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NAD M10 Streaming Amplifier Review

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(Warning: long post)

Given my experience with NAD in the past and more currently the M10V2, (and C700, and C 3050 LE), I thought it was time to give a broad review of my experience with the M10 V2 in particular. I’ll divide my comments into four sections.
  1. non-amplifier aspects
  2. packaging and ease of use
  3. sound quality
  4. overall fit/finish/quality
  5. reliability
1. Non-Amplifier factors: The first thing to note is that any real audio system experience is first impacted by speakers, then room acoustics, then the quality of the source, then the quality of the amplification. The first three have a much greater impact than the amplifier itself. This doesn’t negate comparing amplifiers at all. But it’s critical to remember that if you want better sound, you have to look at these other aspects first before you obsess over differences between various amplifiers. In my own case I have five different system/rooms but one location is a basement with terrible acoustics...will buying a different amp really make the most difference? No.

2. Packaging: Without a doubt, the biggest advantage of the NAD M10 is packaging in terms of a) physical size, b) the number of features that are included, and c) the BluOS interface. It’s probably the best overall package on the market today. Now you may not NEED or even WANT this level of modern 'all-in-one' and easy to use packaging, but it is clearly an area of focus for the M10 and it succeeds very very well. My top favorites are: very compact and attractive physical packaging (cannot be said about most other NAD products, which are boring at best). Wide variety of Music Services supported and the interface is pretty good. Nice standby and auto on capability so it starts up when your source starts. And finally the BluOS software which is highly capable, includes the ability to control lots of amp features, even send support requests, and is supported with Mobile/PC/Mac clients (a rarity in the industry). Negatives: there's only two negatives I can see in this product. One is the lack of a phono input. But that's not a game changer because if you're really serious you can buy an external phono preamp. The other is the BluOS quality. Yes it’s a very functional piece of software and a great user interface to interact with all the various music services and features you have. However it can suffer from some occasional glitches. It's not a deal breaker I don't think but more attention to building a reliable piece of software would be welcome. This is especially true if you have multiple players throughout your house. You might have issues connecting to one or the other of them occasionally for example.

3. Sound Quality. I think it's hard to argue that the M10 does anything other than very very good reproduction. It's widely recognized as a very neutral sounding amplifier (as is the whole NAD range by the way). It certainly has low enough distortion and noise to satisfy the vast majority of audiophiles. It also has enough headroom to avoid clipping when you do play it loud. Negatives: the main complaints I've ever heard about NAD (And they generally are pretty few ) are that the tone of their amplification can be so neutral as to be not engaging. Some people really prefer a Marantz sound or Yamaha's crispness or a Macintosh tube sound. But that's more of a situation of your preference for the coloration. You'll see very very few complaints that NAD colors the sound or doesn't live up to clean representation of the sound. One other comment. Some people swear by the Dirac room correction, but not me. I've tried it with two different sets of speakers and never thought it was better sounding. I also thought it was a pain to set up because they want so many test points. I also think that including it only for the lower frequencies and asking for another $100 to get the full correction, after you paid $3000 for the M10, is ridiculous. But when it comes to Dirac its definitely true that 'to each his own'.

4. Overall fit/finish/quality. I'd give this area high marks in the physical presentation of the unit. Especially the V2 has a great screen. The aluminum and glass chassis is extremely attractive and professional. The connections in the back look great. The included remote is very nice as well although I don't use that much. Even the physical packaging/boxing is very high quality...Apple level packaging. Negatives: not any really for the M10. However my C 3050 LE has some niggling things I think should not exist.

5. Reliability. This is a really important, but elusive factor. I have many pieces of audio and PC gear that last decades. Generally older electronics seemed to break early or never fail. I still have my original NAD 3045 from 1978! I have PCs and Macs and routers and even some iPhones that are 10-20 years old. Negatives: But the M10 is a question mark. There are reports of units that just go dead. Mine did after only a year and a half. It was covered under warranty and easily replaced by Crutchfield, but real question is how long will this level of packaging last for most consumers. If you pay $3000 for an M10 and it just dies one day that seems unacceptable. . How long will the M10 last? Maybe more of a question is: do modern electronics have an inherently lower lifecycle than older electronics? Is buying an M10 inherently different than buying a Marantz 40N or a Yamaha or McIntosh?

Well that's my 2 cents for today. Just wanted to get that off my chest. ;-)
Since you own both M10 V2 and C 3050 LE, how would you compare the two? I prefer the aesthetics of C 3050, howerer M10 seems to have a better NCore module.
 

argyle_mikey

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And mine keeps chugging along, daily use for almost four years. Only complaint I've had is that I wish the power were higher, but excellent high power amps are cheap these days and can be run from the M10's preamp outputs. For most, the power is adequate, I just like a lot of loud music and my speakers aren't super efficient.
Likewise. My old C390DD is a bit marginal with my Neat XLS Momentum’s.

You mentioned way back that you were going to try out some power amps with the M10 SIY - did that ever happen, I wonder ?

I like the idea of using the M10 in the way you describe, as a feature-packed front end. You could perhaps add a couple of C268’s for the power, which I think give 300w each in bridged mode. Not sure if that’s possible…
 

SIY

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You mentioned way back that you were going to try out some power amps with the M10 SIY - did that ever happen, I wonder ?
Yes, quite a few. Whenever I review power amps, I use the pre outputs from the M10 to drive them. At the moment, the power amps in use are Axign demo boards (subject of an upcoming article). but I've had Purifi, Hypex nCORE, Nilai, and GaN Systems amps running as well.
 

PeterOo

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Yes, quite a few. Whenever I review power amps, I use the pre outputs from the M10 to drive them. At the moment, the power amps in use are Axign demo boards (subject of an upcoming article). but I've had Purifi, Hypex nCORE, Nilai, and GaN Systems amps running as well.
Cool! Is that the Axign/GaN demo board?
when can we expect the article online (no pressure :))
 

SIY

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Yes, M10 V1 was also included. I believe the update covers all BluOS devices going back to the very first Node.
I updated but don't see (or hear) much of a difference. My main problem with BluOS remains- the inability to get album or song details when using my streaming service (Amazon).
 

thisiscrs

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Hey guys, I am looking for a suitable amplifier for my Audio Physic Avanti with which I can also use Tidal Connect. The speakers have an efficiency of 95 db. The measurements are rather poor, especially for such an expensive device. Should that put me off?

I could get the device new for 1,950 € including a 5-year warranty. What do you think about it?

My alternative idea would be a minidsp SHD + an Apollon Hypex NCx500 power amp.
 

Porter

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I updated but don't see (or hear) much of a difference. My main problem with BluOS remains- the inability to get album or song details when using my streaming service (Amazon).
I just tested with Amazon Music and had no problem whatsoever, either on the BluOS mobile app or on the front of the unit. It even tells me what format and bitrate in the app now, which is great.
 

Porter

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There seems to have been a number of "under the hood" changes in BluOS 4.0 firmware on the M10 V1, the sound quality seems improved. It's possible that they've improved or changed the Linux libraries that they use for the streaming and decoding portions of the audio chain, and maybe even optimized the gain of the outputs further. No idea. I'd be interested in seeing someone re-test the product and see what may have changed (if anything) on the bench.
 

SIY

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I just tested with Amazon Music and had no problem whatsoever, either on the BluOS mobile app or on the front of the unit. It even tells me what format and bitrate in the app now, which is great.
How do you get things that are on the album cover like performers, dates, etc? In my BluOS app, it just shows a too-small pic of the front of the album, not the reverse or any of the info in the Amazon app.
 

SIY

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There seems to have been a number of "under the hood" changes in BluOS 4.0 firmware on the M10 V1, the sound quality seems improved. It's possible that they've improved or changed the Linux libraries that they use for the streaming and decoding portions of the audio chain, and maybe even optimized the gain of the outputs further. No idea. I'd be interested in seeing someone re-test the product and see what may have changed (if anything) on the bench.
I did a bunch of bench measurements with the earlier version of the firmware and the performance was well better than human hearing (other than a problem locking onto an spdif stream, which they fixed shortly after my review). I'm not getting any sound difference since the update.
 

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I did a bunch of bench measurements with the earlier version of the firmware and the performance was well better than human hearing (other than a problem locking onto an spdif stream, which they fixed shortly after my review). I'm not getting any sound difference since the update.
NAD/BluOS have made a number of audible changes in their firmware over time, it's not a fixed hardware device like legacy audio equipment. The M10 is a small Linux computer with a custom UI built in for the front display. It runs a pretty standard Linux toolkit, plus custom app packages for streaming from various network and internet audio sources (each of which have had multiple revisions), for processing audio (in software), performing Dirac correction (in software), and then gain adjustments (in software) and piping the audio to the DAC hardware. There was a guy a few years ago on another forum who managed to reverse engineer command line access to one of these, it's a pretty elegantly designed little Linux appliance.

I believe they've gone through a number of different kernel driver implementations for the DAC over time, they actually mentioned this in an earlier firmware revision about a year and a half ago, and called it "gain algorithm" optimization or something of the sort. I personally suspect it was just an internal driver update, either for the packages that support the SABRE DAC or for some custom implementation library of their own. The sub output levels changed pretty significantly (increased) when they changed that, not sure if you remember.
 

SIY

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NAD/BluOS have made a number of audible changes in their firmware over time, it's not a fixed hardware device like legacy audio equipment. The M10 is a small Linux computer with a custom UI built in for the front display. It runs a pretty standard Linux toolkit, plus custom app packages for streaming from various network and internet audio sources (each of which have had multiple revisions), for processing audio (in software), performing Dirac correction (in software), and then gain adjustments (in software) and piping the audio to the DAC hardware. There was a guy a few years ago on another forum who managed to reverse engineer command line access to one of these, it's a pretty elegantly designed little Linux appliance.

I believe they've gone through a number of different kernel driver implementations for the DAC over time, they actually mentioned this in an earlier firmware revision about a year and a half ago, and called it "gain algorithm" optimization or something of the sort. I personally suspect it was just an internal driver update, either for the packages that support the SABRE DAC or for some custom implementation library of their own. The sub output levels changed pretty significantly (increased) when they changed that, not sure if you remember.
I’ve seen some gain changes, and of course Dirac updates. But actual audible differences beyond a volume control setting? I’m highly skeptical.
 

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I’ve seen some gain changes, and of course Dirac updates. But actual audible differences beyond a volume control setting? I’m highly skeptical.
I don't blame you, I get where you're coming from. But they've fully replaced a bunch of the modular stack of software components in these things over time. BluOS has gone through three or four revisions just of the onboard streamer apps, their various format decoding libraries, and how they pipe the reconstructed PCM internally. I believe early on they were using the default ALSA mixer prior to the output stage, and I believe they changed to something else later (or stacked in additional tools) that now can support bit-perfect pipe to the DAC.

I see folks on this forum talking in earnest about different stand-alone internet streamer devices having meaningfully different sound, even when using the same source apps (Tidal, Roon, etc) and outputting SPDIF in the same bitrates to the exact same external DAC. Surely if that perspective is given any credence whatsoever, we have to also accept that changing the streamer software and the software audio path in an integrated Linux platform like BluOS could produce similar changes.

Unfortunately we lack fully detailed changelog for this stuff at the system level, but just in the context clues of how the system operates (and even how the diagnostics tools work) it's clear that some significant changes have been made over time to the software stack under the hood.
 
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