NAD C372 Integrated Amplifier and Paradigm Studio 20 v.4 Loudspeaker

Equipment report
Integrated amplifiers
NAD C372
NAD C372 Integrated Amplifier and Paradigm Studio 20 v.4 Loudspeaker

NAD C372

The $999 C372 is the most powerful integrated amplifier in NAD’s “Hi- Fi” Series, and as with every NAD amp built from Day One, the C372’s power capabilities are conservatively rated. Though it is spec’d to deliver 150Wpc continuously into 8 ohms, during short dynamic peaks the C372’s power climbs to 220Wpc at 8 ohms and 340Wpc at 4 ohms. For those who need massive power, the C372 can also be run in a bridged-mono mode (with the addition of the $699 C272 power amplifier), in which case output doubles to a steady 300Wpc.

The C372 uses classic NAD technologies, such as “soft-clipping” (only desirable during your most raucous parties, when you won’t notice—or probably even care—that it’s stifling dynamic range), a defeatable tonecontrol circuit (leave it off for the most natural sound), and NAD’s trademarked “PowerDrive” circuit topology, which is said to automatically sense a speaker’s impedance characteristics and adjust its power supply to maximize performance. You may also separate the preamp and power-amplifier sections via a pair of rear-panel jumpers. While this arguably makes for an easier upgrade path by allowing owners to, say, buy a better amp or preamp and later upgrade the other half, I wonder how many customers actually do that. No matter. It, too, is a standard feature, first found in the classic 3020 integrated amp, and remains a part of the NAD vibe.

Also, like every other component NAD has ever made, the C372 is a no-nonsense, plain-Jane, performance-first design. Yes, it has remote control, and, yes, the wand is an improvement over earlier designs. But the C372’s graphite chassis and faceplate are in serious need of a redesign. Despite the Web site’s claim of a “new cosmetic appearance,” the faceplate looks pretty much like NAD’s have looked for the past 20 years. It’s functional enough, but not very pretty. However, despite this quibble I must also say that once the music starts you probably won’t give a hoot what the thing looks like.

First and foremost, the C372 is the most tonally neutral NAD integrated amplifier I’ve yet to hear, and I’ve heard a lot of them over the years (but not a Masters Series model). NAD amps have traditionally been a little overly warm, a touch romantic sounding, if not especially detailed. These qualities can be a benefit when building a budget system, as entrylevel loudspeakers are often bright in the treble and in need of a little added warmth. But when you start nearing the thousand-dollar mark, today’s speakers (like the Paradigm discussed below and the B&W 685 I reviewed last issue) require a more detailed, honest-sounding front end. And, boy, does the C372 deliver.

On a superbly recorded CD of voice and electric guitar, Jeff Buckley’s Live at Sin-é [Columbia/Legacy], I was struck by how this NAD managed to reproduce Buckley’s voice without adding a chesty coloration, sharp edges, midrange fattening, or excess sweetness. The amplifier also did a good job of revealing the ambient space of the club this live recording was made in, and the rich, reverby twang of Buckley’s Fender Telecaster.

Even more impressive was the C372’s way with Matthias Bamert and the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s reading of Roberto Gerhard’s Symphony No. 4 “New York” [Chandos]. Here, the C372 revealed a surprising transparency, immediately unveiling the recording venue’s ambience and size, and a precise sense of the layout of the instruments within. The C372 delivered the near-strident bite of a trumpet, the delicacy and air of a flute, the sharp pluck of pizzicato strings, and the fleeting interplay of celesta, harps, and a wide variety of percussion. Its balance was neither warm nor cool, but pretty much right in the middle.

And all that power proved itself to be most handy when it came to Led Zeppelin’s How The West Was Won [Atlantic]. Recorded in 1972, this 3-disc live set captured the band at its best. If you’re in the mood for twenty-five minutes of “Dazed and Confused” at near-concert levels, have no fear that the C372 is going to let you down (assuming your speakers won’t). First, this amp laid out a huge soundstage, one that seemed to occupy the entire front-half of my listening room—and I mean wall-towall and floor-to-ceiling. Against this backdrop, the NAD unfolded Robert Plant’s staccato cries and whispers, Jimmy Page’s piercing blues licks, John Paul Jones’ fat lumbering bass lines, and John Bonham’s take-no-prisoners drum assaults. I pushed SPLs as far as I felt comfortable, and the C372 never broke a sweat .

The only way in which NAD’s C372 falls a bit short is in delivering the ultimate in delicacy and phrasing. Listening to Claudio Abbado’s version of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with the Berlin Philharmonic and Renée Fleming on Deutsche Grammophon, I didn’t get all the poetry I’m used to hearing from Abbado’s interpretation, or quite the subtlety and lyrical beauty of Fleming’s phrasing in the famous fourth movement. This disc also revealed a slight roughness in the C372’s dynamic scaling and, hence, rhythmic step, but these are about the only faults worth pointing out in what is otherwise a very fine amplifier.

Bottom line is, if you’re in need of a fair amount of power and are looking for a straightforward, smartly designed, no- BS amp with a 30-year pedigree, and, just maybe, you’re not too hung-up on every ounce of nuance, NAD proves, yet again, to be a name you can count on.

Paradigm Studio 20 v.4

Paradigm’s Reference Studio Series loudspeakers has been collecting glowing reviews for over a decade. Now in a v.4 edition, the entry-level Studio 20 is a two-way stand- or shelfmount model selling for $949 the pair, before adding the matching J-29 stands ($379).

I’ve stated my preference for twoway designs before. I like their simple crossovers and appreciate a presentation that is generally more coherent than what we hear from more complex multiway designs. Incorporating several proprietary Paradigm technologies, the Studio 20 v.4 sports a 1" “GPAL” (Gold-Anodized Pure-Aluminum) dome tweeter and a 7" “SPAL” (Satin-Anodized Pure Aluminum) bass/ midrange driver. According to Paradigm, these drivers are now more rigid than before, with oversized magnet assemblies, diecast heatsink chassis, and ventilated “Apical” motor structures to improve linearity and reliability. Also, Paradigm’s “IMS/Shock-Mount” system is said to “ensure extraordinary structural integrity in this new generation of Paradigm Reference speaker enclosures.” As is typical with today’s better drivers, the bass/midrange unit does not have a dust-cap but, rather, a gold-anodized solid-aluminum phase plug, designed to improve linearity, low-frequency extension, and power handling. The speaker can be either biwired or bi-amped, and a front-firing port allows for greater flexibility with room placement (closer to the rear wall, for instance, or on a shelf).

After I’d just reviewed the excellent B&W 685 ($600), it was interesting to compare and contrast the Studio 20 v.4, which, though selling for a third more, is in many ways a similar design. If the B&W could be described as elegant, balanced, lyrical, yet full of pace and vigor, the Paradigm is—in looks and sound—a more masculine speaker.

This was immediately evident while playing John Barbirolli’s classic EMI recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. The Paradigm presented a big, bold, upfront soundstage with a pinpoint image placement, lush strings, and a warm, burnished brass section. The bottom end is quite punchy and bigger sounding than you might expect; while not superextended, it rarely makes you feel like you’re missing anything. In fact, I would say the Paradigm’s bass emphasizes depth and weight, where the B&W 685 focuses more on the midbass and pacing.

On Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners [Analogue Productions 45rpm LP], I appreciated how the Studio 20 v.4’s rich balance reproduced the weight and register of Sonny Rollins’ tenor saxophone (an instrument I’ve recently picked up), Oscar Pettiford’s rich “walking” bass lines, and Max Roach’s brilliant polyrhythmic drumming. Each instru-ment came across as having a sense of weight and body rarely heard from small monitor-type loudspeakers.

After several days of constant use, the Studio 20 v.4 worked up to its optimum performance levels. It retained its rich qualities, but a slight hardness in the treble with, say, Roach’s ride cymbal or the upper reaches of Monk’s piano gave way to a more natural sound; a slight hollowness in the midbass gave way to a smoother, more integrated low end.

The Paradigm Studio 20 v.4 does especially well with a deep male voice, such as Nick Cave’s (The Boatman’s Call [Mute]), which was rich and reverberant, with a natural sense of balance. But despite that front-facing port, do be certain to experiment with proximity to the rear wall. Too far back and you might get, as I did, a hole in the midrange; too far forward and you’ll gain coherence but lose the heft that is this small speaker’s strength.

The Studio 20 v.4 seems like it was born to rock. While it may not show quite the refinement and lyricism with classical music that a speaker like the B&W 685 does, put on Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s Live At The Fillmore East [Reprise] or the Zeppelin set mentioned above or The White Stripes’ Icky Thump [Third Man/Warner], and the 20 v.4’s big, bold, weighty swagger shines like a spotlight.

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