For more than 30 years, NAD--the initials stand for New Acoustic Dimension--has catered to aspiring audiophiles by building high-performance, affordable gear. The company's L 70 partially breaks the company's ethos; it sounds wonderful, but the price is pretty steep ($999 list). Its compact combo design integrates a receiver and a DVD player into one box, appealing to sophisticated listeners who are short on space but not necessarily on cash.
NADs of yore were always an indeterminate shade of brown or gray, but the L 70 is the first of a new breed that's finished in handsome brushed titanium. The thick faceplate presents an elongated oval display, the DVD drawer, and a complete set of DVD player controls, including a cursor and an Enter button. The commendably compact chassis is just 17 inches wide, 5.25 high, and 14.75 deep.
The large, fully backlit remote is a breeze to use in a darkened room as you're watching flicks. It lets you adjust subwoofer, center, and surround speaker levels on the fly without resorting to complicated menus.
We noted two design quirks. If you leave the L 70 in pause mode for more than seven minutes, it will shut itself down. Thus, when you power the unit up, DVDs start from the beginning instead of resuming where you left off, so you'll have to sit though the FBI warning and menu options again. Also, the rear-mounted cooling fan's noise was audible whenever we played the system at sedate levels. The L 70's no-frills feature set pales in comparison with that of most mainstream receivers and DVD players. For this kind of money, you might expect to get virtually every type of surround processing, including Dolby EX, DTS ES, and DTS 96/24. Instead, NAD offers the dead standard Dolby Digital, Pro Logic II, and DTS. There's also NAD's proprietary Enhanced Ambience Recovery System (EARS), which synthesizes surround sound from stereo sources. The bare-bones DVD player doesn't offer Super Audio CD, DVD-Audio, or progressive-scan video.
NAD's design priorities are, as we expected, oriented more toward sound quality. The L 70 uses high-end discrete component output stages instead of the inexpensive digital IC amplifier modules found on mass-market receivers. Its modest power specs of 45 watts per channel won't guarantee bragging rights, but our listening tests confirmed that those ratings are quite conservative. This 26-pound component is a good deal weightier than many 100-watt-per-channel receivers.
The L 70's backside is nicely organized and offers a tidy selection of goodies, including component and S-Video connections as well as SACD/DVD-Audio inputs. Three digital audio jacks are provided: one coaxial and one optical input, along with one optical output. A set of conveniently mounted front-panel A/V jacks hide discreetly behind a removable cover. The 12V trigger output can be used to remotely turn on and off compatible components. Our first listening test was The Bourne Identity, where Matt Damon stars as a CIA spy with Memento-like amnesia symptoms. We cranked the film's pounding score, spectacular car chases, gunplay, and fisticuffs to room-filling levels. A brief shootout with our reference Pioneer Elite VSX-27TX receiver demonstrated the NAD's strengths. Yes, the nearly three times more powerful Pioneer played louder (duh!), but at slightly more moderate levels, the NAD just plain sounded better. Low-level ambiance, midrange transparency, and low-frequency definition were all superior while listening to the L 70.
This combo receiver seemed to bring out the best sound in every recording; even our MP3 CDs were remarkably cleaner and more detailed. MP3 navigation and file-display info were more complete than those of any home theater in a box we've tested. All of our recordable DVDs, except one DVD-RW, played without a hitch.
What it all adds up to is this: If you're lusting after great sound but don't have the room or budget to step up to separates, the L 70 is a winner. But much less expensive alternatives, such as Onkyo's DR-C500 receiver/five-disc changer will surely do the trick for less discriminating listeners.