NAD C 510 Direct Digital Preamp DAC

Device Type: Digital Preamp/DAC
Input: AES/EBU XLR, 1x SPDIF Coaxial, 1x Optical, 2x HDMI (2-channel PCM), USB Class 2 Audio: asynchronous 24/192 support, IR In, Trigger In 12V ±20%
Output: HDMI Video Out (3D video pass through), Analogue Unbalanced RCA, Balanced XLR, Trigger Out 12V ±20%
Dimensions: 435 x 99 x 309mm (17 1/8 x 3 15/16 x 12 3/16 inches)
Weight: 4.7kg (10.4lb)
Availability: Online and Authorized Dealers
Price: $1299
Website: nadelectronics.com

Direct Digital Trickles Down (and Up)
NAD's C 510 inherits its impressive innards from the company's M2 Direct Digital Amp (see Stereophile's review) and M51 DAC (see Stereophile's review). All incoming digital data (up to 24/192 PCM), the C 510 does not offer any analog inputs, is converted to a pulse-width-modulation (PWM) signal at a sampling rate of 844kHz before being converted to analog. Volume control is also handled in the digital domain and the C 510's 35-bit architecture allows for transparency at any level, in theory. Here's more from NAD, "Due to the very high clock speed [108MHz] and mathematical precision of our reconstruction filters, the resulting audio signal is totally free of digital artifacts like ringing." I suppose the only question remaining is—does all this work to make digital sound less...digital?

photo credit: NAD

Beyond the usual asynchronous USB, Toslink and Coax inputs, the C 510 adds AES/EBU and two HDMI inputs for 2-channel PCM data. Outputs offered include single-ended RCAs and balanced XLRs driven by a Class A-biased operational amplifier (Burr-Brown OPA 2134). Since the C 510 supports up to 24/192 data via USB, Windows users have to download and instal the NAD drivers from the company's website to take full advantage. MAC users can skip this step. There's also a USB Type-A input for firmware upgrades, RS232 for connecting to AMX and Crestron devices, as well as +12V Trigger In/Out for controlling external like-equipped devices. Finishing things off around back are the power switch and IEC inlet for the included power cord.

The C 510's front panel is rather spartan and workman-like in that NAD Army/Navy way. There's a Standby button, a roughly 6.25" vacuum fluorescent display which shows the incoming sample rate of the file being played, selected input, and volume level, source selector buttons, and the volume control knob. NAD also includes a multi-function remote duplicating the front face functions while adding the ability to dim the display. You can also control other NAD gear with the same remote.

The C 510's USB input was fed its bits from my MacBook Pro's output (running Roon software) and on the other end the 510's XLR output connected to my Pass INT-30A. I used the C 510 to control volume.

Clarity
The NAD C 510 sounds like a very refined DAC. It also sounds uncolored, precise, and in control. I used the NAD's volume control for the duration of this review and found it be, for all intents and purposes, transparent. All told, I dare say the C 510 also sounds like more than its $1299 asking price.

The space of the recording is reproduced with clinical precision and what strikes me as a somewhat less dimensional sound image as compared to the more expensive Auralic Vega DAC I use as my reference. The Vega is more lush while also throwing out a larger sound image in every dimension where the C 510 creates a a more condensed and somewhat shallower sound space. I'd imagine some listeners could interpret this difference differently, describing the NAD as being truer to the recording but that's not how I hear it. My preference falls toward the Vega in this regard albeit at more than twice the NAD's price.

I mostly listened to the NAD using my MacBook Pro over the course of 4+ weeks but I also spent a few days trying out the C 510's AES input using the review sample Bel Canto REFstream network player. I'll obviously be talking more about the latter later but I will say that the NAD appreciates what strikes me as a less noisy signal. There was an even greater sense of clarity and precision with the Bel Canto that allows you to hear further into the recording. Like most DACs that appear uncolored, this also means that crappy recordings tend to sound crappy through the C 510.

Bass response is very well controlled and in no way bloated, there's a restrained richness in tone color not at the same lushness level as the Vega DAC, and upper registers sound convincingly crisp without unnatural bite. This thing sings, especially when the source material has been well cared for. I found myself looking for recordings that present a natural sense of space coupled with good sound. Ravel's "La Vallee des cloches" as interpreted by Percy Grainger from In A Nutshell (CD rip) was particular lovely as was Ella and Louis joisting on "Isn't It A Lovely Day" from Ella & Louis (24/96). Some of my favorite songs, like Nick Cave's "Love Letter" from No More Shall We Part (CD rip) was perfectly clean and precise but I felt there was some emotion lacking which I'd interpret as a slightly dry presentation.

I'd like to point out that mentioning specific albums and songs is potentially misleading since I spend many weeks listening to review components so specific music mentioned is to highlight standout qualities. They are by no means a complete list of recordings used for the review since that number gets into the dozens of albums. When I see a list of recordings used for a review and it contains a handful of albums, I wonder how someone can get beyond ticking off a few sonic points without missing the bigger and more important picture of what it's like to live with and listen through a given component as if you own it.

The Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC, which I use every day in my desktop system, offered a more appropriate comparison price-wise as it comes in at $1495. On a spec-sheet basis, the Mytek adds DSD playback, a Firewire input, filter options, analog and digital volume controls, and two headphone outputs. In terms of music, my tastes have me preferring the Mytek's weightier and wetter sound. Ella & Louis have more physical presence, Nick Cave's vocals convey his emotional shifts more convincingly, and Tom Waits sounds more guttural. While the Mytek's overall presentation is slightly softer and less well defined as compared to the NAD, I'm willing to make this trade off.

Another way to say nearly the same thing is I find the NAD C 510 to appeal more to my intellect than to my emotions. Ultimately the choice of the NAD versus the Mytek or any other DAC will come down to personal preference and system matching. Whether one DAC is "better" than the other doesn't enter the reality equation.

Direct Digital Indeed
Listening to and living with the NAD proved to be musically satisfying and the few shortcomings I heard mainly dissolved over time. Of greater importance than what the C 510 does not do is what it does so well namely delivering a very clear and precise presentation of the music captured in the recording while doing double duty as a very capable digital preamp. For many listeners, you really can't ask for much more.


Associated Equipment

Also in-use during the NAD C 510 review: Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC, Auralic Vega

COMMENTS
audiostream_login_id's picture

I have owned several NAD components in the past and have always been happy with their sound quality and function - while they are working. Unfortunately, they are off my list for future purchases due to reliability issues. Were it still functioning, my NAD C542 would still be my lifetime CD player. Were it still functioning, my NAD C425 tuner would still be in service for local radio.

Venere 2's picture

You are absolutely right! NAD is absolute shit reliability wise.

NAD = Not Another defect…

I had the "famous" C 375BEE integrated amp, the one Stereophile reviewed and practically built a shrine in its honour… This 34 pound box could heat half of my living room in winter! It broke down after 6 months. I wrote a list problems for the NAD technicians that filled a whole sheet of 8.5 X11 paper.
Among them, severe distortion; a siren like sound when muting with the remote, selecting 2 inputs at the same time on the front panel. And many more!
The front board in the panel blew out. It took 6 weeks for NAD to fix the problem. The front board was out of stock even at NAD headquarters. Hmmm… Maybe they tend to blow out a lot and they can't stock spares fast enough.
My brother bought the same amp. His lasted a whole 8 months before getting the exact same problems. His took even longer than 6 weeks to fix! NAD outsources their repairs to any dick with a multimeter. I am serious. They send it to the closest technician in your area who fixes 60 other brands.
Suffice it to say, we both sold our NAD 375s at a loss when we got them back from being repaired. We both then bought little bitty english integrated amps. That is another thing about NAD and their so called claims of gargantuan wattage.

My little 50 watt british integrated plays easily as loud and actually has more guts and bass than the 375 ever did. From this, I have worked out the following hifi equation:

1 British watt = 3 Chinese watts. And for sound quality, well don't even get me started on that one! Just talking about NAD, their reliability and 2 bit after sales service is enough to get me in one of those moods…

Venere 2's picture

I'll also say that I find all the praise given to NAD in reviews highly suspicious. I don't doubt the integrity of the reviewers. I repeat, I do not doubt that the reviewers are accurately reporting what they hear; and they are 100% honest.

It's just that the reviews do not match my experience with NAD gear. I have no proof, but I wouldn't be surprised if NAD sends reviewers "cherry picked", even "juiced" versions of their gear. Versions that you and I as consumers will not get when we pay to buy one.

Coi Laman's picture

Nothing lasts forever, but NAD always do a great job on the repairs of their stuff and I still own the components I bought 15 years ago. Yes, you need to have their stuff repaired once every 10 years, but it's very reasonable and much cheaper than buying a brand new amp or a CD player.

If people want the quality of Bryston, they should get Bryston or Krell amplifiers, but it will cost them a few thousands extra. It's your choice, people.

Venere 2's picture

Dumbest reply to my posts possible Coi Laman. Nice job at completely ignoring what I wrote, and spewing lame generalist arguments, that do not come within a galaxy of addressing what I wrote.

Coi Laman's picture

Internet trolls are literally everywhere. Every audio forum has them. Every computer forum has them. They love to spread lies and deceive those who don't know better. I, however, do NOT fall for diatribe these trolls love to leave behind them. Now, who are these sorry trolls? Well, let me tell you.

These trolls are predominantly young males, in their teens or twenties. They lack any real knowledge, skill or education, writing their diatribe right out of their mom's basement. They are angry at the world because they can't afford anything of any value and they also can't get any girls. They love to pretend they can afford an NAD amplifier, but unfortunately, they can't even afford a $200 Sony receiver.

They are socially inept and they fight with their parents all the time, while living in their basement for free and eating their food for free. There is really no hope for these trolls. They will never stop being angry at the world. They will never be able to do something productive with their life. They are only able to put down everybody around themselves because that's the only thing they know. They are just trolls. The internet bullies, liars and deceivers. Do NOT listen to them.

NAD Electronics is a great company that makes good quality, affordable gear. They make amplifiers that are much better in build and sound quality than any Japanese mainstream junk, sold in the big box stores. My NAD components are 15 years old and I will never get rid of them because I know that with little maintenance every 10 years, they will last forever. Once again, do NOT listen to trolls. Go to Stereophile website for some real reviews, backed up by some real, true and undeniable measurements.

You will quickly realize NAD is by far the best choice in the affordable market and they always stand behind their product. I love NAD and I am fully loyal to them because they are fully committed to making the best possible electronics for the least amount of money and giving us, the middle class, the true value for our hard-earned money. Thank you NAD (New Acoustic Dimension).

Venere 2's picture

I didn't think you could go even farther off the rails, but you did! Wow! Really good example of a straw man argument Coi Laman. Bring everything and the kitchen sink into an argument, and leave out what was actually mentioned by me, and what is relevant.

As far as you calling me a troll, I will not even defend myself over such a moronic statement. I could offer specific replies to destroy the false arguments you have conjured, but I won't. You, like NAD gear, are simply not worth my time.

Coi Laman's picture

Police is the key word here. We all must work vigorously on defending great companies like NAD. We must confront the trolls head on, with no hesitation or consideration. The trolls will always try to ruin the reputation of great companies like NAD Electronics. Their motives are evil by nature and they must be stopped.

The trolls count on deceiving those people that are new to this hobby. They never have any effect on people like me. I have been in the audio hobby for 22 years and NAD has been around since 1972. Their reputation is growing stronger every day and the sales speak for themselves. This is why they have the resources needed for development of more upscale products like the 'Masters' series.

The trolls have a hard time with real audio enthusiasts like me. They suddenly become quiet and too tired to continue with their nonsense and this is the way it should be. Everybody is tired of trolls and we need to show them that we will NOT tolerate their deranged behaviour.

NORGATEoiler's picture

How does it compare to the M51?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...to listen to the M51 for any length of time so I cannot offer a comparison.
PDQ.Bach's picture

IF (and oh! what a big IF!) the NAD C510 is indeed a close sibling, if not almost a clone, of the NAD M51 preceding it, just clad in more pedestrian sheet metal, a few tangential observations based on 20 months of daily use of the M51 might usefully complement Michael’s superlative tour d’horizon.

  1. Excellent digital level control, particularly notable at low listening levels. I may be wrong, but I assume this works along the lines delineated by Daniel Weiss. The Weiss DAC202 is actually my reference, keeping its splendid resolution of timbres and dynamics even at quite low output levels. The M51 performs surprisingly well at low level.
  2. The chubby volume knob on the C510 may yet prove a boon. There are no volume controls on the M51 (in fact, no manual controls to speak of): operation relies entirely on the remote. The DR1 remote is a dog’s breakfast, really useful only if you have a rack full of compatible NAD gear. Can’t NAD make it to the second half of the second decade of the 21st century already, and add Bluetooth and a simple control app, for BEE’s sake?
  3. The M51 and C510 are among the very few DACs featuring HDMI video throughput. I imagine this would be quite useful in a Home Theatre setting. Now, I know next to nothing about Home Theatre. But my internet+cable provider feeds only encoded HD TV and radio signals. The decoder box is a messy affair, rendering conventional TV sets almost useless. I feed the decoder signal via HDMI to the NAD M51, and thence video throughput to a fast Eizo monitor which I also use for video editing and animation. The sound quality is as good as the source allows. (And: conventional TV is definitely dead.)
  4. The M51’s balanced XLR outputs make for excellent pairing with active speakers. I use mine with PSI A17-M studio monitors. While — unsurprisingly — not in the same class as the Weiss DAC, the M51 gives a very good account of itself via these extremely neutral and revealing monitors, especially when fed HiRez material from a Mac Mini server. NAD-tyical: no fatigue at all over long listening sessions.