REVIEW: NAD M10 BLUOS STREAMING AMPLIFIER
M10 BluOS Streaming Amplifier
AUD$3,999 / NZD$4,999
The way that music is now delivered has changed. Predominantly It now originates from the internet, or 'cloud'. I grew up with physical media, LP’s, cassettes and CD’s, played through traditional full-sized players, amplifiers and large floor standing loudspeakers.
This was all housed in a nice equipment rack or on a few shelves, and it tended to dominate the overall look of the lounge room. It wasn’t invisible and as a proud owner, having it ‘blend’ into the room was the last thing on my and many other's agenda.
It was the focus of the room, and then suddenly, it wasn’t.
I’m not sure what happened, but at some given point having an ugly sound system was as desirable as an infectious disease.
They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and in my eyes there is still a certain beauty in well-engineered equipment that can be displayed proudly on a rack. But for the majority of folk that have significant others or smaller units rather than lavish homes, or don’t have a dedicated listening room, common sense tells us that whatever we use to play music, it has to be next to invisible, discreet, innocuous and preferably tiny.
At the same time, physical media has taken a back step to quality streaming services, and as a result, our preconceptions of sound quality have generally been downgraded.
You can’t have it all, or can you? Is it possible to have a single tiny device that is easy to hide, able to handle the modern ways of using music and still sound good enough to please the average purist?
The subject of this review is the new NAD Electronics M10 BluOS Streaming Amplifier.
It’s from the “Masters” range from NAD Electronics and that alone should tell you something of the intent of this product. It costs AUD$3,999 / NZD$4,999 and is a device that will have you shaking your head in wonder at how they possibly managed to get all of the many features into something so small and weighing only 3 kilograms.
Firstly the dimensions are 215 x 100 x 260 mm, so it can be placed almost anywhere and not look out of place. With its extruded brushed aluminium sides, gorilla-glass top and front panels and cool backlit NAD logo it looks classy and elegant.
The front of the amplifier is a gorgeous full colour, high-resolution TFT touch display that takes up most of the front face real estate. The screen size is 16.5cm (6.5”), and is exceptionally clear and bright, much like a modern tablet or mobile phone. Frankly, it’s just too lovely to want to hide away.
The rear panel is tidy and has all the essential ins and outs, logically laid out. There are two analog line level inputs, a pre-out connection, two subwoofer outputs a coaxial digital input, a Toslink optical input, HDMI audio return channel input, a wired Gigabit Ethernet LAN connector and a USB input.
There is also a pair of good quality speaker binding posts with the ability to Bridge one of the channels. The M10 utilises HybridDigital amplification featuring the popular and remarkable Hypex nCore (class D) amplification stages. It has a healthy output of 100W/Ch and the ability to drive virtually any loudspeaker.
Wireless connectivity extends to AirPlay 2 Integration and the latest and highest resolution two-way Qualcomm aptX HD Bluetooth.
Interestingly, there is no physical headphone connector, as the provision for Bluetooth wireless headphones is there. There is also wireless internet connectivity to the M10, but without an ugly external antenna, although I strongly prefer a wired LAN connection for speed, reliability and sound quality. At least you have choice and flexibility.
Internally the M10 is operated by a powerful NXP 1GHz ARM® Cortex A9 Processor, and the digital to analog is handled by a high-end 32-BIT/384kHz ESS Sabre ES9028 DAC.
A feature that you don’t see every day on a product like the M10 is Dirac Live integration. Dirac Live is a patented room correction technology that is capable of correcting the frequency response and the impulse response of your loudspeakers within the listening room and is a very welcome addition at this price point. Unfortunately, our review unit has not had this function activated yet and is expected to be enabled within weeks.
If you set it up in your bedroom, you can even have it wake you with an alarm function, or automatically go to sleep after a preset time. As I mentioned earlier, the M10 is indeed a full-featured device with lots of thought given in its execution.
BluOS Operating Software
As the full name of the amplifier implies, the NAD M10 BluOS Streaming Amplifier is operated by the BluOS application. Any modern device is only as good as the operating system will allow it to be. I’m happy to report that BluOS truly is one of the most advanced network streaming and multi-room operating system available.
It has evolved over the past few years to be extremely flexible and gives the user support for over 15 free and paid subscription services, as well as supporting locally stored music libraries, either on a connected NAS or USB drive. BluOS is used by NAD Electronics and Bluesound, both owned by the Lenbrook Group, along with DALI products under a licensing agreement.
BluOS tightly integrates hardware and software for an enjoyable user experience and in the M10 allows both lossy and lossless high resolution streaming from suppliers such as Amazon, Spotify, Tidal (including support for MQA), TuneIn, Napster, Deezer, Qobuz and many others.
The software is flexible enough to set up wireless multiple zones, link additional units, integrate with a smart home integration system or even use voice control via Amazon Alexa Voice Control Skills and Siri Voice Assistant via AirPlay 2.
The BluOS Apps are available for iOS, Android, Mac OS, Windows, and for integration with Crestron, Control4, RTI, URC, Elan, Lutron and iPort.
Using the M10
Setting up the NAD M10 is a simple affair with the most complicated part setting up your network and BluOS app on your device. I set up next to my television and existing system so, in addition to plugging in a LAN cable, power and the loudspeakers, I also had the sound from the TV output to the M10.
As it has a learning IR sensor built-in, it was an easy job to program the M10 to respond to the Apple TV remote volume control. Brilliant!
Once your app is installed, it’s a simple matter of getting your streaming app to output through the NAD. I use Spotify and Tidal, and it operated faultlessly. Whether it was via my iPad, PC or Android mobile phone, the connection was instant, responsive and accurate. Even my daughter’s iPhone could interrupt my playlist with hers when she had heard enough of my music.
At no time was I wishing for any more from the app, because it worked exactly as it should. I was impressed by the ability of BluOS to jump from one playlist to another, cross-platform seamlessly.
I have to say that streaming music has lots of appeal. I don’t miss physical media when streaming sounds this good, is instantly available and the library is so infinitely vast.
Although the M10 can be completely operable via a Wi-Fi connected device and you would never need even to touch the M10, it is a device that is a joy to use and look at. The large colour screen is superb, about the best that I’ve seen as far as resolution and clarity. It also gives you just the right amount of information at a given time, without overly complicated graphics or unnecessary menus.
When you are streaming, the default ‘now playing’ screen has the album cover art, the name of the song, album and artist. It’s simple and effective. Or you can have it display large stereo VU meters if you prefer, which can be great for an auxiliary input that has no cover art. All in all, it was intuitive and a pleasure to use.
How does the NAD M10 BluOS Streaming Amplifier sound? Better than I anticipated. Much better!
As a small all-in-one device, I was astounded in the togetherness of the sound. It was tight, smooth, clean and with great dynamics that you wouldn’t think possible from a ‘cute’ little amplifier. There's never been a better example of not judging a book by its cover.
There is depth to the engineering and execution of the M10 that is seamless, understated and elegant. It does exactly what it is meant to do with a rewarding sound that pleases.
I had to plug the NAD M10 into my big rig system and was pleasantly surprised. It sounded better than some other amps that I have heard that cost quite a lot more. In purist terms, the bass is fast and extended, almost with a touch of additional kick and shove that is otherwise standard. It gives the impression that it has the speed and control of a larger output amplifier. I really don’t mind that attribute for the majority of music, and it can especially benefit some older recordings. The midrange is smooth and detailed, quite forward in a pleasant way and the treble is grain free, sweet and forgiving.
The output stage of the M10 is based on Hypex's nCore technology which is also used in other NAD Masters Series products. I have to admit that class D amplifiers have come a long way and keep improving with subsequent releases. NAD has lots of experience with Hypex modules, and I believe they have refined their integration significantly, especially with their high-end releases.
There is a lovely quietness to the amp in the sense of the blackness between the notes. It imparts calm and allows music to sound clean and spacious. You don’t need to crank the volume to feel enveloped by the music, which is entirely suitable for a unit or apartment.
It didn’t matter what genre of music I played, I enjoyed it all. If I were forced to pick what it sounds best with, I would say anything that is well recorded and generally modern, as it’s often mastered for streaming and is full range. I played everything from Top 50 to female vocals and dance music, and it all sounded wonderful.
The two main apps I used are Spotify Premium and Tidal HiFi, with Tidal sounding noticeable better than Spotify. Both are very listenable without fatigue when played through the M10 and have a clean, spacious sound.
Neither app sounded the least bit etchy or harsh. It would also play high-resolution Tidal Masters with MQA, and it sounded glorious. With so much detail in the music, I didn’t long for a CD player. Who needs it when you have thousands of albums to choose from, and each starts to play in seconds. Of course, there are two inputs and a couple of digital in’s so that if you felt compelled to plug one in, it is at least available.
I love the fact that the M10 is really energy efficient and will happily run continuously without you noticing a change to the power bill. I put my power meter on the AC input and measured a steady 24W of energy consumption, even when played at a reasonable volume level with reasonably efficient loudspeakers. That is a fraction of what many other amplifiers use.
As mentioned earlier, I have an early production M10 from NAD and wasn't able to use the Dirac Live room calibration. It’s capable of correcting both frequency and time domain impulse response, so that once it is properly calibrated it will undoubtedly improve clarity and imaging even further. NAD says it should be released in April 2019 (the M10 will prompt to be upgraded).
Although the M10 functionality-wise has a lot in common with Bluesound’s Powernode 2i, it is far more than just a pretty version of the Powernode.
The build quality, connectivity, capability and especially sound quality is to far higher levels and standards. You could say to a Master level of competency. Both use the BluOS platform, with the same app. It also means that the M10 is fully compatible with any existing Bluesound (or better put, BluOS) products that you may already own, that can easily become part of an extensive multi-room system.
It’s not often that a product comes along that can change the way that you play music and not leave you feeling like you’re missing out in any way. Let's face it, streaming music from the internet is mature and here to stay, and it’s improved to the point that you don’t subconsciously want to reach for a CD.
The NAD M10 is a game changer in the sense that it combines seriously good looks in a small form factor, with what has to be the best software that I’ve used in a streaming device, as well as seriously good sound.
BluOS is a force to be reckoned with its compatibility, intuitiveness and ease of use. It is rock solid and offers state-of-the-art performance.
The M10 can be used as your main sound system used all day, every day and there's no denying that life is better when it is enjoyed with music and good friends.
Effectively the M10 is the thinking man’s all-in-one device that is capable of satisfying a die-hard audio enthusiast and is truly worthy of the “Masters” moniker.
I’m happy to say that the NAD M10 BluOS Streaming Amplifier has earned itself a well-deserved “Applause Award” and goes into the running for 2019’s “Best in Class Awards”.
For more information visit NAD Electronics.
NAD MASTERS M10 TECH SPEC
- BluOS Streaming Amplifier
- HybridDigital nCore Amplifier
- Continuous Power:100W into 8/4 Ohms
- Dynamic Power: 160W into 8 Ohms / 300W into 4 Ohms
- 32-BIT/384kHz ESS Sabre DAC
- 1GHz ARM® CORTEX A9 Processor
- Dirac Live LE Room Correction*
- Colour TFT display with Proximity Sensor
- AirPlay 2 Integration*
- Two-way Qualcomm aptX HD Bluetooth
- BluOS multi-room compatible
- Gigabit Ethernet
- HDMI eARC
- USB Type A Input
- Stereo Line Inputs, Coax/Optical Inputs
- Preamp Output, Subwoofer Output
- IR Input, 12V Trigger Out
- Apps for iOS, Android, Mac OS, Windows, Crestron, Control4, RTI, URC, Elan, Lutron, iPort
- A wide variety of premium music services supported in App, including Amazon, Spotify, Tidal, TuneIn, Napster, Deezer, Qobuz and many others
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.