NAD Monitor Series 1300 preamplifier Page 2

When it came to the midrange, the NAD had a slightly "reedy" signature, most noticeable on massed strings, while high frequencies were very slightly exaggerated. The snare and hi-hat sounds on the drumkit track on the HFN/RR Test CD were just a little bit "whiter," or crisper. This wasn't nearly so extreme as to introduce any high-frequency "grain," but while the resolution of recorded depth in general was excellent, this aspect of the NAD's tonality did render the soundstage rather more shallow in the treble. While the fine detail of recorded ambience was easily to be heard via the NAD, the sense of instruments having a spatial solidity was less well developed than with the bypass situation. However, while not as undetectable as some, having a little more of a signature than the Parasound, this line stage is still pretty neutral.

OK, fundamentally a good-sounding line stage—how did the NAD 1300's phono section cope with the demands of music?

Listening to LPs
On to the Linn went the Nojima Liszt recital (Reference Recordings RR 25). The first thing to strike me was the very low level of background noise. Sounds emerged from a velvety darkness which, if not quite as black, as sepulchral, as that from CD, was still much quieter than the MC stages of even quite expensive preamplifiers. The reediness in the midrange was more pronounced, though the NAD did show good resolution of the piano's complex harmonic structure. It also captured the purr of the piano's left-hand registers almost to perfection. Tonally, while the NAD gave excellent string tone, it did have a little more extreme high-frequency extension compared with both the PS Audio and with the Parasound.

Looking at the relevant response curves, you can see that the 1300 does have a fraction of a dB more output than the PS Audio above 5kHz, but it's hard to imagine that this would be significantly audible. Old analog recordings, however, did have slightly more high-frequency tape hiss noticeable, while groove damage on Dusty Springfield's "The Look of Love," which has been well-chewed by pickups over the years, was slightly more prominent via the NAD compared with the PS.

This track also revealed the major aspect of the phono-stage sound: voices sounded smaller, more recessed, even more delicate, than they did with the Californian preamp. The PS Audio revealed more of the space around voices and instruments, giving them a realistic solidity, but in comparison with the NAD, was made to sound too forward, too robust in the midrange. The PS Audio's less dry high treble did give voices less of an electronic edge, however.

Low frequencies were also a little recessed from the NAD. One of the aspects of the PS Audio's sound from LP is its bighearted bass, extended with exceptional weight while remaining well-defined. The NAD has a "smaller" sound at low frequencies, double bass even sounding physically smaller. It was better in this respect, however, than the Van Alstine tube preamp, which has a propensity for a thin low-frequency balance.

Which phono section was better? I can't say; we're talking apples and oranges here. The PS 4.6 has the edge on soundstaging depth and tonal neutrality, especially in the treble; it can sound rather brash in the midrange, however. The NAD 1300 has very low noise, a more refined presentation of detail, but has less depth at high frequencies than through the rest of the range. If the PS Audio sounds best with large orchestral works, it comes across as having insufficient resolution of detail with rock music and solo female voice, which is where the NAD shines. The 1300, however, can sound "electronic," too light, with a lack of solidity to individual images, on orchestral music. The Van Alstine has a treble balance closer to that of the NAD, but lacks both bass weight and extension. (I must admit, however, that I prefer the sonics of this all-tube preamp, overall, to those of the NAD. The NAD, however, is much more a real-world product.)

Bass boost
My final auditioning session was to investigate what the 1300's bass EQ had to offer with the Celestion SL700 loudspeakers. The amount of LF boost is modest, which is a good thing. Applying such tonal correction depends heavily on the speakers having sufficient dynamic range to cope with the increased excursion. The obvious visual effect with the EQ switched in was an absence of the usual cone wobbling from warp signals, the NAD LF boost being combined with an effective infrasonic filter.

The effect of the EQ had its positive points. Extending the Celestions' response by what appeared to be an octave at normal listening levels (80–90dB average) added a degree of realism to the speakers' bass register, as well as making the treble sound more balanced, more in proportion. (Small speakers with optimally damped LF alignments often can sound treble-forward, and the SL700 is no exception.) However, there was a negative aspect, the character of the low frequencies changing a little too much, becoming more lumpy, even a little "slow." The Celestion SL700 has such superb upper-bass definition that even small amounts of degradation are only too easily audible. With less refined small speakers, however, I can imagine the NAD's bass equalization being a particularly useful feature.

Conclusion The NAD 1300 offers perhaps the most features to be found in a preamplifier at this price level, and displays a high degree of engineering proficiency, combined with a basically excellent sound quality. Yes, its line stage has a detectable signature when compared with a straightwire bypass, but the degree of sonic degradation is relatively small. Indeed, the extra sense of dynamics endowed by the NAD is a musical bonus. In addition, the 1300 boasts a phono section that has a more delicate sound than the PS Audio 4.6, and only loses out to that high-end model in its cooler presentation, slight lack of midrange transparency, and shallower stereo stage in the treble. The basic PS Audio 4.6, without its optional beefed-up power-supply module, costs rather more at $659 than the 1300, of course; I consider the NAD an excellent preamplifier that should, by rights, cost rather more than a hair under $400. Recommended.

COMPANY INFO
NAD Electronics International
633 Granite Court
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1
Canada
(905) 831-6555
ARTICLE CONTENTS

X