Introduction to the NAD VISO 1 AP AirPlay Music System
In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod portable music player. While it wasn’t the first digital player of its kind, it instantly raised the bar for build quality and convenience. With an intuitive user interface and the iTunes store behind it, Apple turned the music and AV industries down a new path, and created a standard most other manufacturers could only aspire to. Today the iPod is so far-reaching that other music players are barely even visible in the marketplace.
With millions of people now carrying mini music servers in their pockets, the methods of playback have changed too. Instead of flipping CDs; which we were all sure would be the mainstay for decades, we simply flick icons on a touchscreen. But when it comes time to remove the headphones and listen to music at home, we need to add a little more gear to the mix. Enter the iPod dock.
iPod docks have taken on a reputation akin to boom boxes but a few manufacturers have taken the time and effort to create products that will satisfy those of us who call ourselves audiophiles. It’s hard to find someone who isn’t familiar with the B&W Zeppelin, especially since you can buy it at any Apple store.
Not content with the status quo, NAD introduced its own iPod dock, the VISO, last year at CEDIA. As one would expect from this high-end company, little expense was spared in its design as it sought to bridge the iPod, and other digital music players, with quality amplification and speakers while keeping it all in a compact package.
With the proliferation of AirPlay streaming, it made sense that the second generation product should include this super-convenient feature. Hence, we have the VISO 1 AP, the subject of today’s review. Where last year’s VISO required you to chain your iPod to the unit, the AP lets you keep your iPod in your pocket so you can control your music from anywhere within reach of your WiFi network.
NAD VISO 1 AP AIRPLAY MUSIC SYSTEM SPECIFICATIONS
- Wireless Speaker System with Apple AirPlay and Bluetooth
- Built-in Wi-Fi
- Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch
- Compatible with Bluetooth-enabled Smartphones, Tablets, Computers, and Portable Devices
- Drivers: 2 x 2-3/4″ full-range, 5-3/4″ Woofers
- MFR: 50 Hz – 20 kHz
- Amp Power: 15 watts x 2, 50 watts for Woofer
- Inputs: USB, Ethernet, S/PDIF
- Dimensions: 10.25″ H x 19.1″ W x 12.25″ D
- Weight: 12.3 Pounds
- MSRP: $599 USD
- SECRETS Tags: NAD, AirPlay, Audio, Streaming, Audio
Design of the NAD VISO 1 AP AirPlay Music System
Opening the box is an almost Apple-like experience. Even the sealing tapes are printed with “Open” and “Begin Here” instructions. The first thing you encounter is a small box with the remote and power cords inside. Both 120 and 230-volt cords are included along with a micro-fiber cleaning cloth. The remote looks very similar to the one for an AppleTV but unfortunately, it’s not made from aluminum. A solid white plastic face with a black backside makes a decent substitution for Apple’s version.
On top of the accessories is a Quick Start Guide, which serves as the only printed material included in the box. In fact, the first directive is to download the manual from NAD’s website! In today’s green age, this seems appropriate enough. After all, if all our music is to be digitized, why not the instructions too? Once you get to the unit itself, it’s packed in a nice fabric drawstring bag with NAD logos on the side. And it’s a good thing too – the cabinet’s finish is a nice high gloss that you really don’t want marred.
Speaking of the cabinet, I received a white one; it’s made from a single piece of heavy plastic with a gray mesh grill around front. On the left side is a gray-trimmed port, and on the right is the power toggle. In keeping with the Apple theme, the power cord is white too. Running vertically down the center is a metal hoop made from brushed aluminum, very slick. The hoop doubles as a carry handle since it actually encircles the VISO. At its top is a small touch-panel with controls for Volume, Mute, and Source Select; which doubles as a status light.
Since this an AirPlay streaming device, the remote is optional, but if you do use it, it has a few extras not found on the front panel. At the top is the Source Select toggle. In the center is a round pad with next track/previous track, and volume up/down with a play/pause button in the center. Below this is a mute key.
On the back is a USB port which can be used to charge your iPod, or download a firmware update. A LAN connection is also included if you prefer that over WiFi. And an optical digital input gives you the additional flexibility to connect a disc player.
I was nearly finished with this review when I took a break to cover the CEDIA Expo in Denver. There, I had the opportunity to discuss the VISO’s amplifier design with Greg Stidsen of NAD. He spent some time telling me about the Direct Digital topology used in the VISO. It turns out this is the same tech found in the $6,000 M2 integrated amp. To get this in a $600 component is pretty cool. The basic premise is that the signal never exists in the analog domain. Since the VISO only accepts digital input, there isn’t even an A/D conversion in the signal path. Instead, a sophisticated closed-loop DAC directly powers the speakers. Even the Bluetooth input, which is a lossy format, is improved through the use of aptX algorithms. While the best sound comes from AirPlay and its bit-for-bit transmission, you won’t have nearly as much loss in quality as you do with traditional Bluetooth.
Setup of the NAD VISO 1 AP AirPlay Music System
There are three ways to get your VISO 1 AP onto your network. The easiest is to connect a straight-through Ethernet cable between your router and the VISO. It will then appear in the AirPlay menu on your iOS device. The second is to use the share WiFi setting. You’ll need an Apple cable which is then connected to the VISO’s USB port. Pressing M and S on the VISO brings up a Share WiFi Settings dialog. Click Allow and you’re connected. The third way requires a little more work. Press and hold S until it flashes green; you are now in Access Point Setup mode. Using your iOS device, open Safari and enter the VISO’s IP address. Then you can configure it through its built-in interface.
Here you can see the VISO showing on the list of available networks. Once you choose it, it will connect and you can access it via the IP address on your computer.
This is the main setup screen for the VISO.
Now you just select your home network to attach the VISO.
Type in the password and you’re done. You shouldn’t have to do this again, even if you power down. The VISO will remember your network and re-connect automatically.
When I setup my review sample, I used the Share WiFi method and was rewarded with success on the first try. If you plan to use the VISO in your office, the hardwired connection is quick and convenient. Using your WiFi network means you can move the VISO anywhere within your router’s range. Of course, if you want to connect your device directly through the USB port, you can do that and avoid the network entirely. You can also use Bluetooth if your device is compatible. The bottom line is, you’ll have little trouble finding some way to play your music through the VISO 1 AP.
Once connected, your options are pretty much limited to volume, mute, and source selection. There are no eq or tone controls, nor is there an input volume option to match different sources. If you’re using the VISO as a dock however, this is not an issue. In my case, I was easier just to control the volume from my iPhone’s music app. I had no need to use the included remote; and that is as it should be.
After you connect the first time, there’s no need to go through the procedure again even if you unplug the VISO. I moved it several times during my evaluation and it was able to reconnect within about 20 seconds every time. I streamed most of the content from my iPhone but a few tracks came from my computer. This is not the best way to use it since the remote will only adjust volume; you can’t change tracks or pause the music. It is, after all, an iPod dock and it should be used that way. I also liked that selecting a track from my phone would wake the VISO off when it was in standby mode. This took less than 10 seconds.
Speaking of listening, I did quite a bit. Let’s see how the VISO performs in a few different room settings.
The NAD VISO 1 AP AirPlay Music System In Use
Since this essentially a portable component, I wanted to listen to it in a variety of environments. Not only did I spend some time in my acoustically treated theater, I also used it in a large living room/kitchen space, and my small office.
Right off the bat I noticed that placement, especially in relation to nearby objects, does make an audible difference. You’ll want as much space around the VISO as possible because anything reflective (like the side of bookcase for instance) that is in its front hemisphere will affect the sound. I first set it up on a table in the corner of my office. This made it sound a little boxed in until I pulled it out to the table’s edge. If you can put the VISO two to three feet out from the corner, you’ll be fine.
Once I had it free to do its thing, I was rewarded with a nice open and airy sound; and it can play plenty loud. My office is pretty small at nine by eleven feet and the VISO didn’t break a sweat. Even in this restrictive space, it displayed tremendous dynamic range with classical music. I listened to an old but wonderful recording of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring that pounded away with its primitive driving rhythms and huge moments of brass and percussion. The opening bassoon solo had a singing quality that I particularly enjoyed. My compliments to Sherman Walt, one of the greatest bassoonists of the twentieth century, and an instructor of mine during my college days.
I followed that with another legend, Jascha Heifetz and his awe-inspiring performance of Brahms’ Violin Concerto. This recording, especially the sublime second movement, never fails to bring a tear to my eye. It was in this recording that I noticed a little directionality to the VISO’s high register. The violin sound seemed a little less sparkly until I got my ears closer to the unit’s centerline. Like any audiophile-quality speaker, the tweeters sound best when they’re at ear-level. No matter what the height though, the airiness was always there. Bear in mind, I listened at fairly high volume levels.
Moving to my dedicated listening space, I had a very different experience. With the VISO on a small stand front and center, the soundstage became much larger. While you won’t mistake it for a pair of full range towers placed eight feet apart, it certainly sounds much wider than its physical presence would suggest. Since it was completely free of obstruction, the tweeters became much more forgiving of the listener’s position. Aside from a tiny bit lobing to the sides, I noticed very little change in sound as I walked around the room.
Another thing that becomes apparent in a well-treating space is the difference in quality between various recordings. If you use the VISO in a room like this, you will notice whether your music is compressed or not. The majority of my iTunes library is in Apple Lossless format but a few rips snuck through at 256 kbps. I could tell which ones they were instantly. They sounded muddy and poorly detailed, especially as the music became more complex. Since most users will stream music from their iPods with the VISO, I highly recommend using a lossless format for best results. This is not meant to be a negative comment at all. On the contrary; it cements the VISO’s status as an audiophile-grade component.
I listened to a few tracks of Foo Fighters In Your Honor and quickly realized this was one of my compressed tracks. In fact, I immediately returned to my computer to re-rip the CD! It just didn’t sound good past mid-volume. I knew right then that the VISO was a sonically-neutral product, just as any serious component should be. Things improved greatly when I pulled up my Van Halen remaster. Now we’re talkin’! Eddie sounded fantastic as he soared and shredded his way through some of the best Eighties hard rock ever written. The detail was fabulous and that nice airy sound was back. Hearing individual pick attacks and ALL of the reverb in the vocals made the recording sound more like a live arena concert than a studio album.
I finished up with Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 from the San Francisco Symphony’s Grammy-winning SACD of 2006. I never tire of this amazing performance recorded live over multiple concerts. Here the VISO impressed me with good bass extension and a very wide soundstage. The timpani solo midway through the first movement was especially tasty as I could hear every pitch clear as day. Many lesser sound systems can’t resolve that low-end detail at all.
Believe it or not, my favorite listening experience was in the kitchen! My main living area and kitchen are open to each other so the overall space is quite large. The VISO really hit its stride here. Even at moderate volume levels, I could hear tremendous transparency in everything I played from rock and metal, to classical symphonies and chamber music. I expect most people will use the VISO in this way and it’s obvious the designers thought so too. It really is the best way to enjoy it.
Conclusions about the NAD VISO 1 AP AirPlay Music System
I really enjoyed my time with the VISO 1 AP. Its sound is far larger than one would expect from a box this small. The usability was first rate and it was super-easy to set up. There wasn’t a single hitch during the several weeks I used it. Moving it to different locations in my home demonstrated a few different personalities. In the office, the sound was tight and detailed but somewhat small. Placing it in a corner really restricted its sonic capabilities. Once I moved it into either a large open room or a treated listening space, its true audiophile capabilities shone. It seemed to have no volume limit either. No matter how high I turned up the fun, there was no harshness or loss of detail. Thanks to some high-end amplifier technology, you’ll never mistake the VISO for a boom box. Getting the same Direct Digital Amplifier design as the $6000 M2 in a $600 portable component is nothing short of incredible. Bass extension also exceeded my expectations greatly. While size does indeed matter when it comes to bass, NAD and Paul Barton have done a terrific job bending that rule in the extreme!
Thanks to the iPod and its tremendous influence on the music business, we now carry tiny music servers around wherever we go. When it’s time to take out the earbuds, having a VISO 1 AP sitting on your counter seems like the ideal component in our miniaturized, portable world. As a lifestyle product, the VISO receives my highest recommendation.