Our Verdict 
Best DAC £1200+, Awards 2012. This flexible DAC will bring great results for any upmarket system
For 
Open, transparent sound
immense levels of detail
realistic balance
extensive connectivity
large, legible display
Against 
Build doesn’t quite reflect the price
Reviewed on

NAD’s most recent hi-fi separates have struggled to stand out from the crowd, but its latest arrival could change all that.

The NAD M51 Direct Digital DAC is certainly a bold move, but it's also a logical one, given that DACs are getting plenty of exposure at the moment and the potential sonic benefits they bring to any digital-based system can’t be underestimated. But the M51 has a trick up its sleeve: it can also act as a digital preamp.

NAD claims the M51’s technical wizardry is second to none. A DAC converts digital signals from PCM (Pulse-Code Modulation) to PWM (Pulse-Width Modulation), but NAD claims the M51 does so using a rate much higher than traditional machines and so achieves a high level of sound quality.

NAD M51

NAD M51: Performance

And hearing the DAC in action, it’s hard to argue otherwise. Music sounds wonderfully clear and transparent. 50 Cent’s In Da Club is powerful and robust, with the solid-sounding bassline acting as a rigid backbone.

The Manic Street Preachers’ Motorcycle Emptiness sounds engaging and communicative with an excellent sense of precision to the drums and a crisp, natural tone to the guitar melodies.

The M51 can reproduce detail and sonic textures cheaper DACs struggle to convey, and this is as true when listening to 16-bit/44.1kHz CD playback as it is when indulging in a 24-bit/192kHz high-res file.

More after the break

NAD M51

NAD M51: Tech specs

The inclusion of dual HDMI inputs and a single output is unusual, but it means the M51 can strip the two-channel PCM audio off the signal from a Blu-ray player and pass the picture through, or take a high bitrate feed from a DVD-A or SACD disc.

You’re limited to a 2.0 speaker set-up, but this feature is aimed more at the two-channel purist.

Build quality is decent for the money: the front panel looks and feels solid enough but the rest of the chassis feels slightly ‘tinny’.

NAD M51: Verdict

The M51 sounds sensational. In fact, we’d go further than that by saying it’s one of the best NAD separates we’ve heard in recent memory.

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