I know a lot of my colleagues in the consumer electronics press hate reviewing AV receivers. Fine by me, since it lets me hog more of the coverage. But I think my cohorts who eschew AVR reviews have it all wrong. They claim the category is one of the most difficult to review because of lengthy installation and setup times, expansive feature sets, etc.
I, on the other hand, think that’s really only a concern the first time one lays hands on a model at a specific price point within a company’s offerings. When the inevitable upgrade rolls out a year or two later with a newer, higher digit at the end of its model number, it’s generally the same receiver with only a few new features that need to be tested out. Factor in a week or so to stress-test amps, do some stereo and surround-sound listening, try to break the HDMI switching, and you’ve got yourself a shiny new receiver review for, like, half the effort it took to evaluate last year’s model.
And then NAD comes along with its T 778 AV Surround Sound Receiver (or A/V Surround Amplifier, as it’s designated on the side of the box) and throws that whole freaking workflow right out the window. If, like me, you saw the model number when this unit was first announced and assumed it would be a typical and predictable updated to the T 777 (reviewed back in 2018), all I can say is that we were both wrong. The T 778 ($2,999.99) marks the debut of a wholly new platform for NAD, as evidenced in part by the appearance of a massive touchscreen (yes, touchscreen) display dominating its front panel.
To be honest, I kind of fell in love with this touchscreen even when I thought it was a bit of a gimmick. Sure, it offers direct access to all of the unit’s setup menus and such, which can be super handy, especially during setup. But for day-to-day use, do you really need a touchscreen display on the front of your AVR?
If that’s all it did, I would argue perhaps not (although when has our hobby ever been about necessity?). But NAD has also baked in some pretty neat functionality into that touchscreen. For example, when you switch over to BluOS, the proprietary digital multiroom streaming ecosystem employed by NAD, the touchscreen becomes an analog-looking stereo VU meter, which is just the coolest thing to happen to AVRs in forever.
Even if you ignore the touchscreen, the T 778 has other upsides hiding in the shadows, some of which are potentially even more exciting (although not quite as flashy). Under the hood, the receiver (uh, AV surround amplifier) boasts nine channels of Hybrid Digital amplification, with full disclosure power rated at 85 watts per channel (all channels driven simultaneously at full bandwidth,
That, in itself, is pretty impressive. Consider, though, that NAD is known for offering very conservative power ratings. By FTC standards, the T 778 is rated to deliver 140 watts per channel into 8-ohm loads and 170 watts per channel into 4 ohms. Dynamic power, meanwhile — which is representative of what many AVR manufacturers simply list as their power spec without much explanation — is rated at 165 watts per channel into 8 ohms and 280 watts per channel into 4 ohms. For a deeper dive into what all of this means, I’ll refer to you my (aging) article How to Pick the Right Amp for Your Speakers (or Vice Versa).
The T 778 also benefits from NAD’s Modular Design Construction (MDC), which means that boards can be replaced pretty easily when existing technology is superseded. That, in part, makes the T 778’s reliance on HDMI 2.0b, rather than HDMI 2.1, a lot more forgivable. Granted, this unit came out before even the big-box brands began slipping HDMI 2.1-capable AVRs into their lineup, so “forgivable” is perhaps the wrong word. The point is, MDC means that once NAD has an HDMI 2.1 board for the T 778, customers will be able to upgrade without much muss or fuss and, hopefully, for not a lot of money. (No official announcement has been made so I’m speculating, but I would guess the eventual HDMI 2.1 upgrade board will set you back somewhere in the neighborhood of $499 to $699 when it drops.)
In addition to its five rear- and one front-panel HDMI inputs, the T 778 has two HDMI outputs (one of which supports 4K), along with two stereo analog inputs (RCA), a phono input (RCA), dual optical and dual coaxial digital inputs, stereo Zone 2 outputs, and 11.2-channel preamp outs. It also features an embarrassment of control connectivity, including RS-232, three IR outputs and one input, three 12v trigger outputs and one input, and, of course, an Ethernet port.
Unfortunately, the T 778 doesn’t include a multichannel analog audio input, which may be a bit of a bummer if you choose to rely on the DAC built into your multichannel disc player. But the lack thereof does give the back panel a lot of breathing room, and I have to say that hooking up the T 778 was surprisingly pain-free for a high-end audio product.
That mostly boils down to the fact that — praise be to the Baby Buddha! — NAD has adopted the sort of horizontal speaker binding post configuration that I absolutely adore. Rather than binding posts stacked atop one another and clumped in a bunch, as is the norm, the speaker-level outputs run left-to-right along the bottom of the chassis, side-by-side, which makes connecting speaker cables a snap whether you’re relying on bare-wire connections or, as is my preference, banana plugs.
Relying on its internal amps alone, the T 778 is good for a 5.1.4- or 7.1.2-channel setup. The preamp outputs enable you to boost that to 7.1.4 if you’re willing to bring your own amps to the party. I never pushed the receiver that far during my testing, but I did tinker around with a 5.1.4 setup relying on RSL’s CG3 5.2 speaker system as the bed and a quartet of GoldenEar SuperSat 3s overhead, before moving to a 5.2 setup relying on Paradigm’s Studio 100 v5 towers and Studio CC-590 v5 center speaker. I then went back to the RSL CG3 5.2 system without overhead accompaniment for the bulk of my testing.
Integrating the T 778 with my Control4 system was a pretty straightforward process. NAD provides an IP driver for Control4 (as well as Crestron, URC, RTI, Push, iPort, and Elan) on its website, and although it’s not the most full-featured AVR driver I’ve encountered, it does the trick. A few niggling observations: The Control4 driver doesn’t list NAD as the manufacturer of the T 778, but rather Lenbrook. That makes it a little difficult to locate the driver from within the Control4 software, if, like me, you’re the browsing type rather than the searching type.
The driver doesn’t support SDDP (Simple Device Discovery Protocol), either, which means that it identifies the T 778 by IP address rather than MAC address. That would be A-OK if the T 778 gave you some way of assigning a static IP, but I couldn’t find any way to turn off DHCP from within the receiver’s menus, which leaves IP address reservation as the only way of ensuring the unit’s IP address doesn’t change after a power outage (quite a common occurrence here in Alabama in the summertime).
None of this should be cause for major concern — just things you should be aware of if you’re integrating the T 778 with an IP control system.
Honestly, there’s very little else to talk about in terms of the hookup process, so if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to spend the rest of my allotted time talking about the new version of Dirac supported by the T 778.
This is my first experience with Dirac Live 3.0, and my how things have changed. Regular HomeTheaterReview readers likely know that I’ve long regarded Dirac as one of the most effective room correction platforms but also one of the least user-friendly. That’s definitely not the case anymore. Not that Dirac Live 3.0 is any less effective, nor is it necessarily less complicated. What it is, though, is more informative, better organized, and better designed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit here. As is usually the case, T 778 owners will have access to a scaled-down version of Dirac Live without any additional expense or an enhanced version that costs $99. Those who choose to pay the $99 upgrade fee will be able to unlock what’s called Dirac Live Full Frequency, which is a clue to the biggest difference between the free and paid versions.
In short, the free version is limited to frequency response adjustments at 500Hz and below, whereas the $99 Full Frequency version allows for adjustments all the way up to 20,000 Hz. The free version also puts some constraints on measurement positions, limiting you to single-seat or sofa measurements, whereas the Full Frequency version also allows for multiple rows of stadium-style seating measurements.
Other than that, they’re the same as far as I can tell. The free version even allows you to bring your own microphone to the equation, as long as you’ve got a mic calibration file you can upload. I decided just to use the standard hockey-puck mic included with the T 778, and based on my prior experience with Dirac in this room, I used the free version rather than pestering NAD for an upgrade code. (In this room, even if I had full-range capabilities, I would likely set a max filter frequency somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 to 600 Hz anyway, for reasons detailed here and here. And I only have the one row of seating).
While previous experience with Dirac gave me a good idea of what to expect in terms of functionality, I wasn’t quite prepared for the differences in implementation and documentation. Simply put, the new Dirac Live excels in areas where the original version suffered. The instructions are more descriptive, the prompts are more intuitive, and there’s heavy reliance on more listener-focused explanations of different measuring position/layouts.
A few screenshots here to illustrate my points. First up, the description for a single-seat setup that includes nine mic measurement positions.
Next up, the description for a more typical sofa setup that’s focused primarily on one listener.
And finally, the description for a setup that accommodates multiple listeners on a sofa.
I’m no novice when it comes to room correction, but I have to think that if I were, these explanations would be super helpful. Not as helpful, though, as the actual measurement screen, which not only illustrates the positions in which the mic needs to be placed throughout the measurement process much more clearly (and without the need for three distinct views), but also allows you to take measurements in any order. That’s super helpful, since measurements need to be taken at three different elevations, and the default ordering of measurements in the original version of Dirac had you raising and lowering the mic like a carnival ride throughout the process.
With Dirac 3.0, I was able to take all of my ear-level measurements, then all of the below-ear-level measurements, then all of the above-ear-level measurements. This made for a less fiddly and frustrating process.
The next screen, Filter Design, still requires a good bit of understanding about target curves and room acoustics if you want to make any manual adjustments, but you really don’t need to. Spot-check the measurements by speaker group to make sure that nothing looks too funky or egregious, and you’re probably fine just accepting the filters that Dirac gives you. Objectively speaking, the software absolutely nailed my speaker levels and delays (crossovers are set manually before the Dirac process begins, so there’s nothing to mess up there. That’s smart, since that’s where things normally go wrong in the automated room-correction process).
I did run into one slight snag while exporting the filters from the software to the T 778, in that the receiver itself seemed to lock up and get stuck on the upload screen. Simply powering the receiver down and back up and re-attempting the filter exportation rectified this. With that, it was time to begin my listening.
I mentioned in the Hookup section the numerous speaker setups I went through in the course of this review, but perhaps some explanation of why is in order here. I started my listening with the RSL’s CG3 5.2 speaker system at ear level and the GoldenEar SuperSat 3s overhead, and loaded up the UHD Blu-ray release of Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace (from the Skywalker Saga 4K box set).
I started here because I know the film’s sound mix intimately, and the first 25 minutes or so of the film kinda tell me everything I need to know about a receiver’s performance. The bombastic opening crawl music is a great test of dynamic prowess, detail, and musicality, and the T 778 passed that test with flying colors. The surprise attack on the Consular-class Republic cruiser Radiant VII (piloted by Bronagh Gallagher, who played Bernie in Alan Parker’s excellent The Commitments) lets me know if room correction has done an ample job of tamping down room mode resonances that would otherwise make the subs sound boomy and bloated.
Indeed, the T 778’s performance with this scene gave me confidence that I had made all the right choices in terms of mic positioning and filter design with Dirac. Turning Dirac off resulted in everything falling apart in pretty predictable ways, most notably the bass becoming immediately flabby and uneven.
The early banter between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon provides a pretty effective test of dialogue intelligibility, which the T 778 absolutely nailed. There’s one scene in particular, though, that has never really jumped out at me from the perspective of sonics, although it caught my ear this time. It’s the scene in which Sabé (Keira Knightley) descends the staircase inside Theed Palace while impersonating Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) while being harangued by representatives of the Trade Federation.
What caught my ear this time around wasn’t the action itself (there obviously isn’t any), nor the delivery of the dialogue (which, it must be said, was also impeccably intelligible), but rather the reverberation of those voices, reflecting and echoing off the stone walls of the palatial environment.
I would normally turn to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, specifically the Mines of Moria sequence, to hear a good reverberant environment in a surround sound mix (and we’ll get there, I assure you). But the reverberation in LotR is blatant, forceful, impossible to miss. The scene from The Phantom Menace has a subtler atmospheric effect. It’s the kind of thing less-observant listeners may not even register. And yet, the T 778 delivered the decay of the reverberation so beautifully, so effectively, that I could practically feel the walls of Theed Palace being constructed out of thin air around me.
By the time I got around to the Podracing sequence later in the film, I had already fallen completely in love with the T 778, though I was starting to feel a niggling itch in the back of my brain. Call it skepticism if you will, but I was starting to suspect that the RSL CG3 speaker system — much as I love it — simply wasn’t giving the amps the beating they claim to be able to take.
At one point during the race, I pushed the volume knob to 8dB above THX reference levels, which is as far as it would go. Although my ears were warning me of danger, neither the receiver nor the speakers attached to it showed any sign of distress. Engines didn’t so much roar as scream, crashes could be felt as much as heard, the air at one point seemed to boil, and yet the entire sound mix remained coherent, crystal clear, and utterly controlled without a hint of distortion.
Which is why I decided to swap in the Paradigm Studio 100 v5 speakers and matching center, which are a little more power hungry (although, to be fair, a little more efficient). With the aforementioned Mines of Moria sequence from The Fellowship of the Ring, the T 778/Paradigm combo proved to be an utter delight. Dialogue intelligibility was unimpeachable, and the environmental sound effects proved positively holographic. But what really impressed me was a skip far forward in time to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields from the Return of the King Extended Edition Blu-ray.
As was the case with the Podracing sequence from The Phantom Menace, I simply couldn’t push the volume knob too far during this battle. (Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I could push it too far for my ears, but not far enough to make the receiver start to fall apart). Looking at my notes, I can’t even find complete sentences scribbled here, just words like “controlled,” “authoritative,” “impactful,” “coherent,” and the occasional profanity that I’ll leave on the cutting room floor.
Granted, a lot of AVRs can accomplish the meager task of playing loudly. But few, in my experience, can play this loudly without sounding a bit of a mess. So, satisfied that the T 778 could flex its muscles with any speaker system I threw at it, but a little unsatisfied with the speaker placement (owing to the fact that I generally rely on bookshelves in this room and don’t have the space to house properly position towers full-time), I switched back to the RSL CG3 5.2 system, this time without the overhead effects channels. (I’m not the biggest fan of Atmos or DTS:X anyway, especially during the reviewing process, since I find the overhead speakers distracting and a bit of a cheat in terms of soundstaging.)
When it came time to sit down for some serious music listening, I’ll admit that my first inclination was to do so with Dolby Surround processing engaged, since that’s my usual preference in anything other than my dedicated two-channel setup. But the T 778’s straight-up stereo performance so impressed me that I left any and all processing disengaged for the bulk of my listening.
Alexi Murdoch’s “Orange Sky,” (from the EP Four Songs, accessed via Qobuz in CD quality), while not a terribly complicated mix, nonetheless made a great test for the T 778’s imaging capabilities. Alexi’s acoustic guitar subtly shifts within the stereo image, and the receiver never failed to position it accurately, even letting it drift outside the constraints of speaker placement where appropriate. His voice, though, remained rock solid and centered, though not tightly so. His vocals are mixed to sound large, yet delicate--expansive without being in-your-face--if that makes sense. And, indeed, the receiver conveyed that beautifully.
With Elise Trouw’s “Make Believe (Loop Version)” (also via Qobuz in CD quality), I listened specifically for the decay of the keyboards, especially in the beginning where they dominate the mix. Indeed, after the initial attack, the sound of the keys almost seemed to trickle like a slow waterfall down my front wall before fading near the floor. Trouw’s vocals also sounded absolutely delicious, ethereal and breathy without being indistinct or muddied in the slightest.
Although not necessarily related directly to performance, I also feel the need to comment again about the touchscreen display, and the way it enhances music playback. Upon selecting and playing a song, you initially see artwork and metadata pop up on the screen, but it’s quickly replaced by an analog-style VU meter, reminiscent of old stereo gear. (You can also switch over to a digital-style VU meter in the menus, but why? Why would you do that?)
Watching the needle dance in time to the music obviously didn’t make it sound any better, but what it did do was focus and hold my attention and draw me even deeper into my tunes. So, while it did nothing in terms of objective sonic performance, it certainly made my listening experience more pleasurable.
Of course, none of this is to say that the NAD T 778 is perfect. One of my biggest beefs with the unit is a complaint I had about the T 777, as well: its relatively low number of HDMI inputs. Counting the front-panel input, there are six, but who really uses front-panel HDMI inputs? The five on the back are just barely enough for my bedroom home theater system and not nearly enough for my main media room. Disregard this criticism if you have fewer components to connect.
I mentioned in the Hookup section that DHCP cannot be turned off, which means you can’t set a static IP from within the T 778’s menus. For most people, the fix for this is as simple as setting address reservations, but not all home networking routers support this or make the task easy.
I also find navigating NAD’s menus to be unintuitive and sometimes frustrating. I want to be crystal clear about what I mean by this: It’s not the arrangement of the menus or the overall layout that’s unintuitive, it’s interacting with them via the remote that sometimes leads to hair-pulling. With most AV devices, when you’re navigating menus, you use left, right, up, and down to highlight a variable, press Enter to select that variable, left/right or up/down to change it, and Enter to confirm. With the T 778, though, the highlight follows you wherever you go, and you simply press up/down to change variables, then press left to confirm.
I never could get the hang of that, and when navigating the Control Setup menu, I kept accidentally changing the IR channel when I had no intention of doing so. That rendered the remote unresponsive, so I’d have to use the touchscreen to change the IR channel back to its default. This, of course, is only a problem during setup or tweaking, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.
Lastly, I found that the T 778 runs surprisingly hot. With its active cooling fan on the back panel, it does a good job of dissipating heat, and I never found the fan loud enough to affect even low-level listening. That said, I did find that the receiver would raise the temperature of my room noticeably while watching movies. I once stepped out of the room to powder my nose, and when I reentered, it felt like I’d been slapped in the face with a hot mop.
Another concern is the number of one-star user reviews on Crutchfield. Two out of three users described units that were either dead-on-arrival or stopped working after a single day of use. That said, I never experienced any problems with my test unit. Despite the heat it generated and my pushing it to its absolute limits on several occasions, the T 778 never entered fault protection, shut down or became unresponsive.
Competition and Comparisons
If you’re shopping around for a new AVR in the $2,500 to $3,000 range, there are a couple of other models you might consider, assuming you know for sure you don’t need HDMI 2.1 anytime soon.
I really like the Marantz SR8012 ($2,999.99), but that one is starting to get really long in the tooth, and I haven’t heard any rumblings of it being eligible for an HDMI 2.1 upgrade. That said, the SR8012 features eleven amplified channels to the T 778’s nine, and its Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction is a little easier to run than Dirac (although in my experience, Dirac will give you better results if you need full-spectrum room correction well above the Schroeder frequency). The SR8012 relies on HEOS multiroom music streaming, which isn’t as refined as BluOS in my opinion, but that’s really a personal preference. The Marantz also has 7.1-channel analog audio inputs, which may be appealing to some shoppers, especially those who still collect and listen to multichannel SACDs.
There’s also the Arcam AVR10 ($2,500) to consider. Its amplified channel count of seven is lower than the T 778, and its Class AB amps aren’t as beefy, delivering just 60 watts per channel into 8-ohm loads with all channels driven, and 85 wpc into 4-ohm loads, all channels driven. But it does have seven rear-panel HDMI inputs and three HDMI outputs (one Zone 2). The AVR10 also relies on Dirac room correction, with a frequency-limited free version and a $99 upgrade for the full-frequency version. Like the SR8012, though, the AVR10 is limited to HDMI2.0b with HDCP2.2, and I’ve seen no indication that Arcam will offer an HDMI 2.1 upgrade path.
I think I speak for most folks here when I say that most AV receivers belong behind doors in a ventilated rack, but you certainly can’t say the same about NAD’s T 778. Its gorgeous touchscreen may not have much functional use after you’re done with the setup process, and it can honestly be a bit of a distraction during movie watching if you don’t set it to time out. But during music-listening, it adds something to the experience far beyond my expectations. I found watching those dancing virtual VU meters to be a nearly meditative exercise.
Granted, if that’s all the T 778 had going for it, it would be difficult to justify its $3,000 price tag. Thankfully, the receiver benefits from more amplification headroom than mostly people likely need, deliciously detailed sound, wonderful dynamics, exceptional neutrality, and fantastic dialogue intelligibility. Throw in world-class room correction and an excellent multiroom music streaming platform in the form of BluOS, and there’s just so much to love about this receiver.
True, its inputs are limited in number, and we’re not quite sure when its HDMI 2.1 upgrade board will be available (or how much it’ll cost). But if you’re looking for a high-end audiophile receiver that at least is built with such future-proofing upgrades in mind, I highly recommend auditioning the T 778 at your earliest convenience.
• Visit the NAD website for more information.
• Check out our AV Receiver Reviews category page to read similar reviews.
• NAD T 777 V3 Seven-Channel AV Receiver Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.