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NAD M51 review

Best DAC £1200+, Awards 2012. This flexible DAC will bring great results for any upmarket system Tested at £1500

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

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

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.

NAD M51

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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What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, New York and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.


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