Accomplished, enjoyable and satisfying in virtually every way, the M10 BluOS streaming amplifier is very serious indeed
- Pleasingly built and finished
- Extensive specification
- Plenty of source possibilities
- Disciplined, convincing sound
- Control app has its moments
- Could conceivably sound a little more attacking
- Review Price: £2195
- 32bit/384kHz DAC
- aptX HD Bluetooth
- Alexa and Siri voice control
- TFT touchscreen
Thankfully, the old times are gone. The biggest problem with home entertainment these days isn’t so much a lack of options but rather a surfeit – and, of course, the problem of where to put all those pieces of equipment that facilitate this home entertainment Nirvana.
So NAD – fast approaching its 50th birthday, and thus a survivor from those sepia-tinted long-agos – has thought long and hard about how to serve the desire for multiple home entertainment options without a) needing lots of equipment to do it, and/or b) compromising the ultimate quality of the entertainment itself.
What NAD hasn’t quite been able to do when driving towards a) and b) is to avoid c) making the resulting product quite expensive. NAD’s Masters Series of components debuted in 2005, and has been pretty much universally acclaimed with every new product – but none have been what you might call “affordable”.
Which brings us to today, and the M10. It wants to be a little of everything: hi-res streamer, stereo amplifier, nice slice of industrial design, even include a bit of home cinema action.
By upping the functionality of an old-fashioned stereo amp (of the type on which NAD built its reputation), reducing the size, putting an overspecified DAC under the bonnet and a big, bright display up-front, NAD may have just the home entertainment engine we’ve been waiting for. As long as we can afford it, of course.
NAD Masters M10 − Design
At H10 x W22 x D26cm, the M10 is usefully compact – it will occupy just half of a standard hi-fi rack shelf. And as a piece of design it’s more thoughtful than the functional majority of such products. The finely brushed, smoothly curved aluminium that forms the four vertical sides of the box is a single piece, while the top panel and front display cover are Gorilla glass. The “NAD” logo on top glows white during operation (or red, if all is not well).
The display is a high-resolution TFT touchscreen, with plenty of options for customisation of input name, icon and so on. When streaming music wirelessly, for example, it serves up a bright representation of the album artwork and, even more gratifyingly, left/right VU meters from other inputs, if you so desire. Ask your Dad about VU meters and watch him get all misty-eyed.
NAD products have always made a decent design statement, with even the battleship-grey finish of its legendary back-catalogue of products was intriguingly individual. And with the M10 NAD has turned out a box that is of obviously high perceived value yet doesn’t do anything so gauche as shout about it.
NAD Masters M10 − Features
The whole point of the M10 is to offer as many options as is realistically possible – so, naturally enough, “Features” is a fairly long and comprehensive list. Best strap yourself in.
Amplification is rated at 100 watts per channel, and is provided by NAD’s “Hypex nCore” variation on the Class D standard. In theory, it provides all of the efficiencies of Class D but with none of the associated noise and distortion drawbacks. It’s a patented idea and has been implemented in several Masters Series products before now to great effect.
Related: Best music streaming services
Access to this power is via two stereo RCA analogue inputs, a digital coaxial input, a digital optical input, an eARC-enabled HDMI input, Ethernet or Wi-Fi, and aptX HD Bluetooth. NFC pairing is available for Bluetooth connectivity, and the M10 can act as both a receiver and a transmitter, allowing for the use of Bluetooth headphones. Just as well, since there’s no physical headphone connection.
Outputs extend as far as binding posts for a single pair of speakers, stereo RCA pre-outs for use with a power amplifier, and not one but two pre-outputs for subwoofers – which is good news for bass-heads. There are also connections for IR relays and 12v triggers, so the M10 can be integrated into a custom-install system without problems.
Naturally enough, the M10 supports quite a number of music streaming services via the increasingly widespread BluOS operating system. In terms of the most popular, Spotify, Amazon Music and Deezer all feature, while the more discerning will be pleased to find Tidal and Qobuz among the many others available.
Internet radio is available via TuneIn and Radio Paradise with other, more esoteric, services also on board. BluOS is also happy to deal with any MQA audio files on your local network (or via Tidal Masters) as well as DSD and the more common FLAC, WAV and less attractive MP3 and AAC.
In addition, BluOS opens up the M10 to the wide world of multiroom. Given that BluOS is running a whole host of very well-regarded Bluesound products, and quite a few by DALI as well, building a high-quality, high-resolution multiroom system will only be restricted by your available budget.
All of these digital services and inputs are dealt with by an extremely capable 32bit/384kHz ESS Sabre 9028 DAC. In terms of noise levels, jitter negation and outright precision, this is as impressive a convertor as consumer technology has ever come into contact with.
Related: What is aptX HD Bluetooth?
NAD Masters M10 − Interface
There are a number of ways to get what you want from the NAD M10. There’s that lovely, bright and detailed touchscreen, for a start. It’s reasonably responsive, extremely clear and simple enough to operate.
But there’s something very last century about getting out of your chair to manually operate your equipment – and the NAD’s display is plenty big and bright enough to be legible from across the room. So, in theory, it’s far better to use the BluOS app (iOS and Android) to issue your commands. In practice that’s true, almost all of the time.
I’ve had run-ins with the BluOS app before now. The problem with control apps, especially when they’re operating equipment as expensive and high-performance as this, is that if they don’t function perfectly, 100% of the time, it tends to cheapen the whole experience. And the problem with the BluOS app is that it functions perfectly almost all of the time. So when it doesn’t, it’s annoying and/or disappointing.
Switching between inputs – specifically between physical and streaming inputs – can flummox the BluOS app. Not every time – but often enough that you can’t ever quite relax fully; but not so often that you’d give up entirely and demand a refund.
For example: having renamed the digital optical input as “CD Player”, I am happily listening to a CD when the urge to listen to something different on Spotify takes me. So I use the BluOS app to switch inputs and select some music on Spotify. Most of the time this works exactly as it should. Every now and then, however, it freezes when switching to “Music Services”. Not often, like I say – just often enough to keep you on your toes. It’s disproportionately infuriating.
If you have an Amazon Echo device, the BluOS voice skill in the Alexa app will allow you to issue straightforward voice commands, and once AirPlay 2 is integrated (which won’t be long) Siri will be available too.
Setup is further aided by the inclusion of Dirac Live room-correction technology. Using the bundled microphone, Dirac Live can analyse both your speakers and your listening space in order to optimise the NAD’s performance. It’s operated by another truculent app, but at least it needs doing only once – and is pretty effective.
Related: What is AirPlay 2?
NAD Masters M10 − Sound quality
Using Tidal via the BluOS app to listen to an MQA stream of The Smiths’ “The Queen Is Dead” quickly makes all the low-temperature grumbling about app stability almost irrelevant. The NAD delivers the masterpiece of 80s indie with the sort of instinctive correctness that could bring a lump to the throat of even the hardest-hearted listener.
In terms of timing, the M10 knits the guitar/bass/drums/keyboards strands together in an entirely believable, natural way – the sense of interaction in the rhythm section, in particular, is almost tangible. Tempos, even those as gimpy as that of “Never Had No One Ever”, are handled deftly.
The M10 doesn’t scrimp on the details, either. The sound of the guitar during those weightless few seconds in the middle of “Bigmouth Strikes Again” is as much about the sound of plastic plectrum on metal strings as it is about the resulting tone – and throughout the album, the NAD lays the finest details bare. Morrissey may not be in possession of the world’s finest singing voice, but he’s a vocalist loaded with character, and the M10’s mid-range reproduction allows all his self-knowing self-regard full articulacy.
A 24bit/96kHz download of Daniel Hope’s “For Seasons” via the local network gives a great explanation of the M10’s way with tone and timbre. Hope’s violin bites, weeps and grinds with great expressiveness, and the NAD is there every step of the way. Hope is a lyrical player, not above a bit of crowd-pleasing (his arrangement of Aphex Twin’s “Avril 14th” is a fine case in point) and the NAD is brilliantly communicative of his intentions.
A switch to a CD copy of The Flaming Lips’ “The Soft Bulletin” (actually an HDCD – again, ask your Dad) reveals some remarkable bass fidelity, too. There are some earth-movingly deep notes during “Waitin’ For A Superman” that even some very capable, hugely costly systems overlook; but not the NAD. It has startling low-frequency presence, but it’s no show-off. Bass is textured, controlled and, above all, rapid. In this respect alone, the NAD has the better of plenty of more expensive rivals.
The whole of the frequency range is delivered judiciously, in fact. “Looped” by Kiasmos (via Spotify this time) has some clattering percussion that can be problematic, but the NAD holds everything in check without rounding anything off.
And no matter the music you’re playing, or the source from which you’re playing it, the M10 treads an impressive line between control and engagement. It isn’t the most visceral, up-and-at-’em presentation you’ve ever heard, but neither is it especially matter-of-fact. If the idea of “good taste” in music reproduction doesn’t appeal, you might conceivably find the M10 a little polite – but the rest of us will just admire its even-handedness.
In fact, it’s only where out-and-out dynamism is concerned that the M10 is anything less than thoroughly impressive. A vinyl copy of Kamasi Washington’s “The Epic” (delivered via a Leema phono stage) enjoys all the detail, and all the organisational and tonal dexterity, discussed above – but the NAD’s relative shortage of outright attack makes “Clair De Lune” sound just slightly tentative. When the instruments are massing and the vocal chorus is chipping in, too, the impression should be one of momentum – but the M10 seems just slightly reluctant to let it all off the leash.
Why buy the NAD Masters M10?
The elephant in the NAD M10’s room is the Naim Uniti Atom. Like the M10, it’s a just-add-speakers streaming system. Like the M10, it’s a beautifully built little box that’s a pleasure to use. Like the M10, it’s alive with multiroom possibilities and costs around £2000.
There are a few differences, though. The M10 is, on paper, more powerful. It has a slightly wider suite of connections, too – but even though an HDMI socket is a cost option on the Atom, it’s still a touch cheaper than the NAD. The Naim has a big display, but it’s neither quite as big, nor quite as nice, as the M10’s. The Naim comes with a remote control to supplement its control app, unlike the NAD – although like the NAD, the Naim control app isn’t without its foibles.
Both have far more pluses to the way they perform than minuses, too. So it’s safe to say that, at the very least, the M10 deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as the Uniti Atom – and deserves a similar spot on your shortlist when the time comes to do some serious auditioning, too.