Unless you happened upon the Wharfedale room at CES this year, chances are you've never heard of Napa Acoustic. A fairly new company, Napa Acoustic is primarily an Internet direct (though I hear they're beginning to open dealers) audiophile manufacturer/distributor of tube-based amplifiers, integrated amplifiers and source components that seek to provide consumers with the most bang for their buck, with prices starting at $299 and topping out at $1,199. The subject of this review, Napa Acoustic's desktop CD player, the NA-208C, retails for a scant $399.
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• Explore AV Receivers and AV Preamps to pair with the NA-208C CD player.
• Learn more about Napa Acoustic's NA-208A amplifier.
The NA-208C is a slot-loading single-disc CD player that is clearly aimed at the desktop audiophile, for its form factor is compact to say the least, measuring a mere eight-and-a-half inches long by six-and-a-half inches wide and three-and-three-quarters inches tall. Napa Acoustic does not provide a weight for the NA-208C on their website, but if I had to venture a guess, I'd say it was most likely around five pounds, which may not sound like a lot, but I assure you it's sufficient, for the player seems very well built and solid from stem to stern. The NA-208C has a chunky aluminum faceplate, accented by polished gloss black sidepieces that lead you to an aluminum back plate. The front panel features controls for power, eject, play/pause, stop, chapter skip and forward/rewind. There's even a headphone jack located just below the small display.
Around back, you'll find a pair of analog audio outputs, as well as an optical digital output that allows you to use the NA-208C as a transport should your heart desire. A detachable power cord rounds out the NA-208C's connection options.
Under the hood, the NA-208C uses a CS4398 DAC chip and boasts a total harmonic distortion rating of less than six percent, with a signal to noise ratio of less than 90dB. The NA-208C's reported frequency response is 20Hz to 20kHz. Not much else by way of specifications is known or even given on the NA-208C.
Which brings me to the NA-208C's remote. The remote is a smallish, all-plastic affair that feels and looks cheap - hey, something had to at this price point. There are controls for all of the above-mentioned features, plus volume. That's right, the NA-208C has a digital volume control, though it's only accessible via the remote, which isn't exactly a good thing, for I found the remote's effectiveness to be limited to about five feet. For those of you looking to use the NA-208C as part of a desktop system, the remote's lack of range isn't going to be as big an issue, but for those who won't use it in a desktop environment, it somewhat defeats the purpose.
In terms of performance, the NA-208C is a surprisingly capable player. Its sound is one of smoothness, with nary a hint of grain or forwardness to its presentation. It's not the most dynamic of players, but it's far from being lifeless. Its overall character is a touch laid-back but not vague or dark, just smooth and soothing. For those looking for the last word in digital authority, you won't find it here, but those with a wide range of musical tastes should definitely take note. If there were such a thing as the ideal Sunday afternoon CD player, the NA-208C would be it. Reminiscent of budget NAD players from years past and present, the NA-208C doesn't suffer from the slightly over-ripened mid-bass and bass that you get with NAD. The NA-208C is also not dry up top like the NAD and, while the NAD may be a touch more resolved, it lacks the NA-208C's sweetness. The NA-208C's midrange is uncolored and pure, evident in its way with vocals. Its top end is light and airy and its bass, while not earth-shattering, is still quite good. Soundstage delineation is also good, though not laser-etched, which I like. All in all, for a sub-$400 player that can be used without a preamp, the NA-208C's performance is surprising and well worth the money.
Read about the high points and low points of the NA-208C CD player on Page 2.