How easy is the VISO 1 to use? A personal anecdote may prove illustrative. Over the years, my family members have seen dozens if not hundreds of pieces review gear come and go through our home. To date, the VISO 1 is the only audio system—absolutely the only one—my wife found friendly, accessible, and desirable enough that she chose to use it on her own, without no guidance from me at all. That speaks volumes for the sheer usability of the VISO 1.
The VISO 1 lends itself to two different listening applications. First, it can serve very effectively as a whole room audio system for use in small to mid-size rooms—and one with unexpectedly high output capabilities. Second, the VISO 1 can also work well for up close or near field listening, provided you make a point of engaging NAD’s Near Field listening mode. The normal (default) voicing curve for the VISO 1 is geared for whole room applications where listeners typically would stand well back from the system. For listening at close range, however, a different voicing curve—one that slightly reduces treble output—is desirable, which is just what the Near Field mode provides.
Before I offer any comments on the VISO 1’s sound, let me set some context for our discussion by reminding listeners that the system measures 18.9” high x 10.25” high x 11.8” deep. In short, the VISO 1 is a bit larger than some competing “iPod speakers”, but nowhere near as a large as full-size (or even compact) component-based hi-fi system.
Several things about the VISO 1 immediately jump out at first-time listeners, the first of which is the VISO 1’s unusually full-bodied (and full-range) sound. Most iPod speakers sound, in some sense, small—probably because they are small. But the VISO 1 is different, so that, if you listened with your eyes closed, you might easily imagine it to be a mid-sized component-based system, or even something larger than that.
Next, the system’s bass consistently wows listeners with its depth, power, and punch. While I wouldn’t say the VISO 1 low-end is fully the equal of today’s better mid-priced floorstanders, it’s not terribly far off from their general level of performance. In particular, the VISO 1’s mid-bass is nicely weighted and authoritative—never thin or anemic, so that the only time you might notice the NAD’s low-end limitations is if you either play a steady stream of pipe organ music or attempt to listen at unrealistically high volume levels (at which point the VISO will start to sound a bit overworked). But most of the time, and on most types of music, the low frequency output is very satisfying.
Third, in contrast to the often-pronounced sonic colorations exhibited by most iPod speaker systems, the VISO 1 offers astonishingly smooth, even, and neutrally balanced response from top to bottom. These qualities of evenness, neutrality, and balance are, in my view, the VISO 1’s greatest strengths—the qualities that set it apart as something special. Part of the credit goes to the VISO 1’s PSB-developed drivers (and custom DSP-driven EQ curves), while part goes to NAD’s very low distortion class D amplifier modules. Either way, the whole, here, is greater than the sum of the parts.
The VISO 1 does a good, though perhaps not great job of getting sound “off the box” while producing enjoyable soundstages. Granted those stages are not as wide as they might be with a conventional stereo speaker system, but the system’s soundstaging is impressive nonetheless when you consider that the VISO 1 is less than two feet wide. More to the point, the VISO 1 will work—and work well—in environments (such as kitchens, breakfast nooks, workrooms, etc.) where a conventional stereo system would never fit in.
Early on, I would have said the VISO 1 worked far better for whole-room applications than for listening from up close—as in, say, a desktop environment. This is true partly because the system’s standard voicing can seem a little too bright when heard at very close range, but also because the system’s sound doesn’t seem to “gel” as well for only a few feet away. However, the VISO 1 Owner’s Manual contains a well-kept secret, which is that NAD offers an optional Near Field listening mode, which can help a lot, NAD describes the Near Field mode as “a special feature that subtly reduces the amount of high frequency power to optimize performance for ‘near field’ listening.” To my ears, the Near Field mode did, as advertised, tame the problem of excess brightness, but it also improved the close-range coherency of the system for better imaging and soundstaging.