NAD T758 V3 A/V Receiver Review

NAD T758 V3 A/V Receiver Review

Date: 2019-12-16

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Modularity allows upgrades
Dirac room correction
BluOS audio streaming
Atmos 7.1.4 capable with external amplification
Minus
Only three HDMI inputs
No DTS:X (yet)
Dirac execution more complex than most auto room EQ

THE VERDICT
NAD's modular-upgrade strategy endows V3 of the T758 with bleeding-edge room correction and audio streaming without impairing its excellent sound.

Why on earth would a magazine devoted to the latest and greatest in surround sound review a receiver that made its debut in 2011? Seven years in receiver years is - well, a lot of years. But the NAD T758 V3 is not some old wheezer on its way out. The company's Modular Design Construction allows the addition or swapping of slide-in modules offering new connections or features. "Instead of planned obsolescence," the company says, "we have planned evolution."

The combination VM130 video and AM230 audio module that pushes this model from V2 to V3 adds Ultra HD video, Dolby Atmos, USB, and - via USB dongle - plug-ins for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, thus accommodating a control app and NAD's BluOS, a grab bag of wireless audio streaming and multi-room features. The V3 also swaps out the previously used Audyssey room correction (which was pretty spiffy and convenient to begin with) with bleeding-edge-but-nerdy Dirac Live LE, making this one of the few receivers to have it. To accommodate the new board, the V3 loses one HDMI input, leaving only three in total for the receiver (plus one output), as well as two digital audio inputs (choose optical or coaxial for either). Having just three HDMI inputs is a notable limitation to be aware of, but probably not a deal breaker for most systems. Three is enough for a set-top TV box, a Blu-ray player, and either a streaming video player (Roku, Apple TV, etc.) or a game console - but not both. However, your streaming hub might be integrated today within your game console, or in your TV or Blu-ray player. In keeping with the times, legacy composite video inputs are absent altogether, having been eliminated in the V2.

With TuneIn internet radio added via the BluOS functionality, NAD has also decided to avoid duplication and cut costs by eliminating the FM tuner. While that eliminates your local radio stations, you get them back again in streaming form along with stations from all over the world. Unless you have an analog-FM fetish, you'll probably agree it's more than a fair trade. [Editor's Note: OK, so the purging of FM tuners I've long predicted begins. Should we still call this a receiver? I suppose it's still receiving radio signals, just via the internet, right? - RS]

Affordable High End
For the few readers unacquainted with NAD, this British-turned- Canadian audio brand first became famous for the legendary 3020 stereo integrated amp. Now part of the Lenbrook Group, which also markets PSB speakers and Bluesound streaming audio products, it has a healthy line of two-channel and surround products. Among the surround products, the only other model to get a V3 upgrade so far is the brawnier T777 receiver; both the T758 and T777 have seven amp channels. NAD's expertise in bringing high-end values to affordable price points makes it a friend to thrifty audiophiles.

The T758 V3 is classic NAD, with a plain faceplate and minimal front-panel controls. Other than the volume knob and navigation rocker, with its menu button, the only other buttons provided are source up/down and listening mode. They are almost puritanically small, but the NAD ethos is to put the good stuff under the hood, where you can manipulate it via remote control or the new control app. The remote is sensible looking, with controls well differentiated by size, shape, color, and layout. A second, smaller remote is supplied for Zone 2 operation.

Rated power is 110 watts times two and 60 watts times seven, NAD being among the few manufacturers to provide an all-channels-driven spec. (As always, you can check that against our Test Bench specs.) Those seven amp channels are enough to run a 5.1.2-speaker configuration with two front height channels for Dolby Atmos or, not as much fun in my opinion, a 7.1-channel configuration with back-surrounds. You can add rear height channels to achieve 5.1.4 with connection of two channels of external amplification to the appropriate line outputs on the back, or also add back-surrounds for this unit's maximum 7.1.4 configuration with an additional two channels of external power (though in that case you might be an 11-channel receiver or even separates guy). DTS:X was absent at press time but planned in a future software update.

The VM130/AM230 upgrade module contains all the aforementioned video and audio connections plus a USB jack. Out of the latter hangs an included USB hub with four ports. I filled three of them with the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth thumb antennas/dongles, plus an included microphone preamplifier for the Dirac room correction.

Ultra HD passthrough runs at a maximum of 60 frames per second with 4:4:4 color sampling (in other words, no color compression) and with HDR10 picture-optimizing metadata (but not Dolby Vision - so far). The company says that "Because the ARM processor we use for Bluesound and its BluOS High Res Network Streaming operating system also has extensive video processing capabilities, we were able to use this processor to manage the video and also allow BluOS network streaming, a major new feature upgrade." NAD provides no video scaling, saying that job is better left to the video display - a tack also taken lately by other AVR makers in all but their most premium models. HDCP 2.2 DRM ensures an orderly copyright hand- shake with UHD sources.

Doing Dirac
But the biggest story here is the addition of Dirac, from the 15- year-old Swedish company that offers room correction for high-end home theater systems as well as audio processing for mobile and automotive use. NAD has not just adopted Dirac Live LE but also gotten PSB's speaker-designing eminence grise Paul Barton to tweak it. Barton created microphone calibration curves and a "Room-Feel" target "that is informed by his extensive research into acoustics and human perception of sound."

He also made the potentially valuable suggestion to keep the full impulse response correction of Dirac Live (which deals with time and phase anomalies) but also limit its frequency response corrections (i.e., equalization) to frequencies below 500 hertz. This bass range is where most rooms have the largest impact on performance. Many audiophiles prefer to avoid electronic tampering with their system's midrange character and instead tweak the listening experience with acoustic treatments to the room. There is a camp that advocates for doing both. If you want full frequency response correction, you can download the standard Dirac software for $99 extra.

Most receivers have a combined auto setup and room correction program. Dirac works differently, leaving speaker settings to be manually input by the user and performing only room correction. Note that this receiver requires you to specify your speaker characteristics in the Speaker Configuration menu and then assign amp channels to either height or back-surround duties in a separate Amplifier menu. That's somewhat unusual and not well flagged in the manual. Failing to set both menus properly could result in the Dirac software not "hearing" your height or back-surround speakers and result in error messages, as occurred for me initially until I got things straightened out with a little help from NAD.

Even without this hitch, setting up for a Dirac run proved less straightforward than running the software in most AVRs. It involves linking together a chain of four included items. You end up with the microphone plugged into a barrel adapter, plugged into a USB mic preamp, plugged into a USB hub, plugged into the USB jack of the VM130 module on the back panel. The USB mic preamp can also be plugged directly into a PC, though your firewall and antivirus software might have to be disabled to allow the receiver to be recognized by Dirac - potentially leaving you open to criminal hackers during testing. Mac users must also select the USB Microphone in sound settings. Additionally, both the AVR and computer must be on the same local network.

Once the setup was properly configured, I then used the software in the computer to measure the room acoustics from nine listening positions, loaded NAD's proprietary RoomFeel target onto each group of channels, ordered the program to optimize settings, saved the project, and finally exported the settings to the AVR. You can save up to three versions in the software and select them in the receiver's interface. The target-loading and optimizing steps share the same Filter Design tab on the PC-app user interface, and the app doesn't step you through them sequentially - I needed a bit of extra hand-holding from NAD to get it right. NAD does offer a step-by-step video on its website and context-sensitive help in the Dirac app.

Ultimately, Dirac is an audio tweaker's paradise; it's great to see how your system measures in your room and how the program corrects it. And the results, as you'll read below, were excellent. But be advised that, compared with the plug-and-play simplicity of most auto-correction schemes, the learn- ing curve for this one is steep.

Associated equipment included five Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 speakers, two Klipsch RP-140SA elevation modules, Paradigm Seismic 110 subwoofer, Oppo BDP-83 universal disc player, Micro Seiki BL-51 turntable, Shure M97xE cartridge, and Denon PRA-S10 serving as phono preamp. All movie demos were on Blu-ray Disc.

Tighter and Snappier
Desultory break-in listening, before room correction, revealed a reasonably neutral amplifier with no gross flaws or additive character. NAD is good at that. With Dirac, the most obvious difference was the improvement in bass response, which zapped my room's standing wave and tightened rhythm sec- tions. Leaving the basic midrange character of my room and speakers intact was no burden - the room's balance of frequencies is agreeably listenable, if not unflawed, and the speakers are pretty neutral. The impulse response correction was more subtle, and where room correction is concerned, subtlety is not a bad thing. Imaging improvements were minor, but everything from top to bottom seemed a little snappier.

The Guy Ritchie bomb King Arthur: Legends of the Sword was a Dolby Atmos feast, giving the height channels a good workout. Even with only one pair of Atmos speakers sup- ported by the seven-channel receiver, the soundfield was big, airy, and not terribly speaker bound, especially in front. What my notes call an "EZ tonal balance" didn't prevent a finicky approach to detail, especially in the score's buzzing trombone and cello flourishes, souped up in the mix for maximum menace. Well-measured bass rounded out the package.

The Zookeeper's Wife (DTS-HD Master Audio) is a true story about zookeepers who provided escape and refuge for people from Warsaw's Jewish ghetto during World War II. The Nazi bombing of the zoo was all too forceful and evocative. This soundtrack had a warmer, softer feel and a slightly less vivid soundfield, though the receiver didn't allow the softening to impair dialogue intelligibility.

The finale was Game of Thrones, season seven, episodes one to three, an even more vigorous celebration of Dolby Atmos. As the White Walkers rose out of the mist in "Dragonstone," the mix threw a surprisingly large proportion of the orchestral score into my up-firing Klipsch elevation modules. The battle of two naval fleets in "Stormborn" became more of a medieval battle scene as armed men crossed between boats and attacked hand to hand, filling the soundfield with mayhem - this was perhaps the only scene where I would have liked to have been running at least four height channels. It became abundantly clear in this scene that the net effect of Dirac room correction and height effects was greater than the sum of its parts, the room correction sharpening perception of numerous fast-moving objects rioting throughout the wedge-shaped soundfield.

Bliss of Bis
Sibelius's Kullervo and other works featured Osmo Vänskä leading the Minnesota Orchestra and YL Male Voice Choir on yet another beautifully recorded multichannel hybrid SACD from the Swedish label Bis. (Vänskä's Beethoven cycle is my go-to hi-res surround version.) The soundfield was extremely airy - probably because the receiver was receiving multichannel PCM from the disc player and upmixing it to Dolby Surround, with its simulated height effects, by default. But even with Dolby Surround switched off in the GUI, the soundfield was fine-grained and colorful, with notably clear, sumptuous, and well-integrated decays, especially with a solo clarinet part in the second movement. There was also a strong spatial sense of the venue, possibly a mixture of the RoomFeel target and information embedded in the recording.

Billy Cobham's second solo album Crosswinds (LP) harnessed his tireless and sometimes explosive drumming to a percolating jazz-funk groove, serviced by the Brecker brothers and the late guitarist John Abercrombie. I compared the room-corrected stereo mode to analog bypass and tried to listen beyond the obvious sub-on, sub-off distinction. I was well into side two before realizing that the soundstage was getting a little extra focus from Dirac, though again, it was subtle.

Once I got used to tight, fast rhythm sections, I couldn't resist going for more. Stewart Copeland's prodigious playing on the second Police album, Reggatta de Blanc (LP), never sounded more disciplined and satisfying. But the room correction also excavated several distinctive high-frequency textures from his cymbal work. Andy Summers' Telecaster was also a feast of spidery tone as he worked his way through tremolo, phase shifter, and other effects. Dirac rocked this album hard yet subtly.

The Bluesound app was easy to install and trouble free, not balky or buggy as some are. The 16 supported streaming services included some new to me (Calm Radio, Murfie, WiMP). Pandora was not among them, so I wasn't able to access my free account, but Radio Paradise was an adequate substitute. It describes itself as "a unique blend of many styles and genres of music, carefully selected and mixed by two real human beings." NAD gives it special prominence, along with TuneIn, on the streaming home screen.

NAD's Modular Design Construction makes V3 of the T758 a special occasion as one of the small but growing number of surround products with Dirac. Putting aside the aforementioned challenges with learning to use it, it's an empowering tool for the questing audio tweaker who wants the flexibility to experiment with room correction parameters. Coupled here with this fine-sounding receiver, the audible results are beautiful.

Specs
Power Output: 110 watts (8 ohms, 2 channels driven); 60 watts (8 ohms, all channels driven)
Auto Setup: Dirac Live LE
Video Processing: 4K passthrough, HDR10, 4:4:4, 60 fps
Dimensions (WxHxD, Inches): 17.13 x 6.81 x 15.81
Weight (Pounds): 33.9
Video Inputs: HDMI 2.0a (3)
Audio Inputs: Coaxial digital (2), optical digital (3, 1 front), stereo analog RCA (4, 1 front), 7.1-channel analog (1)
Additional: Ethernet (1), USB (1)
Video Outputs: HDMI 2.0a (1)
Audio Outputs: Stereo analog (1), 11.1-channel preamp (1), ¼-inch headphone
Additional: RS-232 (1), 12-volt trigger (1), IR (1 in, 2 out)

Why on earth would a magazine devoted to the latest and greatest in surround sound review a receiver that made its debut in 2011? Seven years in receiver years is - well, a lot of years. But the NAD T758 V3 is not some old wheezer on its way out. The company's Modular Design Construction allows the addition or swapping of slide-in modules offering new connections or features. "Instead of planned obsolescence," the company says, "we have planned evolution."


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