We have seen an increasing number of one-box solution devices entering the market in recent times, even music enthusiasts want fewer boxes in their homes and brands including Naim, Hegel and NAD among others are competing in this sector. Recently I have been lucky enough to play host to the NAD Masters M33 BluOS streaming DAC amplifier, to give it its full name. Having previously hosted its baby brother, the M10 I thought I knew what to expect, but I have to say that the M33 is altogether more impressive than its perfectly capable smaller sibling.
Let’s talk about physical characteristics first. This is a standard width component, whose front panel is dominated by a large colour screen and a volume level read-out, which is easily read from across the room. The rear panel offers good quality speaker binding posts, and a good array of digital and analogue inputs, an IEC mains input socket, a phono input and an HDMI input. It also offers a dedicated sub-out connection. There is an ethernet input of course, and antenna connections for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. In fact it is fair to say that the M33 has you covered no matter what you want to play through it. It also has two slots available for future expansion, so NAD are doing their level best to future proof the M33.
I connected my Yamaha S-3000 SACD player via the XLR inputs, my Lyngdorf CD2 transport via one of the digital coaxial inputs, the TV into an optical input and my LP12, with a Goldring 1042 cartridge installed in the Ittok, connected to the phono input. My REL 305SE went into the sub out sockets as well as my trusty Harbeth C7ES XD loudspeakers. A Shunyata Delta VR2 mains cable completed the picture. Having already downloaded the BluOs app onto my iPad for the M10, I was pretty much good to go.
NAD quote the power output of the M33 from its Class D Purifi Eigentakt amplifier as 200 watts into 8 Ohms and 380W into 4 Ohms. The Harbeths are a pretty steady 6 Ohms across the frequency range, so I was expecting great things, and I was not disappointed. NAD set great store by the Eigentakt technology, and in particular the elimination of distortion and noise which it is said to achieve. Some you may be baulking at the mention of Class D amplification, but I use it every day in my own system and I have no issue with it. In the NAD, it pumps out oodles of clean undistorted power and an amazingly musical performance.
The M33 is also blessed with DIRAC room correction software, and there is a microphone and lead included in the box to help the owner set it up. I listened to the M33 without Dirac and in my room at least it sounded excellent. Setting up Dirac is a slightly fiddly process, but once I had accomplished it I did notice a slight improvement. The already good sound stage gained a little extra in height width and depth, and bass seemed slightly snappier. Given that it is there I would encourage a new owner to give it a try.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. My first listening session with the M33 was through the MM phono stage. Given the advanced digital technology in the M33 I was prepared for the phono stage to be there simply to, as it were, make up the numbers. Assumption, as a friend of mine says, is the mother of all foul-ups (edited for a family readership) and I was wrong have doubted the NAD engineers. This phono stage is no afterthought. For the M33 user who is more of an occasional vinyl listener it is more than good enough. It is quiet and the records that I played issued forth from the loudspeakers with plenty of drive and excellent musicality. In fact while the M33 was here, I played a lot more vinyl than I had expected, just because it sounded so good.
Similarly, when I switched from vinyl to SACD, using the DAC in the Yamaha and playing into the M33 via the XLR inputs, the result was more than pleasing. My SACD copy of Pink Floyd’s magnificent Wish You Were Here had me pinned to the listening chair – I didn’t move from the first note to the last. Other discs were similarly compelling. It is such a shame that for various reasons SACD never took up its rightful place as a mainstream music source. Played through the Yamaha/NAD combination every SACD I played sounded spectacular.
In the evenings, when Mrs K wants to relax after a busy day at her proper job (in that she goes to an office and puts in an eight plus hour day and has done throughout all the recent unpleasantness), our music system becomes our TV sound system. The M33 did an excellent job at this, with dialogue, sound effects and music all coming through full of those micro details which make for an immersive viewing experience. Our TV lacks an HDMI ARC channel which is why we use the optical connection, but even so this was a very enjoyable way to hear TV and movie sound.
And then on to BluOS, and the joys of streaming. Although the M33 is supplied with NAD’s excellent HTRM2 learning remote control, this was really only used for volume control. Everything else was done through the BluOS app, which I think is one of the best out there. It is stable and easy to use, which means a minimum of frustration and a maximum of listening pleasure. For the most part, I streamed from Tidal into the M33, and where possible listened to the MQA versions of albums. Once again, the sound quality was beyond reproach, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to a really eclectic selection of music. When I say that the sound has no character, I mean it as a sincere compliment. The M33 does not try to impose anything on the music – it stands aside and simply lets the musicians do their thing. The album cover of course is displayed in all its glory on the M33’s screen, but I don’t find that a particularly useful feature. Most manufacturers seem to think it necessary to provide such a screen, but if you are streaming from a tablet, as I was, the album art is right before you, so having it also shown across the room seems rather pointless.
Through the M33 the audio quality of music streamed from Qobuz was exemplary. I like to listen to albums from start to finish (for the most part) and what I find with streaming is that unless I am strict with myself I end up browsing for what I want to play next rather than listening to the album I have selected. I have to make myself set the tablet aside and concentrate. The sheer size of the libraries available are mind-boggling.
As part of the review, the lovely people at NAD had also sent me a BlueSound Pulse Flex2i, which is a very nifty powered loudspeaker. After a little bit of a technical tussle, I was able to set this up in a different room and have it play whatever I was listening to on the main system. It can also be used as a standalone system in its own right, and it absolutely filled our kitchen/dining room with great sound. Thoroughly recommended, either as a self-contained little music powerhouse or as a way to share music around the house.
My closing thoughts on the M33 are simple. If you are attracted to a one box solution that can do virtually anything that you ask of it in a two channel system, the M33 deserves to be at or near the top of your short list. It is well engineered, and it sounds terrific, and given all that its UK retail price makes it a real bargain. An M33, a decent pair of loudspeakers and a few bits of cable and you have a system that should give years of listening pleasure.