Have your say & ask the experts!

NAD C 390 DD Digital amp - A personal review

14 replies [Last post]
El Hefe's picture
Offline
Joined: 21 Jun 2008
Posts: 950

Had this for over a month... and here are my thoughts..

First impressions: Unmistakably NAD! Anyone familiar with the Canadian company’s designs can tell this from a mile away. The one item that differs from NAD’s entry-level amplifiers is the VFD (Vacuum Fluorescent Display) screen.

However, the weight of the C 390DD (direct digital) integrated amplifier surprised me when I removed it from the box, being relatively light compared with NAD amps I had previously encountered. Given the 7.7kg weight, it was hard to imagine this amp’s rated to deliver 150 watts per channel.

Setting it up was easy enough as there was no requirement to handle thick analogue stereo interconnects. All inputs are digital, hence a single wire each for coaxial, optical, AES/EBU and USB A-B is all that’s required, besides the speaker cable.

Once the amp was up and running, the first test was done via my faithful Musical Fidelity M1 CDT transport connected using Siltech AES/EBU digital interconnect. Fresh out of the box, this amplifier delivered the heart-thumping drumbeat of Foo Fighter’s My Hero track with precision and detail, providing a gutsy performance. However, it was not the most expressive and involving first impression. There was still something missing. Read on …

NAD C 390DD_4

Specs: The build quality is nothing to shout about and to some, it might feel a bit plasticky. The inputs, however, are sturdily built with good quality speaker terminals for bi-wiring, tight-fit USB connections and an array of digital inputs. Even the remote is ergonomically designed for easy control.

The fascia comes with a bright digital display which can be dimmed to your preference. There are a standby soft-touch button and medium-sized volume knob. For source selection, NAD opted for a left-right toggle button. There is also a USB-A input for a quick plug-and-play using thumb drive. This unit is also equipped with a navigation scroll function to adjust several parameters such the treble, bass and balance level.

The amplifier comes fully equipped with all the common digital inputs and outputs. And as the name suggests, everything is kept in the digital domain, from source right to the speaker outputs. There is, however, the option to install an analogue module.

The digital inputs are two USB-A (compatible with the common audio formats), one USB-B (24-bit/96kHz), one balanced (24/192) and two optical (24/96) and two coaxial (24/192). One digital coaxial and optical output each are provided, as are a pair of RCA outputs for a subwoofer or two. System power on/off operation can be effected via the 12V trigger input/output.

NAD C 390DD_5

NAD claims the C 390DD outputs 150 watts per channel into eight ohms, and includes four sets of speaker terminals to allow bi-wiring. For those audiophiles with a thing for wires, the power cord here is detachable. There are also functions to adjust treble, bass and balance.

The MDC (Modular Design Construction) approach ensures future-proofing – two optional modules, the DD HDM‑1 and the DD AP‑1, can be installed. The former allows the user to integrate the C 390DD with a Video 2.0 system, using Blu-ray or DVD as source. Three HDMI input terminals and one HDMI output with video pass-through will allow two-channel audio and 3D compatibility.

The AP-1 allows analogue source compatibility, having a pair each of single-ended and balanced inputs, and even an MM/MC phono section.

Another unique feature is the amp’s capability to run a Room EQ test. NAD has devised a very simple test sequence to make the adjustments by ear (or using an SPL meter). It employs the same concept musicians use to tune a stringed instrument, with a slight twist – instead of matching frequency or pitch, the unit will match loudness levels. This is mainly to cure standing-waves issues in the room. Playing back the Room EQ test sequence allows this problem to be easily handled via your ears and the amp’s Room EQ filters.

NAD C 390DD_6

Performance: I took the liberty to test every single digital input on the amp. I even bi-wired my speakers just to hear how it faired against my usual bi-amped set up. Only one track was used but in different formats. I chose The Eagles’ Hotel California track (live version) as my reference as I believe this provided me with the entire required music spectrum.

First to be tested was the balanced input. The amp delivered a certain level of detail and emotion of the live performance. The guitar strumming was smooth and solos were detailed, note by note. Percussions sounded tight and convincing.

However, I did not experience the usual live ambience that was possible in my own system. This was, however, with the volume at a lower level. I pushed the volume up and it did improve the overall ambience by a bit but this should not be the case for a gutsy 150-watt amplifier. I was expecting a more natural spatial simulation at lower volume.

Next, I tried the same track via the coaxial input from the same CD transport. Things sounded flatter but there still were the detail and precision of the balanced mode. As both inputs can handle up to 192kHz, there was only a subtle difference in the overall performance between these two inputs. The main difference, of course, was the gain level. I had to turn the volume up with the coaxial input to get a more natural live air.

I then switched to optical input. For the fun of things, I did not use a CD this time. I have this track on a Minidisk in ATRAC format and used my faithful 14-year-old Sony MD player – and I played this track over and over again. Why? This is when I noticed the biggest change and improvement, compared with the MD player via its stereo outputs on a regular analogue amplifier. The NAD C 390DD injected a new life to the format, bringing up the performance to a similar level as my CD transport.

NAD C 390DD_2

Moving on to a computer audio system (CAS), I used the MPlayerX on a Macbook Pro and the NAD amp was easily recognised by my laptop. Choosing the NAD as my main audio output, I started by playing Hotel California in FLAC format. No sound!

I then played the MP3 version on iTunes and it turned out fine. A quick reference to the NAD manual solved the issue. The USB-B input can handle signals of only up to 96kHz. Changing the output setting on my laptop solved the issue – however, the track was now down-sampled to 96kHz.

The overall live ambience of this track seemed suppressed, which made it sound muddled. The detail and precision were lost compared with the CD and MD source. There was still some level of the gutsy performance but the ambience was no match to CD or MD. I was a bit disappointed, I must say. Playing the MP3 version (48kHz/320 kbps) via iTunes provided a better experience. The overall sound was more natural and closer to CD. I conclude this input was the best for straight iTunes application, with standard MP3, ALAC or AAC audio files.

Now, the USB-A inputs (front and back) are even more limited compared with the USB-B, allowing only up to 48kHz files and recognising just MP3, WMA and FLAC formats. A second disappointment here. I felt that these two inputs were present more for convenience rather than providing the latest digital offering.

For the sake of testing its functionality, I loaded the MP3 files and FLAC onto a thumb drive and hooked it up to both USB-A inputs. The amp easily recognised it and displayed the track name. The MP3 files played fine and gave out a similar experience with the CAS but the FLAC files, being 192kHz, could not be played.

NAD C 390DD_3

The good: The C 390DD is a true all-in-one digital domain amp with the benefit of Room EQ. For a minimalist system, you can do without the additional DAC kit and just get a laptop or CD transport. The amp has enough power to drive speakers to their limits without distortion. It also is detailed and precise, with guts to rock out even with the lightest of rock music.

The MDC means users don’t need to worry about the future – with two more slots on tap, NAD will continue to provide the latest and updated modules for the ever-growing digital domain. And for those who like to tweak the sound, the treble and bass adjustment functions will suit you well.

The ungood: Even with the power on tap, the NAD did not always deliver the expressiveness and liveliness of some other amplifiers in its price range. Being a digital amp, that’s what it does exactly – produce a digital sound.

The specs of the USB inputs are the biggest letdown. While other manufacturers are making 192kHz the minimum “standard” for their DAC or digital inputs, NAD has limited it to 96kHz on USB-B and 48kHz on USB-A – at the price, there is no excuse for this. The high-resolution music market is growing so rapidly that there are already DAC manufacturers producing up to 384kHz.

Final verdict: The C 390DD is a good attempt by NAD to cater for its digital domain consumers, who will benefit from long-term upgradeability. There is no lack of power as well on the amplification section as I believe it can drive most commercially available speakers.

If simplicity is your preference, this amp is the one for you. It might not be for everyone, especially analogue lovers, as the results can be a bit digital sounding. But the amp makes up for this with its precision timing and detailed presentation.

 

Gear:Sources: Macbook Pro running iTunes for 48/320kbps for MP3s and WAV files, MPlayerX for FLAC; Musical Fidelity M1 CDT CD transport; Sony JA20ES MD player / Speakers: ProAc Response D18 / Wires: IXOS 604 speaker cables, bi-wired; Siltech balanced interconnects; QED optical interconnects; Cambridge Audio 500 Series coaxial interconnects; Supra 2.0 USB cable

 

__________________

HiFi: ClearAudio Concept TT, Musical Fidelity M6i and M6 DAC, M1s (CDT, CLiC, ViNL), Onkyo TA2600, SONY MDSJA20ES MDP, ProAc D18 with full Siltech cabling.

HT: Samsung UA55B7000 LED, OPPO BDP 95-EU,Marantz DV4003, Yamaha RX-V2067, Philips DVDR7300H, Infinity Primus Center, Wharfedale WH2, SW15 Sub, Mission M34i with full QED cabling

Bedroom: Apple AE, Bose WAVE Music Sytem III, Musical Fidelity M1 HPA headphone amp, Bose Over the Ear

HeadFi: Alessandro Grado MS Pro, Beyerdynamic T1, Bryston BHA-1 headphone Amp.

Office: iTunes, UD110 USB DAC, Bose Companion II, Bose AE2w 

 

ID.
ID.'s picture
Offline
Joined: 22 Feb 2010
Posts: 1319
RE: NAD C 390 DD Digital amp - A personal review

El Hefe wrote:

 Anyone familiar with the British company’s designs

I think NAD is Canadian, and not even from British Columbia at that.

__________________

Desk-Fi: Mac Mini - NuForce Icon HDP - Fostex PM0.4n - Audio Technica ATH900x - Sennnheiser HD595 - Grado SR80i

Bedroom system: Esoteric RZ-1 - PMC DB1i / iPod Classic - Onkyo NDS1000 - Firestone Audio FUBAR IV

El Hefe's picture
Offline
Joined: 21 Jun 2008
Posts: 950
RE: NAD C 390 DD Digital amp - A personal review

ID. wrote:

El Hefe wrote:

 Anyone familiar with the British company’s designs

I think NAD is Canadian, and not even from British Columbia at that.

 

You are right there ID. Correction will be made. Thanks. Smile Although it was found by an English man in London. Unfortunately, like any other companies in various industries, ownership changes just like swapping shirts. 

__________________

HiFi: ClearAudio Concept TT, Musical Fidelity M6i and M6 DAC, M1s (CDT, CLiC, ViNL), Onkyo TA2600, SONY MDSJA20ES MDP, ProAc D18 with full Siltech cabling.

HT: Samsung UA55B7000 LED, OPPO BDP 95-EU,Marantz DV4003, Yamaha RX-V2067, Philips DVDR7300H, Infinity Primus Center, Wharfedale WH2, SW15 Sub, Mission M34i with full QED cabling

Bedroom: Apple AE, Bose WAVE Music Sytem III, Musical Fidelity M1 HPA headphone amp, Bose Over the Ear

HeadFi: Alessandro Grado MS Pro, Beyerdynamic T1, Bryston BHA-1 headphone Amp.

Office: iTunes, UD110 USB DAC, Bose Companion II, Bose AE2w 

 

ID.
ID.'s picture
Offline
Joined: 22 Feb 2010
Posts: 1319
RE: NAD C 390 DD Digital amp - A personal review

Ooh, never knew that. We're both right! (or wrong...)

__________________

Desk-Fi: Mac Mini - NuForce Icon HDP - Fostex PM0.4n - Audio Technica ATH900x - Sennnheiser HD595 - Grado SR80i

Bedroom system: Esoteric RZ-1 - PMC DB1i / iPod Classic - Onkyo NDS1000 - Firestone Audio FUBAR IV

El Hefe's picture
Offline
Joined: 21 Jun 2008
Posts: 950
RE: NAD C 390 DD Digital amp - A personal review

To be frank...I always feel that NAD is a British sounding product...anyway... a little bit of reference from Wiki:

 

'....

NAD Electronics is a brand name of an electronics firm whose products include home audiophile amplifiers and related components. NAD was an abbreviation for New Acoustic Dimension.

The company was founded in London, England, in 1972 by Dr. Martin L. Borish, an electrical engineer with a Ph.D. in Physics.[1][2][3]

Its most famous product is the late-1970s NAD 3020 amplifier, designed by Bjørn Erik Edvardsen, which was highly promoted by various magazines in Britain....' 

__________________

HiFi: ClearAudio Concept TT, Musical Fidelity M6i and M6 DAC, M1s (CDT, CLiC, ViNL), Onkyo TA2600, SONY MDSJA20ES MDP, ProAc D18 with full Siltech cabling.

HT: Samsung UA55B7000 LED, OPPO BDP 95-EU,Marantz DV4003, Yamaha RX-V2067, Philips DVDR7300H, Infinity Primus Center, Wharfedale WH2, SW15 Sub, Mission M34i with full QED cabling

Bedroom: Apple AE, Bose WAVE Music Sytem III, Musical Fidelity M1 HPA headphone amp, Bose Over the Ear

HeadFi: Alessandro Grado MS Pro, Beyerdynamic T1, Bryston BHA-1 headphone Amp.

Office: iTunes, UD110 USB DAC, Bose Companion II, Bose AE2w 

 

nopiano's picture
Offline
Joined: 15 Feb 2009
Posts: 1059
RE: NAD C 390 DD Digital amp - A personal review

Great write up, and I admire your persistence with so many inputs.

Looking back at WHF's opinion, it seems to be 'damned with faint praise':-

"But how does it sound? Well, for a smidge over £2000, pretty good."

Perhaps a product that really only merits 3 stars but gets 4 anyway?  It is very versatile I suppose, but I think you might get better results with an Oppo 105 plus a Leema or Cyrus amp at around £1200, and you would get a great player into the bargain.  

I've always admired NAD's unique approach though, and maybe the mark II will be a cracker?

__________________

Hi-Fi: Krell KAV-300cd, Michell TecnoDec/RB250/Grado Prestige Black1, KAV-300i amp, Transparent balanced interconnects and bi-wire to Sonus faber Concerto grand piano speakers, Nakamichi ZX-7 cassette deck, Logitech Squeezebox Touch, Hitachi FT-5500 and Sony S570ES tuners, BCD Engineering stand, RA Powerlink, Chord powerchord, Grado SR60i cans.

AV: Sony Bravia KDL-32EX503 telly, BDP-S370 player with QED HDMI. Currently unused: Denon AVR-1705, DVD-1710, KEF KHT1005.2 

El Hefe's picture
Offline
Joined: 21 Jun 2008
Posts: 950
RE: NAD C 390 DD Digital amp - A personal review

Hi nopiano,

I would have given it 4 stars too mainly because its a great effort by NAD for an all digital domain amp. Especially with the MDC, it is quite futureproof. But yes, once we start comparing it with analogue amps, it will be a tough comparison.

__________________

HiFi: ClearAudio Concept TT, Musical Fidelity M6i and M6 DAC, M1s (CDT, CLiC, ViNL), Onkyo TA2600, SONY MDSJA20ES MDP, ProAc D18 with full Siltech cabling.

HT: Samsung UA55B7000 LED, OPPO BDP 95-EU,Marantz DV4003, Yamaha RX-V2067, Philips DVDR7300H, Infinity Primus Center, Wharfedale WH2, SW15 Sub, Mission M34i with full QED cabling

Bedroom: Apple AE, Bose WAVE Music Sytem III, Musical Fidelity M1 HPA headphone amp, Bose Over the Ear

HeadFi: Alessandro Grado MS Pro, Beyerdynamic T1, Bryston BHA-1 headphone Amp.

Office: iTunes, UD110 USB DAC, Bose Companion II, Bose AE2w 

 

csq2's picture
Offline
Joined: 28 Mar 2010
Posts: 234
RE: NAD C 390 DD Digital amp - A personal review

I think system matching is crucial to get the best out of the 390DD. It should be paired with bright and revealing speakers.

empacher's picture
Offline
Joined: 4 Dec 2012
Posts: 60
RE: NAD C 390 DD Digital amp - A personal review

Thanks for the review.  Very comprehensive.  Been looking for more details on this amp

 

nopiano wrote:

Looking back at WHF's opinion, it seems to be 'damned with faint praise':-

"But how does it sound? Well, for a smidge over £2000, pretty good."

Perhaps a product that really only merits 3 stars but gets 4 anyway?  

this is also another example where including the value proposition as part of the product assessment / rating systems makes it difficult to get a true sense of the product.  For those of us across the pond, we pay quite a bit less for the kit from NA (or at least with NA head office / final inspection point) and more for the stuff from Europe.   

__________________

Rega Brio-R, Rega DAC, Totem Model-1 Signature

FORDFIESTA's picture
Offline
Joined: 20 Jun 2008
Posts: 19
RE: NAD C 390 DD Digital amp - A personal review

Will this amp match my B&W CM1? Only heard the combo in the shop, and there it sounded very good.

El Hefe's picture
Offline
Joined: 21 Jun 2008
Posts: 950
RE: NAD C 390 DD Digital amp - A personal review

FORDFIESTA wrote:

Will this amp match my B&W CM1? Only heard the combo in the shop, and there it sounded very good.

 

Given the CM1 has low-ish sensitivity, you may want to try to match it with a higher wattage amp. Not to say the NAD will not match but I think your speakers demand a more authoritive amp to deliver that low end B&W notes they are famous for.

 

__________________

HiFi: ClearAudio Concept TT, Musical Fidelity M6i and M6 DAC, M1s (CDT, CLiC, ViNL), Onkyo TA2600, SONY MDSJA20ES MDP, ProAc D18 with full Siltech cabling.

HT: Samsung UA55B7000 LED, OPPO BDP 95-EU,Marantz DV4003, Yamaha RX-V2067, Philips DVDR7300H, Infinity Primus Center, Wharfedale WH2, SW15 Sub, Mission M34i with full QED cabling

Bedroom: Apple AE, Bose WAVE Music Sytem III, Musical Fidelity M1 HPA headphone amp, Bose Over the Ear

HeadFi: Alessandro Grado MS Pro, Beyerdynamic T1, Bryston BHA-1 headphone Amp.

Office: iTunes, UD110 USB DAC, Bose Companion II, Bose AE2w 

 

Harry Palmer's picture
Offline
Joined: 18 Dec 2009
Posts: 20
RE: NAD C 390 DD Digital amp - A personal review

You really think the B&W CM1's would demand more than 150W per channel?

Bearing in mind NAD's also benefit from their PowerDrive technology, IMO I think the 390DD would be more than capable but my suggestion is to organise a dem, which I have and it sounded superb and unlike any other amp I've heard at this price point.

Cheers!

__________________

El Hefe's picture
Offline
Joined: 21 Jun 2008
Posts: 950
RE: NAD C 390 DD Digital amp - A personal review

Harry Palmer wrote:

You really think the B&W CM1's would demand more than 150W per channel?

Bearing in mind NAD's also benefit from their PowerDrive technology, IMO I think the 390DD would be more than capable but my suggestion is to organise a dem, which I have and it sounded superb and unlike any other amp I've heard at this price point.

Cheers!

 

But of course, a demo will be the best way for FordFiesta to decide.....I personally would go for a 200 pr 250 wpc amp for the CM1s mainly because I do not feel that the 390DD can really drive an 84 dB sensitivity speaker to its full potential. But again if Fordfiesta have a small room, then maybe the 390DD is sufficient.

__________________

HiFi: ClearAudio Concept TT, Musical Fidelity M6i and M6 DAC, M1s (CDT, CLiC, ViNL), Onkyo TA2600, SONY MDSJA20ES MDP, ProAc D18 with full Siltech cabling.

HT: Samsung UA55B7000 LED, OPPO BDP 95-EU,Marantz DV4003, Yamaha RX-V2067, Philips DVDR7300H, Infinity Primus Center, Wharfedale WH2, SW15 Sub, Mission M34i with full QED cabling

Bedroom: Apple AE, Bose WAVE Music Sytem III, Musical Fidelity M1 HPA headphone amp, Bose Over the Ear

HeadFi: Alessandro Grado MS Pro, Beyerdynamic T1, Bryston BHA-1 headphone Amp.

Office: iTunes, UD110 USB DAC, Bose Companion II, Bose AE2w 

 

FORDFIESTA's picture
Offline
Joined: 20 Jun 2008
Posts: 19
RE: NAD C 390 DD Digital amp - A personal review

I already have the NAD C372BEE amp, but i want a more modern one with dac and HDMI. Have heard the CM1 with Denon pma 1500AE, NAD M3, Lyngdorf ICE?, NAD C390DD and the C372 is the worst.

(struggle to find the right words sometime, im from Norway)rockin out

busb's picture
Offline
Joined: 14 Jun 2011
Posts: 920
RE: NAD C 390 DD Digital amp - A personal review

One would think that making a DAC that can adequately drive analogue speakers directly would be a fairly easy proposition. Using class D without first sampling an analogue waveform is damn hard (nowhere to apply negative feedback to stabilise the output impedance & gain). Full marks to NAD getting this far but it's a lot easier than concocting digital speakers! Very clever using DSP to sample the room/speaker interaction then apply it in the digital domain.

__________________

"The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds - the pessimist fears this is true."

James Branch Cabell

 

_________________________________________________________

MAIN: Apple TV2, Mac Mini (controlled from various iThings using Remote), CA Azur 751BD & Panasonic P42V20B into audiolab M-DAC, feeding a Primare A34.2 class D power amp via XLRs, 2x 5m of Atlas Ascent 2 firing up Totem Arros. DALI Kubik Free in my kitchen

ON THE HOOF: iPhone 5S/Sennheiser MM450.