Hardware Reviews

Back to the future with NAD C3050

NAD C3050 LE streaming amplifier review https://the-ear.net

NAD C3050 LE streaming amplifier

Over the past four years I have been lucky enough to have several pieces of NAD equipment to review, and without exception I have enjoyed using them and admired their sound quality. I have also found that they represent excellent value for money, when taking into account sound quality, features, usability and build quality. Thus when offered the opportunity the retro-looking C3050 LE I was eager to get it here to put it through its paces.

When I say retro-looking, this was a deliberate design goal, with the current NAD designers taking their styling cues from a 1970s era NAD stereo amplifier, the 3030. This is company is rightfully proud of its more than half a century of producing wallet-friendly but great sounding audio equipment. For the C3050 LE, the vintage styling includes a pair of illuminated VU meters, push button source selectors, a walnut finish vinyl-clad cabinet and the original New Acoustic Dimension logo inscribed in a retro cursive typeface.

NAD C3050 LE streaming amplifier review https://the-ear.net

On the inside it is a very different story, with the C3050 LE packing a lot of twenty-first century technology. Perhaps the most important part is the well-proven hybrid digital UcD Class D amplifier technology, which offers 100 watts of continuous power into both 4 and 8 Ohm loads, with a very low total harmonic distortion of 0.03%.

The digital section sports a Texas Instruments PCM5242 high resolution differential DAC at its heart, and there is no doubt, retro looks notwithstanding, that the C3050 LE is a very digitally capable machine. On the back panel this becomes obvious, as there one finds an eARC capable HDMI input alongside connections for both optical and coaxial cables.

NAD C3050 LE streaming amplifier review https://the-ear.net

I was pleased to see that we analogue lovers are not forgotten, with a pair of RCA inputs marked Phono In and a second pair marked Line In, more on these later. There are two sets of multiway binding posts supporting two pairs of loudspeakers. As expected at this modest price point, none of the rocketry is fancy high end stuff but it is all very competent and nothing feels flimsy on either the front of rear panels.

BluOS

The review model C3050 LE came with optional BluOS MDC2 module fitted, for which a pair of antenna are supplied, one for wi-fi and one for Bluetooth connectivity to a tablet or mobile phone. There is also an ethernet connector for a wired network connection. This module provides access to both Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect. Apple Airplay is supported, so the user can stream direct from an iPhone, iPad or Mac computer. Although I did not use it for this review, the C3050 LE, using the MDC2 BluOS-D, can be part of a whole house music system, with as many as 64 zones – rather more than would be required here at Kelly Towers! I have written before about BluOS, but let me summarise my thoughts. It is one of the easiest to use of all such software that I have tried. It gives access to more than 20 of the most widely used streaming services, including Amazon music ultra HD, Deezer, Qobuz and Tidal, and as such it is the gateway to an almost infinite selection of audio material.

NAD C3050 LE streaming amplifier review https://the-ear.net

The MDC2 BluOS-D module also allows access to the DIRAC room correction software suite and a microphone is supplied for this process. I have had DIRAC here with other NAD products and while setting it up is a time-consuming and fiddly process, I can see that in some acoustically challenged rooms it will be helpful. However, I am lucky to have a room which seems to work pretty well sonically and so I started the review without DIRAC enabled.

For this review I connected my TV via optical and my Auralic Aries Mini streamer via the coax input. I plugged my Gold Note PH-10/PSU-10 phono stage into the single pair of analogue inputs, although I later swapped in that company’s less expensive PH-5/PSU-5 pairing as they were also here for review. The turntable was my own Linn Sondek LP12 with a Dynavector XX2 cartridge fitted to the Ittok arm. When the C3050 LE arrived I had a pair of Dynaudio Contour 20i speakers here for review so they were connected to the NAD with Audioquest Robin Hood cable.

The C3050 LE in use

To get the NAD warmed up I started off with one of the playlists I have built in Qobuz, kicking off with the 50th anniversary edition of the Rolling Stones Sympathy For The Devil. I was immediately drawn into the music. It was dynamic and fast with Bill Wyman’s bass and Charlie Watts’ drums adding real propulsive rhythm to proceedings, aided and abetted by the guitars of Richards and Jones. My slight concerns about matching a relatively inexpensive amplifier to the Contour20is were swept away, as feet tapped and unsolicited additional vocals were added. From then on the listening session sped by in a blur of more Stones, the Who, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Cream and a host of other favourite bands of my youth.

NAD C3050 LE streaming amplifier review https://the-ear.net

That evening, Mrs Kelly and I sat down after supper to enjoy a film, on that particular evening we happened to be in the middle of a box-set binge and had loaded up Olympus Has Fallen into the Blu-ray player. Those of you familiar with this Gerard Butler action film will know that there is a lot of gunfire and many explosions as the story unfolds. Through the optical connection to the television we were treated to the whole panoply of the sound editor’s work, which was rendered in terrific detail, with clear dialogue too. That was just our first day with the C3050 LE, but even Mrs K was impressed.

In the days that followed I threw everything I could at the C3050 LE and it handled it all with aplomb. I had several vinyl only days where the C3050 LE/Dynaudio team made wonderful music, whether I was playing what is now called classic rock, pop, classical or jazz. Cranking up the volume to almost anti-social levels the C3050 LE added no apparent distortion nor did it ever sound stressed – it just played louder. Backing off to more tolerable sensible it allowed music to flow effortlessly, with all the dynamics perfectly preserved.

When I fired up the BluOS app on my iPad and started to stream from Qobuz, playing the same tracks with which I had started the review period, I felt that the streaming module gave me just about as fine an account of the music as had my standalone streamer, which is a pretty good result given the NAD’s relatively modest price.

NAD C3050 LE streaming amplifier review https://the-ear.net

I mentioned earlier my pleasure in seeing the dual VU meters on the front of the C3050 LE. I have to say that sitting some 12 feet away across a relatively dark room I struggled to see what they were up to. However, when I went over to the rack and watched they were definitely dancing away in time to the music. In other room layouts and with better lighting they would be fun to watch for a while, although obviously hardly essential for enjoying the excellent sounds produced by the amplifiers behind them.

I also switched cartridges so that I could try the C3050 LE’s built-in phono stage, and installed the very capable Goldring1042 moving magnet in place of the Dynavector. Plugging the LP12 into the C3050 LEs phono sockets and tethering its earth lead to the ground pin, I revisited several of the albums that I had enjoyed through the moving coil set up. The difference was audible, but once I had attuned to the less expensive option I found the C3050 LE’s phono stage to be doing an excellent job, being very quiet when idle but very musical when in operation. It is a more than worthy performer and would not be out of place in far costlier amplifier than the C3050 LE

Conclusion

The whole time that I was using the NAD C3050 LE I was impressed by its ability to convey both bombastic and subtle music. The Contour20i standmounts produce an impressive level of tuneful bass for a relatively compact design, and the C3050 LE provided them with plenty of good low frequencies to work with. In fact the sound was never less than enjoyable and I actually forgot to set up DIRAC altogether, so I apologise for that oversight. It is a testament to the quality of the C3050 LE that in my room it sounded absolutely excellent straight out of the box. If your room is trickier then DIRAC could well enhance your listening pleasure.

NAD C3050 LE streaming amplifier review https://the-ear.net

This streaming amplifier is a genuine twenty first century wolf dressed in 1970s audio sheep’s clothing. If I say that it is great for the money that sounds like damning it with faint praise, but actually what I am thinking is how on earth can NAD pack so much great technology and sound into such a reasonably priced amplifier? Couple the NAD C3050 LE with any of the fantastic sounding loudspeakers available at about the same price, add in a decent turntable with a good moving magnet cartridge and you will have a sub £5,000 pound system that should give you many years of audio pleasure. The NAD C3050 LE is a bona-fide audio bargain.

Specifications:

Type: streaming amplifier & DAC
Analogue inputs: line RCA, pre-input RCA
Phono input: moving magnet
Digital inputs: coaxial, optical, HDMI eARC
Streaming: optional MDC2 BluOS module
Analogue outputs: pre-out RCA, sub-out RCA
Wi-fi: Apple Airplay 2, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect
Headphone output: 6.3mm jack
Speaker outputs: 2x 5-way binding posts
Power Output: 100W/8 & 4 Ohms
Dimensions (HxWxD): 110 x 450 x 355mm
Weight: 10kg
Warranty: 2 years

Price when tested:
£1,299
£1,649 inc MDC streaming module
Manufacturer Details:
Type:

amplifier/DAC/streamer

Author:

Chris Kelly

Distributor Details:

Sevenoaks Sound & Vision
T 01732 740 944
http://www.sevenoakssoundandvision.co.uk

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