My first amplifier of sorts was a Yamaha stereo receiver. It served its purpose but over time I found that the tuner would leak in whatever was playing on the radio out through the speakers regardless of whether I was actually listening to the radio. I needed to replace it. This happened about eight years ago and I narrowed my choices to the following list:
- Arcam A18 – $1200 CAD: 50 watts
- Cambridge audio Azur 651A – $699 CAD: 75 Watts
- Marantz PM6003 – $799 CAD: 45 watts
- NAD 326BEE – $399 CAD (on sale!): 50 watts
I really wanted the Arcam. I already owned the 280 receiver and I liked the quality of construction in all metal. It was well designed, clean and smaller. Additionally, here in Toronto it was the only one available in silver, my preferred finish. As a designer by trade, an object’s form matters just as much as its function. The top three on my list met my desire to satisfy both form and function but I was on a budget and needed something more affordable.
U.G.L.Y you ain’t got no alibi! You’re ugly!
I’ll be honest, I originally chose the NAD 326BEE mainly because it was on sale. The local HiFi dealer was running deals on NAD amps and the 326BEE had at the time, received rave reviews and it ticked all the boxes of what I was looking for: ample connections, pre-outs in case I wanted more power, a subwoofer output, and by-passable tone controls. Not having tone controls is a bit of a deal breaker for me. One of the small joys of listening to music is the ability to tweak the sound to my liking. Sound-wise, the NAD fit the bill but man it was not a looker.
I read a review somewhere which described the NAD’s build as “workmanlike”. Workmanlike is a good description. It’s almost as if the designers really favored function in creating a great sounding amplifier but then skimped on form with a plain industrial design. Viola, we have the NAD326BEE. It’s dark gray with a plastic faceplate. The layout of the front is functional but pretty bland. There is a total of 13 plastic buttons horizontally aligned in four different sizes with a large volume knob on the right. There is also a headphone jack, an MP input, an infrared remote sensor and a soft clipping indicator light clustered on the left. Everything is easily accessible and maybe that’s the point. Function over form.
So, it’s not beautifully designed, but it was on sale for a good price. It is Canadian-made and most importantly it belts out music like nothing I had heard previously. Its low-frequency prowess hooked me and paired with my Mission M32’s it was a monster! I’ve swapped my speakers a few times since then and over the years I’ve also used the NAD 326BEE with; the Mission Volare V61, B&W 685 S1 and 683 S1 and Monitor Audio RX2s. The best combination came from pairing the B&W 685 S1s with my B&W ASW610 subwoofer which takes care of the low-end where the bass is nice and deep.
Although modestly rated at 50 wpc, one big thing that really made me love the NAD was the power of this amplifier! The volume knob starts at about 8 o’clock. For day-to-day listening the knob sits at about 9 – 9:30 and if I want it loud I turn it up to 10 or 11. I’ve never needed to take it to noon! It’s not only loud but accurate with miniscule distortion!
After 8 years, I find the sound of my NAD 326BEE as good as it was when I bought it. That speaks volumes (no pun intended) to the NAD’s build quality. The only analogy is comparing it to computers, take my late 2011 Macbook Pro, after 6 years it’s on deathbed.
Eventually, I’ll need a new amp for my living room and I have my sights set on the beautiful Cambridge Audio CXA-80. Until then, I’m happy with the NAD 326BEE.
- Heavy bottom end.
- Big powerful sound.
- 2 (Two!!!) subwoofer outputs.
- Tone controls.
- It’s not going to win a beauty contest.