So, having established the amp’s undoubted hi-fi credentials, what’s it doing with the music? Well, it was so obvious that the NAD would benefit from a better source than the ones I had to hand that, risking a lifetime of lower back pain on your behalf, I lugged the amp down to my local dealers, to test its mettle against more deserving opponents. We settled on the £4K Accuphase DP500 CD player, and stuck in the £2K Accuphase E213 integrated amp as an interesting comparative exercise. The NAD immediately bested the Accuphase amp on sheer grunt, its 180 Watts clearly offering better bass control and depth than the Accuphase’s 90, but the Accuphase edged it in terms of sheer musicality and communication. Whereas the NAD was gutsy, dynamic and imperious in its nonchalant control, the Accuphase had a hint more tonal colour, openness and a longer, deeper decay to notes which made it more sensitive to nuance than the M3. Crucially, the area where the NAD had to concede most was in terms of musical interaction: small-scale, intimate bands like Pink Martini sounded far tighter and more together through the Accuphase; through the NAD the music was wonderfully lush and expressive, but the Accuphase made the sheer quality of their musicianship more obvious, albeit in a system built around its strengths and needs. That the NAD competes so well means that in the real world it should be taken very seriously indeed.
There is a final caveat. Like many powerful amps, the NAD M3 likes to be put to work. At lower levels it feels like it is idling, (which it probably is), the speed, smoothness and sophistication are still there, but the gravitas and the dynamics recede unless you open it up, such that you might just miss the point. If quiet, late-night listening is your thing, or you live in close proximity to your neighbours, the M3 might fail to impress because you’re not asking enough of it. Find an opportunity to stretch it, however, and there is little to touch it at anything like the price. NAD’s reputation for value continues, undiminished, at a whole new price level. Cojones indeed.