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Review: NAD, Bluesound Set High Performance Bar for Wireless Audio

NAD Masters Series M32 is a true, high-performance amplifier, especially when paired with its sister company's Bluesound BluOS wireless multiroom audio platform.

Review: NAD, Bluesound Set High Performance Bar for Wireless Audio
CE Pro's Robert Archer reviews the NAD Masters Series M32 DirectDigital Amplifier alongside the Bluesound PULSE 2 all-in-one wireless streaming music player.

Robert Archer · September 26, 2017

Audiophiles are quick to dismiss the excitement driving the growth of wireless home audio by sounding a lot like the crotchety bad guys in Scooby Doo cartoons — “if it wasn’t for those meddling kids…” — if you get my drift. But over the past several years the market has evolved to promote wireless multiroom audio over tried-and-true solutions, too quickly for some manufacturers to keep up. Lenbrook, with its NAD and PSB Speakers brands, is not one of those manufacturers.

Before it even became trendy to offer wireless whole-house audio products, Lenbrook launched its Bluesound brand, along with the BluOS operating system. Today Bluesound is into its second generation of hardware, and BluOS software continues to mature through continual upgrades.

Specs

  • NAD Masters M32 DirectDigital Amp is rated to deliver 150 watts per channel
  • M32 is a true digital amplification product, and not just “Class D”
  • M32 offers Asynchronous USB, moving magnet phono, subwoofer options, and BluOS wireless whole-house audio
  • Bluesound Gen 2 line offers a choice of powered speakers, as well as an amplifier and music server
  • Bluesound BluOS is a proprietary wireless whole-house platform that includes app options for iOS, Android, Kindle, Windows and Mac OSX

A couple of the key drivers of BluOS have been its early adoption of high-resolution audio and its recent implementation into NAD’s product line.

Showcasing the interoperability of NAD and Bluesound, the company sent CE Pro its high-performance NAD Masters M32 digital amplifier and Bluesound Pulse 2 powered speaker to allow us to experience a couple of zones of BluOS sound and functionality. Read on for the review.

MSRP for the NAD Masters Series M32 DirectDigital Amplifier is $3,999. 

MSRP for the Bluesound PULSE 2 all-in-one wireless streaming music player is $699.

Features and Setup

The Masters Series M32 DirectDigital Amplifier is an integrated product that includes a preamplifier section and amplification. The M32’s DirectDigital amplification section is a true digital amplifier, and not just a Class D design, according to the company, and it is rated to produce 150 watts to each of its two channels. NAD says the amplifier works entirely in the digital domain and it converts its digital signals to analog at the speaker terminals.

The preamplifier section of the M32 features a moving-magnet phono stage input to allow for the playback of vinyl, as well as AES/EBU, coax and optical, USB A and USB B inputs, and an Asynchronous USB 2.0 input. The Asynchronous USB, AES/EBU, coax and optical inputs also support 24-bit/192kHz audio.

One other important feature of the M32 is the inclusion of NAD’s Modular Design Construction (MDC) card-cage system. Through MDC, integrators can swap out circuit boards, including a BluOS board to enable dealers to include the M32 in a wireless BluOS-based whole-house audio system. MDC allows integrators to tailor specific features of NAD products to meet a range of client needs.

Looking at the second-generation Pulse 2 all-in-one speaker, just like the rest of the Gen 2 products it features a new ARM Cortex A9 CPU, as well as a new Wi-Fi design and Gigabit speed Ethernet. 

NAD packages magnetic “pads” to place underneath the feet of the amp ... to help decouple the amp from shelves and cabinets.

Controlling these products or at least the whole-house functionality portion of the NAD, Bluesound combination is the Bluesound Controller App. The app is backwards compatible with the company’s first-generation Bluesound products and it adds favorite playlists, along with the ability to program one-touch music playback.

The app is available on iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, Windows and Mac OS X.

Starting with the Pulse 2, I unpacked the fairly good-sized powered speaker and quickly ran a Cat-6 cable from a small network switch in my master bedroom to the speaker’s Gigabit Ethernet port.

After downloading the Bluesound app, I followed the step-by-step directions from the app. I opened the general tab on my iPad’s settings, found the Pulse in the Wi-Fi section and selected it to place the speaker on my Araknis home network. From there I named the speaker “MBR” and selected the Slacker and TuneIn music services. I finished by enabling its UPnP connectivity to pull music from my network.

Setting up the NAD Masters Series M32 entailed a similar process, with the only real exception being I ran a set of speaker cables to a pair of Monitor Audio Platinum Series PL100 loudspeakers.

I’d also like to point out that with the M32, NAD does offer some elegant gestures that are easy to overlook, but say a lot about the company. NAD packages these nice magnetic “pads” to place underneath the feet of the amp. My guess is the magnetic pads help decouple the amp from shelves and cabinets, and like I said, add a touch of class to the product.

Getting back to the setup, the only issue I had was getting my iOS devices to connect via Bluetooth with the M32 amp.

Overall, getting the products up and running did not take very long thanks to the streamlined setup process.

Performance and Conclusions

Once I had the Bluesound and NAD products up and running, I opened the Bluesound app and chose to listen to Slacker through the M32. Choosing Slacker’s Led Zeppelin A-to-Z list, I was instantly surprised how good a low-res source like Slacker sounded through the M32 and Monitor Audio speakers.

Choosing the sources through the app was easy enough, and I was just stunned at how pinpoint, warm and articulate the M32 sounded.

After running both products with streaming music and sports-talk radio to help break the products in, I hooked up my MacBook Air to the M32 via USB to play high-resolution audio content from TIDAL. 

While I listened to the 24-bit/96kHz version of Rush’s Moving Pictures, I found myself sounding a lot like Jeff Spicoli saying “… awesome, totally awesome” in describing what I was hearing.

The Pulse 2 proved itself to be dynamic and balanced. To me this shows the design prowess of sister company PSB and its founder Paul Barton.

I also had similar experiences with records from Led Zeppelin and Avenged Sevenfold. What was really noticeable with the Avenged Sevenfold content was how much bigger and more impactful the MQA high-resolution content sounded than standard CD fare.

The imaging the M32 produced was tight and locked in, and the soundstage was big. 

Moving on to CD-quality music from Incubus and songs like “Nice to Know You” I found the Masters Series amp to be very revealing. Showcasing items like the compression used on the mastering of the track, as well as the level of modulation on the guitar parts from the song, the integrated amp delivered high levels of resolution.

Content from Apple Music sounded just as good. While listening to classic rock from Golden Earring and the young blues artist Joanne Taylor Shaw, I found Shaw’s record to have much more ambience than my headphone listening experience of the same content. 

As for the Pulse 2, I found it easily filled my master bedroom with sound. Perhaps most striking, the Pulse 2 proved itself to be dynamic and balanced. To me this shows the design prowess of sister company PSB and its founder Paul Barton, who may be one of the best speaker engineers in consumer electronics. 

With all of that there’s really not much more I can say about the Bluesound and NAD combination other than I simply loved the products. 

In closing, I’ll admit that I liked aspects of the Gen 1 Bluesound products, but I wasn’t sure about the app. Now with the revisions Lenbrook has made to the app — and the upgrades it made with the release of Gen 2 — I’m completely on board with Bluesound and the BluOS platform. Bluesound may have just established itself as the performance leader in the wireless whole-house audio market.

CE Pro Verdict: NAD Masters M32 and Bluesound Pulse 2

Pros:

  • Lots of system configuration options
  • Bluesound and NAD are consistent in their ability to deliver high levels of sound quality
  • The combination of NAD and Bluesound’s distribution, along with BluOS being a proprietary OS, integrators don’t have to worry about retail competition.

Cons:

  • Devices fall asleep after inactivity, need “wake ups” to use
  • M32 didn’t like Bluetooth streaming attempts


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  About the Author

Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob also serves as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons in Haverhill, Mass. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Robert at robert.archer@emeraldexpo.com

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  Article Topics


Speakers · Amplifiers · Wireless · Audio/Video · Distributed Audio · Products · Bluesound · BluOS · NAD · Whole-House Audio · All Topics
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