Moreover, the NAD C368 features modular design that can accommodate a variety of upgrade modules, such as 1080p (4K is planned for the future) video-capable HDMI-switching, additional digital inputs, and Hi-Res multi-room wireless connectivity. The review unit has the BluOS module upgrade that allows the C368 to access the local area network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi to stream high-resolution music, including to other BluOS-enabled music systems.
NAD C368 Hybrid Digital DAC Amplifier
- One-box system with many functions: integrated amplifier, stereo preamplifier, DAC, headphone amplifier, Bluetooth playback/streamer.
- Additional features with the BluOS module upgrade: network multi-room capable streamer, USB-disk music player, Ethernet/Wi-Fi connectivity, smartphone/tablet/laptop control using multi-platform BluOS app.
- Support for Hi-Res Audio format.
- Subwoofer/preamp adjustable outputs.
- Powerful class-D onboard stereo amplifier, which is bridgeable.
- Strong all-around sonic performer.
- Solid built quality.
When I hear the brand name ‘NAD’, the image of a plain-looking product with conservative, no nonsense features comes to mind, from owning some NAD products in the past. NAD might not offer fancy features such as the ones by the mass-market brands, but its products are usually sturdy, functional-looking, reasonably priced, and more importantly, good performers. However, lately NAD seems to be moving away from its traditional mold and venturing into innovative designs, inside and out. Its sister company, beautifully designed BlueSound, has become known for its innovative high-resolution wireless whole-house music systems. NAD itself has stated on its website that it has moved away from the traditional Class AB amplifiers design into the realm of more-efficient Class D designs.
LINE INPUT, PRE OUT THD (20 Hz – 20 kHz):
<0.005 % at 2 V out
>106 dB (IHF; A-weighted, ref. 500 mV out, unity gain)
20 Hz – 20 kHz ±0.3 dB
Treble: ±7.0 dB at 20 kHz
Bass: ±7.0dB at 60 Hz
PHONO INPUT, PRE OUT THD (20 Hz – 20 kHz):
<0.01 % at 2 V out
>84 dB (200 ohms source; A-weighted, ref. 500 mV out)
>76 dB (MM cartridge source, IHF; A-weighted, ref. 500 mV out)
1.44 mV (ref. 500 mV out, volume maximum)
20 Hz – 20 kHz ±0.3 dB
Maximum input signal at 1kHz:
>80 mVrms (ref. 0.1 % THD)
LINE INPUT, HEADPHONE OUT THD (20 Hz – 20 kHz):
<0.005 % at 1V out
>110 dB (32 ohms loads; A-weighted, ref. 2V out, unity gain)
20 Hz – 20 kHz ±0.3 dB
>60 dB at 1kHz
LINE IN, SPEAKER OUT Continuous output power into 8 ohms and 4 ohms:
80W (ref. 20 Hz-20 kHz at rated THD, both channels driven), 160W (bridge mode)
THD (20 Hz – 20 kHz):
<0.03 % (250 mW to 80 W, 8 ohms and 4 ohms)
>98 dB (A-weighted, 500 mV input, ref. 1 W out in 8 ohms)
>95 W (at 1 kHz 0.1 % THD), >170 W (bridge mode)
IHF dynamic power:
8 ohms: 120 W, 250 W (bridge mode)
4 ohms: 200 W, 350 W (bridge mode)
2 ohms: 250 W, 400 W (bridge mode)
Peak output current:
>20 A (in 1 ohm, 1 ms)
>300 (ref. 8 ohms, 20Hz to 6.5kHz)
20 Hz – 20 kHz ±0.3 dB
>75 dB (1 kHz), >70 dB (10 kHz)
Supports bit rate/sample rate:
up to 24 bit/192 kHz
DIMENSION AND WEIGHT Gross dimensions (W x H x D):
435 mm x 100 mm x 390 mm (17″ x 3″ x 15 ″)
7.8 kg (17.2 lbs)
10.1 kg (22.3 lbs)
$899 (basic) + $399 (with optional BluOS module as tested)
NAD, Hybrid Digital, DAC, DAC Amplifier Reviews 2017
Recent NAD product offerings do reflect the embodiment of the modern innovative designs, such as the product reviewed here, the C368. With its onboard stereo amplification and analog input switching function, which includes a phono input, the C368 may be mistaken as a conventional integrated amplifier. On closer inspection however, it proves to be much more. Besides doing the usual integrated-amplifier tasks, the basic C368 can also serve as a DAC for various digital sources, including the ones transmitted wirelessly using Bluetooth two-way (receive and transmit) streaming capability with aptX support. As if that is not enough, the C368 is also equipped with a separate headphone amplifier. Moreover, the C368 features the company’s own Modular Design Construction (MDC), which means it can be upgraded to carry two additional options. Therefore, the list of features is rather long for a product that carries a price tag of $899.
The review unit comes with the optional BluOS module installed (additional $399), which adds high-resolution multi-room audio-streaming capability through the local area network. It is hard to think of another product that is loaded with such extensive features, except maybe the big brother to the C368, which is the C388.
The BluOS module also allows for easy integration with other BluOS-enabled products for a wireless multi-room music system. Not only is the C368 loaded with features, but also a strong all-around sonic performer with high bit-rates processing capable of accommodating current state-of-the-art high-definition music streaming, further elevating its performance.
The C368 has the typical NAD-component appearance: a gray box with simple design accents. The unit is solidly built with a good built quality. Its faceplate is relatively clean with only an LCD display, headphone jack, some buttons (stand-by, up-down source selectors, and navigation/enter button), and volume knob occupying its landscape.
On the rear are both analog and digital coaxial, optical inputs, along with an AC main socket, main power on/off switch, Bluetooth antenna receptacle, and speaker-level outputs. The C368 also provides a set of analog outputs, which can be configured as pre-out or sub-out, depending on the need. When these outputs are configured as pre-out, the C368 can serve as a full-range preamplifier to be connected to an external amplifier. The sub-out mode will pass through signals below 150 Hz to drive a powered subwoofer. Besides those inputs and outputs, the C368 is also equipped with 12V triggers in and out, IR in and out (for remote operation), and RS-232 port for interfacing with compatible devices.
The NAD’s exclusive Modular Design Construction (MDC) topology appears in the form of two available slots for the installation of optional upgrade modules, expanding the capabilities of the unit. The manual which is quite concise and clear, mentions the optional MDC modules, which include DD HDM-1 (Direct Digital HDMI), DD USB 2.0, and BluOS. The DD HDM-1 module adds 1080p 3D-capable HDMI video switching capability with three HDMI input terminals and an HDMI output (video passthrough). This can be useful if you are trying to decode the digital audio signals from the HDMI output of your cable box, BluRay player or other video playback device.
The DD USB 2.0 module adds USB connectivity for audio playback from computers or mass storage devices. The BluOS module adds multi-room networked music management through its BluOS operating system, which was developed by the NAD’s sister company, Bluesound. With this module, network streaming can be done from a local network music library and from various internet music streaming services, such as Spotify, TIDAL, TuneIn, etc. The use of the BluOS operating system is primarily driven by its true high-resolution 24 bit/192 kHz wireless processing capability.
The review unit arrived with the BluOS module installed and hence, BluOS appears as one of the input sources of the C368. Looking at the manual, installing the MDC module yourself should not be too difficult either. All you need to do is open one of the slot covers on the back of the C368 by loosening up the holding screws, insert in the module through the rail until the connector fully locks in and fix back the screws that secure the module in place. Once installed, the module is plug-and-play in nature.
In the BluOS mode, the C368 can be controlled conveniently from the BluOS app on your smartphone/tablet. This app can be downloaded for free and is available for various platforms: iOS, Android, Windows and MAC OS X. The latest version of the app at the time of the publication (version 2.10.0) has a good, intuitive user interface. It is the same app that is used to control the BluOS family of products from Bluesound. In fact, with the BluOS module installed, the NAD C368 can work and be managed together with other Bluesound products.
The company was kind enough to include a Bluesound Pulse Mini wireless speaker for this review to satisfy my curiosity on the integration of the NAD and Bluesound products. Note that the BluOS module has its own Bluetooth feature. Thus, it comes with a Bluetooth antenna to be connected to the appropriate receptacle on the module. With the current firmware, the Bluetooth on the BluOS module will overwrite the one on the basic C368 unit, so the Bluetooth operation should be done through the BluOS input channel while the unit’s Bluetooth input channel will cease to be selectable as a source.
The BluOS module can access the local area network using an Ethernet cable or using the provided Wi-Fi dongle inserted into one of the USB ports available on the module. The Ethernet connection is of course, the simpler of the two; I tried both methods with no difficulty. Besides accommodating the supplied Wi-Fi dongle, the USB ports on the BluOS module have another neat function which somehow is not well explained in the manual. When a disk drive is connected to one of these USB ports, the C368/BluOS will automatically catalogue the music files in the drive (mp3, AAC, WAV, etc.) and allow the control of their playback using the BluOS app. Very nice surprise indeed.
Overall, the initial setup process of the C368 is relatively simple and intuitive. I like the menu system of the C368, which can be accessed using the front-panel button or from the remote control. I used a combination of both for the initial setup. Input setup and C368 operational features are easy to set and can be done quickly. The C368 also has an auto-on feature, which powers on the unit from stand-by when sensing an audio signal from one of its analog or digital inputs. The only part that requires a bit more attention during the setup is the wireless feature, which includes Bluetooth and network connectivity. But once, the C368 is connected to the home network and can be seen in the BluOS app, the wireless operation of the C368 is a snap.
For daily operation of the C368 I used mostly its remote control, which feels sturdy and sits well in the hand. It has a nice button arrangement and can be used to control other NAD equipment. I also like the fact that the remote has some buttons allocated for BluOS playback controls, such as play, pause, and jump forward/backward. But most of the time when in BluOS mode, I used my smartphone for controlling the playback, which was more convenient and allowed me to have more controls over its features, including the operation of the Bluesound Pulse Mini. It also gave me control from anywhere in the house.
With the long list of features that the C368 offers, it is a pity that a home-theater bypass is not currently included. Many people have integrated stereo and home-theater surround systems and a home-theater bypass feature is definitely nice to have. The representative from the company told me however, that this feature would be available as a software upgrade later this year.
During the review, the NAD C368 internal amplifier was used to power my NHT M6 speakers, which handle the upper and middle frequency ranges of the whole Evolution T6 speaker system. The B6 bass modules of the T6 speakers were powered by a Bel Canto S-300 amplifier driven by the sub-out signals of the C368. The DAC function of the C368 was evaluated by feeding digital signals from my Bel Canto CD3t CD transport and a USB external disk. I also used my Bel Canto DAC2.5 for comparison. The C368 wireless and network streaming capability is tested by sending Bluetooth music signals from my smart phone/laptop and streaming music through its BluOS module.
It did not take long for me to appreciate the versatility and the sonic performance of the C368. I was specifically amazed with the ability of the C368 to perform all its functions well. Credits should go to the NAD design team that created such an innovative product with strong all-around performance.
First of all, when used as an integrated amplifier with its analog inputs, the C368 delivers a pleasant, balanced sonic performance throughout the frequency spectrum. Its onboard class D amplifier, which is rated at 80 W (continuous) into 8 ohm or 4 ohm load, is actually very capable of producing loud sound from my speakers without strain, definitely louder than the level I’m used to listening to my music. As the specifications indicate, even though the continuous rated power is respectable, its dynamic power is even greater (120 W into 8 ohm, 200 W into 4 ohm), and hence it should be capable of meeting the demand of most music comfortably.
As a DAC, the C368’s performance is very respectable. Its Burr-Brown PCM1795 DAC chip with 32 bit/192 Hz processing capability, optimized with an asynchronous sample rate converter and fully balanced differential output filter, can compete well with stand-alone mid to high-end DACs available on market. Its ability to bring out the details in the music and convey an intimate soundstage is nothing short of excellent.
Listening to the track Niculela Es Una Historia with Najee on the flute from The Best of Najee album (1995), I was transformed to an intimate musical stage with sound that was rich in details. It was a satisfying listening experience.
In an A-B comparison of the C368 with my Bel Canto DAC2.5, I felt the performance of the two DACs were close with the DAC2.5 having a slight edge in conveying a deeper soundstage and smoother vocals than the C368. Although the presentation of the two DACs was noticeably different, the C368 presented a more forward soundstage than the DAC2.5, which might suit listeners who prefer a more intimate listening atmosphere.
I also briefly compared the headphone amplifiers of the two units. Although there were some differences in the sound characteristics, subjectively I felt they displayed an even closer level of performance. To put it in proper perspective, the fact that the C368 is able to deliver such high-level of performance while costing less than a half of the new price of the DAC2.5 is an achievement by itself.
Although the basic C368 performs all of its functions well, the BluOS upgrade really makes it shine. During the review, I spent a lot of time playing with this feature and I came away very impressed. The BluOS module costs $399 by itself, which may seem expensive, but if high-resolution streaming is what you are after, it is well worth the upgrade. I had an especially positive experience with the music-playback management feature of the BluOS app. As I mentioned earlier I enjoyed that I could put my music collection stored on my local NAS as part of ‘My Library’, access internet music-streaming services like Spotify, TIDAL, and internet radios, control Bluetooth playback, and even manage playback of music files in the USB-connected storage disk.
That I could get high-quality playback from all the accessible BluOS features was of little surprise. I expected that and I gladly report that the C368/BluOS filled my expectation with flying colors. Moreover, I could make adjustments on the fly during the network playback with relative ease from the BluOS app in my smartphone, such as changing/adding a BluOS-enabled playback device in the same network (like speakers from Bluesound-family products), adjusting volume of each playback device, changing the music played, etc. As a system, the C368/BluOS wireless streamer is not without its glitches. For example, the BluOS app froze on me a couple of times in the middle of playback or the C368 failed to appear as one of the playback devices in the app. But I consider these glitches minor and by restarting the app or the C368 usually fixes the issues.
The Bluetooth feature in C368/BluOS is equipped with aptX codec, which allows for better music playback quality than just regular Bluetooth. Although it is not truly CD quality, the C368/BluOS Bluetooth-playback quality is still very good. It is definitely more than sufficient for casual listening. For critical listening, however, nothing short of CD quality should be sufficient, at least for me. Luckily, these days, CD quality materials are available for wireless streaming, for example from TIDAL, available on the NAD. Coupled with the high-resolution streaming capability of the BluOS module, the quality of streamed TIDAL music is on par to direct-CD playback. Unlike any other wireless streamer, BluOS also supports high-definition Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) decoding, which demands higher resolution and bit rates compared to those of CD. Since earlier this year, TIDAL has started offering MQA-encoded recordings through its TIDAL HiFi subscription, which is fully supported by the latest BluOS app version through its TIDAL Masters feature. It was my first exposure to MQA streaming and the C368/BluOS conveyed convincingly the superiority of this high-resolution streaming format to make a believer out of me. That by itself is worthy of a separate accolade to NAD.
Through the C368/BluOS, the MQA-encoded music sound noticeably better than their CD- counterpart. Generally, the MQA music conveys a more open sound with a higher degree of clarity and detail than what CD can deliver. For example, the MQA version of the song Private Dancer from Tina Turner’s Private Dancer (2015 Remastered Version) has subjectively better clarity and transparency than its CD version.
I have to admit that even though I have reviewed quite a number of audio products capable of utilizing a local area network as a player or streamer, I have not yet jumped onto the bandwagon. My hifi system still consists of conventional components with no network-access capability, mainly because in my mind such a capability does not offer any sonic advantage. However, a product like C368/BluOS, which is capable of delivering a high-resolution network-streaming music format such as MQA, really changes my perspective. Needless to say, I ‘m jumping on the bandwagon!
The NAD C368 with BluOS upgrade is a feature-laden high-value product that does everything it is intended to do very well, embracing especially hi-res network music streaming to its fullest. As a hybrid DAC amplifier, the NAD C368 comes equipped with a long list of features making it the swiss-army knife of audio products. In that regard, it can assume many hats; it can serve as a conventional stereo integrated amplifier, a stereo preamplifier, a DAC, a headphone amplifier, a Bluetooth transmitter/streamer, or a network streamer (with BluOS upgrade). But good features alone do not make a good audio product. Impressively, the NAD C368 pulls it off nicely in the sonic department as well, not only does the C368 perform all of its functions extremely well, it also produces well-balanced high-quality sounds in whatever capacity it serves. The BluOS upgrade with its capability to stream high-definition audio format, such as MQA, really elevates the product to another level in terms of function and performance.
To Say That I am Impressed with the Features and Performance That THE NAD C368 Offers at this Price Point is an Understatement. With the Msrp of $899 for the Basic C368 Configuration Plus $399 for the Bluos Module Upgrade, the High Value Offered by the Product is Hard to Beat.
- Solid built quality and simple appearance
- Modular design, allowing upgrade for added functionalities
- Strong all-around performer
- BluOS high-resolution network streaming capability
- Smartphone control using BluOS app
- Easy integration with other BluOS-family products
- Home-theater bypass feature