Driving the KEF speakers, the C 368 sounded smooth and relatively refined—no peaky, etched sound here. If anything, the tonal quality leaned towards sweetness. The soundstage was expansive and solid, if perhaps lacking in the precise definition I sometimes hear with much more expensive gear. When I played an AIFF rip of a Delos CD [DE 3137] of Gerard Schwarz leading the Seattle Symphony in Alan Hovhaness’ Symphony No. 22 (City of Light), I was pleasantly surprised at the C 368’s weight and solidity, as well as the harmonic density of its orchestral reproduction. Fortunately, it was solidity without stolidity—the orchestra brimmed with energy. On several pieces I auditioned, I noted the C 368 had a special way with strings, imparting a glowing sheen to their reproduction. Accurate? Maybe. Beautiful? Definitely.
Switching to the CD player, I put on Folia: Rodrigo Martinez 1490 by Jordi Savall and his band on AliaVox 9805. Although the bass extension of the KEF speakers didn’t match that of my larger system with its two subwoofers, little else was missing. The C 368 captured the continuously changing dynamic level with noteworthy precision, delivering the spirited percussion part with abundant transient detail. There was a dynamic exuberance typical of NAD equipment, which usually has tons of dynamic reserve.
A vocal fave is Shelby Lynne’s “Just a Little Lovin’” in a DSD64 version from Acoustic Sounds. Beautifully recorded at a very low level, it requires the volume control be set higher than any other piece in my collection. The C 368 needed a fairly high volume setting of minus 4.0dB to reach my accustomed listening level. But when it was set at that point, I was quite surprised to hear the prodigious bass output it produced. The album has a strong, growling bass underpinning, and the C 368 coaxed most of it from the modest KEF speakers. Even better, it captured the midbass frequencies without a “baffle-step” drop in level. Lynne’s voice had a texture that was quite expressive and realistic. The percussion part exhibited fast transients with no appreciable overhang. Spacious, rich, and enjoyable. As the C 368’s internal DAC doesn’t do DSD, I played this cut on the Oppo Sonica.
A friend dropped by with a copy of the CD Lincolnshire Posy, a collection of works for military band by Percy Grainger, played by the Dallas Wind Symphony under the direction of Jerry Junkin on a Reference Recordings CD [RR-117]. Reference Recordings’ reproduction of bass drum is almost as legendary as Telarc’s was (old-timers will know what that means) and on several cuts, the impact of the bass drum was surprisingly strong—nearly subwoofer level. Having played in concert bands in my young days, I was quite taken with the C 368’s purity of tone and harmonic accuracy, as well as its dynamic power—I never heard a climax that sounded strained, even with the level cranked up. The soundstage was solid and deep, perhaps absent the precision placement I hear on my many-times-more-expensive large system, but still a decent reproduction of a soundstage. The C 368’s SPDIF input definitely passed muster—and so did the Audiolab CD player’s digital output, which I used for the first time.
NAD describes the DD-BluOS MDC module as follows: “An undeniably integral component of some of our most innovative products, the DD-BluOS module unleashes all the music you could ever imagine. Whether you wish to explore various streaming services or reconnect with old favorites from your personal collection, our BluOS technology lets you get closer to the tracks you love. Controlled by a user-friendly app, BluOS is one of the most advanced music management systems on the planet. Through the power of BluOS, users can easily connect to other BluOS-enabled devices throughout the home, resulting in an incredible music listening experience. Highly advanced and wondrously fluid, our BluOS technology turns listening to music into an experience unlike any other.”
More simply put, the BluOS module turns the C 368 into an almost complete digital playback device, adding a streaming music player to the DAC, and giving the DAC the ability to play MQA files, at least up to 192kHz sampling rate. The BluOS app for the iPad and iPhone lets you select your music for playback through the C 368—or through a speaker like the supplied Pulse 2, which, since it also uses the BluOS operating system, will also play MQA. As I type this, the Pulse 2 is playing the MQA music file “Snilla Patea” (352.8/24 MQA.FLAC, from the 2L recording company) from the music library on my NAS with the C 368 turned off. If you’re wondering how the Pulse 2 handled a 352.8kHz original file, remember that MQA will unfold a file commensurate with the ability of the playback device. So in this case, it unfolded the file to 176.4kHz, within the limits of the BluOS MDC module. For reasons I won’t attempt to explain, NAD has chosen to ignore DSD file playback, so if you, like me, enjoy files encoded in that format, you’ll need an external DSD-capable DAC to enjoy them.
The Pulse 2 speaker, placed wherever your Wi-Fi allows, can receive a wide assortment of music files from the C 368—or independently of the C 368. If you pair it with the C 368, it can play any source hooked up to the C 368—like LPs—wirelessly, as in no speaker cables or interconnects. Pretty cool, and I suspect, just what many users want in a lifestyle product. And you can plug it into a wired network if you want to extend the range. I found the BluOS app’s layout a bit quirky, but was able to adjust to it with some practice. With more practice, I’d probably have gotten completely used to it.
If you’re a headphone fancier, you’ll probably have a dedicated headphone amp, but it seemed appropriate to try the C 368’s headphone jack with NAD’s own Viso HP50 headphones. To my delight, they sounded not ok, not good, but very good—more bass on Folia: Rodrigo Martinez 1490 along with more pronounced dynamic swings.
I asked about the headphone section, and Greg Stidsen, Director, Technology and Product Planning, Lenbrook International, told me the headphone section is capable of producing “high current output using 4 op-amps in parallel for each channel.” The very low distortion op-amps are CLC2059s, capable of driving 700mW into 32-ohm headphones. No wonder they sounded so good. Some dedicated headphone amps can produce more power, but not many integrated amplifiers can.