- Written by Chris Eberle
- Published on 01 June 2012
NAD T 187 Surround Processor & T 975 7-channel Power Amplifier In Use
With the installation complete, it was time to put the system through its paces with some real-world content. Since a multi-channel digital processor is best suited for home theater, that’s where I did the majority of my evaluation. I also spent some time with 2-channel and 5-channel music selections. Since the T 187 does no video processing, the usual benchmarks do not apply. I tested for clipping and resolution and found no change in the original signal at all. Below-black and above-white were displayed correctly and there was no roll-off of the highest frequency bursts in both RGB and YPbPr modes. Testing was done using the HDMI inputs and output.
I started out with a concert video from Led Zeppelin. This DVD has an excellent Dolby Digital soundtrack and makes for a great home theater demo; especially if you enjoy classic rock! The T 187 did a great job of rendering small details while still delivering a warm presentation. There are no hard edges here. The surround field was very deep and engaging; I really felt like I was in a concert hall. Balance between instruments was excellent with all the complexities of Jimmy Page’s unique tone coming through clearly. I particularly enjoyed the middle portion of the concert where only an acoustic guitar and mandolin are used. Jimmy Page’s Martin guitar sounded fantastic with a perfect combination of tone and plucking detail. Tiny elements like string chirp during fret changes and the difference between a pick and a fingernail just added to the realism. And of course, there’s Robert Plant’s considerable vocal prowess. The NAD’s accuracy served that up beautifully. After listening to many Japanese receivers, I really enjoyed the slightly forward mid-range tones I was hearing. And it’s not an acquired taste, I liked it right away.
Continuing with concert video, I put in Fleetwood Mac, The Dance from 1997. This concert is mixed in what I’d call a polite manner. It’s very well-balanced but perhaps a little distant; like you’re sitting in the back row. Nevertheless, Lindsay Buckingham’s guitar work was stunning. While some of the songs failed to excite me, his solos grabbed my attention quite firmly. As a guitarophile, I love recordings where I can really hear what’s happening technically. Buckingham plays exclusively finger-style and that detail really has to be there for an effective reproduction. Even though the NAD combo tends to be laid back in sound, all the subtleties are present. They aren’t in your face like my reference Emotiva/Integra separates but still just as engaging. It’s different but just as good. Stevie Nicks and her unmistakable vocal quality were equally immersive. She might be just past her prime but these excellent electronics made her sound great.
Turning to some home theater action, I cued up a few episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series. The latest season includes a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack and it is huge improvement over past releases’ Dolby Digital encode. I compared the Audyssey and NAD curves (which is really easy thanks to a dedicated key on the remote) and preferred the more bombastic presentation of the Audyssey one. NAD’s version is a bit tamer though by no means lacking in dynamics. In fact, it might be better for music; which is a theory I’ll put to the test in the next few paragraphs. Bass was huge with tremendous depth and slam. I’m running an enormous Axiom EP-800 sub in my small room and when I say the walls were shaking, I’m not exaggerating. Clarity was top-notch as well. It’s hard to imagine audio being any clearer unless the actors and musicians actually stand in front of you.
Another title with fantastic audio quality I checked out was the 2011 re-boot of The Three Musketeers. This is popcorn action all the way. The low-frequency effects are so huge I actually turned the sub down 3dB. This was easy thanks to the handy channel trims on the remote. Balance was superb with a huge soundfield and extremely convincing surround effects. There were several moments when a sound traveled around me in a full circle. NAD handled this seamlessly.
For my music-only listening, I started with a couple of classical standards (to me anyway). The San Francisco Symphony’s Grammy-winning recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony on SACD is a benchmark in both performance quality and fidelity. It also has the ability to sound very different depending on the gear reproducing it. Usually I find it laid back with decent detail. Better systems will separate instruments and textures more clearly. The T 187/T 975 combo was one of those. I used the NAD version of Audyssey with its tighter bass and superior midrange definition. I was rewarded with a nice wet sound that portrayed a tremendous sense of space and depth. The hall ambience was extremely inviting and provided a great impression of reality that made the walls of my room melt away. Detail in the softest dynamics was among the best I’ve ever heard and I never had trouble discerning individual instruments no matter what the texture. There was one string passage which flows over a super-quiet tympani roll that sounded particularly tasty. The roll was never buried by the sometimes diffuse sound of what must be a very large violin section. Thanks to Mahler’s brilliant writing and the SFSO’s amazing brass section, fortissimo sections were almost organ-like with a warmth I’ve rarely heard. I also enjoyed the decay of precisely released phrases even as other instruments took over the line.
Judith LeClair’s recording of John Williams’ The Five Sacred Trees is one I consistently go back to as the definition of what a bassoon should sound like. This is a great test of a processor’s ability to separate the soloist from the very large orchestra accompanying her. Needless to say, the T 187 delivered. Again the low-level detail was superb and I could hear things like ringing percussion at the end of movements, very cool! The third movement which features the harp was quite nice. The harp sound seemed to fill the stage and I imagined it to be much larger than it is in reality. Since this is a 2-channel recording, I experimented with the different listening modes. DTS NEO:6 Music was my favorite.
Moving on to a little rock & roll, I dropped in Van Halen’s new album, A Different Kind of Truth. I’ve listened to this CD on many different systems, from iPods to car stereos, and found it generally compressed-sounding with too much emphasis on the bass. The T 187 did a fair job but it still sounds like you’re listening to the band in a small club with crappy acoustics. I toggled through the different listening modes attempting to find a good balance but it was difficult to compare them because they are not volume-matched. EARS, which is NAD’s proprietary surround mode, seemed flat to me and I preferred the Enhanced Stereo mode which volume-matches all the channels. My favorite track on this album is the acoustic blues song Stay Frosty. The guitar and vocals are mixed more forwardly than the other selections and I felt it connected with the listener more intimately.
Turning to a better-quality recording, I cued up the Foo Fighters’ 2011 release of Wasting Light. This album was produced in Dave Groh’s home studio using all analog gear and produced by Butch Vig, who was also at the helm for Nirvana’s Nevermind. This was a much better mix and I thought it sounded fantastic on the NAD combo. Some of the songs have as many as nine layered guitar parts and I had no trouble hearing every one of them. This recording also benefitted from the Enhanced Stereo treatment.