NAD Electronics C 316BEE V2 Stereo Integrated Amplifier Review
This new affordable integrated keeps up NAD’s family tradition, says Mark Gusew…
C 316BEE V2 Stereo Integrated Amplifier
AUD $649 RRP
The NAD 3020 wowed the world back in 1978, setting a template for today’s modern budget ‘super integrateds’. It was a small and inexpensive amplifier that didn’t know its position in life, offering a giant-killing sound and more punch than its rated 20W RMS per channel suggested. Since then, NAD Electronics has pretty much made this market sector its own – and the C 316BEE V2 you see here is the 3020’s spiritual successor.
Designed by NAD’s highly regarded and now sadly deceased Bjørn Erik Edvardsen, it proudly wears his BEE initials in the model designation and has a claimed 40W RMS per side into both 8 and 4 ohms. Despite being full width (435mm), it’s a slimline design standing just 90mm high. It sports a moving magnet phono input and five line-level inputs. Interestingly, no digital inputs are fitted, so this is really a paired-down ‘less is more’ type product. The MP input stands for Media Player and is simply a front-panel 3.5mm line-level input socket – this is handy, especially as Bluetooth is absent.
You get the usual tone controls, balance and volume; these have a reasonably smooth action, as does the front panel on/standby button. There’s an automatic low power consumption standby function, putting the unit to sleep after about fifteen minutes of inactivity. The full-size 6.35mm headphone jack mutes the loudspeakers when you insert a jack plug into it.
Unlike some rivals, and indeed other NAD designs, this is a traditional Class AB amplifier and sports a hefty toroidal power transformer and quality low ESR smoothing capacitors to help it along the way. NAD’s PowerDrive circuit is fitted, as seen in the company’s top Masters Series models, albeit in PowerDrive S form which in NAD’s own words, “uses intelligence to automatically optimise the power supply settings for uniformly low distortion and maximum power in the real world of music listening.”
There’s a detailed White Paper should you wish to discover the technical ins and outs, but at the heart of this simplified circuit is a long life quartz light bulb that changes resistance as it is lit up with voltage from musical peaks, for a matter of milliseconds. The company says that the gain in usable dynamic power is almost equivalent to a conventional amplifier rated at 80W continuous into 8 ohms. NAD says the bulb is used so sparingly that even if the amplifier was played at high volumes for three hours a day every day, it would take over fourteen years before it needed replacing.
This is a tidy looking, minimalist design that’s logically laid out, modern and functional; the corporate NAD dark grey finish is the only one available. It feels reasonably substantial at 5.5kg, much more than the super-light remote control which has easy-to-see ‘red for off’ and ‘green for on’ buttons. It also controls volume, muting and input selection, plus a matching NAD CD player.
For my review, the C 316BEE V2 was fed by a Bluesound Node 2i source and Burson Conductor 3X Performance DAC. For vinyl playback, I used a Yamaha MusicCast Vinyl 500 turntable fitted with an Audio-technica moving magnet cartridge. Several loudspeakers were used, mainly my reference Chario Constellation Cygnus floorstanders, which it had no trouble driving.
NAD has done very well to produce a pleasant and balanced sounding amplifier with a clean, articulate and fairly neutral sound character with hints of warmth. It has decent speed and reasonable bass weight for the modest power rating, and should drive most loudspeakers without stress to more than adequate volume levels.
What characterises the classic NAD sound is a pleasing tonality. For example, Green and the Blue by Fink, saw the C 316BEE singing in a balanced way, delivering a realistic guitar, piano and vocal sound with
good treble extension. The midband is forward in this track, and the NAD accurately relayed this – with a reasonably well resolved sound that could have been more organic in absolute terms.
The C 316BEE also showed plenty of headroom considering its modest quoted power output, as well as deft handling of snare drums. This was impactful and lithe, while lower down the kick drum and bass guitar proved reasonably solid for an affordable integrated amplifier such as this. The 40W RMS per channel rating seemed reasonable enough, in the heat of musical battle, so to speak. There was a conspicuous lack of musical bloat or excess artificial warmth, which I found welcome – and this was especially the case when the tone defeat control was switched in circuit.
Detail retrieval was surprisingly strong for a product such as this, as Yello’s Kiss in Blue proved. The guest vocals of Heidi Happy were well carried, along with all the other vital ingredients of this mix. The reverb and echo trails from the electronic effects, guitars, drums and bongos were nicely carried, no doubt helped by the amplifier’s usefully open and extended treble. Both male and female vocals were really natural, being listenable for long periods without fatigue.
I liked the way that this small NAD managed to make Get Out by Chvrches sound large and dynamic. When played with a bit of volume, you could really hear the C 316BEE V2’s fine depth perspective come through. It’s not equal to a high end integrated of course, but still the vocal and synthesiser lines were well carried in space, both from a front-to-back perspective and left-to-right. For something so small, this serves up a surprisingly expansive recorded acoustic with decent scale.
Indeed, the NAD proved very class competitive. I had the recently reviewed Rotel A10 integrated amplifier to hand, which has the same quoted 40W RMS per channel into 8 Ohms. Tubeway Army’s Are ‘Friends’ Electric? – the Live at Brixton Academy version – sounded good through both amps at highish volume levels, but the C 316BEE V2 edged it. Certainly, it has a slightly more forward midrange and seemed to organise the dense synthesiser work better, as well as being more satisfying rhythmically. It’s a close call, but the splash of the cymbals was also a touch nicer through the NAD, which appeared to offer a little more treble extension and smoothness. By comparison, the Rotel – with the right loudspeaker pairing – would suit those wanting a fuller sound with extra bass weight.
The front headphone jack will no doubt be a welcome addition for many, and I’m happy to say that it’s quite a good sounding thing. I used a pair of Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones to discover that this amplifier has a similar sonic signature through cans as it does driving loudspeakers. It’s tonally balanced and doesn’t draw too much attention to any particular area, with a smooth, extended treble, crisp bass and a nice broad and open midband.
Thumbs aloft too for the built-in phono stage, which proved easily good enough for budget turntables. Via my Yamaha vinyl spinner, I was pleased with the performance, with quiet backgrounds and an even tonal balance that should suit most musical genres. Bass was nice and punchy, with revealing mids and highs – and the NAD’s trademark spacious sound was clear to hear.
Driving a slightly tougher speaker – in this case a pair of Acoustic Energy Aegis One standmounters – and I didn’t detect any extra stress on behalf of this integrated amplifier. Things still sounded satisfyingly punchy down below, and the amp accurately conveyed the fact that this speaker has a slightly more recessed midband. A quick spin with the less efficient Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature, and the C 316BEE V2 still stayed resolute. Indeed these speakers rather brought the NAD’s good points to the fore; it remained clean and in control right up to high listening levels.
I really liked the C 316BEE V2’s ability to organise musical detail smoothly and coherently. It sounded much better than the price may suggest, keeping its brand’s traditional virtues and maintaining the value for money promise. For something that’s small change in broader hi-fi terms, this little integrated covered all the bases rather well.
If digital and/or Bluetooth isn’t important to you, then this has got enough inputs for most, plus a decent phono stage and a capable headphone output. Then there’s the handy front-panel 3.5mm line-in, a cute little remote control and the NAD’s useful standby function – all of these little things make it very easy to live with. Pair it with a decent entry-level turntable and some capable bookshelf speakers, and you’ve got the heart of a satisfying little budget system. In other words, after all these years, the C 316BEE V2 is a worthy product to carry on the company tradition.
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.