NAD C525BEE CD Player
Once, budget equipment such as that made by NAD might have
meant fatally compromised sound, but that was long ago. These days, in my not so humble
opinion, NAD gear is one of the best ways to hear true high fidelity at an affordable
price. The C525BEE CD player ($299 USD) typifies that approach.
The C525BEE will look familiar to many. Its case and front
are gray, with light gray legends for the various buttons. The CD tray, to the left of
center, opens and closes quickly and positively. The central LCD display shows the
discs track number, time, and total number of tracks. To the right of the display,
in two rows of five each, are ten small buttons: on the top are Play/Pause, Stop, Random
play, and Skip back and forward; on the bottom are Open/close, Time (elapsed on track,
elapsed on disc, or remaining), Repeat (track or disc), and Scan back and forward.
Its all very simple, very straightforward, and very easy to use.
The supplied remote control offers all the functions found
on the front panel as well as direct track access and the ability to program up to 20
tracks, or to delete tracks you dont want to hear. The C525BEE can also be fully
controlled by the remote that accompanies NADs C325BEE integrated amplifier.
The C525BEEs rear panel couldnt be simpler: two
analog line outputs plus a coaxial digital output. NAD notes that the digital output is
buffered and isolated by a transformer from the D/A converter itself -- an unusual feature
at this price. NAD claims that this reduces jitter that might distort the datastream.
While I imagine that few people buying a $299 CD player are likely to fork out for an
outboard DAC, its nice to know that NAD has paid attention to the details.
The C525BEE has an 8x-oversampling digital filter and a
20-bit, low-noise Burr-Brown DAC. The analog output is handled by B-B op-amps that, NAD
claims (as do other manufacturers who use these chips), are of much higher quality than
the norm. NAD claims that the C525BEEs 300-ohm output impedance makes it insensitive
to anomalies in cables and partnering gear.
I used the C525BEE with NADs C325BEE integrated,
which fed, via 14-gauge cable, PSB Alpha A/V speakers and a 5i subwoofer. I also used it
in a system comprising a McIntosh C27 preamp, Carver TFM-15cb power amp, Celestion 3
speakers, and an Advent powered subwoofer with a 12" cone. Connections were 16-guage
AR speaker cable. The latter system is in our home office and consists mostly of gear
thats no longer in my reference system but that I cant bear to part with. Its
counterpart in this system was a Sony CDP-X303ES player from the 1990s.
Some would say that a CD player is a CD player is a CD
player -- one sounds pretty much like another. In broad strokes, Id probably agree
-- but Id also venture that there are differences in the details of those sounds
that I cant easily explain. Perhaps theyre the result of better components, or
tighter quality control, or more attention paid to circuit-board topology, but for
whatever reason or reasons, the differences are there.
The C525BEEs overall sound was "tight" --
not in a bad way (i.e., not "up tight"), but in the manner of a big band
whose members are all playing tightly together. For instance, on "Rhythm Is Our
Business," from John Pizzarellis Our Love Is Here to Stay [CD, RCA
67501-2], after several call-and-response verses (including some great solos), the tune
climaxes with a rap spoken by members of the backing Don Sebesky Big Band and a full-on
run to the finish. With so much going on, this track has sounded disjointed and been lost
in the racket with more than one system. Not so with the C525BEE -- through the NAD, it
sounded full and spot on.
As I mentioned in my recent review of NADs companion
C325BEE integrated amplifier, with highly percussive music -- the bass lines on
Fourplays "Bali Run," from Fourplay [Warner Bros. 26656-2]; or Paul
Simons "You Can Call Me Al," from Graceland [Warner Bros. R2
78904]; or the snap of the snare roll in the opening of the title track of Steve
Winwoods Roll With It [Virgin V2 90946] -- there was a real sense of what
British audio writers often call "rhythm" and "slam." This is no wimp
machine. When it played a tune, all of the tunes sound came through.
It has been my experience that two of the most revealing
tests of a sound system are its reproduction of the female voice and of acoustic piano.
For the former, in auditioning the C525BEE I listened to a lot of Annie Ross (of Lambert,
Hendricks & Ross), Rosemary Clooney, and Alison Krauss. A longtime favorite is
Rosss version of "Twisted," from LH&Rs The Hottest New Group
in Jazz [Columbia/Legacy C2K 64933]. In that recording, Ross was, shall we say,
intimate with the microphone (if shed been any closer, she would have swallowed it),
producing a lot of plosives that just slightly overload the mike. With the C525BEE, those
plosives sounded better controlled than they do through the Sony CDP-X303ES. Yet at the
same time, the NAD had a livelier presentation -- the Sony was a bit more laid-back.
Rosemary Clooney recorded Brazil [Concord Jazz
CCD-4884-2] in 2000, fairly late in her career; her voice was huskier than on earlier
recordings, and her range had begun to narrow. As I noted in my review of the NAD C325BEE,
Im convinced that, to hit the title songs low opening note, she had to raise
her face so that her mouth wasnt pointing directly at the mike. As a result,
theres a very slight remoteness to that note. On the second, higher note, she
returns to her normal position and her voice takes on a fuller quality. The difference
between the two notes was more pronounced through the Sony, but at least similar through
the less expensive NAD.
Alison Krausss voice is so ethereal, especially on Baby,
Now That Ive Found You [Rounder CD325], that it requires a system of equal
delicacy. Again, no problem: the C325BEE CD player gave a magnificent performance. The
performance was just a bit more "intimate" than through the Sony.
For the sound of acoustic piano, again I relied on 82hundred
Brill [Strugglebaby SBD-2302]. As noted in my review of the NAD C325BEE amp, this disc
brings together five excellent Cincinnati jazz pianists and one piano: a German
Bösendorfer conservatory grand located in a residence at 8200 Brill Road, in
Cincinnatis exclusive Indian Hill section. Its owner bought it for himself as a 50th
birthday present, but decided to have some pros come in, along with some guests, and
record the proceedings. This is piano at its best: excellent players, a fine room
acoustic, terrific miking, and a good selection of tunes. My fave is Leroy Andersons
"Belle of the Ball," performed by Frank Vincent with Michael Sharfe on bass. A
gently swinging waltz, "Belle" offers Vincent the chance to exercise his fingers
as he goes from a quiet hush to full force. Often, such semi-pro recordings present
problems, mostly in terms of overmodulation (on digital recordings, up to "0" is
fine; anything over "0" is total distortion). Thats not a problem here, as
the NAD reproduced the sound exceptionally well.
A favorite artist is guitarist and song stylist John
Pizzarelli, whom Ive heard in concert in fairly intimate surroundings. One standout
on his Bossa Nova CD [Telarc CD-83591] is his recording of "Love Dance."
This is another very intimate recording: It begins with just Pizzarellis voice, his
nylon-string guitar, and a shaker. Hes then joined by a string quartet, which softly
counters the melody. Pizzarelli is no great singer, but his voice transcends mere vocal
quality. And his guitar playing is out of this world. With the C525BEE, either through the
C325BEE amp or through my office system, the sound was clear, sweet, and true.
One of Frank Sinatras greatest performances, in my
opinion, is his 1958 recording of "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)."
The story Ive heard is that Sinatra recorded it not long after the end of his
short-lived and tempestuous marriage to Ava Gardner; at the time, the man was hurting. It
may be only a story, but theres no doubt that, as Sinatra sings the song, hes
calling up emotions from a deep hurt. I havent listened to this track with all of
the systems Ive auditioned, but I did hear it via the C525BEE, both through the
C325BEE amp and my McIntosh-Carver rig. The emotion of the track came through with the
detail and nuance intact.
Overall, compared to the Sony CDP-X303ES, the NAD C5225BEE
had a livelier presentation of material, while the Sonys sound was a bit more silky.
By and large, I preferred the sound of the NAD, both with its logical companion, the
C325BEE, and with my McIntosh-Carver system.
What I have to say about NADs C525BEE CD player is
very similar to what I expressed about their C325BEE integrated amplifier. NAD has always
impressed me as emphasizing the proper aspects of hi-fi while not bothering with frills or
gimmicks. For them, its all about the music, and thats borne out in the
C525BEE as well.
I recommend the C525BEE to anyone looking for a good,
solid, high-quality CD player. It may not have all the "go-fasters" offered by
some other players, but it does have all the features most listeners need. Without any
doubt, its a great-sounding CD player, and a steal for $299.
Price of equipment reviewed