NAD Electronics T 778 Reference AV Receiver Review
Tony O’Brien tunes into an impressive new mid-price Dirac Live-equipped AV receiver…
T 778 Reference AV Receiver
Value for money is what makes NAD stand out from the crowd, and that doesn’t mean dozens of superfluous functions, gizmos and gadgets. Instead, the company has always offered a measure of useful features allied to fine sound and decent but understated build quality. Typical buyers of this brand are almost reassured by sober looks, devoid of shiny bits of metal and flashing lights.
The new T778 is no different – NAD says it’s a cutting edge powerhouse that seeks to repeat its winning formula. At its heart are nine high current digital amplifiers, featuring the company’s own Hybrid Digital Amplifier Technology. The T778’s UcD102 power module is a self-contained dual-channel, high-performance Class D amplifier which the company says achieves a flat frequency response irrespective of load impedance, with frequency-independent distortion behaviour.
At first glance, its quoted 85W RMS per channel may seem a little modest. However, it’s for all channels driven simultaneously at full bandwidth – which is effectively the worst-case scenario for power output measurements. Such blunt honesty is a refreshing departure. In truth, it’s pretty much as high as any of its competitors in real terms.
The T778 doesn’t boast a double-digit amplifier count but can process up to 11.2 channels with external amplification. This is thanks in part to its Modular Design Construction, which allows both audio and video circuits to be replaced as new formats become available. Not just ballyhoo, NAD’s older T758 V3 had three upgrades during its nine-year lifecycle which heralded in everything from Atmos, 4K Ultra HD video and Dirac Live Room Correction – hence the V3 moniker.
Speaking of which, the T778 includes a license for Dirac Live Room Correction with the option of purchasing a Pro License and expanding its abilities accordingly. Oh, and it’s capable of decoding the latest in lossless surround formats including Dolby Atmos and DTS X. Notably absent from its list of supported formats is IMAX Enhanced, but this could change with a future firmware update.
BluOS adds wireless multi-room streaming to the T778’s feature set, along with all the usual suspects such as Tidal, Spotify, Deezer and Internet Radio. Also present is support for hi-res FLAC and WAV audio playback, and Apple Airplay 2.
Open the carton and you’ll find the unit, plus another box with two remotes, the power cord, a microphone for Dirac live calibration, BluOs Kit and rack mount ears. While many are not going to need the latter, it’s this attention to detail that sets the T778 apart. The main remote is identical to the remote that shipped with the T758 V3. Rather longish in design, it sits comfortably in hand, with large easy to read buttons, with the press of a button activating the backlight. A second, smaller and far less impressive remote is reserved for controlling the T778 from a separate zone.
At 435x140x430mm, the T778 fits into spaces that larger AVRs will baulk at. Its modest dimensions and minimalistic façade make it both distinctively NAD, yet uniquely different from anything we’ve seen from the manufacturer before. A large TFT screen dominates the front panel, while controls are kept to a minimum – save for the power button, volume dial, USB and HDMI input, plus a headphone jack. Its curved edges give way to a robust aluminium case, which apart from its top vents is otherwise sealed. Styling and build quality are first class.
At the back are eighteen loudspeaker binding posts mounted in a horizontal configuration, and above this are four replaceable MDC panels that house the inputs and outputs. The first is reserved for future expansion, while the second slot contains five HDMI inputs, two HDMI outs and a USB input, plus an Ethernet port. The remaining MDC panels slots host its pre-outs, in addition to dual analogue, coaxial and TOSLINK inputs. Dual subwoofer outputs are provided, in addition to 3.5mm connectors for IR sensors and 12v triggers.
Both a Panasonic UB9000 4K Blu-ray player and Apple TV were connected directly to the T778 via its HDMI inputs, while the output went to a Sony VPL-VW270ES projector via a Lumagen Radiance Pro, which was projected onto a Severtson 100” Cinegray screen. In our home theatre, Analysis Plus cables provided the link to VAF Signature i91 front, and centre speakers and four VAF i90 rear surround and ceiling mounted Atmos speakers. The T778 has two parallel sub outputs, so it’s only possible to create a single delay and trim for both sums. These drove two VAF Veritas 10” custom subs for a 5.2.2 Atmos system.
Upon powering up the unit, you’re greeted by a NAD logo during which the T778 completes its power cycle. In addition to revealing the source and volume, the TFT display also grants access and control over its various functions while also acting as an on-screen display. There are no setup wizards, so it’s a case of just diving and getting your feet wet. The menus are clearly and logically laid out, but it’s still worth acquainting yourself with the downloadable user manual before getting started.
Dirac Live needs to be downloaded to a PC to complete speaker calibration and room EQ. While not as simple to use as other systems, it adds a level of versatility and customisation that’s simply not possible with inbuilt room-correction systems. Since I last dabbled with Dirac, it’s had a significant update in the form of version 3.0. The resulting software is both more stable and easier to use than its predecessor. The calibration process was remarkably smooth, with easy to follow instructions and diagrams illustrating where the microphone should be placed for measurements.
While it may have been simplified, I’d strongly encourage you to spend some time familiarising yourself with Dirac if you want to hear all that the T778 has to offer. Likewise, invest in a tripod or mic stand to use with the microphone. In its ‘free’ form, Dirac will EQ between 20Hz and 500Hz which is fine for most. The Pro license comes at an additional cost of USD $99 and unlocks EQ of the entire frequency range of 20Hz-20kHz and promises improved soundstaging and clarity. Of course, for any tinkerer, this is a must.
The T778 is a gutsy AV receiver that’s equally at home dishing out the sonic mayhem of action blockbusters, as it is revealing the nuances of subtler fare. Pinpoint location of effects gives the T778 a tightly focused soundstage. For example, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a highly entertaining watch but also contains a cracking Dolby Atmos soundtrack. The heartbeat in the Marvel intro was not only heard but felt at the primary listening position. With Dirac switched in, overall bass reproduction was excellent but lacking some of the control that I’m accustomed to.
The T778’s ability to retrieve detail and precision when placing objects within the sound field brought the ambient sound of Mile’s school hall to life, putting myself and my budding nine-year-old reviewer right in the chaos of the school hall. Its precision gives it a polite sonic character that took some time get accustomed to, but it’s a sound that grew on me during the review period. It’s a characteristic that can lull you into a false sense of security, as the T778 is capable of huge dynamic swings.
As the Imperial Navy steamed its way into our listening room, the T778 was very much at home dishing out the sonic onslaught of Midway’s DTS HD soundtrack. Gunfire, explosions and the roar of the Dauntless dive-bombers engines ripping their way through the listening room. Nudging the volume control higher than I’m accustomed to proved this AV receiver’s power amp section was up to the task, effortlessly driving the speakers without a hint of strain. I heard great dynamic swings, but all of the aforementioned subtleties and politeness were present and accounted for, bringing a sense of order and cohesion to the explosion-filled mayhem.
All of these traits were present with the Atmos soundtrack of Atomic Blonde. Here the T778 delivered Charlise Theron’s fight scenes with conviction, its musical prowess doing the nineteen-eighties soundtrack justice. The Atmos soundtrack on the 4K Blu-ray of John Wick may be equally potent, but it does require a nudge on the volume control to get things ticking. Regardless, the NAD served up the soundtrack with the same sense of enthusiasm I’ve become accustomed to. My only criticism is that the sound was not quite as muscular as my own Anthem MX720.
Likewise, the soundstage lacked some of the height and the width I’m used to. Rather than a criticism, it’s a point of difference as the NAD produced a more focused and tighter soundstage than the Anthem. I have no doubt this was emphasised due to the options that I chose when running Dirac calibration, however, it’s a trait I’ve noticed with other NAD AVRs that have been in our listening room too.
The new NAD T778 distinguishes itself with a refined sonic character, one that’s equally at home dishing out the sonic goodies as it is with more subtle fare. It has more than enough dynamics to create an expansive home theatre experience. At the same time, the ability to deliver effects with pinpoint precision ensures the action’s delivered not only with a sense of impact but credibility. Coupled with its modest dimensions and downright cool styling, this box brings flagship performance to a range of spaces which may have dictated a compromise in the past. Highly recommended, then.
Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator by day, and an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products by night. Tony has calibrated and worked with some of the best home cinema designers throughout Australia.
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