Published On: 10 Feb 2024Categories: Reviews


Model C 658
Formats supported
High Res MQA, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, Supports converted DSD playback
Sampling rates & bit depth 32bit/192kHz; 16-24bit
Frequency Response
20H z to 20 kHz
Signal to Noise Ratio
Inputs 2 x optical, USB, LAN, Phono, Coax, 2x line in
Outputs 2 x Balanced XLR, RCA out
Wifi, bluetooth, gigabit ethernet
Blu OS – Windows & OS app driven supporting Spotify, Amazon Music, TIDAL, Deezer, Qobuz, HDTracks, HighResAudio, Murfie, JUKE, Napster, Slacker Radio, KKBox, Bugs
Dimensions 435 x 100 x 405 mm (WxHxD)
Weight 10.1 kg
Verdict Top of the line streamer delivers convincing detailed musicality

PRICE +/- R34,990

SUPPLIED BY Cinema Imports (Pty) Ltd t/a AV Imports  082 571-6568


Streamers have changed the world. They’ve been around for years now and it is an indication of how technology marches on that in discussions with a fellow enthusiast that it became apparent to me just how much has changed and relatively quickly. CD for example bowed into the mainstream in the ’80s and it took a while for the outrageously expensive first versions to bed down into the new normal. CD replaced vinyl from a sheer quality point of view both in the physical and in the audible. Despite digital jitters and digital glare the format removed the constraints in frequency response and physical limitations that vinyl imposes on the ‘playback to true’ experience. There was controversy and CD arguably made the most compelling arguments both for and against hardware and software upgrades to what essentially has become digital manipulation of ones and zeroes into an analog sound wave as produced by our speakers. Try as we might we do not listen in digital – at least not until Elon plugs us all in.

CD is still around but even I have now ditched the hundreds if not thousands of CDs in my collection. It was emotional and traumatic but honestly, the only reason I kept them was for browsing. And when I found a title I hasn’t seen in ages I just streamed it anyway. Tidal now gets me in ways I find disturbing and the last time I browsed for music before ditching the collection for inspiration was online and via Tidal. Of course there are some I can never be rid of and so I have kept the precious few of deep personal meaning.

But this is what streaming has done. It is the monster step from the 1980’s that CD was to vinyl. And it is too not without controversy ironically being the same digital manipulation that CD found itself mired in all that time back. These days it’s about algorithms and how lossless music is not so lossless or not so pure.

But along comes the C658.

Forget about everything you just read above. It’s nonsense you don’t need to worry about for a nanosecond. The beauty about digital is that if you really, really, really don’t like something you can change it. And that’s the thing. If you don’t like the way Tidal encodes its music losslessly and how it sends it to you digitally, you can switch to Spotify. Or Deezer. Or, and this is the killer, anything else that comes along because its all just software.

NAD go one step further though. The C658 comes with expansion slots. So, should the need arise, you can pop in an expansion module from the future into your unit and away you go. Software and firmware updates are of course included in your package and so obsolescence which might be a back of your mind issue is addressed quite convincingly. I really liked this approach of thinking ahead taken by NAD.

You of course need this hardware to do the physically hard work of producing that all important analogue signal that your amp can turn into more electricity that your speakers can turn into music. Source losses can never be made up or replaced and this is why the work of the streamer is so important. And what the C658 does so brilliantly is to precisely convert your digital source online into exactly what we’re after: music.

To harp on the point. The C658 logs into your online streaming account and downloads the digital info directly. It will buffer a portion of it internally, do it’s digital thing and feed that to your amplifier. You control this process via a remote, which in 99% of cases is an app on your smartphone. You are not beaming music from your smartphone to the C658 – you are merely instructing the C658 what you want to listen to. It does all the retrieving and heavy lifting in the background  – the streaming in other words.

And it does to with such conviction, poise and balance that it is hard to fault. I couldn’t. The C658 has at its heart an ESS Sabre 32 bit DAC and executes all pre amp functionality in the digital domain which NAD claims results in an extremely short analog signal path that is identical at all volume settings.

The results are spectacular. The noise floor is virtually non existent and tracks that I know well, and I do mean well, came across with as much detail as I’ve ever heard on any system anywhere. Having been exposed to some, shall we say, lesser streaming fairly recently there was a sense of trepidation in that what if the C658 didn’t match expectation? That was settled within the first few minutes with the presentation on offer that is best described as neutrally balanced brilliance. It is almost underwhelming because there is nothing added. No sparkle or zing. No fizz, no enhancement and no artificiality. “All” you get is what was there on the recording to begin with and presented as is.

It’s startling. I must add that I kicked off with specifically non MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) material because I wanted to avoid any potential bias creep. MQA is a digital encoding process said to offer benefits to recordings but I wanted as baseline a reference as I could find. It’s a pointless exercise however since the C658 from the start presents you with a performance that grabs your attention immediately because you know that you’re hearing something special. Try an old reference track by way of example and I used Yello and Mary Black from waaaaay back when for nostalgic you know what and giggles. The C658 tore into these like it was Tuesday and from that moment on it was game on.

The performance is one that builds. You know it’s good from the first few moments but then as you ears start to unpack what is happening you begin to understand just how good the performance really is. I know what I enjoy and generally I know what I am listening for. It is rare however to have quite the levels of engagement that the C658 presents hook you quite as quickly. It is rare for genuinely good equipment to grab you as rapidly because it almost always sounds almost understated with competence being unpacked overtime as you become used to it. The C658 though is quick off the mark in establishing its credentials and at first I was a little cautious. But then as the listening extended into hours and then more hours it is immediately apparent that this is a streamer at the top of its game. Using the same sources I use via Tidal and Deezer to a lesser extent the C658 presents obvious similarities with my music but there is a solidity here in the performances that can only be ascribed from the nuances in presentation. And that can only come from the C658.

Of course it is the laws of diminishing returns when it comes to digital domain formats – the source data being downloaded is the same from streamer to streamer but it is how the streamer decodes and maintains integrity of the process that varies. It is here that the C658 presents a very real conundrum – how much more would you need to spend to be able to pick up an improvement? And where would that improvement lie? And what would be attributable to that improvement? Circuitry? Components? Signal pathway design elements?

There are infinite combinations to the above across components. It is why systems will always sound slightly different. In the case of the C658 if it is a true to source neutral expression and presentation of music that you want, you got it in spades.

It really does makes the C658 something special and I’d have one as my reference in a heartbeat. Take a listen for yourself.

William Kelly



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