Let’s assume that you’ve decided that it’s time to go shopping for a new CD player.
When you start looking around, you’ll find (aside from “toys”) a two-part market: ultra high end players which often take the form of separate CD transports and accompanying DACs and more basic models which resemble what one might call vintage or classic CD players in general form and function.
For the past five years or so, the NAD C 515BEE player (part of the second group) has been at the top of many reviewers’ and music lovers’ lists of players that sound really good and carry relatively relaxed price tags. Now NAD Electronics is replacing that with a +1 model: the NAD C 516BEE. It’s a modest reworking of the 515, but given general advances in audio electronics in the past five years, a welcome one.
The C 516BEE features the latest generation Cirrus Logic 24/192 D/A Converters for more accurate dynamics and a finely-tuned analog stage for even lower distortion compared to its predecessor. Audio specific OP Amps assure accurate musical sound while standby power consumption is reduced to a tiny trickle (<0.5 watts), saving energy while still allowing full function remote control. The C 516BEE offers a choice of COAX or Optical digital outputs.
They’ve done a cosmetic upgrade, too. It’s not a radical change. Essentially the design team rounded off the upper and lower edges of the front panel and squared off the corners a bit. That’s just enough to make the C 516BEE look more like today than ‘way back in 2008. Appropriate visual presence is a fine thing since we see our electronic gear more hours of the day than we hear it.
Hearing the NAD C 516BEE is a particular pleasure. The usual caveat about source material applies, of course. But given a CD that was properly mastered from a quality source, this NAD player is going to put the best the CD has to offer down the electronic path to your speakers, thence into your listening room, ultimately arriving in your cerebral cortex.
I particularly appreciate the C 516BEE’s ability to communicate a satisfying soundstage. This, by the way, is the case even for older monaural recordings in which depth of image is very apparent, once again only when the recording has such depth to offer up.
I ran into just one issue when using the NAC C 516BEE. With one CD it started sticking and skipping. I gave the CD a visual check. I could see burnishing on the playback side of the CD. The look of the burnishing told me that it was most likely due to harsh treatment by the eject mechanism in a slot load car stereo. I’d carried that disc with me a few times.
I tried the the same on various other optical disc hardware at hand: CD players, BluRay player, computers. All handled the disc with no problem. A week later I thought I’d try the offending disc again in the 516 and it played just fine. I don’t put a lot of stock in the idea of burning in audio gear, but in this case I’m pretty sure that this brand new NAD C 516BEE needed either a bit of loosening up of its mechanism or possibly even a settling down of its mechanism after its long trip from Pickering, Ontario to Tucson, Arizona.
Getting back to the visual, the simple, easy to read, nicely sized, and communicative vacuum fluorescent display is a pleasure to view and use. It even has three levels of brightness, four if you count “off.” If you do turn the display off, the 516 will remember that choice the next time you fire up the player and show you nothing. Press DIMMER on the remote and the display will turn back on.
The display logic changes if you’re playing a CD-R with various folders of MP3 music files. Like its predecessor, the NAD C 516BEE will play discs of files saved in either MP3 or WMA format.
I didn’t check the musical performance with WMA files, but I did play a few MP3s. It wasn’t awful, in fact, it was pretty darn good. Still, I’d recommend MP3 CDs for background music at a party, dinner, or evening of board games. Maybe in the next five year model rotation, NAD will throw in FLAC decoding for better experiences when listening to compressed music files.
The CD7 remote is basic but well laid out and totally intuitive when playing regular CDs (except for finding the pause button the first time). I didn’t use the programming functions, but then who does? And the traversing of folders of MP3 files needed a bit of thoughtful consideration, but it was just a bit and I didn’t have to go to the manual for support.
By the way, the manual is in PDF form on a CD-ROM packed in with the player. I like that. You don’t have to keep track of a printed manual and you can put copies on various digital devices for quick consultation or just a feeling of security. If you find you have use for a hard copy, you can print out only those pages that you need.
Finally, there’s the matter of price. NAD is holding the line at $299 (intentional rhyme there), the price of the C 515BEEs predecessor. That’s an attractive MSRP for a machine of this quality…and heft, for that matter. Sure you can play a CD on a $40 DVD player you pick up at the drug store, but the music you love deserves better treatment than that and you deserve something that looks good and is a pleasure to operate.
That’s the NAD C 516BEE.