NAD L53 DVD Player/Receiver

by | May 31, 2005 | Component Reviews | 0 comments

NAD L53 DVD Receiver:
the little box that could – do everything

2 x 50 watts, 20Hz-20kHz, at <0.08% THD, both channels driven into 8 Ohms (NAD Full Disclosure Power)
SRS technology creates a natural enveloping sound from only two speakers
Progressive Scan Video with Component Video Output
Component, Composite and S-Video Outputs
Dual standard (PAL/NTSC) OSD follows input for DVD
2 A/V Inputs, S-Video and Composite for adding additional sources such as Satellite TV
2 Digital Inputs, coax and optical
Optical digital output
FM/AM tuner with RDS (RS, PT) and 30 station presets
Binding post Speaker Connectors
Gold Plated RCA connectors
Subwoofer line level output with level adjustment
HTR-L53 8 Device Illuminated Learning Remote Control 

NAD Electronics
6 Merchan St.
Sharon, MA 02067

Jack-of-all-trades; master of none?

I was apprehensive when I was asked to review NAD’s L53 DVD receiver,
and after I went to the NAD web site I was downright worried. 
This little box contains several shelves worth of audio components: a
preamp, stereo amplifier, AM/FM tuner, DVD player that accommodates
most formats (DVD-A and SACD excepted).  There’s a mysterious
audio enhancement feature that allegedly simulates multichannel sound
from two channels.  Just add a couple of speakers and you have a
competent hifi system; plug in a monitor and you have home theater.
The concept runs contrary to our notion of high performance audio and
video quality.  Amplifiers are supposed to be bulky, heavy items
sprouting heat sinks and pouring out heat; good quality preamps aren’t
supposed to have so many features; tuners live in separate chassis from
both; and don’t even start talking about the mess of wires necessary
for home theater.  Add to this the modest price, and I had to
wonder whether NAD, champion of good-for-cheap, had promised far more
than it could produce.  Six hundred bucks for a unit with all of
these features?  There are isolation devices that cost four times
as much.  How could this contraption sound any better than Circuit
City trash?
Point of diminishing returns
I should have known better.  After all, my history with NAD
products extends back nearly thirty years, when I found a used 3020
integrated amp for my girlfriend.  We were both impecunious
graduate students and couldn’t afford any better.  Everyone knew
that heavy, aggressively ugly separate components were better – until
the evening the humble, drab NAD unit blew someone’s Apt/Holman unit
My first, reluctant step in this evaluation process was cautious: I
replaced that same 3020 with the L53.  This is not weak
competition.  The venerable 3020, twisted metal work and leaking
capacitors, is still competitive with integrated amps in the $500 price
I can’t tell you precisely how the 3020 sounded in 1978, but the L53
was substantially better in the early Spring of 2005.  All of the
qualities we esteem in music reproduction, from pace and rhythm to bass
extension to midrange openness, and including absence of grain and
harshness, were areas in which the L53 did well.  If the unit had
been marketed strictly as a 50 watt integrated amplifier, I would have
been impressed.  It’s quieter than the 3020, at least in its old
age, smoother and more musical, and twice as powerful.
First the L53 drove the Edgar Slimline 80, a three-way horn
system.  Of course, you don’t need much power to drive this
speaker to excessive levels, but the amp needs to be extremely quiet
and free of high frequency nastiness.  While the NAD didn’t
provide the lushness and detail of my SAS 7.0 single-ended amp, it
wasn’t embarrassed in the comparison.  The Slimline, which exposes
errors to a painful degree, is a tough test.
My other reference speaker is a pair of stacked Quad 57s, and they can
show up amplifier faults in painfully short order.  The L53 passed
this test with a reactive, insensitive load, too.  It lacked the
authority of the new Monarchy 250-watt hybrid, and the unsurpassed
combination of power and musical definition of the VAC 70/70, but it
wasn’t far away.  Plainly, all 50-watt amps are not constructed
E Pluribus Unum
I was wrong, and that’s good.  Still, the doubt remained: if the
amplifier is this good, how much could I expect of the other components
packed into the box?
The CD/DVD player works well.  Like the integrated amp section, I
feel this portion of the L53 is very competent, with properly chosen
priorities resulting in good sound and vision.  You would
certainly have to spend a great deal more to hear or see an
improvement.  I plugged a $1,500 CD player into the back and
didn’t hear any revelatory differences.  The image cast on my Sony
monitor was clear and crisp.
The L53’s FM tuner is quite good; about as much better than my old NAD
4020 tuner than the amp beats my old 3020.  Reception is stronger
– I was able to pull in Chicago stations more easily – but, much more
to the point, the sound was more musical.  For those of you who
have never heard of the 4020, this was a celebrated unit because of its
innovative Schotz tuning circuit.  Some of the improvement, of
course, has to do with the intrinsic virtue of having all of your
electronic eggs in one basket: no interconnects means no RCAs, no power
cables generating hum and leaking noise.  And, as I said, the amp
is pretty darn good.  The tuner’s single failing was the inability
to cancel out announcers: “We’ll hear a wonderful recording of
Beethoven’s A minor quartet in a moment, but first I want to drone on
about my opinions, impressions and amateurish notions.”  Well, you
can’t expect to get everything for six hundred dollars.
The AM tuner opened a world of hip-hop, rap, country-western rendered
with compressed dynamics; lengthy advertising segments, public
announcements and sports reports.  I consign self-important FM
classical announcers to lengthy AM listening sessions.
The amplifier has only two channels, but don’t despair: the L53
contains an SRS system, to simulate a wide ambience and restore signal
lost in recording.  After three days of listening to music I
engaged the SRS and found that the bass and treble were enhanced to
unnatural and irritating levels.  Employed as intended on movies,
however, SRS does make the dialogue easier to follow, and to widen the
sound stage.  It does not do the job of five or seven large,
properly placed loudspeakers and a subwoofer.
That, ultimately, is the point of the exercise: not to extend the state
of the art but to push against the law of diminishing returns. 
There are better components in every category, but they all cost a
great deal more money, occupy vast amounts of space, and require
upkeep.  NAD has put as much sound quality as I could imagine, and
more features, into a small box.  It’s cheap, will doubtless last
decades, and performs almost any function you could ask.  Buy one
for the office, another for the study, send your kid to college with
one; and be thankful that the NAD engineering and marketing people are
as wise now as they were thirty years ago.
 – H. Richard Weiner
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