NAD T 585
NAD’s £800 T 585 was the first player to arrive. I therefore tried it solo for a few days before getting to grips with the others. I liked it right from the start. It gave a clean, lucid, very detailed and articulate musical presentation. CD sounded leaner than the ASTINtrew, but not unpleasantly so. Imaging was very precise. The NAD offers analogue outputs for 5.1 surround sound as well as twochannel SACD. For some reason, there was a significant drop in volume level (about 6dB?) when playing SACD after CD. Once amplifier volume levels were increased, things sounded fine, and the NAD produced some impressive noises. The CD/SACD comparison threw up results broadly similar to those experienced with the Arcam player described above. However, the slightly leaner presentation of the NAD sometimes emphasised the lack of atmosphere alluded to earlier. The music sounded very clear-cut and detailed, but sometimes a little cool and stark. Playing Bernard Haitink’s recent LSO Live Barbican Beethoven Symphonies cycle, the sound was very precise but a bit dry and airless. I bought the set a few months back, and playing it on the ASTINtrew At3500 as a CD gave mixed results. I had hoped SACD might resolve some of the issues raised. Alas, it didn’t. On the plus side, the sound was impressively clean and precise – SACD produced some wonderful low-level detail that had surprising presence. On the debit side, the sound still had a somewhat cramped ‘airless’ quality that lacked breadth. Climaxes would get loud, but the sound failed to expand. The lack of ambience was disconcerting. Again, the dryness of Barbican hall, and the vicissitudes of live recording would seem to be factors here. These faults are also apparent with the CD layer. But CD’s comparative lack of precision, and its tendency to generalise subtle details, makes you less aware of them.
SACD definitely puts more on the table, but in doing so it also makes you more demanding as a listener. It doesn’t flatter to deceive in the way that CD can and often does. If I were going to listen to Haitink’s new Beethoven cycle for pleasure, I’d still choose the SACD option. But like I say, there are inherent issues with the sound which SACD as a medium neither corrects nor conceals. Don’t then expect it to be a panacea for poor or difficult recordings: increased fidelity means increased honesty too – for good or ill.
I liked the NAD as a CD player. It has a very clean top-end, and this helps create a sound that’s focused and free from high-frequency edge.
It produces impressive separation between instruments and voices – in some ways even better than the ASTItrew, despite the latter’s added richness and warmth. The set of Schubert Symphonies on the Philips label with Frans Bruggen conducting the Period Instruments band Orchestra of the 18th Century illustrated this perfectly. Like other Philips recordings of these performers (and many recordings on period instruments) the CDs sound toppy and forward - a bit thin and edgy – even (at times) a shade brash and congested. Listening to the first symphony on the Arcam, I found the sound rather ‘busy’ and a touch congested. It’s partly Schubert’s scoring – lots of string instruments sawing-away for dear life, and the brass and winds blowing hard. Now this is the sort of recording I wished I had on SACD! I then switched over to the ASTINtrew At3500. It sounded slightly better –richer, smoother, and fuller. The dynamic contrasts were still projected strongly, but the presentation was cleaner and easier on the ear. Next, I tried the NAD… Tonally, this rather bright-sounding recording is not perhaps ideally suited to the NAD – itself a touch bright and forward. But the results were very interesting. Unlike the At3500, the T 585 made no attempt to smooth-over the top or add a little richness and warmth. Indeed, the sound bristled with detail. It was immediate and forward, yet at the same time was surprisingly clean. On this sort of recording, the instruments can become something of a mish-mash, With everyone playing together the sound easily grows thick and congested - a big wodge of noise. But on this difficult disc the NAD showed its mettle, producing a sound that was crisp and forward, yet remarkably clean and very wellseparated. While I still think the Arcam and ASTINtrew have a slightly richer, warmer (nicer) tonality, the NAD is cleaner on difficult congested material. Incidentally, NAD point out that the two-channel analogue output from the T 585’s SACD is pure DSD (Direct Stream Digital). Apparently, many universal players convert the DSD format into standard PCM (common to all CDs), which risks squandering many of the sonic benefits of DSD. The T 585 actually features two separate signal paths for DVD-Audio/CD and SACD, in order to maintain maximum sound quality for each format. Although the Arcam has the edge on it for SACD sound quality, the NAD proved impressive and very satisfying on its own terms. I certainly enjoyed listening to it very much.