NAD D 1050 USB Digital to Analog Converter
Input: 2x Toslink S/PDIF, 2x Coax S/PDIF, 1x Asynchronous USB 2.0
Output: 1 pair RCA, 1 pair XLR
Dimensions (W x H x D): 58 x 186 x 208mm, 2 5/16 x 7 3/8 x 8 1/4”
Weight: 1kg (2.2lb)
Availability: through Authorized Dealers
NAD Digital Classic Series
NAD's new Digital Classic series of components includes the D 3020 Digital DAC/Amplifier ($499), the D 7050 Direct Digital Network Receiver ($999), and the D 1050 DAC that's here for closer scrutiny. The Digital Classics share the same form factor, which was designed by David Farrage, are about the size of a good book, and can sit horizontally or vertically to suit environment and taste. I like the simple and sleek black matte sides with the shiny strip running down the center as well as the touch-sensitive controls coupled with that big, chunky volume knob. Overall a classy look and feel, imo, for such a modestly priced piece of kit.
The D 1050 doubles as a headphone amp and offers a nice assortment of inputs especially considering its price including a pair of optical Toslink and Coax inputs capable of handling 24/96 and 24/192 respectively, and a 24/192-ready asynchronous USB input. The async USB receiver comes courtesy of XMOS which hands off the digital signal to the Sigma/Delta CS4398 DAC from Cirrus Logic followed by a TI LME49860 OP Amp. The CS4398 provides on chip oversampling, an interpolation filter, and is DSD-ready but NAD chose not to implement this option. The AKM4118 receiver handles the S/PDIF input. The D 1050 offers pairs of RCA or XLR outputs and a front-mounted 3.5mm minijack for the 4.7 ohm headphone out. Power is provided by a remote switch mode power supply.
The D 1050's power and source selectors are touch sensitive and sit on its top when the D 1050 is positioned vertically. A white light illuminates both functions as well as the selected input and incoming sample rate of the music being played on the D 1050's shiny face. Since the async USB input is USB Audio Class 2.0 and can handle up to 24/192 data, Windows users need to download and install the NAD-supplied drivers to take full advantage while Mac users are plug and play ready. I mainly played the D 1050 fed from my MacBook Pro via USB and through its XLR outputs with my Pass INT-30A but also took the single-ended side for a spin. And since the D 1050's size and design makes it a perfect fit for desktop use, I also let it handle D/A duties in front of my ADAM A3Xs.
I warmed to the NAD D 1050 from the get go and one of the first aspects of its performance to stand out, in a good way mind you, was its bass response which is big, meaty, and fitfully bouncy while retaining a nice sense of tone. Fun being the operative word that also came to mind as in, "Damn, this NAD is fun to listen to!". I really could end this review right here and I'd feel comfortable that I've conveyed a fairly fine portrait of the relevant aspects of the NAD 1050. Fun. But as odd as it may seem, listening to music on a hi-fi isn't just all about fun. Or is it?
The D 1050 throws out a nice sizable and solid sound image, set back between and behind the speakers with nothing poking out to distract from the performance. Upper frequencies are perhaps a tad laid back but I prefer this to sonic knifes any day and the midrange is rich and full. I'd place the overall sonic center of the D 1050 in the lower midrange which some people might call dark which is also fine by me as I find dark to be tonally rich as opposed to the thin white heat of exaggerated upper frequencies. There's also a nice amount of resolution but this is one area where more costly DACs simply outperform the NAD. Compared to the less expensive Audioquest Dragonfly, the D 1050 trades the Dragonfly's resolution and relatively thin sound for a more robust if less detailed sound image.
While these kinds of comparative differences can be difficult to talk (and write) about, they are plainly easy to hear. The NAD's meaty sound is also lenient when it comes to otherwise agressive-sounding recordings so if you like a lot of '80s and later digital recordings, the D 1050 appears to be balanced in your sonic favor. There's also a very nice sense of drive, with bottom-heavy music in particular, so something like Locust's You'll Be Safe Forever is slam-tasticlly appealing and makes it difficult to sit through. But if you've ever seen me dance you'd appreciate my reluctance. Toe-tapping, foot-tapping, booty shaking, earth moving. Take your pick. The NAD is capable of delivering music's sense of drive and then some.
It's rich but is it accurate? If we gauge our audio gear by how much we enjoy listening to it, and I know of no better gauge, then I'd say the NAD measures up very well for my taste. The D 1050 seems to wrap up most of music's important sonic bits and pieces and delivers a goodly percentage of them. If you want to spend more you'll get greater percentages and thusly the ability to get even more involved in the music-making. But how much more do you have to spend to have more fun? That lies in the listening. Having recently reviewed a spate of wondrous sounding and much more costly DACs, I would say that extended and dedicated listening is more rewarding with more resolving and more finely nuanced DACs. The D 1050 is a bit soft and fuzzy in terms of resolution making individual instruments and performers less distinct than other more costly DACs.
The Auralic Vega comes to mind as a rock solid performer in the $3,500 price category but is it really 8 times as good as the NAD? Ha! I don't really think that's a sensible question to ask. Do I enjoy the Vega more than the D 1050? Sure. And if I spend a lot of time just listening, and I do, then that difference is damn well worth it. My enjoyment knows no bounds! But, and this is a big but, I also enjoy the NAD. I find its overall balance to appeal to my musical funny bone. It tickles my fancy. Is it potentially 'colored'? It is colorful. I also played the D 1050 through the Leben CS-300SX (via RCAs) and here the 1050's fatness was nearly too much of a good thing. The Leben, unlike the Pass, has a very rich sound on its own and in this case two riches added up to an overly dark presentation with too much emphasis in the lower midrange. If I was system building, I'd suggest pairing the NAD with more neutral-sounding gear.
Connected to my ADAM A3X's on my desktop proved an interesting proposition. I have been using the Mytek Stereo 192-DSD DAC on my desktop which offers a much more involving and resolute presentation and the comparison, while unfair in terms of price seeing as the Mytek costs $1,695, was nonetheless instructive as it again highlighted the NAD's overall darker and slightly spatially amorphous sound. The front-mounted headphone jack was easily accessible as was its nice, fat volume control making the NAD most suitable for dual desktop use. I did some headphone listening with my trusty Audio Technica ATH-W1000s and the sonic traits I've described so far apply here as well. Think rich, fat, and fun with a nice big bottom.
I like being surprised and the NAD D 1050 surprised me in so far as how much pure listening enjoyment it offers. With a host of digital inputs including an asynchronous 24/192-capable USB port, a very nice sounding headphone amp, and single-ended and balanced outputs, the D 1050 wraps up a lot of functions into a visually and tactilely appealing package that also happens to be damn fun to listen to.
Also on hand and in use during the NAD D 1050 review: AudioQuest Dragonfly, Mytek Stereo 192-DSD DAC, Auralic Vega