22nd Aug 2007 | 23:00
A tuner that's dynamic with DAB and subtly assured with FM
This is the first dual-band tuner we've seen from NAD - indeed, the first DAB one - and in essence it's everything one expects a dual-band tuner to be.
It has separate FM/AM (okay, so it's triple-band, but we're talking about the hi-fi aspects here) and DAB tuner modules and the usual audio output board, a distinctly consumer-grade affair with no audiophile parts.
Nevertheless, it sports a high-grade DAC chip, surface-mounted underneath the main board, with some similarly concealed high-performance op-amps, and the very fact that NAD has chosen to do its own D/A conversion (the fitted DAB module, a Frontier Silicon assembly, includes a DAC) suggests that the whole design is no hasty bodge.
The FM/AM module is from Kwang Sung and is the usual modest-looking assembly, which does almost everything, including decoding individual audio channels and RDS.
Specification-wise, the model in many ways rivals quite fancy tuners of yesteryear and reminds us why we no longer test the RF performance of tuners as thoroughly as we once did - barring major component failure, every modern tuner passes all the tests with flying colours anyway. Audio performance is another matter, mind.
And it's the audio performance, naturally, of which NAD claims great things. At the same time, the company is refreshingly frank about the sound of DAB, pointing out how low data rates can cause 'unmusical effects'.
NAD may, however, be unduly pessimistic in suggesting that good DAB reception requires line of sight to the transmitter. The error counter thoughtfully provided within the C445 proves that invisible DAB sources still give error-free reception (in south London, at least).
Other features are basic: RDS, 30 FM presets, optical-only digital output. It's a typical NAD, really - no fripperies!
Having said repeatedly that the differences between DAB tuners typically aren't great, we'd still wager that we could pick this one out in a sonic identity parade. It seems somehow to be just a little livelier than most of the others here: there's no obvious difference in tonality, but the music just seems more urgent and dynamic.
That may be a positive feature - indeed, with CD players and amps we would probably argue strongly that it is - but in the case of radio in general (bright due to studio practices) and DAB in particular (bright due to the effects of MPEG data reduction) it may prove just a little too much of a good thing for some listeners. Exciting on first hearing, the sound does warrant a longer listen to check for the dreaded 'listener fatigue'.
FM performance is pretty well rounded, with the overall result being highly satisfying. What this tuner won't do is reach out and grab you by the proverbials, and as a result it may sound underwhelming in a brief demo.
It is, in fact, quite laid-back in approach, but its resolution of detail is good, and as a result music and speech make a good impression.
The tonal balance strikes us as just a fraction bright, but bass has enough body to ensure that sounds aren't thin or screechy and the brightness is soon forgotten.
Imaging is good and makes a decent stab at depth too - not an FM strength - while noise seems subjectively just about the lowest around. All things considered, we're rather fond of this tuner.