I really like the sound of this system - it's very easy on the ears. In absolute terms it seems on the warm side, with good detail, accurate mid-range and a small but pleasing soundstage. Bass is what one expects (nominal), but it suits the presentation well. Considering the price, overall performance is amazing.
Almost immediately I was simply listening to the music rather than the equipment. The CD mechanism seems fine to me, and the quality of the sound from the tuner is very good. The remote didn't bother me at all.
For comparison, I connected the Alpha Minis to a Yamaha RX-770 receiver (85wpc - on the bright side but a decent amp), and they sounded great. Everything was larger, more dynamic, better detailed, yet controlled. Full orchestral passages were surprisingly coherent with the volume cranked. David Lindley's slide guitar sizzles in a natural, non-irritating manner.
Still, I love the sound of the L40. The best description is that it is musical. Highly recommended for anyone looking for near audiophile quality sound at real world prices. Very difficult to match this quality in the price range.
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I bought the NAD Music System matched with PSB Alpha Minis -great compact system! great sound from these small speakers, amazingly and unexpected deep(er) bass, clear seperation, nice highs... CD/Receiver is solidly built and will last a long time!... the only minor 'complaint' is that programming CD tracks is counter intuitive as you select those tracks that you DON'T want to play... otherwise... just a really nice system. highly recommended!!
The NAD L40 Music System has been a pleasant surprise for me. The sound is great and it’s easy to use.
NAD rates the L40 CD reciever as 20 watts per channel. I’ve read that NAD is typically conservative with their power ratings and that seems to be the case with this unit. It easily fills my 12’ by 12’ living room with loud music.
I’ve read that cheap CD players can sound “harsh” or “edgy”. I wouldn’t consider myself a hard-core audiophile, but I think the CD section sounds fine. I haven’t detected anything especially bad when listening to CDs with the L40.
The FM tuner section picks up every station within a 30-mile radius of downtown Chicago USA while using only a cheap dipole antenna. I did, however, hook up a Terk FM+ antenna - mostly for aesthetics because the dipole’s T-shaped cable looked bad on my living room wall. Now I can pick up weak stations that are 40 miles away. The FM receiver has RDS, which displays station and programming text that is broadcast from the FM station. It’s a nice feature, but only the local Public Radio station broadcasts the information. I guess it’s mostly used in Europe. Also, it is possible to manually enter text about the pre-set stations that will display instead of the station numbers. The problem I had with this feature is that I could only enter information for 15 stations and not all 30 pre-sets.
There is not an AM tuner, which I wish were included.
The controls on the front panel of the NAD L40 are unexpectedly convenient. For example, because the CD section and receiver are all one unit and in one box, there is no need to select the input when playing a CD. You simply put the CD in the tray (you don’t even have to close it) and hit Play (the tray then closes automatically).
The remote control that comes with the unit is simple and adequate. However, it might be nice to be able to go directly to a CD track instead of skipping though the tracks sequentially.
I bought the NAD L40 CD receiver with a pair of PSB Alpha Mini speakers. NAD sells this system packaged together because a mid-sized company called The Lenbrook Group owns both NAD and PSB.
The PSB Alpha Mini speakers are fabulous. Overall, they are very “musical” – by that I mean instruments and voices sound like they should; a trumpet sounds like a trumpet and an oboe sounds like an oboe. They are the kind of speakers that I can listen to for a long time and not get tired of them. They sound good with all types of music, but I think they sound especially good with classical music. Female voices sound “life-like” and “realistic”. For example, Sarah Brightman – “Time to Say Goodbye” and Diana Kroll – “When I Look In Your Eyes”, are both excellent CDs that sound great with the PSB Mini speakers. For a small speaker, the Mini puts out a lot of bass, more than expected. Orchestra string basses have that subtle feel to them like you hear at a live concert. On the other hand, Blue Man Group – “Audio”, which has a lot of percussion, didn’t have that “punchy” bass that you can feel in your chest. Some listeners might call the upper range too “laid back”, but I find them “balanced”. A “forward”, or “hot”, upper range might jump out at you at the stereo store and sound good initially, but I tire of “bright” highs quickly.
Speaker placement is important with the PSB Alpha Mini speakers (as it is with all speakers). Initially, I had the speakers in the corners of built in bookshelves on either side of a fireplace. I put them there because they looked good and fit into the living room without being too conspicuous. (My spouse wanted tiny little speakers that wouldn’t be noticed, like those Bose cube things. Ugh!) In the bookshelf position, the speakers sounded “confined” and the bass sounded “muddy”, “sloppy”, and “thumpy”. Later, I bought a set of fairly decent, inexpensive, 24 inch, speaker stands from a local company called Chicago Audio Group. I placed the stands just a couple of inches from the back wall, about 6 feet apart, slightly angled in. With the speakers on the stands, the change in sound was immediately noticeable and dramatically better. The speakers sounded more “open”, “airy”, and “detailed”. The bass sounded “tight” and “controlled”. I thought there would be less bass after the speakers were moved away from the bookshelf corners, but that wasn’t the case. There was just as much bass, probably due to the fact that the rear bass ports were now more exposed and open. My spouse doesn’t like the new placement, so I’m not sure this will be the finally solution.
The NAD Music System comes with a pair of 5 foot Phoenix Gold 16 AWG, oxygen free, stranded copper speaker cable. I needed more than 5 feet, so I initially used thin, 18-gauge cable. The system sounded fine, but I was interested to see if a different cable would make a difference.
I was skeptical that a change in speaker cable could make a difference. But I was curious, so I bought some generic 12-gauge, stranded copper, PVC insulated, speaker cable ($1US/foot) and terminated the ends with screw type, gold plated connectors ($3US each). The total cost for this set up was $54US. (The NAD L40 has 5-way binding posts that accept banana plugs. The PSB Alpha Mini speakers have spring clips that accept pin connectors.) Did I hear a difference? Not really - maybe a little more bass response, but not much. It wasn’t a blind test, but if it was, I’m not sure I would have been able to hear a difference between the two cables.
Later, I read a couple of articles on the web about Do-It-Yourself speaker cable projects. One author suggested that Belden 1585A Category 5 computer cable (4 twisted pair, 24-gauge solid core copper conductors, individually insulated with polyolefin) would make an ideal speaker cable. He suggested that when the PVC outer insulation is removed, and 27 twisted pairs from 7 cables are braided together, it creates a speaker cable that sounds better than most high-end, expensive cables and cost quite a bit less. (Belden 1585A cable costs $0.31US/foot at Radio Shack.) The braiding together of 27 twisted pairs seemed like too much work for me - First, 3 twisted pairs braided together. Next, 3 3-braids braided together. Finally, 3 9-braids braided together. Instead, I simply used 1 cable per speaker (with the outer PVC insulation still in tack). All solid colored wires were used for ground (-) and all striped colored wires were used for hot (+). The cables were terminated with the connectors that I bought previously.
After installing the new cables, the difference in sound surprised me. I wouldn’t say it was a huge difference because the tonal balance of the system stayed about the same. What I heard was subtle differences in the music. I heard more detail. For example, instead of just hearing the beat of a drum, I heard the mallet hitting the surface of the drum. Instead of hearing the tone of an acoustic bass, I heard the musician’s finger plucking the string of the bass. A couple of times I perked up when listening to a CD and I heard a subtle detail in the music that I had never heard before. I actually heard Diana Kroll’s lips part, and the short breath that she took, when she opened her mouth to sing. When my wife came into the room, I asked her if she heard any difference in the sound of the system. She said that it sounded “fuller”, and “rounder”, like it filled the room more. As I listened even more, I began to realize that the high frequencies were “sharper”, more “precise”, but not necessarily too “bright”. The low frequencies sounded “tighter”, more “controlled”, even “punchy”. The system sounded less “laid back” and more “up front”. In some ways it made the system harder to listen to, more fatiguing. But the system sounded more like a live performance. For example, pianos sounded more like a live piano, partly because I could hear the striking mechanism of the piano hitting the strings. I could also hear the ambiance of the recording room for the first time.
These changes made the music more involving. I found myself listening to all kinds of music in order to investigate if I heard any new nuances that I had never heard before. I listened to many CDs over the course of a weekend and found that I liked the system much more than before.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive HiFi setup that sounds great, I recommend auditioning this system.