A veteran of AVRev.com, Jim Swantko also wrote home theater and audiophile component reviews for HomeTheaterReview.com in the early days of the publication. His focus was on mid- to high-end audio brands like Mark Levinson, Classé, Noble Fidelity, Cary Audio, MartinLogan, and Paradigm.
The NAD C 725BEE stereo receiver is the type of product that I am naturally drawn to by a company that figures strongly in my history. Most of my college years were spent with a NAD receiver providing the soundtrack. This new unit is a no-nonsense two-channel receiver, which strives for sound quality over DSP trickery and functions that the average consumer will not use. This is classic NAD. The $799 NAD C 725BEE is the top offering in the NAD hi-fi receiver line and is targeted at those consumers who may be considering separate two-channel components, but prefer the convenience of a single unit.
It's obvious that designer Bjorn Erik Edvardsen, whose initials are prominently displayed in the model number, chose to focus his efforts in all the right places, namely the hardware. Peering down through the top of the unit, the first item I noticed was a massive toroidal transformer, flanked by an equally impressive array of capacitors that reminded me more of my old Proceed HPA 3 amplifier than any receiver I've ever seen. The rest of the circuitry also bristles with high-end features, such thick copper buss bars, high-quality discrete components and lots of beefy transistors. NAD rates the C 725BEE at 50 watts of continuous power into eight-ohm loads and is stable down to one-ohm loads, with peak power output of well over 200 watts. This receiver was designed for anything you want to throw at it and to never break a sweat while doing whatever is asked of it.
The tree-hugger in all of us will be pleased to learn that NAD has embraced the green movement wholeheartedly with this receiver. In standby mode, it consumes less than one watt of electricity and is manufactured without the use of any heavy metals, adopting RoHS standards well before it becomes law. The audio purist will notice the defeatable tone controls and soft-clipping circuit, as well as pre-amp outputs should you decide to add one of NAD's separate amplifiers in the future.
I was disappointed in some of the aesthetics of the C 725BEE. First of all, the display window no longer features rounded ends, which have been a long-standing, instantly recognizable NAD styling signature. The window has been replaced by a far less interesting rectangle display. Secondly, the receiver is only available in graphite. I much prefer the traditional NAD gray, which in my mind defines the brand.
Setting the NAD up in my system was simple. It only took a few minutes to get up and running. While making the necessary connections, I noticed a few unexpected but appreciated surprises. First, there are large speaker binding posts on the back of the unit, which accept spade and banana-style connectors, which was great, since I bi-wire my Aerial 10Ts with both. They were easy to grip and well-spaced, so large cables could be used without fear of shorting. Second, there is a switched AC power receptacle, which can come in handy for controlling external devices in your system.
When connecting the optional IPD 2 iPod docking station, I was especially happy to see that my iPod's text showed up on the front display of the receiver. This made finding the track I wanted easy, even from across the room. All iPod functions are easily controllable from the well-laid-out remote control.
Read about the performance of the NAD C 725BEE on Page 2.
I honestly wasn't sure what to expect from the NAD, especially considering how demanding my Aerials are, with their low efficiency and even lower impedance swings. My speakers are tough to drive and wimpy amps need not apply. I decided to throw caution to the wind, jump into the deep end and hope for the best. I loaded ...And Justice For All from Metallica (Elektra) into my Esoteric player, turned the volume way up and cued the song "One." As soon as Lars began to hit the bass pedal on his drum set, I knew the NAD could deliver the goods down low. Bass drum hits were deep and tight, delivered with force that thumped in my chest. As the song grows in complexity with the addition of a second bass pedal, James Hetfield's angry vocals and guitar overlayed with a wailing solo of Kirk Hammett, the NAD never lost composure or became congested. I was impressed, as this classic, perhaps best-in-class heavy metal record, isn't engineered by David Chesky, if you catch my drift. It often sounds thin and lacks dynamics, despite the dynamic, demanding nature of the music. This said, the NAD C 725BEE lived up to the musically meaningful torture test, earning top sonic grades.
Never happy leaving well enough alone, I wanted to see just how far I could push the receiver before I found its limits, specifically to test the soft clipping feature of the NAD. It wasn't until I turned the volume to what seemed like 11 that I started to notice a harshness creeping into the upper frequencies. Next, I engaged the NAD's soft clipping circuit to see if it worked as advertised. It did and, to my surprise, the harshness completely vanished, even at full output. I kept this feature enabled, because I heard no reason not to, and it allowed for more extended jam sessions at typically ridiculous decibel levels. Purists might scoff at this idea, but I listened with the soft clipping on and off and it only helps, never seeming to hurt the sound.
After assaulting my senses with Metallica, I moved to the other end of the spectrum looking for some simple, stripped-down music. I loaded up "All Apologies" from Nirvana's acoustic performance on MTVs Unplugged, which has been on heavy rotation on my iPod lately. What struck me was how realistically the NAD was able to recreate the live performance on my demanding speakers. Describing a live performance is difficult, but your ear instantly knows it when it hears one, and mine were fooled. Listening to Kurt Cobain on such a raw recording is still eerie to me; I remember watching this performance debut on MTV back in the day. The NAD could make the highs sparkle and capture the three-dimensionality of the acoustic setting, as only an audiophile amp-preamp combo should be able to do. I was captivated.
In sticking with a nostalgic era of music for me, I grabbed Out of Time by R.E.M. (Warner Brothers) and selected "Shiny Happy People," which features Kate Pierson from the B-52s. Pierson's sexy, somewhat raspy voice soared at louder levels in my room. The track has great texture. With the NAD C725 BEE, you can hear into each layer if you want to put your musical attention into the song. If not, the warm highs and solid dynamics make for a highly pleasant musical experience. I could see a love affair brewing with this receiver.
If you are a vinyl lover, be aware that the C 725BEE does not provide a phono input. This shouldn't be a deal breaker, however, as NAD offers the PP2 MC/MM phono preamp as an accessory for a reasonable $129 investment.
I mentioned the looks of the unit before. NAD is clearly trying to do something visually different with this new series of products, yet the concept is so retro that I can't help but wish for the old NAD gray look. You could argue that I am stuck in my ways.
The $799 NAD C 725BEE was comfortable with every type of music I could throw at it, sounding better than any receiver should, especially at this price point. It was powerful yet refined, like a megabuck high-end stack of equipment without all the fuss and pretensions. It's designed with the environment in mind and by people who understand music and know how to reproduce it properly. If you are a music lover and looking for a receiver with the heart of separates, the NAD C 725BEE may be just what you are seeking. It's hard to imagine anybody doing a music-only receiver better at the price.