Dylan is an expert in audio and video reproduction with a emphasis on home theater projection.
NAD's new M10 BluOS Enabled Integrated Amplifier ($2,749) is a very exciting product. And I don't just mean for NAD, but for the integrated amp market as a whole. Audio companies are finally understanding that for their products to stand out, especially when they're meant to be installed in a shared, non-dedicated space, they need to push the envelope not just in terms of sounds, but also aesthetics and ergonomics. I believe the M10 does just that in a few key ways.
In the looks department, the fit and finish of the chassis is quite high-end. Sitting front and center on the entertainment stand in my living room, it's rather enigmatic and unique looking, but also drop-dead gorgeous. It has an attractive gloss black design, a scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass top, and even includes an adjustable LED-backlit NAD logo. But the real show stopper is the large LCD information touch screen on the front, which spans nearly the entire width of the chassis.
Despite its showy presence, the M10 seems impossibly small when you factor in all that it offers. Taking up less than two-tenths of a cubic foot of space, and weighing just 11 pounds, this amp can fit into spaces most others cannot. So, the M10 could be an excellent choice for those looking for an integrated amp for a home office or a small listening room.
In terms of functionality, NAD has included broad-sweeping support for AI assistants from the likes of Amazon, Google, and Apple. You'll also find new-age audio input options such as Apple AirPlay 2, two-way Qualcomm aptX HD Bluetooth, and BluOS multi-room audio. NAD's BluOS companion app gives the M10 access to a ton of streaming services, such as Amazon Music, Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Qobuz, Soundcloud, and TuneIn Radio, among others. Both MQA and High-Res audio formats are supported and, if your home has automation hardware installed, the M10 is compatible with Crestron, Control4, RTI, URC, Lutron, and iPort control systems.
Another forward-thinking feature of the M10 is that it lacks physical buttons and a remote to control it. The touch screen is the only direct input method and, after you've sat down for a listen, you'll need a phone, tablet, or computer handy, with NAD's BluOS application installed for control. I will admit that this total app-based control method did take a little getting used to, but after a short period of adjustment, I found that BluOS was easy and intuitive enough to use that I think even the least tech-savvy audiophiles among us should have no problems acclimating to it. With that said, there is an IR learning feature buried within BluOS if a dedicated remote control is absolutely necessary, though NAD makes it pretty clear that app-based control is how they think you'll enjoy the M10 most.
Arguably one of the more exciting features of the M10, and one that I suspect potential buyers will find very appealing, is Dirac Live room correction. For those unfamiliar, Dirac Live is a powerful piece of equalization and filtering software traditionally found in home theater surround sound processors, designed to alleviate many of the acoustic abnormalities associated with improper speaker placement, unique room acoustics, and bass management. Unlike dedicated two-channel rooms and home theaters, the M10 is meant to be placed within more traditional, less acoustically forgiving, living spaces. Just remember that Dirac Live can't perform miracles, but in these less than ideal spaces, the room correction process should help remove glaring issues with dips and peaks in the audible frequency band within your room, giving way to flatter response at your seated location.
While I think it's fair to say that the M10 beats its own drum in terms of looks and functionality, what has NAD done to improve sound quality? For amplification, the M10 features a current generation Class D HybridDigital nCore amp module. This iteration puts out up to a hundred watts of continuous power into both eight- and four-ohm loads and can output up to 160 or 300 watts of dynamic power into eight- and four-ohm loads respectively. You'll also be happy to know that NAD is utilizing the latest 32-bit/384kHz DAC from ESS Sabre inside the M10, with all decoding and digital processing handled by a 1GHz ARM-based CORTEX A9 processor.
Setting up the M10 can be as traditional and easy as connecting a pair of speakers and a cable into one of the audio inputs on the back, or a bit more complex if you want to utilize some of its more advanced features. For these, you'll need to download the BluOS app (available on all major mobile operating systems) to set up your streaming services. You'll also need to install Dirac Live's companion software on a computer to use the M10's automated EQ room-correction feature. Just be aware that Dirac Live requires a license if you want to tap into its full potential. The free version focuses on the lower frequencies and features max filter frequency of 500Hz. For the purposes of this review, I was given a code to upgrade to the full version (normally a $99 upcharge), which unlocks all of the functionality of Dirac Live Full Frequency.
Either way, running the software is pretty straightforward. You simply connect to the M10 inside the app over WiFi, place the included microphone at your seated location(s) and, with just a few clicks, Dirac Live makes its measurements and uploads the room-correction curve to your M10. It's really as quick and easy as that. The BluOS app even lets you toggle the room correction on and off to make quick comparisons with and without it enabled.
Looking at the back of the M10, you'll find a set of traditional input and output options. There's a pair of 12 volt triggers, a pair of analog RCA inputs, a set of line-level RCA outputs, a pair of subwoofer outputs, coaxial and optical SPDIF input, an eARC-compliant HDMI input (limited to stereo PCM), a wired LAN port for streaming (WiFi is available too), a type-A USB input for local media playback, a bridgeable pair of five-way tool-less binding posts, and a detachable three prong IEC power port.
While I know many will hem and haw over the fully app-based control system, there are some nice benefits associated with it. It's actually very convenient as compared with the more traditional menu systems found elsewhere. Changing things like your subwoofer crossover point, EQ settings, LCD settings, and many of the other useful options the M10 offers is just a few taps or clicks away. You won't need to trudge through endless sub menus to find what you're looking for. BluOS is also really intuitive to use if you plan on streaming music. All of the streaming services within the app are easy to find, use, and navigate.
If you're like me and have a ton of lossless and high-res music stored on a computer in your home, you should be aware that the M10 does not support UPnP. Instead, NAD relies on the SMB protocol to send audio files to the M10 over your home network. This means you'll need to use the BluOS app to tell the M10 where your audio files are, but it also needs to scrape through your audio collection to create metadata and find album artwork. This initial process can take quite a bit of time if you have a large collection, but after that, adding individual songs and albums is quick and easy.
Before I get to my listening impressions, I do want readers to be aware that the M10 is a purely digital audio product. That's to say, if you're connecting analog devices to the amp, the signal is sent through an analog-to-digital converter first, so the requisite digital signal processing and equalization can happen. Then, the audio goes back through a digital-to-analog converter before amplification and output. I doubt most will care about this, but I do know that there are analog diehards out there seeking an amp that features a one-hundred percent analog path for the analog inputs to keep the signal as pure as possible before it hits your speakers.
Before the M10 arrived, Marantz's PM7000N integrated amp had been installed in my living room system since reviewing it earlier this year. I liked that amp so much that I decided to buy it after the review was finished. Upon switching over to the M10, the most immediate and obvious difference in sound was the M10's far more neutral sonic signature overall. Despite having a preference for the bit of warmth that the PM7000N adds in, I can appreciate what a more neutral sounding audio product offers. I find that neutral sounding amps do a particularly good job with vocals, male and female alike. And that shouldn't be surprising because neutrality in amps is often accompanied by excellent tonality, which I think is key in making something as recognizable as the human voice sound realistic. In my initial listening tests, this is one of the areas of performance that stood out most with the M10.
Checking out female vocals first, I cued up London Grammar's most recent album, Truth is a Beautiful Thing. On the opening track, "Rooting for You," Hannah Reid's vocals sounded hauntingly beautiful.
The amount of air surrounding her voice was palpable, indicating an impressively low noise floor. Impressive enough that the fleeting reverberations of her voice were clearly audible, something that I noted my PM7000N could not do as well.
Yes, you could still hear the same reverberations if paying close attention, but they were nowhere near as obvious as they were through the M10.
For male vocals, I often look to contemporary jazz artist Gregory Porter. The M10 didn't disappoint here either. The track "God Bless the Child" stood out as sounding particularly impressive. Especially when compared to some older amps I've heard based around a Class D design, I noted a complete lack of grain in his voice. In lieu of that, the M10 renders Porter's voice as impressively clean, articulate, and natural.
While I think high-performance Class A amps still sound a little better in this regard, though generally costing more for that performance, the M10 tells me that Class D amp designs have made huge strides in sound quality in recent years.
And it's not just vocals that sounded great through the M10. One of my favorite albums to judge subjective performance by is Crash by Dave Matthews Band. From a recording standpoint, this album has it all – amazing dynamics, a huge sound field with plenty of stereo separation, well recorded instruments and vocals, and, despite the multitude of instruments used throughout, they're impressively mixed so each can be picked out as a single distinct layer within the mix.
The M10 did an impressive job rendering these baked-in qualities. On the track "Lie in Our Graves," Matthews' vocals imaged well, dead center between my speakers, with Carter Beauford's percussion notes creating an impressive, almost all-enveloping, sound field around them. The sound quality heard here piqued my interest in seeing how the M10 would sound upstairs in my dedicated two-channel system.
Once installed there, I found that the M10 held its own against the more expensive equipment surprisingly well. Detail retrieval was essentially indistinguishable. The M10 threw a sound field nearly as wide and deep, and I noted that the midrange sounded particularly effortless and natural. The only noticeable areas where the M10 fell behind were at the extreme ends of the audio spectrum. I could sense a slight loss of bass definition on the lowest notes, and on the top end there was less extension and not quite as much air. But the differences were not huge, and when you consider the massive price difference and much smaller form factor the M10 is working with, the kind of sound quality it possesses is mighty impressive. And despite the M10 was designed for more general use in a living room or office, it sounds to me like it would fit right at home inside a dedicated two-channel listening room.
After bringing it back downstairs to my living room, I wanted to see how the M10 would fare with movie and television soundtracks. After all, I suspect many owners will be using the M10 to supply audio for their television too. The same traits that make the M10 great for music carry over to video content as well. This was especially apparent when listening for dialogue intelligibility. I've been re-watching the dialogue-heavy HBO show Veep over the past month and got about half way through the second season before the M10 arrived. Continuing forward with the M10, I found dialogue was easier to understand at lower volumes compared to my PM7000N. And best of all, this extra clarity came with no issues like emphasized sibilance like you might find elsewhere from a lesser performing integrated amp.
The M10 features dual subwoofer outputs, which perfectly suits the dual subwoofer setup in my living room. Knowing it has a ton of loud, ultra-deep bass, I re-watched a few scenes from the 2014 version of Godzilla. Readers will be happy to know that bass performance was clean and composed down to the lowest notes my subwoofers go. Compared to my PM7000N, the M10 offered a noticeable bump in bass clarity and definition overall.
I'm sure most of you are wondering how much of a difference Dirac Live made on the sound. I'd have to say the most noticeable impact, with my room and system at least, was far better bass clarity and more even bass response at my seated location. Prior to running the software, bass had a large bump in output between 30 and 40 Hz, and it was only after toggling the EQ off and on that I realized how large of a bump it was. With Dirac Live correcting this problem, sound was far more balanced from top to bottom, which was immediately noticeable. And with particularly bass-heavy genres of music, such as Hip-Hop and Electronic Dance, this made for a noticeable jump in subjective sound quality, with bass sounding less bloated and far more articulate.
I don't really have anything negative to say about the M10's sound. Instead, and much to the dismay of my significant other, we found that the M10 struggled with its auto-source selection. For example, when transitioning between streaming music services and watching TV via the optical input, the M10 occasionally missed that I now wanted to watch a video on my television, thus forcing us to manually change inputs. This is something the PM7000N does flawlessly by comparison. Opting to use the M10's HDMI ARC port will solve these issues; however, HDMI isn't always available with source components, so I really hope NAD can address this inconvenience in a future software update. Considering this integrated amp is intended to be placed in a living room, this kind of functionality, especially at this price point, should be better optimized.
And as much as I like the LCD touchscreen on the M10, I don't think NAD is utilizing it to its fullest extent. It would have been nice for it to display technical information about the audio it's receiving. My PS Audio DirectStream DAC has a much smaller touchscreen, and yet it displays a lot more technical information, including artwork. I also would have liked some additional, more aesthetically pleasing graphics modes, or even something as simple as a digital clock would have been a useful implementation for the screen for those who don't want to see anything audio related at all.
Additionally, the LCD panel is very inaccurate in terms of color and white balance. All the graphics, including album artwork, have a heavy blue push to them. I don't know if this was intentional, a kind of inside joke due to the M10 running BluOS, or if there's just unit-to-unit variance on the LCD panel used. Either way, I wish the image it produced was more accurate, especially when you factor in its price.
Comparisons and Competition
The M10's closest competitor in features, potential sound quality, and price would be Arcam's SA30 ($3,000). It, too, is a Dirac Live enabled integrated amp. However, unlike the M10, the SA30 comes with a far more traditional looking chassis and lacks the swanky BluOS intuitive app-based control system. However, in lieu of that, the SA30 does offer more analog input options, which include a switchable MM/MC phono input. The Arcam is also rated to provide a twenty percent increase in watts-per-channel over the M10, so keep these things in mind if you're comparing these two integrated amps.
Alternatively, if you're looking to keep Dirac Live, you could go the separates route. For that, I'd recommend looking into NAD's very own C 658 BluOS Streaming DAC. The C 658 includes Dirac Live support, and at just $1,699, it leaves you with plenty of cash to find yourself an amplifier to pair with it. Going this route also adds in the flexibility of adding Dirac Live to any amplifier with a sound signature that you prefer, not just the amp built into the M10. With that said, buying separates does, of course, add a bit to the complexity of setup over the all-in-one solution that the M10 offers.
NAD's M10 is a very forward-thinking product, and I mean that in nearly every sense. Between its attractive/enigmatic looks, small footprint, app-based control, integrated Dirac Live room correction software, BlueOS software, and its impressive sound quality, the M10 changes the status quo of how an integrated amplifier can look, function, and sound.
Even when put against a far more expensive system, I found the M10 had no troubles holding its own. The differences in sound quality would not indicate the massive price difference between the equipment used for comparison, which I think tells you a lot about the value proposition the M10 offers, but also the kind of sound quality that it possesses.
• Visit the NAD website for more product information.
• NAD Viso HP50 Over-the-Ear Headphones Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.