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NAD 317 Integrated Amplifier.

Manufacturer: NAD Electronics of America, 6 Merchant Street, Sharon, MA 02067; 781/ 784-8586

Price: $749

Source: Manufacturer loan

Reviewer: Kenneth M. Duke

NAD has long had a reputation for making some of the most cost-effective components on the market. Their prices are relatively low and the sound quality relatively high. One of their earliest, best regarded components -- one that really put them on the map in the U.S. market -- was the 3020 integrated amp. It cost less than $200 and while not very powerful (20 watts/channel but with lots of headroom), offered high-end sound. The preamp section of the 3020, which could be separated from the power amp by removing jumpers on the back panel, became a legend, with many audiophiles using it to drive an expensive, powerful separate power amplifier.

NAD's reputation was built on coupling first-class circuit designs (Tom Holman designed the 3020 preamp) with inexpensive far-eastern manufacturing. The NAD reputation has continued with numerous excellent performing components including CD players, receivers, integrated amps, and power amps. Their current 214 power amp was on the Issue 70 Sensible Choice List of recommended amplifiers and was further set apart with a Sensible Standard rating for offering something special, compared to other Sensible Choices, in its performance. [And it will be on this Issue's Sensible Choice listing, too -- but we have discontinued our practice of calling products "Sensible Standards." -KWN]

Does the NAD 317 uphold the NAD reputation for cost-effectiveness? Let's see.

The physical package is definitely NAD with simple styling in charcoal gray. The chassis and cover are stamped sheet metal but the front panel, unlike the old 3020, is a solid 3/16" plate. "Industrial" is a good description of how the 317 looks. This rectangular box weighs in at 27 pounds. The front panel has a moderate number of controls including a power switch, bass and treble controls with a defeat switch, pushbutton input selector switches, balance, and volume. There are status lights indicating soft clipping, bridged operation, and protection mode. The latter reports the status of the relay controlling power output to the speakers. The relay is activated for a few seconds when the amp is turned on and as soon as it is turned off. This isolates the speakers when the amp is most likely to put out damaging or unpleasant transients. The protection relay is also activated by overheating, short-circuited speaker wiring, or an internal fault.

Soft clipping is a feature long present in NAD power amplifier circuits. It gradually limits the output when the amp is overdriven, reducing distortion; I did not use this feature during my tests of the NAD, feeling that I was not likely to overdrive the amp and need such protection. The "bridge" light indicates when the amp is operated in the bridged mode -- more on this feature later. The 317 is supplied with an infrared remote control. Located over the balance control is a small window for receiving the remote signal. The angle of acceptance for this window is very narrow and care in aiming is necessary. The remote is the same as used for several other NAD products (receiver, tuner, CD, tape) and has 38 small, equal-sized buttons, only a few of which are useable on the 317.

The rear panel contains four line-level inputs and two tape in/out jacks; there is no capability for phono. Output jacks for one pair of speakers are provided and these can handle bare wire, spades, pins, or banana plugs. Like the old 3020 model, there are two pairs of jacks with jumpers connecting the preamp to the power amp. Removing the jumpers permits the preamp and power amp sections to independently operated. An external processor can also be inserted here. Another pair of jacks is for the NAD-link connector that enables several NAD components to be chained together and operated from a single remote. There is a switch to activate the soft clipping circuit and one to set the power amp in bridged mode. There are also two AC outlets, one switched and one unswitched. All the jacks are of decent quality and gold plated (except the speaker jacks, which are nickel).

Inside the NAD 317 are decent quality circuit boards covered with good quality parts. A large "Holmgren" toroidal power transformer is located near the front panel. The power amp operating in the stereo mode puts out 80 watts per channel with decent headroom. This should be more than adequate for most listening situations. Should more power be needed, the power amp section of the 317 can be bridged using the back panel switch. This puts its power amp into the mono mode and increases output to 240 watts. A bridged outboard NAD 214 power amp (same circuitry as the 317's power amp) can be added for a mere $499 to provide the other 240-watt stereo channel. Definitely a neat, no-fuss, low-cost way to increase output by about 5 dB.

Operating the 317 is simple and straightforward. The remote sets the volume with a continuous, motorized control so you can fine tune the setting. It also controls the inputs and will mute the amp by activating the output relay. While the power cannot be completely turned off using the remote, it can set the amp in standby mode. The owner's manual implies that this mode can be used for short (undefined) periods to inactivate the amp instead of manually turning it completely off using the front panel power switch. Of the 38 buttons on the remote, 10 activate functions on the 317. I have seen better labeled remote controls with larger, easier to use buttons. This along with the narrow angle of acceptance makes the NAD remote mediocre at best, but definitely more convenient than a remote-less amp. The ability to fine tune and mute the volume at the listener's seat is a real plus.

I must note here that my first sample of the 317 had problems in one channel right out of the box. I was promptly sent a replacement unit which performed (and continues to perform) flawlessly and I listened to a lot of music over a long period of time with the 317. It was compared to another quality integrated amp and my Audio by Van Alstine Superpas4/Super70i pre/power amp combination. A Sony CD player and Gradient Revolution speakers rounded out the test system.

No difference was discerned among the three amplifiers except that the NAD, which was the most powerful by at least 3 dB, gave a greater sense of ease on loud, complex music. I could just relax and listen with no worries about the ability of the amplifier to accurately reproduce the music. And the music sounded great, or poor, depending on the quality of the source material, not the NAD. The 317 for all practical purposes was invisible. Its turn-on and turn-off muting relay eliminated any pops, thuds, or other amusical transients. Switching from source to source was silent. The ability to mute the amp quickly from the listener's seat when the phone rings and to fine tune the volume are real conveniences that you don't really appreciate until you have to do without them.

I found the NAD 317 a first-class amp for music. It is not an audiophile's amp and is not likely to be adopted by the equipment-oriented members of that fraternity because it doesn't have any of the characteristics of true audiophile equipment. It isn't especially pretty; it doesn't weigh 100 pounds, have multiple chassis, or generate a lot of heat; no $500/ft. interconnects are needed to perform at its best; it doesn't require much attention to deliver quality sound. It is practical amp designed to be used month after month, year after year to provide trouble-free, accurate reproduction of music. It permits the emphasis to be place on the music rather than the equipment.

In summary, I can strongly recommend the NAD as the amplifier of choice in a wide variety of systems. Unlike a lot of integrated amps, it puts out a full 80 watts/channel that is fully adequate for most systems. If more power is needed, the bridged 317/214 combination can be used to raise the output to 240 watts/channel, which should handle just about any Sensible speaker. In stereo or bridged mode, the music is accurately reproduced without fuss and it offers the convenience of remote control of the most frequently used functions. At its price of $799 it is one of the great bargains in the audio marketplace. -- KMD
COPYRIGHT 1999 Sensible Sound
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Article Details
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Author:Duke, Kenneth M.
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Evaluation
Date:Apr 1, 1999
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