51. Well, that's the plan, Stan. And we know what can happen to plans eh?

Anyhow, thanks again for your insightful comparisons Lil C.

Graeme
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#6 Kamikari

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 04:40 PM

Just a couple questions:
1. What were you using as your transport?
2. How's the USB input, if you weren't using that as your source?

#7 Lil Caesar

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 04:47 PM

Hi Kam,

Sources are Apple Ipod Classic with Lossless encoded Redbook material transported via Cambridge Audio id100 digital dock using AES/EBU connection and my Wintel PC using the NADs' USB 2.0 Asynch interface. USB is exceptional. We do not know its origin in terms of third party tech provider as NAD has done a very slick job with the drivers and I cannot find any reference to XMOS, C-Media or anything else for that matter. Their drivers natively support WASAPI, ASIO and Kernel Streaming in Apps written for these protocols. I use ASIO in Foobar.

Edited by lil Caeser, 27 March 2012 - 04:48 PM.

^_^ Cookies are Sometimes Food -_-


#8 RockandorRoll

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 04:54 PM

It sounds like it would be a hell of a unit, something i could do with actually.

the lack of analogue inputs kills it for me. I need a DAC/Pre thing with 2 analogue inputs for CD and TT adn then all the features of this bad boy

will keep looking

VPI Scout II : Rega Saturn : NAD M51 : Luxman L550AII : B&W 705

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#9 bhobba

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 04:55 PM

Hi Little Ceaser

Great write up - well done.

Because it may be a little while before I get my M51 what do you think about the idea of getting my older L1 PDX that I have for sale down to you to compare? It will not be ready for about a week or so though. Since I will have it for sale at maybe just slightly more expensive than the NAD it would be a good comparison.

Thanks
Bill

Mac-Mini, Essential Signature USB Cable, Level 2 PDX, Ribbontek RCA Cables, Arion 250W, Ribbontek Speaker Cables, Lenehan ML3 Reference.


#10 Lil Caesar

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 05:00 PM

Oops.... I should add I also used my PS3 via HDMI for both film and bluray audio. This works flawlessly. HD audio sounds spectacular in good old stereo, putting many lower budget 5.1 systems to shame. I had 5.1 prior to my return to stereo and all that I miss is a bit of the wraparound effect from the rears and a tiny bit of bass extension. Dynamic slam is considerably better with my current setup and there is no comparison in terms of detail retrieval. I had ALR Jordan speakers, a REL sub and used Audiolab 8000 series pre/pro and power amp.

Edited by lil Caeser, 27 March 2012 - 05:04 PM.

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#11 Lil Caesar

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 05:03 PM

Hi Bill,

I appreciate the offer but I'd like to give the comparo thing a rest for a little while :)

....Really just enjoying being in a happy place right now and I need to just be a music lover for a while...

Thanks !

^_^ Cookies are Sometimes Food -_-


#12 cazzesman

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 05:09 PM

Nirvana is here.........................atleast for alittle while :P

Regards Cazzesman

System - CAPS (Lagoon 128g SS HD + Sotm USB Card) + Synology NAS DS411 Slim - JRiver 18 - Elijah Isolate USB Cable - Audiophilleo 2 + pure battery power - RCA Direct into NAD C390DD (set to dual preout) into SGR CX4F Speakers.     (2 x Aqvox Low Noise Power Supply , Ear Science Power Box) - WDLive for TV and Movies - Yamaha DVD S1700.


#13 LuzArt

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 05:36 PM

Thanks for sharing LC, great write up. Nice when you get a piece of gear you *really* like isn't it :)
Metrum Acoustics Octave Audiophilleo 2 Schiit Audio Lyr (Philips E88CC Miniwatt '66 SQ) AKG K701 Audio Technica MA50X Golden Jacks -10db Lightspeed Attenuator Rotel RB990BX Rotel RB971 Yamaha RX-V1800 Vifa JV60 (Paul Spencer X'Overs) Vifa/HMV 2-way Subsonic XC-1 Yamaha YST-SW215 Sony S370 Pioneer DV655A WD HD TV Luzart. Photography.

#14 monaro8

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 06:31 PM

Very eloquently written lil C,

you deserve a good long rest, I'd say you are completely..."DACered".... :(

from all that testing, observing, amp swapping, music changing and extensive listening.

Great review, quickly go out and buy more shares in NAD as it looks like this product will sell very well for them now.... :P

Well done...Vanch... :cool:

Edited by monaro8, 27 March 2012 - 06:31 PM.


#15 SugarShark

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 06:41 PM

thanks for the comprehensive write up of your impressions, enjoyed reading it.

on the topic of the dac:

one thing that irks me a bit about the configuration of the m51 - no 12v trigger output :(. if it's being sold as a pre-amp, it should have that imho. small thing, but it would be nice.

any chance you could put up a pic of the remote?

#16 Lil Caesar

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 06:44 PM

Ahh Monaro... believe me - you don't want to see the remote. It's NAD's universal jobie for the whole "Master" series by the looks of it :(

...Jack of all trades master of none.


EDIT:

..actually you get a glimpse in my B&W room shot, top right on the arm of the couch ;)

Edited by lil Caeser, 27 March 2012 - 06:45 PM.

^_^ Cookies are Sometimes Food -_-


#17 John H. Darko

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 07:08 PM

What a wonderful review.

The M51 really does look the business and - by yours and AJ's reports - seems to deliver on sound too. The new Metrum? NAD seem to offer FAR more for the $...perhaps. The first buzz-DAC of 2012? I should coco.

Can't wait to hear one, but that won't be for a while. Local stocks are pretty much presently close to zero.

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#18 Tony M

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 07:11 PM

Personally, think this topic should be banned - mods please note!! :mad:






Well, at least until May, that is. ;)

(Yeah, I know I did say I'd be reading the reviews with interest. But the reality is it's frustrating reading about something that you've just missed out on. :( )

It's sounding very promising though and, seriously, thanks for the excellent review, LC. :thumb:

Edit: JD, from what I can ascertain, local stocks are just that - zero. Otherwise, I'd have one.

Edited by Tony M, 27 March 2012 - 07:14 PM.

Cheers
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#19 wis97non

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 07:28 PM

Great review Caesar! Another slam dunk write up. Bravo.

Tony M, someone (Duckman) in the other M51 thread has a one week old M51 for sale for $1295 delivered and Bill opted out of taking it, so its available. Why complain about waiting when there is an alternative? Cheaper than retail too...

Edited by wis97non, 27 March 2012 - 07:30 PM.


#20 Tony M

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 07:41 PM

Thanks wis97non - I missed that. I'd prefer to buy new, but I'll definitely look into this. Are warranties on this sort of gear generally transferable - anyone know?
Cheers
Tony

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#21 krebetman

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 07:43 PM

Nice writeup and very interesting product...

It's all about the music, but the gear's fun too...
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#22 Viognier

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 09:19 PM

Excellent write up LC. Looks like your dacaddiction finally cured. Enjoy the music now. But don't forget to go out for some fresh air and food. 75+ hours in a week shows true dedication.
Do your ears and system a favour and get out and listen to live music.

#23 Kamikari

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 09:29 PM

Hi Kam,

Sources are Apple Ipod Classic with Lossless encoded Redbook material transported via Cambridge Audio id100 digital dock using AES/EBU connection and my Wintel PC using the NADs' USB 2.0 Asynch interface. USB is exceptional. We do not know its origin in terms of third party tech provider as NAD has done a very slick job with the drivers and I cannot find any reference to XMOS, C-Media or anything else for that matter. Their drivers natively support WASAPI, ASIO and Kernel Streaming in Apps written for these protocols. I use ASIO in Foobar.


Damn, that does sound nice. Guess I'll start saving up.

#24 wis97non

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 09:29 PM

Thanks wis97non - I missed that. I'd prefer to buy new, but I'll definitely look into this. Are warranties on this sort of gear generally transferable - anyone know?


Most definitely!

Even if it were not the case, you could get Duckman to act on your behalf in any warranty dispute.

I bought my Distributer modded NAD amp 2nd hand and it had a bad resistor. No probs to take back to the Distrib and get it fixed for free while I waited in the demo room being regaled about technical developments by the owner and his son (I wish I had a tape recorder, as it would have made a great audiophile interview).

Great outing that was! They were even a tad embarassed that there was a problem in the first place! They seriously could not understand how it happened, as it was not "Swiss Quality". LoL BTW, the mod (improved preamp section and negative output impedence on the power section) is only available in Switzerland and it kicks butt! Takes the Classic line ABOVE the Stock Masters series amps!

NAD is a stand up company.

Mods in French:

  • circuite de préamplification amélioré
  • étage de puissance modifié
  • impédance de sortie négative
  • extrême stabilité du courant, parfait contrôle des membranes

Edited by wis97non, 27 March 2012 - 09:40 PM.


#25 wis97non

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 09:36 PM

To the techies, how does the NAD volume control compare technically to the volume module option available on the Lampi here :
http://diysoundlab.com/

I think the Lampi has a stepped ladder ersistor based analog volume control, if I understand correctly.

#26 kajak12

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 10:16 PM

To the techies, how does the NAD volume control compare technically to the volume module option available on the Lampi here :
http://diysoundlab.com/

I think the Lampi has a stepped ladder ersistor based analog volume control, if I understand correctly.

The lampi volume control looks like it belongs in a ps3 not a highend dac................

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#27 Lil Caesar

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 10:32 PM

My YBA amp has a stepped ladder resistor pre. Letting the M51 attenuate volume via its 35 bit architecture made a significant improvement. Digital volume done right is almost as good as the best analogue solutions, it's just that most digital volume is poorly implemented. I think the nad gets it right :)

^_^ Cookies are Sometimes Food -_-


#28 Sir Sanders Zingmore

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 10:36 PM

Nice write-up. Thanks for that.
I wonder how the M51 plus a decent power amp would compare with the NAD M2 direct digital amp

regards, Trevor

 


#29 GraemeB

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Posted 27 March 2012 - 10:46 PM

Thank you LC for that info. I am using a NAKSA 70 power amp with a Goldpoint attenuator (added by Hugh Dean himself!). He's been giving me some advice on how I can best balance the (soon to arrive) M51's digital volume control with my modified NAKSA's pseudo-passive pre-amp modification.

You've helped ease my concerns over (probably) imagined difficulties balancing the two methods of volume control.

Graeme

Edited by GraemeB, 27 March 2012 - 10:51 PM.

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#30 Nada

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Posted 28 March 2012 - 01:09 AM

Nice work. Both for finding such a great DAC for your listening pleasure and for producing such an excellent write up. Congratulations :)

Better to be kind then clever.