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NAD’s C 389 Integrated Amp Delivers Streaming and Dirac for Less

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NAD C389 Integrated Amp

NAD C389 Integrated Amp

Summary

  • Product Name: C 389 Integrated Amp
  • Manufacturer: NAD
  • Review Date: July 25, 2022 00:30
  • MSRP: $1,499, Optional BluOS-D Module: $549
  • First Impression: Gotta Have It!
  • Buy Now

Continuous Power: 2 x 130 Watts per channel into 8/4 ohms (preliminary)

Instantaneous Power: 210 W into 8 ohms, 300 W into 4 ohms, 350 W into 2 ohms (preliminary)

Other specs not yet available

Executive Overview

m33Over the years, NAD has made everything from turntables and Hi-Fi separates to headphones and home theater gear, but I think it’s fair to say that the company built its reputation on integrated amps, starting with the legendary NAD 3020 in 1978. These days, NAD offers a wide range of integrated amps, priced from about $500 at the low end to $6,000 for the flagship Masters Series M33. The newest member of the lineup is the mid-priced C 389 ($1,499), which was recently launched at the High End show in Munich. I think the best way to view the C 389 is to understand where it sits within the context of NAD’s lineup, starting with the extremely popular M10, which sold for $2,500 when it launched in 2019. As the baby of NAD’s high-end Masters Series, the M10 seemingly had it all: 100 watts of Hypex nCore amplification, a high-quality DAC based on an ESS chip, streaming smarts from NAD’s sister company Bluesound, and advanced room correction from Dirac. Pack all of that into a surprisingly small and beautifully-built package, and you have a winner. NAD wasted little time in scaling down this success into a cheaper product with the $1,500 C700 streaming integrated amp, which launched alongside the M10 V2 ($2,750) last year. Part of NAD’s less expensive Classic Series, the C700 inherited the M10’s compact form factor, along with the LCD display and BluOS streaming functionality that made the M10 appealing to “lifestyle” audio customers, while sacrificing some of the performance and features that made its pricier sibling attractive to audiophiles. The C700 doesn’t have Dirac, and its 80 watts of Class D power come by way of less expensive UcD (Universal Class D) modules, rather than the Hypex nCore amps used in the M10. (The C700 uses the same UcD modules found in NAD’s $899 C 268 stereo power amp and $999 C 368 integrated amp.) Not long after launching the C700 for those customers who might value simplicity, small size, style, and lower price above the last word in performance, the company launched a very different Classic Series amp for a different kind of the customer. The C 399 ($1,999 plus $549 for optional MDC2 BluOS-D module) was meant for customers who might be eyeing the M10 V2, but who couldn’t help but wonder if their dollars could go farther if they were willing to give up that amp’s small size, touchscreen display, and impeccable Masters Series casework. In its full-size chassis (with build-quality and aesthetics that are perfectly satisfactory, rather than outstanding), the C 399 offers 180 watts of Hypex nCore power, along with the same DAC found in the Masters Series units. Both BluOS streaming and Dirac Live room correction come via the new $549 BluOS-D module — the first in NAD’s updated MDC2 system of modular, swappable cartridges that allow the product to stay up-to-date for years. Even with the optional BluOS-D module, the C 399 sells for $200 less than the M10 V2, making it the perfect choice for the audiophile who values audio performance and value above all else. And at less than half the price of the flagship M33 amp, the C 399 might also be the perfect solution for customers who really want NAD’s top dog, but are either unwilling or unable to part with $6K to get it. And finally, that brings us to the new C 389, which in many ways can be viewed as the less expensive little brother of the C 399.

NAD C389 rear 

At first glance, the C 389 looks nearly identical to the C 399, though the newer amp is slightly slimmer. Both units sport the fairly plain but subtly attractive styling of NAD’s Classic Series, which seems to make them the spiritual successors to the NAD amps of old. Underneath their unassuming facades, the two amps also share a lot of the same tech. Like the C 399, the C 389 has a DAC section built around the same 32-bit/384kHz ESS Sabre DAC chip used in the brand’s up-market Masters Series amplifiers, the M10 V2 and M33. The ESS Sabre ES9028 chip was chosen for its “near-zero levels of clock jitter, exceptionally wide dynamic range, and ultra-low noise and distortion, delivering astonishing clarity and holographic imaging on all sources,” according to NAD. The C 389 is also compatible with the BluOS-D MDC2 module, which launched in 2021 with the C 399. NAD’s Modular Design Construction system has been in use since 2006, giving customers the ability to update and upgrade the features of their NAD products by installing new modules into the expansion slots built into the back of various amplifiers and AV receivers. The new MDC2 system takes that future-proofing approach to the next level by allowing two-way communications between the expansion module and the host component. So far, the BluOS-D is the only MDC2 module available, and the C 389 is only the second amplifier to accommodate it. The BluOS-D module offers an astounding amount of functionality for its $549 price. Of course, it turns the C 389 into a BluOS streaming component, allowing the user to stream content and control the amp using Bluesound’s powerful and intuitive BluOS Controller app for Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows. The app provides access to over 20 streaming services including Tidal (with MQA support), Qobuz, Amazon Music HD, and Spotify. If you want to stream from outside the BluOS app, the BluOS-D module also supports Tidal Connect, Spotify Connect, and Apple AirPlay 2. But if you use the BluOS app, the C 389 can become part of a multi-room audio system with up to 64 zones. The “D” in BluOS-D stands for Dirac — one of the module’s standout features. Using the included microphone installed into the module’s USB port, and Dirac software running on a smart device or laptop, the user can measure and automatically compensate for acoustic problems like standing waves and room reflections. (Depending on the particulars of the system and the room, the results of Dirac Live can vary from noticeable to astonishing.) NAD reckons you’ll enjoy “deeper, more textured bass, more precise imaging, and improved timbral accuracy.”

 NADC389

So, if the C 389 has so much in common with the C 399, why is this new amp $500 cheaper? It basically comes down to the output stage of the amplifier. Until recently, NAD’s top Masters Series models used Hypex nCore amplification. Now, the very best NAD offerings (such as the M33 integrated amp, the M23 stereo power amp, and the M28 7-channel amp) use Eigentakt amps designed by Bruno Putzeys and his team at Purifi Audio. Meanwhile, Hypex nCore amplification is still being used in the M10 V2, and has trickled down into the C 399. NAD’s less expensive products, including the new C 389, use another Hypex design called UcD. In the C 389, NAD employs a customized version of the company’s HybridDigital UcD amplifier design using multiple UcD amplifier modules in balanced bridged configuration to deliver 130 watts per channel of continuous power. NAD says that the C 389’s innovative switch-mode power supply is able to provide “ample reserves of current on demand,” and that the amp “can produce real-life listening levels with any loudspeaker load, with virtually unmeasurable distortion and noise through the audioband, and effortless reproduction of musical transients.” Aside from the streaming options provided by the BluOS module, the C 389 offers a variety of digital and analog inputs, including HDMI eARC for a simple 2-channel home theater experience, and a moving-magnet phono stage. On the output side, the C 389 offers preamp outputs, two dedicated subwoofer outputs, and a headphone amp.

BluOS Share Music from Any Source

BluOS ModuleI’d like to wrap up by addressing a question I received from an Audioholics reader about the BluOS-D module as it relates to the C 399 (and now the C 389 as well). Thanks to the two-way communication offered by NAD’s new MDC2 platform, a BluOS-D module installed in a C 399 or C 389 can share music from any source connected to the amp with up to 63 BluOS-enabled components on the same network. So, for example, if you have a CD transport connected to the C 389, you can send that audio to other BluOS devices around the house, just as you would do with streaming audio. The reader in question has compatible gear both from Bluesound and from the Danish speaker company Dali (which makes active streaming speakers that use BluOS), and wanted to know if the ability to send audio from a CD transport to other BluOS devices was unique to the BluOS-D module, or if there was a way to make it work without buying a new module-equipped amplifier. At the time, I wasn’t aware of a workaround that didn’t involve buying a C 399 with a BluOS-D module installed. That’s a hefty investment if you’re only interested in one cool feature. But now, Bluesound has introduced a product called the Hub, which does exactly what this reader was asking about. The small $319 device has five inputs: HDMI eARC, coaxial digital, optical digital, stereo analog, and moving-magnet phono. Signals from any of these inputs can be sent to other Bluesound or BluOS players. In fact, the Hub can send a signal from one of its digital inputs to some BlueOS devices and a signal from one of its analog inputs to other devices at the same time.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.

About the author:
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Jacob is a music-lover and audiophile who enjoys convincing his friends to buy audio gear that they can't afford. He's also a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles.

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