I’m neither a mad dog nor an Englishman, and yes it has been hotter than blazes in downstate New York this summer. That, and not an abdication of reason, explains why I have swapped out my Cary SLI 80 tube amplifier for the NAD C315BEE integrated. I think one of the transformers in the Cary weighs as much as the little gray NAD in its totality. And retail on the Cary is nearly ten times that over the C315BEE. With that said, I simply could not bring myself to run those massive KT88s all summer long; I swear I could feel the tube set’s heat from my listening position ten feet back. (And I don’t even want to think about the energy consumption of running the SLI 80 and the additional A/C costs.) Yes friends, I have gone green this summer season of hi fi and I could not be happier.
Much of that is thanks to Bjorn Erik Edvardsen the eponymous BEE in the product’s name. He is director of advanced development at NAD, and responsible for the company’s now classic 3020 integrated amp. The C315 is the least powerful amp in NAD’s line, outputting a mere 40 watts across the bandwidth, though it seems to have more dynamic headroom than that. If you prefer your audio fare at rock approved levels, you should probably look elsewhere. Big, inefficient speakers in large rooms are simply something this integrated cannot handle, though you might be surprised at just how loudly it will play. Features are reasonable for a unit that retails around $350 U.S. There are six line level inputs as well as a tape loop, defeatable tone controls and a more than alright sounding quarter inch headphone jack. The NAD can also handle your portable media player, and at a shade over eleven pounds seems to be reasonably built for the price. There is also a cheap little remote control that will keep you hopping, given that it needs to be aimed directly at the amp in order to engage. Were you Mr. Spock, and this tiny remote your phaser, you couldn’t hit the broad side of a tribble with it! Sure, the NAD is no frills, but that is what these guys built a global reputation upon. And on these sweltering summer days, I remind myself, it’s about the pool, er, the sound.
The C315 is a very pleasant amplifier. I was surprised how little I missed when I put my back out lugging the voluminous Cary upstairs to the spare closet for its summer siesta. Right now I am listening to Marian McPartland’s new CD “Twilight World”, and you should, too. This amazing jazz pianist was born slightly before the end of World War One! To be ninety and still making vital music is a testament to the human spirit. Listen to the Bill Evan’s classic “Blue in Green” through the NAD and the complex modalities of the tune are easily rendered. The little BEE excels at rhythm and pace. As much as I admire, even love, the Cary, it can be a bit sluggish on some of my more complex and upbeat music. Not so with the NAD. The beat it imparts to the music is positively infectious. Makes me reach for that diminutive remote to crank out a few more decibels. Always a good sign.
This is definitely a darker sounding, more forgiving amplifier than the tubed Cary which might be a better match for the gear it is likely to be paired with. Discs that are ruthlessly revealed on my tube amp through the Soliloquy speakers have their corners rounded off by the NAD amplifier. I noticed this particularly with some of my less well mastered classical CDs. I have a somewhat brittle sounding – yet beautifully rendered – version of Bach’s Harpsichord Concertos by Pinnock and the English Concert Orchestra. With the C315, the harpsichord loses a little of its bite, the “aural tang” as I call it. The orchestra becomes a bit more fulsome than is probably, ultimately, the case. Still, it seems to matter little with the C315. I found I had played all three CDs in the Bach collection one afternoon while I was grading final exams for one of my U.S. Government courses. It surely was not the fractured writing of the students I found engaging; rather, the little NAD that kept me from reaching for the pause button. The ability of this amp to make your listening sessions fly by, and snatch your attention away from the zillion other electronic gadgets in the average home, is powerful indeed.
I think the best thing about this unit is the midrange. As I have said before, that is where music lives and if you get the mids to matter, many other sins are forgivable. Female vocals are particularly well served by this amp. Try folk artist Catie Curtis’ “Truth from Lies” and skip right the heartrending ballad “The Wolf”. The song is about the ability of ordinary people to triumph in extraordinary circumstances. The NAD nails it, conveying the essence of the pain and transcendence that is at the core of the music. Truth is, I might be tempted to put my feet in a bucket of ice and fire up the Cary all year long. Though the Cary has more harmonic richness, detail, emotion, scale, and grunt than does the NAD (no big surprise, eh?), I am not tempted to do that. The diminutive NAD, with what it lacks aurally, still has fundamentally a thorough and compelling musical presentation. This amp would easily put any Circuit City/Best Buy midfi gear to absolute shame. Please treat yourself to this integrated amplifier and give their stuff a pass.
I did not use the tone controls of the integrated, preferring the purer sounding signal without their intrusion. I also felt that the bass and treble regions were two weaker links. In a brief side by side comparison with the reference (yes, I know, not fair), I easily felt how much I was missing. There is definitely more sterility in the NAD in the frequency extremes. But seriously, consider the price. For the cost of a decent meal for four in Manhattan, you get an amplifier that just chugs along with any sort of music. In over three months, the NAD has been completely reliable, and an absolute pleasure to use. Come the first frost of autumn, I will have a hankering for my tube amp. However, maybe you live in Alaska, and don’t need to swap out your gear as I have done. Or perhaps you just like a bargain, or need a unit for a second system. You just might enjoy having the C315 around for a spare audio tire, even with its much lower energy use it still manages to completely warm the soul. Another mini classic from the gang at NAD.
Overall Rating: 8 LPs