The chassis design is a classic NAD black box and looks almost identical to products the company built 30 years ago. A nice feature is the removable jumpers between the preamp and power amp sections, providing expansion options not otherwise possible. In addition to using the C 325BEE as a preamp feeding a separate power amp, you could also use the pre-out signal to drive a subwoofer, by replacing the pre-out/main-in jumpers with Y-adaptors.
The amp comes with an easy-to-use remote control that also includes all the transport functions for the CD player. Its volume control operates smoothly and in small increments, allowing precise adjustments to listening level without abrupt changes. The remote offers no backlight at this price point, unfortunately.
The C 525BEE disc player is good sounding but a tad rough ergonomically. This isn’t a serious criticism, but an observation that the right decisions were made about where to cut costs to bring the machine to market at under $300. The drawer is undamped and makes some noise as it slides in and out, and the blue-and-white backlit display doesn’t have enough contrast to be read across the room in high ambient light.
But where it counts the player is very well executed, with improved optical tracking circuitry and a 20-bit Burr- Brown DAC chosen for low-level linearity and resolution of detail. Borrowing from much more upscale designs, the C 525BEE has separate power regulators for the digital and analog sections, for lower contamination of the analog output by digital noise. The player also features metal-film resistors and polypropylene capacitors in key areas for accurate frequency response, in addition to high-quality Burr-Brown op-amps in the output section.
Recognizing the likelihood that the C 525BEE might be used as a transport feeding an external DAC, NAD engineers buffered the coaxial output with a transformer from the converter itself. The digital output’s 75-ohm impedance is, as NAD claims, ideally matched to digital cables, reducing the potential for jitter or timing errors. Like the remote for the amplifier, the CD player’s remote is simple and easy to use, and also without a backlight. Unlike its sibling, it doesn’t operate the amp.
The owner’s manual says the C 525BEE plays standard CDs plus CD-Rs, and warns about potential playback glitches using off-brand recordable blanks. The player handled every factory-issued CD perfectly, but got a bit balky with one of my Memorex compilation discs—one that’s played in every other disc player without a problem, including a now very long-in-the-tooth Marantz CC-65SE changer.
NAD’s C 325BEE/C 525BEE combo is one of the best bargains in audio today. The pair offers superb detail, tremendous dynamics, excellent soundstaging, and a simply amazing amount of musicality at a ridiculously low price. I found them not only easy to listen to for many hours at a stretch, but also downright compelling. You may, too. TAS