Say the words "simplicity of operation," "musicality," and "modularity" to home theater enthusiasts, and the first electronics brand to come to many minds is almost certainly NAD. Throughout the course of the company's history, it has established what only a select few home theater brands manage to create: a genuine identity. Not just a reputation, mind you, nor merely a following, but a distinct persona.
That distinct persona can be seen in nearly every aspect of the new T 777 V3 AV receiver ($2,499), one of NAD's first offerings to support Dolby Atmos (the other being the T 758 V3). If you're already familiar with the T 777 in its original incarnation, there aren't any surprises here in terms of looks. Same matte-finished face. Same button layout. In fact, it seems that the entire front of the chassis has been carried over intact.
The V3 also supports the same amplifier power ratings as the original, although the addition of Atmos means the amps can be configured differently. NAD rates the T 777 V3 quite conservatively at 7 x 80 watts, but it should be stressed that this is what the company refers to as "Full Disclosure Power," meaning all channels driven, full bandwidth, with less than 0.01 percent THD. Switch to the power ratings reported by most mass-market receiver manufacturers (FTC and Dynamic), and you get output at 140 or 160 watts per channel into eight ohms. In other words, it delivers plenty of sufficiently clean power to drive most home theater systems, unless you've got a very large room.
With seven amplified channels at its disposal, the T 777 V3 can be configured as 7.1, 5.1 with a second powered zone, or 5.1.2. Bring additional amps to the equation, and it can process up to 7.1.4 channels. It also features five rear-panel HDMI inputs and one output supporting HDCP 2.2 copy protection, UHD, HDR10, and Dolby Vision pass-through as of OS version 2.16.10. There's also a second HDMI output and a front-panel input limited to HDMI 1.4.
Supported sound formats include Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD Master Audio (DTS:X and Neural:X are coming later in 2018), and DSP modes are limited (thankfully, in my opinion) to Dolby Surround, NEO:6 Cinema and Music, and NAD's own EARS and Enhanced Stereo.
The other big selling point of the T 777 V3 is its support for the BluOS high-resolution multiroom audio system, which has been described as Sonos on steroids. BluOS unlocks access to all manner of streaming music services, from the usual suspects like Spotify Connect, TIDAL, Amazon Music, and TuneIn to some less well-known offerings like JUKE, KKBOX, Murfie, Deezer, and many more. It's also the means by which you stream music from your phone or computer, assuming you don't want to go the Bluetooth route (which is also supported).
Spin the T 777 V3 around and take a gander at its back panel, and the differences between it and its original incarnation start to become abundantly clean. Gone, for one thing, are the numerous analog video inputs and outputs. Gone, too, are the terrestrial radio antenna connections. What's left is a neat and tidy collection of HDMI ins and outs, a handful of digital audio connections, six line-level stereo audio inputs, three stereo zone audio outputs, a 7.1-channel analog audio input, and 7.2-channel pre outs, along with separate height channel pre outs. There's also a LAN port, a USB port, an RS-232 connection, three trigger outputs and one in, three IR outputs and one in, and a soft-clipping selector switch that you can engage if you want to gently limit the receiver's output to minimize distortion and prevent damage to your speakers.
The layout of the T 777 V3's connectivity really points to its Modular Design Construction (MDC) template. MDC allows NAD to replace major digital circuits as needed to keep a product updated. Recent MDC upgrades have added, for example, HDMI 2.0b connectivity to components that originally only supported 1.4. In an era where we're all sort of waiting to see how necessary HDMI 2.1 will be and how quickly, that sort of upgradability is welcomed, to be sure.
Just taking the back-panel layout on its own terms, I really dig how easy it is to keep the wiring distinct, tidy, and out of the way. With most receivers, HDMI connectivity goes on top of speaker wiring and analog audio inputs, so interconnects can easily get tangled, especially if you're leaning over the receiver from the front to make or replace connections. With HDMI cables neatly sorted on one side, line-level ins and outs in the middle, and speaker connections way over on the other side, the T 777 V3 makes it quite easy to group like cables with like cables, tie them up nicely and prettily, and keep the back of your rack or credenza looking professional.
In terms of room correction, the T 777 V3 employs Dirac, both in a free LE version and a full Dirac Live upgrade for $99. The former applies frequency correction up to 500 Hz and impulse response filters from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, with support for both sofa and single-seat measurements. The latter adds full-bandwidth frequency response correction, as well auditorium-style measurements. Frankly, unless you just have some wacky reflective surfaces in the neighborhood of your first reflections, or a weirdly asymmetrical room, you'll almost certainly be served well by the free LE version. Despite the fact that I'm well versed in Dirac, I couldn't hear any audible differences between my initial setup using the free LE version and a later setup using the full, unlocked Live version.
The room correction system has quirks to be dealt with, no matter which version you opt to use. The included USB microphone adapter and microphone combo is one of the fiddliest I've dealt with in all my experience with Dirac to date, so getting the right balance between input and output gain proved to be a slight source of frustration. Oddly, the NAD implementation of Dirac also forbids you to tweak your speaker levels after you apply your filters. I'm not quite sure why, since other Dirac-equipped gear I've reviewed (and own) allows you to adjust levels after the fact. On the one hand, Dirac does a bang-up job of setting levels and delays, so the chances that you'll need to adjust the results afterward are minimal. On the other hand, there's something to be said for preference. With every home theater system I've set up for my dad, I've needed to permanently boost the center speaker by 3 dB to account for his hearing difficulties, and to cut the sub(s) by the same amount due to his disdain for loud bass. You can, using dedicated buttons on the T 777 V3's remote, boost or cut the center, surrounds, and sub(s) in real time, but the ability to permanently tweak levels would be appreciated.
Other than that, the T 777 V3 is one of those receivers that I put into the "set it and forget it" pile, and I mean that in the best way possible. There are a lot of cool, little options to be found within its UI. Under Control, for example, you have the usual options like network standby, but you can also dig into the CEC settings and turn on or off individual options like power, source switching, etc. One really nice feature is "AV Presets," which allows you to tweak listening modes, tone controls, and such to your liking, then marry them by default to a given input--or even set up a few different options for each input or user and recall them easily via the remote.
Speaking of which, the T 777 V3's remote is a beautifully built beast that's a big step up from the controllers included with most receivers. It's beefy, it's sexy, and it's laid out quite intuitively. Navigation can take a little bit of getting used to, since working the menus involves scrolling up and down between settings, tapping right to highlight selectable options, and scrolling up and down again to choose between them. You don't use the Select button to confirm your choices; instead you tap left again. For the first couple of days with the receiver, I found myself fumbling around the menus like a drunken sloth with motor-skill impairments; but, once I got use to the NAD way of doing things, I found it to be an elegant and less time-consuming way of navigating the setup screens.
Amp assignment is also as intuitive and simple as one could hope for. For the duration of this review, I used the T777 V3 in 5.1.2 mode (with the overhead speakers in the middle position), relying on RSL's CG3 5.2 Home Theater Speaker System for the main system and a pair of GoldenEar SuperCinema 3s as height channels. It's worth noting here that the receiver does feature two subwoofer outputs but treats them as one channel.
The T 777 V3 is also supported by a nice Control4 driver, which can be configured as RS-232 or IP. The driver might not be quite as fully featured as others I've installed lately. It doesn't, for example, allow you to tweak AV Presets (or at least I haven't been able to find a way to program them); however, since defaults can easily be set via the receiver's setup menus, this isn't the sort of thing that most people would use their home control system to tweak. NAD also provides control modules for Crestron, RTI, URC, Pronto, and even PUSH for you Aussies in the audience. It's also supported by the NAD A/V Control app for iPhone.
I almost didn't mention setup of the receiver's BluOS music streaming functionality because, honestly, there's not much to say in terms of configuration. Assuming you're using a wired Ethernet connection, setup of BluOS really boils down to simply plugging in the included USB dongle and selecting the T 777 V3 in the BluOS app. I bring this up mostly because the instruction manual makes the setup seem a little more complicated than it actually is. If you're relying on a Wi-Fi connection instead, setup of BluOS might take a few extra steps, but it's still quite straightforward.
Oddly, if anything, I'd say the network setup process is a little too simple. I say that because the T 777 V3 doesn't allow you to set a static IP address. There's no provision anywhere within its setup screens to turn off DHCP. That may eventually lead to the occasional headache if you rely on IP control via a third-party control system, but it hasn't proven to be a problem during my time with the receiver. It's just a little weird, that's all.
There's a reason I went on and on about power ratings in the introduction, making the distinction between NAD's way of rating amps and the typical method employed by far too many receiver manufacturers to make their offerings seem as robust as possible. Even going into this with an understanding of what "Fully Disclosed Power" means, one still can't help but read "7 x 80 watts" and develop certain expectations about the T 777 V3's ability to blow your hair back. Those expectations were absolutely obliterated by the first few chapters of Star Wars: Episode VIII--The Last Jedi on UHD Blu-ray. From the opening blasts of John Williams' iconic theme, even with the volume knob pegged all the way to the right, it's obvious that the receiver still has headroom to spare. The score here sounded absolutely triumphant, with rich midrange and sparkling detail.
Fast-forward past the opening crawl, and we come to a sequence that honestly had me hovering my finger over the volume knob, just in case: a succession of star destroyers come screaming out of hyperspace, followed by a massive dreadnought doing the same. This was my twelfth viewing of the film (my fourth on UHD Blu-ray), so I knew what was coming: a sound effect that sort of evokes a nuclear bomb exploding in reverse. Much to my delight, the T 777 V3 delivered the sounds without flinching, cranking out every ounce of dynamic wallop and transient aural brake-slamming with ease.
Skip forward a chapter (that's Chapter 4 for those of you keeping score at home), and we come to the scene in which ace pilot Poe Dameron taunts the First Order's General Hux to stall for time. When I saw this in cinemas (generally in IMAX, but also in BigD when I was in an Atmos sort of mood), I found myself half-convinced that Poe kept referring to Hux as "Hugs." There was just enough ambiguity to leave me wondering, though. Via the T 777 V3, there's absolutely no question about it. Even with the receiver's volume cranked to the max, there's so little distortion here and such purity of tone, that you can hear the "Hugs" unambiguously.
It's worth noting that The Last Jedi is one of the few UHD Blu-rays (or regular Blu-rays, for that matter) in recent memory to be mixed at reference levels. In other words, it's 10 to 12 dB quieter than most home video releases, and 0 volume is the correct setting for a T 777 V3 calibrated via Dirac, if the proper cinematic experience is what you're after. Still, the fact that this receiver can rock out so hard at such listening levels without the slightest hint of audible distortion or the tiniest hit to dialogue intelligibility is impressive. Most impressive.
The UHD Blu-ray release of Blade Runner 2049 is, by contrast, a more typical home video mix, which is to say that a volume setting of 0 proved to be much more than I could tolerate. Interestingly, it didn't prove too much for the T 777 V3. But even with the volume turned down to -10 (just shy of my limit), I found that the receiver's effortless handling of the film's more sonically raucous scenes to be admirable.
Take Chapter 7, for example, in which Agent K (Ryan Gosling) gets ambushed and crashes into a dystopian scrapyard. The film's score (by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, channeling Vangelis as hard as they can) presents an interesting challenge for the T 777 V3, with its strong reliance on Yamaha's CS-80 synth and a tendency toward edginess. The receiver handled it all beautifully, as it did the loping, throbbing bass that punctuates this scene in particular. But I was especially impressed with the way it handled the scene's dynamics: the gunfire, the explosions, the sound of a spinner (flying car) plowing through tons of dirt and metal. The NAD amps just never seemed to run out of breath here, nor did they strain from the heavy load.
Blade Runner 2049 also gave the receiver a little more to do in terms of overhead sound effects (at least compared with the more atmospheric application employed by the bulk of The Last Jedi). Although the NAD will only power a single pair of height speakers, I found this more than enough to deliver a convincing Z-axis to the entire surround sound experience.
For the majority of my music listening with the T 777 V3, I relied on BluOS, with a heavy emphasis on music stored on my phone and streaming via Spotify, but I also set up a Windows Share for access to high-resolution audio. One track that I found myself returning to time and again was "Blue As We Like It" from The National Bank's eponymous debut album (Universal Music). What drew me in, I think, was the receiver's handling of the intimacy of the mix--the sense that you, the listener, are right up on top of the instruments, right in the face of the vocalist. I've been getting into Dolby Atmos as a way of listening to two-channel music a lot lately, although I must admit that the T 777 V3's Dolby Surround up-mixing is subtle. There isn't a lot going on in the height channels unless you're actually listening to a genuine Atmos mix.
Frankly, I didn't miss it, especially given how delightful this receiver sounds in plain old stereo mode, with no DSP tinkering or channel expansion. Imaging was just flawless, and the handling of the acoustic guitar bits around three and a half minutes into the track was simply sumptuous. The timbre was spot on. Transient response was unimpeachable. The breathy, almost mournful vocals of singer Thomas Dybdahl just hung right there, right in the air in front of you, with wonderful tonal balance, delicious warmth, utter clarity, and in their perfect place depth-wise in the mix.
I feel like, in the Hookup section, I pretty thoroughly covered any aspects of the T 777 V3 that some shoppers might find frustrating or disappointing, but just to reiterate: the lack of DTS:X processing (for now) is a bit of a bummer. That addition will be a welcomed update when it arrives. For now, if you want to upmix DTS surround sound into object-based surround sound, you need to set your Blu-ray or UHD Blu-ray player to decode and output PCM.
The fact that you can't tweak level settings after running Dirac is also a disappointment (especially given that I can do so on my Dirac-equipped surround processor in the main media room). Truthfully, it's hard to complain about this too much, since the room correction system pretty well nailed the level balance in my bedroom system. That said, it's a bedroom, and I tend to like to turn the subs down a couple of notches when I'm not actively reviewing gear in there.
The other thing worth noting is the receiver's relatively low number of HDMI inputs. In my bedroom system this wasn't much of a problem; however, if I connected the T 777 V3 in my main media room, it would be completely saturated by the time I connected my Dish Hopper, PlayStation 4, Roku Ultra, Oppo UDP-205, and Kaleidescape Strato, with absolutely no room for expansion (like, say, that Xbox One X I've been eyeing).
Comparison and Competition
If you're shopping for a $2,500-ish high-performance surround sound receiver with Atmos capabilities, you do have a few options. The first that comes to mind is the Marantz SR7012, a $2,200 9.2-channel receiver that ups the ante over the NAD (for now, anyway) with the inclusion of DTS:X and, of course, those two extra channels of amplification. Comparing the two in terms of power output isn't exactly easy, but the NAD's FTC rating of 140 watts per channel (two channels driven, less than 0.08 percent THD) is probably the best with which to compare the Marantz's 110-wpc rated spec, apples to apples.
Anthem's MRX 720 is another receiver you'll probably have on your short list of potential buys. It's priced nearly identically to the T 777 V3 (give or take 99 cents) and also offers seven channels of amplification and 11.2 channels of preamp processing, but it adds DTS:X decoding and Dolby Vision pass-through capabilities. Power output is roughly comparable between the two, at least for the five bed channels; for the overheads (or rear surrounds if you go that route), the Anthem employs 60-wpc Class D amps. The MRX also relies on Anthem Room Correction instead of Dirac, of course. The two are pretty much tied as my favorite room correction systems, though, so that's not really a major differentiator.
The bleeding edge of AV connectivity always seems just out of reach. At the very least, it's a moving target. While we're all sitting around and talking about HDMI 2.0a at the moment, I see comments from readers questioning the wisdom of buying any receiver until HDMI 2.1 comes along. Open the closet in my spare bedroom, and you'll find a stack of otherwise wonderful preamps and receivers that don't have any use for me anymore because they're simply outdated.
If what you're looking for is the absolute bleeding edge, the NAD T 777 V3 is, admittedly, a little behind the curve--although the addition of DTS:X processing in the coming months will move the receiver a little closer to it. And yeah, the relative dearth of UHD-capable HDMI inputs is a bit of a bummer even in the long term. But with the T 777, what you have is a platform that will never be obsolete, so long as NAD keeps operating. Its modular nature and dealer upgradability mean that, when new formats finally become old hat, NAD can update its boards and give the receiver a new lease on life, so you won't have to scrap your sound investment and start over from scratch. There's a lot to be said for that in our rapidly evolving, increasingly disposable world.
• Visit the NAD website for more information.
• Check out our AV Receiver Reviews category page to read similar reviews.
• NAD Announces Master Series M17 V2 AV Preamp at HomeTheaterReview.com.