The Yamaha A-S801 costs the same as the C 368 and uses a conventional Class AB amplifier rated at 100Wpc. Its internal DAC plays music files out to DXD and DSD128, and a $50 accessory YBA-11 Bluetooth adapter adds Bluetooth connectivity. Unlike several modern integrated amps, its controls are mostly physical knobs rather than menu settings, which will appeal to the older generation (like me). It’s got a moving-magnet phono section and a headphone amp. Most importantly, it sounds quite nice.
Generally, the C 368 was a smidgen darker than the Yamaha, but that’s possibly due in part to the difference in speakers (I used the LS50 speakers for the Yamaha review). Although both KEF speakers use versions of the Uni-Q drivers, the LS50’s driver is more refined, and a bit more detailed. But the Q700 adds a separate woofer and twin passive radiators, which produce deeper, more powerful bass than the LS50 driver can. The extra bass could give the impression of reduced high frequencies.
Both amplifiers sounded pretty sweet, with no unpleasant solid-state glare. Due to their size, the LS50 speakers lacked any deep bass; but the Q700s, despite their much better bass delivery on “Just a Little Lovin’” and Lincolnshire Posy, only hinted at the deep bass on Folia: Rodrigo Martinez 1490. Why? I’m guessing because the bass on the recording goes deeper, down to the middle-20Hz range. The Yamaha captured Shelby Lynne’s vocal inflections quite well, allowing me to hear a bit more of a hoarseness which she used to accentuate parts of the lyrics—but that could also be because the LS50 driver is more refined than the Q700’s.
Bottom line: Both amps were excellent bargains with tons of features. The Yamaha has a bit more power and a more complete DAC, and its controls are mostly old-style knobs rather than menu choices, which are more straightforward to use. On the other hand, the availability of the MDC expansion modules gives the C 368 significantly more flexibility, e.g., MQA playback and HDMI connectivity. The Yamaha is a bit larger, if that matters; neither is huge. Sonically, I’d rate them both as quite good, and excellent bargains to boot. I’d choose one or the other based on features—what’s important to you? If you don’t want a separate DAC to play the highest resolution digital files, the Yamaha may appeal (although it won’t play MQA files); if the flexibility of the NAD’s MDC modules appeals to you, the C 368 would be a better choice.
I began this review expecting to bash the C 368 for having a limited DAC, but I quickly realized rather than building another “me-too” integrated amp NAD had deliberately focused on other areas of performance—useful areas that most integrated amplifiers ignore. That’s smart. DAC technology is advancing rapidly, so buying an external DAC avoids locking you in at a particular level that will probably be outdated this time next year. Heck, most DACs can’t play MQA files, so they are already obsolete. Probably the next feature we’ll see appearing in DACs will be MQA decoding capability, as DAC manufacturers begrudgingly provide the new features their customers want. Makes sense to me. If I had invested in an expensive Tidal subscription, I’d surely want to be able to play music at the best-sounding resolution. The C 368, with its MDC BluOS expansion card, already does that.
All those features would be moot if the C 368 sounded lousy, but it sounds delightful—lots of power, deep, punchy bass, smooth midrange and highs. It showed none of the solid-state anomalies that have historically made transistors in general and Class D in particular sound unpleasant. Easy to set up, easy to use, extremely flexible when used with Bluesound gear, this could be the last hi-fi purchase you’ll need to make. I was impressed, which seldom happens. Strongly recommended.
Specs & Pricing
NAD C 368 Hybrid Digital DAC Amplifier
Type: Integrated amplifier with internal DAC
Power output: 80Wpc
Analog inputs: Two on RCA jacks
Digital inputs: Four SPDIF; two on coaxial, two on TosLink
Additional inputs on MDC DD HDM-1 module: Three HDMI
Additional inputs on MDC BluOS module: RJ45, two USB
Input impedance: 22k ohms
Output impedance: Four and eight ohms
Headphone output power: 700mW into 32 ohms
Dimensions: 17" x 3 15/16" x 15 3/8"
Weight: 18.9 lbs.
Price: $899; optional MDC BluOS module, $399; optional DD HDM-1 HDMI module, $299
Lenbrook Industries Limited
633 Granite Court
Speakers: KEF Q700 speakers
Amplifier: Yamaha A-S801 integrated amplifier
Digital sources: Dell Latitude E6330 laptop computer running 64-bit Windows 10 Professional and Roon Server software; QNAP TS-251 NAS; Audiolab 8000CD CD player; Oppo Digital Sonica DAC/player
Speaker cables: Audience Au24 SX
Digital: Audience Au24 SE S/PDIF cable
Power cords: Stock cords provided with equipment
Power conditioners and distribution: Isotek Sirius