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Thread: NAD and CA

  1. #1
    Can a crooner get a gig? dean_martin's Avatar
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    NAD and CA

    There's been a lot of chatter lately about NAD and Cambridge Audio budget integrateds and since I have both at home I thought I would do a little comparison. I always pick the worst times for little experiments like these. I was home for lunch and went into my son's room to check out his Cambridge Audio 540A. I found an old cd of mine he had borrowed - Green Day's "Dookie." I know, don't laugh. I figured why not start out with a non-audiophile disc that's probably closer in quality to the majority of recordings. I loaded it and began to check out the tracks I was most familiar with. I listened to Basket Case all the way through and segments of other tracks. Not really my taste, but I found myself getting into the music. The sound was very clean and crisp and I was drawn in by the pinpoint imaging. But, I felt like there was something missing in the lower end. (Actually, what prompted me to compare the CA to my NAD is an earlier post from someone who had just bought the 540A to replace an older HK receiver. He commented that some music seemed to be bass shy with the CA in comparison.)

    I went straight to my bedroom and played the same tracks in my NAD C340 system. Both the 540A and C340 are rated at 50wpc. I immediately noticed that the music seemed to have a little more weight or sounded fuller at the bottom end. But then the surprise - there was no additional bass/midbass info. or extension. The music simply was not as clean in that region which gave the impression of a fuller sound. This might be what is meant by "coloration." I also found that the imaging and soundstaging seemed less defined on the NAD system - "hazier." I noticed it took more effort to "get into" the music. (With the CA system I got a glimpse of being in the studio when sitting in the sweet spot.) I had noted some sounds/noises while listening to the CA system that I thought might be attributable to the system's ability to reproduce detail. I listened for those sounds/noises while listening to the NAD system thinking that they might be lacking. The detail was there, but it stayed more in the background. I realized that what seemed to be a lack of bass in the CA system was actually a lack of bass in the recording.

    The gear in each system is listed below. I don't doubt that the associated gear may have played a role in what I heard, but I think the amps made the biggest difference. I've always been pleased with my NAD bedroom system. This little comparison made me appreciate the CA though. Next time I go amp shopping I'll have a point of reference from which to start.
    Cambridge Audio 540A
    Polk RTi25 speakers
    Pioneer Dv-354 (? - I'll double check the model # if anyone's interested)

    NAD C340
    NHT SuperOne speakers
    Cambridge Audio D300 cdp

  2. #2
    Suspended topspeed's Avatar
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    Hey Dean,

    Here's are the challenges with your observations:
    1) Different sources
    2) Different speakers
    3) Different room acoustics

    As you know, I tried both the C320bee and the 540a before purchasing the CA for my office rig. My observations, in reader's digest form, was that the NAD did indeed have a tad more bass energy as you noted. If it's not too much trouble, I'd be interested in your findings between your two amps using the same system as a reference point. As it is now, your findings have far, far, too many variables. I know it's a pain in the rear, but a retest with the same system (except amps of course) would lend more credibility to your findings.

    Thanks for your efforts.

  3. #3
    Can a crooner get a gig? dean_martin's Avatar
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    Agreed, Speedy. I'm also interested in the differences between source dacs. The dacs in the Pioneer dvdp and the older CA D300 have substantially different specs, but as you know some members here believe that there are no audible differences among cdps. I suspect that the differences in room acoustics were alleviated somewhat because both sets of speakers are set up for nearfield listening and placement in relation to backwall are optimized for best bass response. I would put the speakers in the same class based on price and performance - very close in price, but probably farther apart in performance - one is an acoustic suspension design while the other is front-ported. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if the 320BEE is a little more refined than my older C340.

    However, none of the above can substitute for listening to the amps in the same system. One of these days, weather permitting, I'll try just such an experimentation. BTW, I've been using headphones w/my office rig, but would like to find some speaks that would mate well with an old Sansui integrated amp - any suggestions?

  4. #4
    Forum Regular Walker's Avatar
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    I am the guy who just bought the CA 540a and I thank you for your test. I was still a little bummed out for not buying the NAD, but after reading your test I feel better about the CA.

    I'm still getting used to the "naked truth" that this amp presents me with.
    Yesterday I bought the new "The Cure" cd and was all excited to play it on my new system ....well it sounds like sh#t (good cd though), very disappointing. So after The Cure I played the first Soul to Soul cd and it sounded terrific. Itís a rollercoaster.

    Today I ordered the CA azur 540C (cd player), I hope this will make a difference. I now have the NAD 521i witch I was never impressed with.

    I am from The Netherlands and could not bring my system when I moved to the US (220volt). For some reason I remember my old system (all older HK components and B&W speakers) to sound so much better. Does anyone know if there is a difference in sound between 110v equipment and 220v equipment?
    Walker

  5. #5
    Can a crooner get a gig? dean_martin's Avatar
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    Hey Walker - This may sound like voodoo to some, but I'll give you this illustration for recommending speaker cables. When I upgraded my main listening system from a receiver to a seperates pre-power combo, I noticed that the treble seemed very congested from my Acoustic Energy speakers. This was extremely frustrating. I went to a hifi shop in Atlanta while on a business trip and desribed my problem. The owner was very passionate about trying new speaker cables. The cables I was using came from radio shack. He talked me into buying the entry level DH Labs cables which weren't as expensive as some. (In fact, I got out of there for less than $100 after purchasing a stylus cleaning kit and record cleaning kit in addition to the cables.) When I took them home to try them, lo and behold the higher frequencies openned up and came forth smoothly. Anyway, this illustration is my basis for suggesting that there might be a speaker cable out there that compliments the 540A and your speakers. Good luck!

  6. #6
    Forum Regular Walker's Avatar
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    Hi Dean,
    I changed the speaker cables a week ago (bi-wired) and it did make a good difference. It sounds better at low volume and, it sounds bigger.
    What still bothers me (on about half of my cd's) is a somewhat compressed sound. As if the sound is trapped in the box and has a hard time to come out. But like I posted earlier, the other half of my cd collection sounds great
    It is what it is and maybe the CA CD player will make a difference.
    Iím also planning to change the power cords although I cannot rationalize why this could ever make a difference, but if so many audiophiles say it does there must be some truth to it.
    Thanks for your input and Iím looking forward to your up coming test report. Iíll definitely report on my new cd-player (Iíll do A/B tests with both cd-players)
    Walker

  7. #7
    Suspended topspeed's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dean_martin
    I've been using headphones w/my office rig, but would like to find some speaks that would mate well with an old Sansui integrated amp - any suggestions?
    How much do you wanna spend? If that Sansui is '70's vintage, they are supposed to be pretty cool

    Quote Originally Posted by walker
    What still bothers me (on about half of my cd's) is a somewhat compressed sound. As if the sound is trapped in the box and has a hard time to come out. But like I posted earlier, the other half of my cd collection sounds great
    It is what it is and maybe the CA CD player will make a difference.
    It's the recording, plain and simple. Unfortunately, a lot of recordings (even new ones) sound like a cat caught in the fan belt.
    Quote Originally Posted by walker
    Iím also planning to change the power cords although I cannot rationalize why this could ever make a difference, but if so many audiophiles say it does there must be some truth to it.
    Horsesh!t. I'm not an expert on cables by any means but I have tried three different power cables on my amp (an amp that is touted as being cable sensitive btw, even by the manufacturer) and could not hear a difference between the stock cable, the upgraded pvc pipe Xstream Plus, and a $800(!!) Cardas Golden Reference. The main difference was that the Xstream is an utter pain in the ass to use because it's as bendable as John Holmes during a money shot. Save your money.
    Quote Originally Posted by walker
    Iíll definitely report on my new cd-player (Iíll do A/B tests with both cd-players)
    This I'm interested in because I absolutely believe dacs and cdp's sound different. It'll be interesting to hear your observations of the Wolfson's vs. whatever is in the NAD. Keep us posted.

  8. #8
    Forum Regular Walker's Avatar
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    The NAD has Burr Brown 24bit DACS, I'm very curious to hear the CA. I expect it wednesday, I'll let you know.
    Walker

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    Talking walker...here's your problem

    You are caught in what a typical "mid fi trap" I have seen lot of people in. The azur CD player is not going to make your "other half" of the cd collection sound nice.A change in cd player is going to makes the least difference in your sound system.If you were upgrading from a very cheap dvd player, it woud have made a difference.The NAD that you have is a reasonably good one.
    What you done is an upgrade from lo-fi to mid-fi. You have a good cd player and amp.Now the biggest difference can be expected if you move on to a much better speaker.Your older lo-fi system made all your bad recordings sound tolerable and the good ones sounded good.Now you have a fairly transparant system which won't tolerate your bad recordings. Crap in-crap out..that's it.Changing just one component in a lo-fi system is the worse thing that you can do.Now you need to find a synergy in your system. I would suggest you keep the cd player. Get the best speakers that matches your amp.Try out different interconnects and speaker cables and most importantly, setup the speakers correctly.

  10. #10
    Forum Regular Walker's Avatar
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    Hi Hertz,
    Thanks for your input.
    I consider my speakers (B&W 603s2, bought them 2 months ago) the strongest part of my system. in fact it was because of these speakers I began a total upgrade. Altogether Iím happy with my new system, I expected more improvement from the CA 540 amp. but the sound definitely improved (I guess my HK AVR 75 was not as bad as I thought it was). I tried $20 AR interconnects against $30 (ebay) silver twisted Rockford fosgate interconnects, the Rockfords sound clearer and more open. Is it worth while to spend more on interconnects? If so can you or someone else recommend some affordable good ones?
    Iím hoping to move up from mi-fi to hi-fi in some years but for now Iím happy.
    Better sound is probably a never ending quest, but itís a fun one.
    Cheers,
    Walker

  11. #11
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    Wink That's a ggood speaker

    Ok...
    So you have DM 603 S2... That is a pretty good speaker for the rest of your system.There is no point in spending lots on interconnects.20 to 30 dollars is enough for a system of your calibre.Just try out different interconnects in this price range and settle for the one you like best.Use 16 guage or better OFC cable for your speakers.
    So I guess, the problem could be in the power of the amp. B&W 's although specified to be 90 db plus, are difficult to drive. You might need a more powerfull integrated like the NAD C 370 or something similar from CA, Rotel, Roksan (rocksan kandy 100 watts / channel) etc... I don't see anything else wrong with your system.
    Check the placement of your speakers though. Speakers should have more than 6 ft between them.Give them some space on the rear and sides. Atleast 1.5 ft at the rear and if possible 2 ft at the sides.Measure this with a tape. Toe them in slightly towards the listening position (15 to 30 degrees). Your listening position also should be atleast 2 ft from the wall behind you....

  12. #12
    Forum Regular Walker's Avatar
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    CD-Player Swap (CA 540c for NAD 521i)

    The swap worked, itís amazing, Iím listening to music again instead of constantly judging sound quality. My problems are history.

    The CA 540C Azur sounds sweet, itís hard to describe but to me it sounds like it should sound. The exaggerated, almost painful highs that made older recordings unbearable are gone (NAD 521i).
    Straight out of the box the CA sounded a lot better, now after about 50 hours of playing it sounds a whole lot better.
    I did some A/B tests and there is no doubt. The NAD 521i is too bright for my taste, on some recordings itís wonderful, crystal clear but as an all-round player I know itís not my piece of cake.
    Another thing I noticed is the timing, on the NAD player it always appeared as if the lows followed the highs, as if there was a slight delay. With the CA the highs and lows are one, very good separation but not because of a delay, in other words IT SOUNDS TIGHT and I love it.

    The CA makes me forget the system; itís all about the music again. I now understand what listening fatigue means.
    Walker

  13. #13
    Suspended topspeed's Avatar
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    Cool Stuff. Congrats on finding the right system synergy, a critical issue in building a rig and one that doesn't get enough attention IMO. Glad to hear you're happy with your system so you can now run out and get the Level 42 and Joe Jackson cd's

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    Talking I don't understand this phenomenon....

    Quote Originally Posted by Walker
    The swap worked, itís amazing, Iím listening to music again instead of constantly judging sound quality. My problems are history.

    The CA 540C Azur sounds sweet, itís hard to describe but to me it sounds like it should sound. The exaggerated, almost painful highs that made older recordings unbearable are gone (NAD 521i).
    Straight out of the box the CA sounded a lot better, now after about 50 hours of playing it sounds a whole lot better.
    I did some A/B tests and there is no doubt. The NAD 521i is too bright for my taste, on some recordings itís wonderful, crystal clear but as an all-round player I know itís not my piece of cake.
    Another thing I noticed is the timing, on the NAD player it always appeared as if the lows followed the highs, as if there was a slight delay. With the CA the highs and lows are one, very good separation but not because of a delay, in other words IT SOUNDS TIGHT and I love it.

    The CA makes me forget the system; itís all about the music again. I now understand what listening fatigue means.
    Walker
    I don't understand this. You mean to say that the CA cd player sounds dramatically different to the NAD ? ?If it is true, there is something wrong with the NAD player. Have you had it repaired or bought it secondhand or something ? Differences between cd players are minimal and differences between decently designed ones like NAD and CA will be barely audiable. Or there is a serious compatibility issue with the CA amp. If that is the case, no other CD player will sound good with it and no other amp will do for the CA cd player also. Maybe they are made for each other..)

  15. #15
    Forum Regular Walker's Avatar
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    Hi Hertz,
    Yes, the CA sounds dramatically different. A lot more harmonic. I did an A/B test again and the highs of the NAD are noticeably brighter.
    Perhaps some of you would favor the sound of the NAD because it might come closer to audiophile standards but for me itís too much.. I like the CA much better, I can play music again without being paralyzed by trebles.
    The 540 amp + 540 cd-player certainly make a good team.
    Walker

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    Unhappy Good to know you are happy

    Quote Originally Posted by Walker
    Hi Hertz,
    Yes, the CA sounds dramatically different. A lot more harmonic. I did an A/B test again and the highs of the NAD are noticeably brighter.
    Perhaps some of you would favor the sound of the NAD because it might come closer to audiophile standards but for me itís too much.. I like the CA much better, I can play music again without being paralyzed by trebles.
    The 540 amp + 540 cd-player certainly make a good team.
    Walker
    Well, good to know that you are happy.I must admit that it is a bit wierd though.I have a dealer friend who stocks Nad, CA in addition to some other estoric brands. I spend most of my sunday afternoons at his place.We have lots of fun trying out different equipments. I have never experienced such a thing ! dramatic differences in amps and speakers I can understand..but cd players made by decent brands at almost the same price point..?????

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    Quote Originally Posted by Walker
    The swap worked, itís amazing, Iím listening to music again instead of constantly judging sound quality. My problems are history.

    The CA 540C Azur sounds sweet, itís hard to describe but to me it sounds like it should sound. The exaggerated, almost painful highs that made older recordings unbearable are gone (NAD 521i).
    Straight out of the box the CA sounded a lot better, now after about 50 hours of playing it sounds a whole lot better.
    I did some A/B tests and there is no doubt. The NAD 521i is too bright for my taste, on some recordings itís wonderful, crystal clear but as an all-round player I know itís not my piece of cake.
    Another thing I noticed is the timing, on the NAD player it always appeared as if the lows followed the highs, as if there was a slight delay. With the CA the highs and lows are one, very good separation but not because of a delay, in other words IT SOUNDS TIGHT and I love it.

    The CA makes me forget the system; itís all about the music again. I now understand what listening fatigue means.
    Walker
    This is one of the things which has endeared me to CA too, Walker. When you get into hifi, it's difficult not to catch the sickness, "The Search For The Perfect Sound." This can cost you an arm and a leg and somewhere along the line you find that you're constantly listening to the system and not the music. This is a great pity and I've known (and still know) many who have caught this bug.
    CA equipment is unpretentious and efficient. Both the CD players and the amplifiers have a frequency response which is way beyond that of just about all speakers on the market so you can relax on that issue.
    I listen to music again after my initial excursion into the sickness,
    Robin

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