NAD C 368 Stereo Hybrid Digital DAC Amplifier Hands-On

NAD C 368 Integrated DAC Amp

NAD’s C 368 integrated DAC/amplifier is a compact, affordable, connected, expandable modular audio tool. It’s designed to serve as the backbone of a hi-res capable Hi-Fi 2-channel sound system and provides clean, distortion free power to speaker systems.

The NAD C 368 ($899) should be particularly appealing to anyone interested in NAD’s approach to amplification, which relies on class D Hypex UcD output stage and switch mode power supply to make it very efficient. At the same time, NAD’s amplifier topology provides low distortion, high linearity, and load-invariant operation. That means it won’t color the sound of your speakers.

Right out of the box, the C368 is ready to make music. You can connect a variety of analog and digital sources, wire up a pair of speakers, hit play, and go. Plus, one of the cool things about the C368 is it is compatible with NAD’s BluOS MDC expansion module, which turns it into a high resolution streaming digital player. This review unit came with a Bluesound MDC card pre-installed, which results in an MSRP of $1299.

Specifications

NAD electronics is known for its expertise in amplification. I may not have an Audio Precision analyzer to test its power output, but the company has a reputation of publishing accurate specs.

This is a stereo integrated amplifier. With less than 0.03% THD—even at full RMS power (80 watts/channel) with either a 4 ohm or 8 ohm load—the C 368 is effectively transparent for residential audio applications. If you use it as a DAC/preamp, THD is rated at under 0.005% for 2V output, 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. Furthermore, the C 368 preamp sports a signal/noise ratio greater than 106dB and its response stays within +/- 0.3dB from 20Hz to 20kHz.

The C 368 is fairly compact, measuring 17.125″ (W) x 4″ (H) x 16.625″ (D). It includes two sets of stereo speaker terminals with banana plug-compatible binding posts. NAD includes a full-sized remote control that also works with other NAD components. It also has a physical volume control knob that adjusts gain in 0.5 dB increments.

When it comes to wireless, you get Bluetooth built-in, and with the optional MDC BluOS module, this unit also offers Wi-Fi connectivity and remote control using the BluOS app.

As far as physical inputs go, NAD provides two standard analog stereo RCA inputs plus a stereo phono input. On the digital side, you get dual coaxial-digital and dual optical-digital inputs. And there’s a pair of stereo RCA preamp outs that may be used full-range or as subwoofer outputs when the crossover is engaged.

Finally, the C 368 has the dual MDC expansion slots, one of which was already filled with NAD’s MCD BluOS, with one left to optionally add three 4K HDMI inputs and one output with the DD HDM-2 module. Truth be told, a solid 2-channel system can be a great way to enhance TV audio, instead of a soundbar. This integrated allows for that, but only if you want it.

Setup

I’ve had the C 368 review unit for some time and used it in various applications, not just one setup. From acting as a headphone amp, to serving as a hi-res DAC for Tidal while running various speakers, it’s performed admirably. Moreover, thanks to the BluOS MDC card, it joined a Bluesound Node 2 and Pulse Soundbar to serve in a multi-room streaming audio system.

The C 368 supports the use of a subwoofer with a defeatable crossover at 80 Hz. Granted, it’s no AVR with room correction and advanced bass management, but there’s something to be said for simplicity when taking a 2-channel approach, and some of the speakers I used with the NAD had plenty of bass extension did not need a sub to shine. As an aside, when I do use a sub with an AVR, I use an 80 Hz crossover, so to me that was not much of a limitation.

While there are plenty of AVRs out there for when you want a box that performs every signal processing trick in the book, here the focus is on leaving the music alone.

If you are a 2-channel purist, not only does the exclusion of room correction and bass management not matter, their exclusion is considered a plus. The exact point is that NAD promises clean, stable power paired with a quality DAC, for two channels of sound. And if you want more (even HDMI) you can get there with MDC expansion modules.

For speaker cable, I relied on Blue Jeans Cable Belden 10-gauge with locking banana plugs. I don’t believe you can “hear” speaker cables, but it’s nicely made at custom lengths and works like a charm. Interestingly, the C 368 allows you to bridge the amp section; in that configuration it will output 160 watts into an 8-ohm speaker.

Performance

For much of my critical listening, I used the C 368 along with a pair of GoldenEar Triton Five floorstanding speakers—among my favorite 2-way towers—in a pure, simple 2.0 setup. Overall, I loved how engaging and three-dimensional the system sounded. The soundstage reminded me of the rigs I’d put together back in my audiophile purist days, before I became hopelessly addicted to surround-sound. I never found myself testing the amp’s limits under normal listening conditions, even with the volume turned up to live jazz concert levels.

Much as I love the Tritons, during this hands-on, I rotated other pairs of speakers in and out of the system. These ranged from Definitive Technology BP9060s (active subs!) and Emotiva T1 towers (4 ohms!), to Bowers & Wilkins CM6 S2s, KEF R500 floorstanders and KEF Q350 bookshelf units (I used the C368 in the Q350 review). This is not a “monster rig” but you’d be surprised how far 80 watts per channel of load-invariant power gets you.

When I did use subwoofers I did not skimp, I used my reference subs, dual JL F112 V2s—which are self-calibrating. The only catch is there’s no delay adjustment on the C 368, so I made sure the subs were roughly the same distance from my seat as the speakers. But in consideration of how 2-channel systems like this are used, I spent much of my time auditioning the NAD without subs.

Over the course of many listening sessions, the C 368 consistently provided a bracing listening experience with the Triton Five towers as well as the KEF R500s. It had plenty of power on tap to drive the other bookshelf and tower speakers I tried… and drive ’em hard. Furthermore, when I wanted to listen to headphones with the C 368, it always rose to the task and provided plenty of power plus precision. Notably, it can handle high-performance headphones like HiFiMan Edition X V2 and drive them to their full potential with challenging material like the Tron Legacy soundtrack.

Over the course of numerous audiophile-style listening sessions where I sat centered in in the sweet spot, I learned to appreciate the C 368’s fundamental invisibility. With this unit, thanks to its drama-free, neutral, yet meticulous presentation, you’re not listening to a DAC and you’re not listening to an amplifier. Rather, you’re listening to speakers and you’re listening to the music itself—as it should be.

I have many hours of C 368 listening under my belt now. I’ve gone through dozens and dozens of great albums and not once did I think the NAD was adding anything that would not need there, nor taking anything away. Most of the time, I quickly forgot what I was supposed to be reviewing because I was just enjoying the presentation.

Ultimately, so long as we are talking about solid-state equipment and digital audio, I expect modern, competent designs that utilize quality components to yield impressive results. That’s the case here, this NAD doesn’t get in the way of what you hear. And that applies equally to rock, classical, rap, electronic, jazz, world music, you name it.

The BluOS MDC module gives the C 368 high resolution, multizone audio streaming capability. In addition to this integrated amp, I also have a Bluesound Node 2 streaming player and a Bluesound Pulse soundbar in for hands-on reviews. While multiroom audio is not my focus for this article, in coming weeks I will post reports about those devices and comment on using this C 368 as part of a multi-room hi-res audio streaming system.

Conclusion

In my time with the C 368, I found it to be effectively bulletproof. It served as a transparent conduit for audio signals, converting them from the source to an amplified signal that drives speakers, which is the ultimate goal of any audiophile 2-channel system worth its salt.

Thanks to the inclusion of two MDC slots, C 368 owners who want to add Bluesound or HDMI can do so. Plus it leaves open the possibility of other upgrades in the future, so that your investment in a good hardware foundation is not lost.

If you’re the sort of person who prefers a high-quality, dedicated, purpose-built device—one where all the engineering attention goes into maximizing the fidelity of two channels—the C 368 fits the bill perfectly. It’s not some ridiculously-priced piece of rarefied audiophile gear sold with a brochure full of flowery language. Rather, the C 368 is a tool designed by talented professionals with an eye on both performance and value. Based on my time with one, it will deftly handle driving just about any speaker you send its way.


I’ll gladly further discuss the C 368 in the comments.