FIRST TESTS MUSIC STREAMER
No-frills NAD styling, but this is a capable and fine-sounding network player
EXCLUSIVE NADC446 | Music streamer | £695
Whoneeds AirPlay when streaming sounds this good?
Network music players are the big hi-fi story of the moment, and just about every manufacturer has one or more such devices in its range – or soon will – and that makes NAD the latest arrival at a party that seemed a bit slow to get going, but now shows signs of getting mighty crowded.
The C446, at £695, is pitched up against some solid competition – not least the Marantz NA7004, five-star recipient of this parish. Clearly it’s got its work cut out.
And at first glance, things are a bit ho-hum: the NAD doesn’t have Apple AirPlay, and the USB on the clean, unfussy front panel is designed for thumb-drives and the like: if you want to hook up your iPod you’re going to need a dedicated dock plugged into a rear-panel socket.
Not entirely appless Neither is there a dedicated iPhone app to drive the NAD, but it has a trick up its sleeve: as well as having FM RDS/DAB+/AM tuners, internet/streaming radio access and the usual network client functions,
meaning it can find and play music stored on UPnP/DLNA devices, it can also work as a network receiver, playing music streamed to it under the control of an external computer or portable device.
We ran it with Twonky Mobile, a £1.99 iTunes download, on an iPod Touch, and while it doesn’t have the ‘point and squirt’ appeal of AirPlay, it works smoothly and reliably – after a bit of familiarisation.
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Mike Garson Bowie Variations Beautifully recorded piano versions of the Dame’s top tunes
Deceptively detailed sound The sound here is the easy bit: like the styling, it’s very NAD, meaning deceptively detailed and powerful given the impression of ease and unflappability the player demonstrates. Everything’s there, from gutsy basslines to open, reverberant recorded acoustics, but it’s not slung at you in a series of displays of ability; rather it simply reinforces the quality of the music.
Overlook the NAD at your peril: this is both a deceptively flexible addition to the music-streaming ranks and a fine-sounding one. It definitely deserves a serious listen.
TECH SPECS Inputs USB, iPod dock, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, FM, DAB and AM antennae • Outputs Line stereo, optical digital • File formats MP3, WAV, FLAC, AAC, WMA • DAC 24-bit/192kHz • Dimensions (hwd) 44 x 10 x 34cm • Weight 4.65kg
FOR Flexibility, big, powerful and well-detailed sound; fine value for money
AGAINST No AirPlay, no dedicated control apps – if those are important to you
VERDICT NAD does it diﬀerently again, and comes up with a streaming bargain
Needs to beat Marantz NA7004 £600 ★★★★★ The addition of Apple AirPlay streaming – not to mention a price cut – has made the NA 7004 an excellent buy
NEED TOKNOW Consider if You want a streamer that puts audio performance for your money ahead of the latest fashionable features. And listen long and hard – it’s addictive.
Make sure You can connect it using wired Ethernet if at all possible: it doesn’t make the NAD sound better, but it gives a more reliable connection, which means fewer drop-outs.
Avoid Low bitrate rips of your favourite tunes: the NAD handles them in a more flattering manner than some rivals, but thrives with higher-quality music files.
You’ll need A decent system to make the most of the NAD’s big, powerful sound. And, for preference, wired ethernet, as already mentioned, plus separate DAB and FM aerials.
Highlight The ease with which the C446 plays even the most demanding music: the easygoing sound is the result of power, smoothness and absolute control. Lovely! DOCK < HEADPHONES < PROJECTOR FIRST TESTS
Cambridge Audio iD100 | iPod/iPad dock | £150
Digital dock is a binary belter
Docks that extract digital information from Apple devices are rare, so Cambridge Audio is to be applauded by also making its new iD100 digital dock iPad-compatible.
It’s well equipped, with S/PDIF, digital optical and balanced XLR outputs for connection to a DAC, AV amp or the like accompanied by switchable composite/ S-Video/component video outputs for hooking up to a screen or projector.
There’s no doubt that listening to the likes of Foo Fighters’ Monkey Wrench via the iD100 and a dedicated DAC wipes the floor, in performance terms, with using your Apple device’s on-board digital-toanalogue conversion. Detail, focus and staging are all superior, and timing is of a different order altogether. But while the Cambridge is better than no digital dock at all, it’s not the best-sounding one we’ve heard. Some rivals offer more detail, tauter bass and less splashy treble.
That said, no rival can dock an iPad (and the iD100 is the ideal way to hear Bjork’s new album, reviewed on p86) but if outright quality is your absolute top priority, the iD100 falls slightly short.
FOR Great flexibility, spec-wise; open, nicely focused sound
AGAINST Bass could be better defined; treble is on the hard side
VERDICT If digital iPad docking is what you require, jump in – with a decent DAC, of course
Marshall Major | Headphones | £100
No encore for Marshalls
Tell someone you strapped a pair of Marshalls to your head and they’d either salute your commitment to rock or start using sign language. Maybe both.
It’s lucky, then, that these aren’t the stage-shaking guitar amps the firm is famous for. The Majors look classy with their brown faux-leather headband, gold jack plug and retro curly lead.
For authenticity’s sake, we spun a copy of Skid Row’s first album and, while Sebastian Bach’s vocals were clear and the guitars sang through, the presentation gets shouty and harsh at the top end, with little bass oompf. They time rather poorly in comparison with the best at this price, too. On the other side of the musical coin, Tori Amos’s Bliss lacked the purity we’d have liked.
But if you want something stylish, and like your rock, they’re worth a try.
You also get an inline mic/remote and a 6.3mm adaptor plug
VERDICT Great retro looks and that famous logo don’t entirely make up for a slightly confused, shouty performance
BenQW1200 | Projector | £1200
Bargain BenQ rewrites the rules for budget projectors
We’ve become used to the ever-increasing quality and value offered by today’s display devices but, even so, there’s still room for the occasional surprise package. And that’s certainly what BenQ has managed to deliver with the W1200.
Simply put, this compact projector is almost insanely cheap. It’s so impressive, it can stand comparison with the best £2000 designs on the market – and possibly even products costing more than that.
Based on DLP (Digital Light Processing) technology, the BenQ combines a useful degree of plug-in-and-go simplicity with all the adjustability an enthusiast could want, including provision for a professional picture calibration by an ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) technician.
Very little to complain about Criticisms are few: there’s no vertical lens shift adjustment so, unlike Epson’s rival designs, a table-top installation might be a little more convoluted than with some rivals. You might also find that the Frame Interpolation processing – which attempts
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True Grit Prodigious imagery deserves an image to match, and the BenQ will deliver in style
The W1200 may not oﬀer 3D viewing, but this projector packs a picture to amaze to smooth motion, much as similar modes would do on the latest smart TVs – can be a hit and miss affair, with movement on the ‘smoothed’ film frequently looking too much like video for our tastes.
But that’s about your lot. Otherwise, you’ve got it all here: bright, punchy whites, spectacular colours, respectable black depth and very little apparent picture noise, plus no discernible deterioration from the so-called ‘rainbow effect’, which can plague cheap DLP projectors. It’s even fairly quiet. What more do you want – cake?
FOR Astonishing picture quality; value; plenty of adjustability; did we mention the picture?
AGAINST No vertical lens shift, so it’s not ideal for using on a coﬀee table
VERDICT One of the biggest bargains we’ve tested in ages. Make sure you see one in action
Also consider Epson EH-TW3600 £1300 ★★★★★ This LCD model is the BenQ’s biggest rival www.whathifi.com 17