Media Servers

NAD VISO 1 AP AirPlay Music System

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Design of the NAD VISO 1 AP AirPlay Music System

Opening the box is an almost Apple-like experience. Even the sealing tapes are printed with "Open" and "Begin Here" instructions. The first thing you encounter is a small box with the remote and power cords inside. Both 120 and 230-volt cords are included along with a micro-fiber cleaning cloth. The remote looks very similar to the one for an AppleTV but unfortunately, it's not made from aluminum. A solid white plastic face with a black backside makes a decent substitution for Apple's version.

On top of the accessories is a Quick Start Guide, which serves as the only printed material included in the box. In fact, the first directive is to download the manual from NAD's website! In today's green age, this seems appropriate enough. After all, if all our music is to be digitized, why not the instructions too? Once you get to the unit itself, it's packed in a nice fabric drawstring bag with NAD logos on the side. And it's a good thing too – the cabinet's finish is a nice high gloss that you really don't want marred.

Speaking of the cabinet, I received a white one; it's made from a single piece of heavy plastic with a gray mesh grill around front. On the left side is a gray-trimmed port, and on the right is the power toggle. In keeping with the Apple theme, the power cord is white too. Running vertically down the center is a metal hoop made from brushed aluminum, very slick. The hoop doubles as a carry handle since it actually encircles the VISO. At its top is a small touch-panel with controls for Volume, Mute, and Source Select; which doubles as a status light.

Since this an AirPlay streaming device, the remote is optional, but if you do use it, it has a few extras not found on the front panel. At the top is the Source Select toggle. In the center is a round pad with next track/previous track, and volume up/down with a play/pause button in the center. Below this is a mute key.

On the back is a USB port which can be used to charge your iPod, or download a firmware update. A LAN connection is also included if you prefer that over WiFi. And an optical digital input gives you the additional flexibility to connect a disc player.

I was nearly finished with this review when I took a break to cover the CEDIA Expo in Denver. There, I had the opportunity to discuss the VISO's amplifier design with Greg Stidsen of NAD. He spent some time telling me about the Direct Digital topology used in the VISO. It turns out this is the same tech found in the $6,000 M2 integrated amp. To get this in a $600 component is pretty cool. The basic premise is that the signal never exists in the analog domain. Since the VISO only accepts digital input, there isn't even an A/D conversion in the signal path. Instead, a sophisticated closed-loop DAC directly powers the speakers. Even the Bluetooth input, which is a lossy format, is improved through the use of aptX algorithms. While the best sound comes from AirPlay and its bit-for-bit transmission, you won't have nearly as much loss in quality as you do with traditional Bluetooth.