NAD Masters Series M10 streaming integrated amplifier Page 2

When I started listening to the NAD M10, therefore, I was anticipating a marked diminution in sound quality—even veteran reviewers aren't completely immune from expectation bias. Using the KEFs, I played some reference CDs, including André Previn's performance of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No.2 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Telarc 80113) that I had auditioned with the Vandersteen speakers and amplifiers. Following the Previn performance, I cued up the DSD64 file with Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra performing the same symphony (Channel Classics 21604) with Roon. (Roon transcoded the DSD64 data to 24/176.4 PCM, and I couldn't see how to tell the app to send the original DSD data to the M10, footnote 2.) With both recordings, I was surprised by a) how much I was enjoying the music, and b) how little the NAD's presentation fell behind in comparison with the Vandersteens. Yes, the low frequencies sounded less extended, less authoritative with the NAD, even with the Dirac Live EQ for the KEF LS50s enabled—see sidebar, "Trying Dirac Live Room Correction"—but what there was of the midbass carried sufficient weight for me not to miss the M5-HPAs too much, and the M10's upper bass was impressively articulate.

My longtime test for bass articulation is the repeated 16th-note bass line in "Last Train Home," from Pat Metheny's Still Life (Talking) (CD, Geffen GEFD 24145-2). It is difficult for a reflex loudspeaker system to keep the onset of each bass note distinct from the overhang of the previous one, and this can be exacerbated by the amplifier used. With the KEFs driven by the M10, however, each note was clearly defined and, if I had to swear to it, better defined than with the Vandersteen amplifiers.

Stereo imaging precision with all the speakers I used with the M10 was excellent, with acoustic objects palpably positioned in the soundstage. Metheny's electric sitar in "Last Train Home" hung in space just to the left of center, and the individual voices in the song's wordless bridge were clearly delineated. While there wasn't quite as much soundstage depth as with the expensive Vandersteens, the M10 still scored well with this aspect of performance.

1219naddirc.tone

As the M10 will decode MQA files, I enabled the Core decoder function in Roon and streamed an MQA file of Mozart's Violin Concerto No.4 from Tidal, with Marianne Thorsen and the TrondheimSolistene (24/44.1 FLAC, 2L 7041888521624). Roon authenticated the stream as "MQA Studio 352.8kHz," unfolded it to 24/88.2 data "with MQA Signaling," and sent it to the M10, which rendered it as a stream sampled at 352.8kHz. The sound was excellent. However, even though the M10's manual says that playback of MQA files will result in a green or blue indicator being shown both on the amplifier's front panel and on the BluOS app's screen, this didn't appear. That said, both when I streamed the violin concerto from Tidal with BluOS or selected the MQA-encoded files on a USB thumb drive plugged into the M10's rear-panel port, the MQA indicators appeared correctly, along with the Tidal logo in the former case. These indicators only operate, therefore, when the M10 is acting as both the MQA core decoder and renderer, as it does when using the BluOS app for playback but not when Roon is performing the first unfold.

Digital comparisons
As regular readers will know, I am not a fan of Bluetooth use for music transmission. Even so, when I sent music files to the M10 via Bluetooth, it worked well enough, the amplifier switching to the Bluetooth signal when I pressed Play on my iPhone or iPad.

I had intended to perform some comparisons between the M10 fed digital data via the optical link from the Ayre player and the same data sent via AES/EBU to my reference DAC, a PS Audio DirectStream DAC (Snowmass firmware) that I purchased following Art Dudley's review in September 2014. The output of the PS Audio was sent to the M10's analog input via 12' single-ended AudioQuest interconnects. However, as the NAD digitizes its analog inputs, the PS Audio's reproduction was affected first by the A/D conversion and then by the M10's D/A conversion. I therefore connected the M10's preamplifier outputs to the Vandersteen monoblocks using unbalanced/balanced adaptors and alternated this connection with a balanced connection from the PS Audio.

Using Roon to send the same music to both the NAD and PS Audio with the levels matched with the 1kHz warble tone on Editor's Choice (16/44.1 AIFF file, from Stereophile STPH016-2), the PS Audio was softer-balanced in the highs than the NAD, the M10's treble sounding more forward. However, the PS Audio DAC excelled in the pre- sentation of space. Even with the MQA unfold/upsampling rate restricted to 176.4kHz rather than to the full 352.8kHz, the DirectStream decoded more of the recorded ambience on the 2L Mozart Tidal stream.

1219naddirc.3

On the Pat Metheny track, the chugging bass line had a touch more upper-bass energy with the PS Audio, and though the electric sitar and Lyle Mays's acoustic piano was sweeter-sounding, the soundstaging overall was more palpable than it had been with the NAD. But to put this comparison into perspective, with its network bridge card the PS Audio DirectStream costs $5999, more than twice the price of the NAD M10, and while it has a similar if smaller touchscreen, it is just a DAC. No amplifier.

Luxman comparisons
As coincidence would have it, the Luxman SQ-N150 that Ken Micallef very favorably reviewed in December 2019 arrived at my place for measurement as I was wondering what amplifiers I could compare the M10 with. While the Luxman is an integrated amplifier around the same size as the NAD and, at $2795, is priced similarly, it is otherwise as different as it could be. It uses tubes, has analog inputs only, and offers a maximum power of just 10Wpc into 8 ohms. (It does have a headphone jack, which the M10 doesn't.)

For the comparisons, I used my PS Audio DirectStream DAC with its single-ended output set to its maximum and matched the levels from both amplifiers with the 1kHz warble tone on Editor's Choice. With the PSB Alpha P5s the sound was sweetened, with a mellower top end than with the M10. Orchestral violins sounded lush. While the Luxman's low frequencies were richer, the passages where the double basses dig down in the third movement of Beethoven's Symphony No.4, with Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (24/192 WAV file, Berlin Philharmonic download, BPHR 160091), sounded thickened, less distinct, with the tubed Luxman compared with how they did with the class-D NAD. In addition, the low-powered Luxman was close to running out of power on climaxes with SPLs in the high 80s, while the NAD was still coasting at these levels.

1219naddirc.life

Substituting the KEF LS50s for the inexpensive PSBs, the highs remained sweeter than with the NAD but the lows acquired a touch more authority. The double bass on "Autumn Leaves" from Cannonball Adderley's classic Somethin' Else (24/94 ALAC files ripped from the Classic Records DVD reissue, DAD1022), which sounded a little dry on the NAD, was warmer with the Luxman. Stereo imaging was equally well-defined with both amplifiers driving the KEFs, but the solo woodwinds in the mysterious opening of the Beethoven symphony's first movement were clearly set farther back with the NAD. This is the opposite of what I would have expected, given the prevailing meme that tube amplifiers offer excellent soundstage depth.

I enjoyed the two days I spent living with the Luxman SQ-N150. It offers the virtues of a classic tubed amplifier without any of the vices, other than restricted maximum power. Overall, however, even without considering its digital and network functionality, NAD's M10 offers a more neutral tonal balance, greater transparency, and as much power as I would ever need with the speakers I choose to use.

Conclusions
NAD's Masters Series M10 may be small, but don't let that fool you. Hidden within its unassuming exterior are a powerful, transparent, clean-sounding amplifier, a versatile streaming DAC, and the ability to optimize the sound of its owner's preferred speakers. Voted EISA's "Smart Amplifier of 2019–2020," the M10 was described as "a true master of modern music playback." Amen to that sentiment: Other than a pair of loudspeakers, the relatively affordable M10 offers everything serious audiophiles and music lovers need to enjoy their music.


Footnote 2: Peculiarly, although the M10 is specified as being able to play DSD data, when I copied the DSF files to a USB thumb drive and plugged it into the M10's rear-panel port, the files weren't recognized, even though all the hi-rez PCM files on the drive were identified as such and could be played with the BluOS app.
COMPANY INFO
NAD Electronics International
633 Granite Court
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1
Canada
(905) 831-6555
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

Another nominee for Stereophile 2020 product of the year award, NAD M10 :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'Thin Red Line' and 'Bold Red Line' :-) .........

tonykaz's picture

The Transistor was the most important invention of our last Century, wasn't it?

This high-achieving little box seems like a dam nice 1980 Era Hifi extrapolated out into our new 21st Century needs. ( I haven't yet had the chance to ask my Michigan NAD Critic if this box is serviceable or if it's another unserviceable throwaway, as so many electronics from Asia seem to be nowadays ).

As I started reading this review I'd thought that the device was the size of a BIG Mono Amplifier. Of course, it isn't at all "Large" unless it's compared to an iPhone or a Dragonfly .

Its amazing that a little device like this could be sooooooo dam powerful. Phew, seems like a parade motorscooter the Shriners ride but with 3,000 horsepowers.

Yet as powerfully potent as this NAD is, only a few pages away is a descriptive comparison of two low power amps serenading our HR into blissful oblivion.

Ultra high performing 21st Century Transistors vs. low power Valves ? Can I have both?, pleeeeeezzzzeeee

Tony in Venice ( all over Primary country & Counties )

ps. as much as I've abandoned ( and discourage ) vinyl hoarding, Mr. Dudley's writings are delightful ( especially the Naim Quad descriptions )

ps. thank you for the delightful read whilst out on the lonely trail.

Ortofan's picture

... eat it too? Absolutely.
Just connect the pre-amp outputs of the NAD M10 to the inputs of a Luxman MQ-300 8W triode tube power amp.
http://www.luxman.com/product/detail.php?id=17

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Are you spending any time in 'wine caves' and drinking from '$900 a bottle wines', Mr.Tony? :-) ........

tonykaz's picture

I'm in plenty of Plane Hangers, all without booze.

I don't see the money collecting, ever.

I'm involved with the nuts & bolts of keeping the Big Show on the Road, in the Air and not missing dates or scheduling.

This is an unsettling lifestyle that some people thrive in, I'm not one of em. It's a Carnival like Ringling Brothers, we are anticipating a three fold increase in busyness & activity. Bernie's nomination will make everything we know seem tame. ( we're told )

I might be too old to keep up.

Fingers Crossed

Tony in Venice ( for a breather )

Ortofan's picture

... running to catch a train, as does the 70-year-old Sen. Warren.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKHbJEAs2D4

tonykaz's picture

Thanks for the advice.

I've just ordered a used "Royal Canadian Air Force Exercise Manual" from eBay and promise to begin my Training Program as 2020 rolls out. Exercises include Running which will probably be the hardest part of the 5BX group considering that I'm too outa shape to be exercising.

Lovely News:
I've been on a Cancer Alert since early 2017 and just went Clear by my latest Radiologist Reporting from Nov. Phew !!!

I'm no longer living in fear.

I have no health issues: A miracle considering how I've smoked 15,000 packs of Cigs.( lifetime ) and guzzled 5,000 fifths of Hard. ( from 1985 to 2000 )

I'm feeling lucky

Tony in Venice

ps. I'm still on Oakwood Cemetery's rather long waiting list

latinaudio's picture

Mr. TonyKaz: the best comment you have made in a long time. Don't pay too much attention to us doctors, just open your eyes (and your ears!) Daily and marvel at the magic that surrounds you. God bless you, Merry Christmas!

Ortofan's picture

... just get a decent pair of shoes and go for a walk.
Three to four miles per day is a good target.

The 5BX plan is an excellent strategy, too.
https://csclub.uwaterloo.ca/~rfburger/5bx-plan.pdf

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Are there any 70-year-olds here at Stereophile, who can run and catch trains? ....... I wonder? :-) .......

rschryer's picture

...run faster than a train. It wasn't speeding, it was in fact nearly stopped, but still, John was running at a good clip.

Happy Holidays to everyone. And glad to hear you're healthy as a horse, Tony.

Peace and love,

Rob S.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

John Atkinson is actually Superman ....... You missed to see that cape? ....... Happy Holidays :-) .......

tonykaz's picture

Thank you for writing, nice to hear from y'all.

We have a smallish group ( in Venice Fl. ) of Octogenarians running the Waterfront/Inter-coastal Trail, it's impressive seeing what Id've thought was impossible ( and is in the Frozen North ). I might be joining them. Flying back to Sarasota is like returning to Paradise, moving here is proving to be a dam good decision.

Hmm, JA on running in NY, I wonder.

JA on running Stereophile: retired JA seems to be doing ever more beautiful writing as are a number of regular contributors. These guys are raising their Game, that Naim/Quad story rivals the best writings. Editorial content is consistently deep, philosophies are revealed, wisdoms are being explained. 5,000 well thought-out word review/stories in abundance. Audiophile or not, Stereophile rivals any Mag. on the Stands for intelligence, it's one of the best kept secrets in Publications. ( the ones I travel with get worn out by multiple readers )

Now, I hope & wish that Tyll would return to Print from the High Planes of New Mexico. ( Bob Katz, too )

Tony in Venice

brenro's picture

Run, run away fast.

Long-time listener's picture

I've used NAD products for about 20 years, starting with an 80-watt integrated, then moving up to their pre- and power amp combo and CD player, and finally to their wonderful M51 DAC. Unfortunately -- based on Mr. Atkinson's recommendations -- I also bought their M32 "direct digital" amplifier and their M50.2 server. My experience is that their older equipment not only sounds better, but is MORE DEPENDABLE than their new stuff.

After using it for a couple of months, with its hard drive only half full, my NAD M50.2 now simply refuses to rip any new CDs. After listening to the M32 for several months, I've now gone back to the M51 DAC and NAD power amp combination. The M32 had an irritating forwardness in the upper midrange that became unpleasant over time, whereas their earlier DAC and analog power amp sound much better.

Mr. Atkinson, how long did you actually live with these products? I frankly am having trouble trusting your reviews of them.

John Atkinson's picture
Long-time listener wrote:
Mr. Atkinson, how long did you actually live with these products? I frankly am having trouble trusting your reviews of them.

I'm sorry to hear about the problems you had with the M50.2 and M32. Reviewers tend to live with a product for 4-6 weeks, so longer-term reliability is not something that can be examined in a review. In the case of the NAD M10, though I used it in my system for most of September and October before writing the review, I subsequently purchased the review sample. Putting my money where my mouth is, if you like. I will report if I have any issues.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Long-time listener's picture

Thank you for your reply. I was concerned not just with reliability but sound quality. Does the M10 sound better than the M32? I found the much cheaper combination of the M51 DAC and the old NAD C272 power amp to sound definitely better than the M32.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

What loudspeakers are you using? ...... As you know loudspeakers make a big difference in sound quality :-) ........

Long-time listener's picture

Thanks for your sage advice. I've used several different speakers with the NAD M32 and the NAD M51-C272 combination. They include the Dynaudio Special 40 (nice, but an unpleasant upper midrange emphasis, at least in the nearfield where I listen). Aerial 5T (awful: upper bass bump, too little midbass, dry sound overall). Tekton Design Uruz (a pretty good low cost, essentially DIY design; excellent highs). And the Buchardt Audio S300 MkII: Better than the Dynaudio overall, with a more pleasing and relaxed balance and deeper bass. My current speaker for nearfield listening, which is almost always how I listen.

In my judgment the NAD M32 doesn't sound completely natural in the upper mids and highs, and easily becomes fatiguing and even irritating. I notice John Atkinson didn't "put his money where his mouth is" despite saying it was "highly recommended."

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be you could listen to/with KEF LS-50 and/or, may be Polk L-100 (which were favorably mentioned by RS in a recent dealer demo) ........ Both the KEF and Polk speakers are in the same price range :-) .......

Long-time listener's picture

The problem is not the speakers, despite your insistence. (I am curious about the new Polks though--the L200 more than the L100.) I'm actually quite happy with the NAD M51 / C272 / Buchardt Audio combination and plan to sell the M32 if I can. It just doesn't measure up--works OK for rock, pop, or electronic but not for classical. I'm especially pleased that the Buchardt's give me such a deep soundstage even though I listen in the nearfield and with the speakers close to the wall. And they are great all-rounders too. I hope Buchardt keeps developing new products.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be you could try a tube integrated amp, like the Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum III, $2,995, for example :-) ......

Long-time listener's picture

... reading what I wrote.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

HR liked the sound of Dynaudio Contour 20 with PrimaLuna tube amp, for example :-) ........

Ortofan's picture

... near-field listening, have a listen to any of various models from Harbeth.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Glad you still have the NAD M10, with you JA1 .......... May be you could review the new Polk L-100 bookshelf/stand-mount speakers ($1,200/pair), which were favorably mentioned by RS in a recent dealer demo ....... L-100s are in the same price range as the KEF LS-50 :-) ........

Long-time listener's picture

If the NAD M32's "direct digital" system is so great, and you thought it was "highly recommended," then why did NAD go back to using the ESS Sabre/Hypex module approach here? Maybe direct digital doesn't sound so great after all?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

JA1 could also review the new NAD M33, due for release in January 2020 ($4,999) ......... 200 WPC and has Purifi's 'Ultra-Quiet Amplification Technology' :-) .......

eriks's picture

So, I've carefully followed NAD amp development.

I don't believe "hybrid" here refers to taking in both an analog and digital input. As far as I know, in the NAD product lineup the 3020D was among the earliest. As I recall, it is a hybrid because it runs a small, linear class A amp in between two Class D voltage rails. It's closer in topology to the Carver/Yamaha EEEngine type of designs. It may be designed with Hypex, but it is not a straight forward nCore either.

One of the dead giveaways is the idle power. It runs unusually hot for a pure class D.

Also, switching is not Class D, but if you are going to do A/D, then room correct, well, you wouldn't be wrong in calling it a digital amp anymore.

I comment on all of this because I am curious, not because I am sure, so if the good peeps at Stereophile can confirm or correct, that would be nice.

Best,

Erik

dial's picture

Merry christmas everybody, readers and stereo crew !
That said, it's a little too high a price for a NAD gift but who knows ?

X