With so much to-do about Blu-ray and the impending onslaught of 3D TVs that will also be vying for our collective attention, what is the Managing Editor of one of the largest home theater publications doing talking about a CD player? The answer is simple: the NAD C 565BEE CD Player reviewed here is more than just your run of the mill CD player. It's a two channel enthusiast's dream come true at very affordable price; $799 to be exact.
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At a glance the C 565BEE looks like your typical disc spinner from one of the industry's best, NAD. It's roughly the same size, at 17 and an eighth inch wide by two and three quarters inches high and 11 and a quarter inches deep, as other NAD CD players. However, once you get past the physical similarities, the differences between the C 565BEE and NAD's other CD players is night and day - and it starts with an input on its fa�ade, an input labeled USB.
That's right, the C 565BEE does more than simply spin your favorite CDs, it can also play MP3 files up to 320kbs/VBR from a solid state memory device such as a flash drive or stick, thanks to its internal DAC,which is from Wolfson Microelectronics. The internal Wolfson DAC is a 24/192 DAC setup in a Dual Differential configuration. The Wolfson DAC coupled with NAD's own Sample Rate Converter means that common CDs (sampled in 44.1kHz) as well as other music formats, are upsampled to 96kHz or even 192kHz, making for a much nicer, smoother wave form before sending the signal along to your preamp or processor. However, I should point out that while the Sample Rate Converter and internal Wolfson DAC would be enough, NAD takes it a step further by using higher quality digital filters that feature user selectable roll off controls that allow the consumer to better tailor the sound of the C 565BEE to their liking.
Getting away from sample rates and spec sheet mumbo jumbo for a minute I want to talk about what sets the C 565BEE apart from other CD players in its class and beyond. For years the pinnacle of digital, two-channel playback has been a separate transport feeding a stand alone DAC for the best digital has to offer. Sure, CD players have had some sort of DAC in them since the dawn of CD but many enthusiasts know that for best results you really should use an outboard DAC. The benefit of an outboard DAC is you can potentially connect multiple components into it, allowing it to serve a variety of purposes, which is why I've always been a proponent of a good outboard DAC because it offers more performance and value than your run of the mill stand alone CD player. That being said, I've often been short on space or cash to allow for a separates based CD playback solution in many of my rigs.
Well, the C 565BEE changes that, for it is a CD player but it is also a DAC and damn fine one at that.
Turning my attention to the rear of the C 565BEE, I noticed quite a few more connection options than what I'm used to seeing on a run of the mill CD player. Obviously, there are analog audio outs as well as digital audio outs, both optical and coaxial, which allow you to use the C 565BEE as a transport if you wish, though I kind of think that would defeat the purpose of purchasing a C 565BEE. There is also an RS-232 input as well as a 12-volt trigger, IR input and a detachable power cord available on the C 565BEE's back panel.
But wait, there's more.
Next to the C 565BEE's digital audio outs there is a digital optical audio input. Not only can the C 565BEE play back CDs and MP3s from a solid state device, it can also serve as just a DAC, albeit a two channel one, for another digital device. Now, I was excited to see this little addition but quickly became confused by it - that was until I remembered something...my Mac in my office. More on that later.
So with so much going on behind the scenes, all of the hard controls on the C 565BEE's face began to make more sense, so let's turn our focus back to the front. For starters, the C 565BEE has a slim but traditional CD tray, which is located on the left side of the unit. Next to the tray is the C 565BEE display, which can display a variety of different things from track number and duration to album metadata (when available) and sample rates etc. Oh, and it's very big and very clear, making it easy to change tracks and know what's playing from across the room before the song itself begins. Below the C 565BEE's screen are a series of manual controls beginning with stop/open, source, SRC, random, repeat, display and scan. Play/pause, track forward and backwards are handled by a knob of sorts that sits just to the right of the display screen. Press once for play, another for pause and turn it either right or left for track forward or backwards respectively. Now, many of the buttons are pretty self explanatory; however there are two - source and SRC - which many traditionalists aren't going to be used to seeing on a CD player. Source allows you to chose between the C 565BEE's three source options, CD, USB and Optical, while SRC or Sample Rate Converter allows you to chose which sample rate you want the C 565BEE to upsample to. For example, the feed coming into the C 565BEE from my Mac is 44.1kHz yet it's being sent to my receiver at 192kHz thanks to the C 565BEE's internal DAC.
Which brings us to the remote. The C 565BEE's remote appears more like a simple receiver remote than that of a CD player's. All of the controls are present and accounted for and are clearly and cleanly laid out, though not backlit. The remote feels good in hand and is very elegant, perhaps even a bit more elegant, in look, than the C 565BEE itself.
I setup the C 565BEE in my reference rig featuring the Integra DHC 80.1 (review pending) mated to an Anthem Statement P5, which powers my Revel Studio2's (review pending). The entire system is connected with Transparent Reference speaker cables and interconnects. In my reference system I connected the C 565BEE to my Integra processor using both the analog outputs as well as the coaxial digital output, bypassing the C 565BEE's internal Wolfson DAC.
The second system I called into service was my office system, which features my trusty Denon 4806 receiver mated to an Atlantic Technology 5.1 in-wall system. I connected the C 565BEE to the Denon via its analog audio outs and connected my Mac to the C 565BEE via its digital out into the NAD's optical input.
I then made a series of test discs/playlists/USB drives, all featuring the same content ripped at various resolutions but all taken from the CD itself. I also tested the C 565BEE with a variety of Internet purchased audio tracks which I loaded onto various USB drives as well as played back via iTunes itself.
I started things off with John Mayer's new album Battle Studies (Sony) and the track "Assassin." Via the CD, the opening bells and chimes had a real three dimensionality to them with terrific air and decay, not to mention lively in rhythm and motion between the Studio2's. Mayer's vocals were much fuller and richer than in some of his previous albums that have made him sound a bit flat, harsh and nasally. His presence in the soundstage was lifelike in size and scale. All of the instruments were rendered naturally with a good amount of space between them and held steadfast in the soundstage by the C 565BEE. Bass was taut, deep and detailed, though it didn't plunge quite as deep as some other players I've demoed. Dynamically the C 565BEE didn't grab me by the throat and lead me around the room, instead opting for more of an authoritative suggestion, which I kind of liked and appreciated, for it was never overtly aggressive. Overall, the CD performance of the C 565BEE on "Assassin" was just a touch laid back but rife with detail and air, possessing the type of sound one could listen to for hours on end without fatigue even at extreme levels.
After giving "Assassin" a few spins in the CD tray I switched to my USB flash drive featuring the same material captured in full resolution. Through the USB input "Assassin" felt a touch leaner throughout the frequency range and possessed a slightly more forward, less airy top end. The soundstage width and depth were largely unchanged but some of the magic was lost if I'm honest. Things didn't get better when I spooled up the same track but at a lower resolution, 256kbps. The lossless rip was good enough for critical listening if I hadn't heard the CD itself first; however the 256kbps rip was a whole other animal.
Even with the C 565BEE internal DACs doing all they could the sound was thinner, harsher at the extremes and flat out tubby in the bass. The soundstage compressed significantly as the air and separation seemed to simply pack their bags and head for greener pastures. It wasn't unbearable and had I started with the lower res file versus the CD itself I probably would be singing a slightly different tune, however I didn't and I'm not.
I still had one more test to do. I launched iTunes and cued up "Assassin" in all of its 256kbps glory but this time I would play it back via my computer's digital audio out. Oh me oh my what a difference. I'm not sure how or why there would be a difference between the C 565BEE's USB input and it's digital audio in, but there was. The 256kbps file being played back via my Mac was closer in sound quality to that of the CD itself than the uncompressed rip I played back via the USB input. Once again, the C 565BEE proved to be a smooth operator with balance between the bass, midrange and treble that was just delightful. The air, decay and space returned as did the soundstage, but more importantly the dynamics were back and were a touch better than with the CD, which surprised the hell out of me. I went ahead and loaded the uncompressed MP3 file into iTunes and played that back and wow.
To ensure the NAD was contributing to the quality I was hearing, I went ahead and connected my Mac directly to my Denon and immediately the magic was lost.
I went ahead and gave the C 565BEE a bit more to chew on and cued up the Avatar soundtrack (Atlantic) by James Horner in Apple lossless format via iTunes. I went ahead and pressed play on the track "Becoming One Of 'The People,' Becoming One With Neytiri" which features a bevy of driving drum beats, chimes, woodwinds and even a spot of guitar. The effortlessness to the sound as the sonic world seemingly unfolded around me was incredible. The size and dimension of the performance was just downright spooky. The width of the soundstage was borderline surround sound in the way it enveloped me and moved about the room. The depth to the soundstage was not quite as cavernous; however that may have had more to do with my in-walls speakers than the C 565BEE performance itself. The treble was nimble and sweet with zero harshness. If I had to knock anything about the high frequency performance of the C 565BEE when utilized as a DAC it would have to be that it was just a touch laid back and recessed but again, I'd rather have that when it comes to digital than a high end that's too aggressive. The strings were soothing and warm with great separation and detail, making it sound more like a true ensemble of instruments (which it is) versus one massive violin or cello. The bass was really the track's party piece and unlike my previous demo, the C 565BEE proved it could go much lower than I gave it credit for, yet still retain all of its musicality.
I went ahead and moved the C 565BEE back to my reference rig and cued up the same track as before, this time on the CD itself and the results were superb. The track was fuller, possessing a bit more weight, which made the dynamic swings more impactful, though they still didn't attack the way some players do. There was a bit more space to the performance and the depth to the soundstage did improve quite dramatically, which proved my previous observation about my in-wall speakers. The bass plunged deeper and had even more slam to it, though it too never came right out and blasted me. The whole performance was oh so very nice and composed and on a level you wouldn't expect from such an affordable player, even if it is an NAD.
Against my better judgment I went ahead and cued up the same track on my USB flash drive, only this time in 320kbps and braced myself for the worst. Only this time the worst didn't come. It wasn't as full or as involving as my previous two demos but it was far superior to my first foray with USB playback, proving once again that it really does come down to the quality of the recording itself, of which Avatar is incredible. There was still a thinning of the sound throughout and a bit of looseness in the bass but generally it was quite enjoyable.
Overall, regardless of what I played, the C 565BEE proved to be quite a capable player possessing a calm, soothing demeanor that was never forward or aggressive even when pushed. The level of detail the C 565BEE is able to reproduce is unlike anything I've encountered at this price point and beyond. I'd happily put the C 565BEE's performance up against players retailing for $5,000 or less. It does have its drawbacks and while the USB port is convenient (I did end up using it a lot), its performance relies heavily on the quality of the source material despite what the bit rate data might lead you to believe. As a CD player/DAC the C 565BEE is incredible and full of possibilities. After its stint in my office I found I couldn't live without it, for it simply didn't make sense to put it elsewhere. Streaming iTunes music and movies - that's right, movies - in my office through the C 565BEE into my new Anthem Integrated amp was a musical combo worth its weight in gold.Low Points