NAD C425 AM/FM Tuner
I make the case in "Whither the Tuner?" this month
that a tuner can be essential for an audio system. Though some might find a tuner not part
of their budget, the NAD C425, at a very reasonable $299 USD, might change their minds.
Like the other NAD components Ive reviewed, the C425
has the trademark NAD look. Its very Bauhaus -- its form follows its function -- but
quite attractive. Theres lots of dark gray: the case and front, plus light-gray
legends for the various buttons. On the far left, in harmony with the C325BEE integrated
amplifier and C525BEE CD player, is the tuners power switch. Thats followed,
in rightward march, by six soft-touch pushbuttons that control, in order: FM stereo Blend,
Memory (for setting presets), FM Mute/Mode (Stereo+Mute or Mono+Unmuted), AM or FM,
Display choices, and a button that selects Presets or Tune for the large tuning knob at
the panels far right.
Between those six buttons and the tuning knob is the
display, which provides a lot of info: band and frequency of the selected station, or, if
the stations signal includes Radio Data System (RDS) data, the station name and any
RDS text (often the title and artist of the tune playing, or a promotional slogan for the
station); indication of a Stereo broadcast; the number of the Preset (if youve used
one); notification of Blend or FM Mute/Mono being engaged; and the signals strength
(bars just below "Antenna").
One feature of the C425 that NAD has offered in several of
its past tuners is the ability to program in alphanumeric characters to replace any
non-RDS stations basic display of frequency plus band. For instance, instead of
"88.7 FM," I could program the C425 to display "WOBO FM," the call
letters of that frequencys local resident (up to eight characters can be displayed).
The process is time-consuming and, with the increased use in the US of RDS, often
unnecessary, but its a nice option.
The C425s remote control offers all of the
front-panel controls as well as a Sleep timer (90 minutes max) and a display Dimmer.
Unlike NADs C525BEE CD player, the C425 doesnt respond to power-on/off
commands from the C325BEE integrated amps remote. According to NAD, this is in
response to the requests of custom installers. However, if you wish, you can connect a
patch cord between the C425s 12V trigger input and the C325BEEs trigger
The C425s rear panel is nearly as simple as that of
the C525BEE CD player. There are an F-style FM antenna connection, two connectors for the
supplied AM loop antenna, stereo audio outputs, and inputs for both infrared control and
the 12V trigger; the tuners nine-pin RS-232 port can connect it to a home-automation
system or PC.
Opening the lid of the unit revealed a circuit board that
takes up less than half of the interior. As is usual for NAD gear, the component layout is
clean and neat.
I used the NAD C425 with two systems: NADs own
C325BEE integrated amp feeding (via 14-gauge cable) a pair of PSB Alpha A/V speakers and
5i powered subwoofer, and a McIntosh C27 preamp and Carver TFM-15cb power amp driving
Celestion 3 speakers and an Advent 12" powered sub; speaker cables in both systems
were from AR. The latter system is in my home office and consists largely of gear that
once graced my reference system but that I cant bear to part with. The C425s
counterpart in this system was a bit of a mismatch: a Magnum Dynalab Etude tuner that, in
its day, sold for more than four times the C425s price. Interconnects in both
systems are nothing fancy, but are more substantial than those supplied with the C425.
Weather can have some interesting effects on FM reception.
Because FM signals carry farther and stronger when its very warm outside, my first
tests of the C425 may have been a mite unusual: it was 91°F. Id connected the tuner
to a BIC FM-10 Beam Box antenna -- a relic of the 1980s that, through all the years since,
has remained my favorite indoor FM antenna (and is all my highly sensitive and selective
Magnum Dynalab Etude has ever needed). In these hot conditions the C425 received 37 FM
stations whose signals were listenable (a subjective determination of how much hiss I
heard); another two were audible but unlistenable. Had I been obsessive-compulsive about
trying to receive any and all signals, it could have been done, though with difficulty:
because the C425s tuning knob is stepped, turning the knob too quickly automatically
puts the tuner in Seek mode, which has a fairly high threshold. Seek mode detected only 34
signals, missing a few outlying or low-powered noncommercial stations. Under similar
conditions and using the same antenna, the Magnum Dynalab Etude received 43 stations in
full and listenable stereo, and another four that were OK in mono but noisy in stereo.
The RDS feature was an unexpected boon. It was nice to be
listening to a song in FM and see the artists name and song title scrolling across
the display. Very handy!
The C425s AM reception was typical for a 21st-century
tuner, combining limited bandwidth (it topped out at probably 2.5-3kHz) with limited
sensitivity. Then again, most AM stations broadcast talk, sports, or some other
spoken-word programming, so the lack of bandwidth isnt crucial. However, even when
trying to tune in the local 50,000W (as big as they get) behemoth thats 12 miles
from my home, I had to manipulate the AM loop antenna for clear reception.
Ive just described the C425s AM sound. Its FM
performance merits more description, but in a phrase, it was quite good. The only qualm I
had was that the C425 was particular about how much signal input it was fed. It wanted a
fairly strong signal to reach effective quieting, but, in its defense, once it reached
that point, the signal/noise ratio improved quickly. And once it had taken care of the
hiss, the C425 put on a great audio show.
One aspect of the C425s performance that I found
exceptional was its ability to reveal the quality of sound a station was broadcasting.
Most commercial and some noncom FM stations use heavy signal processing: compression
to make soft sounds louder, limiting to keep loud sounds under control, and heavy
doses of equalization to make the music sound "fat" on cheap radios. The
C425 let me know right away which stations were processing their signals to death and
which werent. For instance, one local rock station noted for its chainsaw audio
sounded sibilant, while the local classical outlet sounded very good. Thats been my
experience with tuners designed in Canada (as were both the NAD and my Magnum Dynalab) --
most Canadian stations dont subject their signals to as much processing as do US
stations, and therefore sound more natural.
The NAD C425 is a fine tuner within its limitations --
which arent that great, given its price. It needs a fairly strong FM signal to limit
the hiss -- but not too strong, or the front end will often distort. The C425 is ideal for
most suburban locations, but I dont recommend it for areas in which theres a
station nearly every 200kHz (as in, say, New Jersey between New York City and
Philadelphia). Its useful features include 30 presets (any combination of AM or FM), RDS
display when available, easy insertion into multiroom systems via its RS-232 port, and,
above all, excellent FM sound. While its not my favorite model of the NAD trio
completed by the C525BEE CD player and C325BEE integrated amplifier, it should satisfy
most users, even those few who still listen critically to FM, and will do so at a bargain
price. NAD has produced another fine model.
Price of equipment reviewed