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NAD M2: A digital amplifier an audiophile could love

The introduction timing may be off, but budget audiophile brand NAD is going upscale with its first digital amplifier, the M2. Listening to it I'm convinced NAD's on the right track.

The M2, a digital amplifier that sounds as good as analog!

NAD is a lesser well-known brand than Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, or Sony, but in my opinion NAD makes better-sounding electronics.

Introduced in the late 1970s, NAD's 3020 quickly became one of the best-selling integrated stereo amplifiers of all time. Not just because it sounded better than anything going for two or three times its humble MSRP, the 3020 had that special something that made it, well, lovable. Over the years NAD maintained its leadership position by consistently designing great-sounding, unpretentious products.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending an advance preview of NAD's upcoming Master Series M2 Direct Digital Amplifier ($5,999). Yikes, the price was a lot higher than I expected, but don't worry, NAD still makes affordable electronics. Its 40 watt per channel C 315BEE stereo integrated amp goes for $349. It's impossible to beat for the price.

But the M2 is something else again. NAD claims it's not just another digital amplifier, and that's a good thing. I've heard some really nice digital amps over the years, but most don't cut it for serious audiophiles. It's not so much that they sound bad, just kind of bland. They gloss over detail and make everything sound the same.

So the first thing I noticed about the M2 was its resolution and clarity. In other words if I didn't know it was digital, I wouldn't have guessed. It's right up there with the better high-end amplifiers. The M2 is a 250 watt per channel stereo integrated amp.

The M2 has digital and analog inputs, but when its Toslink (optical), coaxial, or AES/EBU digital inputs are used, the M2 functions as a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that directly drives speakers. That is, the M2 has far fewer internal amplifying stages, and fewer analog/digital conversions, which is maybe why it sounds so good.

The M2 will be available Summer, 2009.