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NAD's overachieving budget audiophile amplifier

True, the NAD C 316BEE integrated amp isn't exactly feature-laden, and it's rated at a mere 40 watts per channel, but it sounds sweet!

The NAD C 316BEE NAD Electronics

I go way back with NAD amplifiers; I sold dozens of NAD's 3020 amps in the late 1970s and early 1980s when I was working as a high-end audio salesman. The 3020 lacked the visual pizzazz of the Sony, Onkyo, Pioneer, and Yamaha amps of the time, but the 3020 was hailed by critics and consumers as the best-sounding budget amp of the era. It went on to become the best-selling amp of the time. Not bad for a company that no one in the US had heard of a few years earlier.

In the here and now we have the all-new, all-digital $499 NAD D 3020 amp, and it earned a rave review on CNET, but I wanted to check out something that stayed closer to the original, all-analog amp. NAD accommodated my request and sent along the C 316BEE, a 40-watt-per-channel stereo integrated amp (it's $380). It looked right, very much in the basic, no-frills NAD tradition, so it's short on features, but as soon as I hooked it up to a pair of Klipsch Heresy III speakers (review in the works), the sound was everything I hoped for. Forty watts per channel might not sound like much, but used with efficient speakers, the C 316BEE is seriously potent. It rocked!

Granted, the Heresy IIIs didn't present much of a challenge to the C 316BEE's power reserves, so I hooked up my inefficient, low-impedance Magnepan 3.7 flat-panel speakers, and the little NAD stepped up to the job at hand. Frankly, I was surprised how well the NAD-Magnepan pairing worked. Deep bass extension was mighty impressive, demonstrating the C 316BEE's ability to generate ample current.

I'm not claiming the C 316BEE is on par with my brawny Parasound or Pass Labs amps, just that the NAD's 40-watt-per-channel rating sounded awfully conservative. The C 316BEE comes on like a 100-watt amp. Unfortunately, I didn't have a D 3020 on hand so I can't comment on how the two amps compare.

The C 316BEE has seven inputs (including the front panel's 3.5mm "MP" input), and bass and treble controls. There's also a headphone jack, and a small remote completes the feature set. With this NAD it's all about the sound.

The C 316BEE doesn't have a phono input for turntables, but if you need one buy NAD's PP2i phono preamp ($170), which I'll cover here soon on the Audiophiliac.