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NAD T550, £500

 

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The arrival of the first DVD player from NAD has generated a small frisson of excitement amongst the hi-fi cognoscenti. NAD audio components have a well-earned reputation for performance and distinctive styling and the latter is clearly evident on the T550, which shares a number of cosmetic features with its audio stablemates. Sadly though the designers have seen fit to spoil the attractive minimalist lines by filling the empty area on the front panel next to the display and disc tray with a motley collection of logos, but apart from that itís an object lesson on how to make a plain black box (well, dark charcoal greyÖ) look quite interesting.

 

The feature list is somewhat brief for a player costing the thick end of £500 but it does have a built-in Dolby Digital decoder and the marketing guff points out that NADís hi-fi expertise has been bought to bear on the design, claiming it is equally adept at audio CDs and 5.1 soundtracks. Audio features of note include high grade components in key processing circuits and a Burr-Brown 1716 digital to audio converter (DAC), which is normally only to be found in top of the range CD players. Thatís as maybe, but the fact remains that the audio options are surprisingly limited, it lacks the customary channel level adjustment controls and test tone generator, in fact the only thing you can do is switch the centre, surround and sub woofer channels on and off. This presumes a lot of the amplifier to which it is connected but there is a clear understanding that would-be T550 owners will already be confirmed NAD fans and will buy it to partner its AV amp/receivers or use it with other equally well-bred audio components.

 

The video side of things is also rather sparse, it has a 2-stage picture zoom and a set of multi-speed replay modes but theyíre nothing to get excited about. The four-stage slomo is okay but fast picture search is distinctly odd. The first Ďsearchí speed appears to run the disc at normal speed but it drops a few frames every second or so and consequently it hardly does anything at all. The faster search speeds are all very jerky and not much use for finding your way around a recording. There are no picture equalisation controls, and this shifts all of the adjustments away from the player to the TV. That would be okay if the picture didnít need adjustingÖbut more about that in moment.

 

In playback mode a simple on-screen display shows disc information and provides access to basic control settings (sound and subtitle language etc.), it has a more or less standard set of sockets on the back panel with an RGB output available on the single SCART socket and separate composite and S-Video outputs. Surprisingly for a player with such esteemed hi-fi credentials there is no front-panel headphone socket though to be fair it doesnít fit then on its CD players either. The remote control handset? Well, thatís just plain nasty and you can read all about it below.

 

And so we come to the picture. Itís a bit average and images on our sample had a tendency to look dark and sombre; itís the sort of picture that manages to make bright sunny days look as though they were shot at dusk. It is possible to compensate for the worst of it, using the picture controls on the TV, but youíll have to tweak them again when you change channel or switch source components. Even so the contrast balance is a touch on the heavy side and no amount of twiddling with the TVs contrast can do much to lighten and reveal detail lost in shadows and dark scenes. Resolution is satisfactory and the processing is generally clean and free of any artefacts but itís not so hot at rendering shades subtle colour changes. Layer change is slow taking a full second on some discs.

 

NADís claims to audio excellence are generally well founded and we suspect that even dyed in the wool hi-fi buffs will find little to complain about when the T550 is used as an audio source component. The sound is sharp and punchy with a very solid bass. The 5.1 channels produce a clean and very well focused soundfield, full of movement and able to swing effortlessly from quiet background sounds to big heavy-duty effects. Once again thereís a plenty of room for bass frequencies, which may not suit some musical tastes but it is well suited to movie soundtracks.  

  

It is clear that NAD has taken a slightly different route to other most manufacturers by effectively going it alone and designing its DVD player from the ground up, rather than going down the badge-engineering route or assembling a player from predominantly off the shelf components. To some extent it has paid off and the T550 is one of a small handful of DVD players that can lay claim to being serious hi-fi quality audio CD players. However, video performance is not on quite the same level and the lack of picture controls seems a bit shortsighted. Audio buffs and NAD fans will welcome the T550 but we feel that for home cinema applications there are better players to be had for £500, or less.

 

Contact Nad 01296 482017

 

BOX COPY 1 Ė REMOTE VIEWING

Either the person who designed this button-box has unusually long fingers, or used the eeny-meenyÖ method of control placement. Pause Stop and Play along the top row is fair enough, but what are the slomo, scan and skip rockers doing on their sides halfway down the box? The IR emitter is on the pointy top left corner, which may have something to do with it being very directional. Itís heavy too, deliberately so for some weird reason as thereís a chunk of mild steel bonded to the printed circuit board!

 

BOX COPY 3 Ė AROUND THE BACK

Itís good to see lots of shiny gold plated contacts on the back of the T550, it may not have much impact on picture and sound quality but itís a reassuring sign that pennies havenít been pinched.  The T550ís rear panel contains a fairly routine assortment of socketry. The SCART connector is configured for composite and RGB video output. Thereís a 4-pin mini DIN socket for S-Video and a phono carrying a second composite video feed. Another phono socket handles the coaxial bitstream out and thereís a TOSlink connector for the optical digital output. A bank of 8 phonos is used for the analogue mixed stereo and the 5.1 channel outputs.

 

 

THE HARD FACTS

NAD T550

                       

OUTPUTS

SCART             Y

S-Video             Y

RGB out                        Y

Component                    N

Optical digital            Y

Coaxial digital            Y

5.1 decoder                   Y

 

EXTRA FEATURES

Region 2, PAL/NTSC replay, built-in Dolby Digital decoder, dts compatible bitstream output, multi-speed replay, 2-mode picture zoom, 5-scene marker,

 

GOOD POINTS

Audio quality, styling

 

BAD POINTS

Hopeless remote, ordinary picture

 

Ease of use            3

Picture  3

Sound               5

Features            3

Overall  4

 

BUYERS GUIDE EXTRA INFO

Price                 £500

SCART 1

S-Video 1

Digital out            coaxial, optical

Decoder            Dolby Digital

 

Good Points

Audio quality, styling

 

Bad points

Hopeless remote, ordinary picture

 

Rating

3

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R. Maybury 2000, 0706

 

 


 

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