I wonder if the real high-end guys will take this stuff seriously - did you see the specs on the integrated? 130dB S/N ratio at full output w/.004% distortion. And the S/N ratio on the preamp/processor is one of the best out there too. Too bad about no upconversion to HDMI, but NAD's typical strategy is to wait for technology like that to drop from, say $150 cost to add it, to $30 to add in. Otherwise, they have to add too much to the retail. But heck, how many preamps above $5000 even *have* HDMI anything? A couple? Greg at NAD says that HDMI is such a PITA right now because it's such a moving target that they were just happy to be able to get anything in there. The 7-ch power amp weighs 96lbs. Yikes. I've known Greg for a long time and I actually had a lot of input on Masters (we started talking about developing this series 2.5 years ago) and I've never seen him actually *giddy* before. :
Regarding HDMI, I could write a book on the subject. To put it succinctly, what is promised by HDMI does not currently exist. It is moving very fast, and there are a lot of new HDMI chips being introduced that will open some of the features you are noting. It will be the big boys like Sony that will be first with the latest, since they can move a lot of silicon. The currently available chips are limited on the audio side to 2 channels at 48kHz. The next generation of chips (just being announced now) promise to improve this to 8 channels at 96kHz. As far as I know there is no agreement between HDMI and SACD. Since HDMI is a PCM format, I don't see how it could even work without throwing away the advantages of DSD.
There are other issues that still need more work, like sending HDMI over long distances, putting OSD on the HDMI signal, improving the connector to a locking type, improving compatibility between devices, etc. These will allbe solved in due time. Right now the technology is pretty good at sending a signal from a DVD player to an adjacent TV set. All the stuff that we want to be able to do is still in the infancy stage.
The M55 and M15 are '2nd' generation HDMI, so they have full HDCP support, but only 2 channel audio.
Ironically, it will be the low end products that benefit the most from HDMI by eliminating D/A and A/D conversions. High end products have such transparent D/A and A/D converters that you only gain a little by staying digital. In fact, with HDMI there is a lot less tweaking that can be done to the video signal - what you get is what you get, very few adjustments are possible- so the final picture may actually look better via component video.
The audio and video performance of the M15 is really spectacular - we have some interesting technology in the audio section that maximizes the resolution of the DACs based on how many post processes are running. It is called Dynamic Headroom Scaling, adjusting gain in both the digital and analog domains to optimize noise and distortion for every possible setting of bass management, surround mode, and gain setting.
HDMI is maturing, in stages, to the final spec that has been announced. The
bandwidth hog is HD video, especially 720p and 1080p. Firewire cannot
handle this. Now, except for broadcast TV, there are no sources with native
resolution this high, but we know it is coming with BluRay or DVD HD or
whatever it turns out to be. One of the problems with HD digital signal is
getting Hollywood to release property in hi-rez. This is where the HDCP
comes in; this very robust encryption keeps the signal secure. It also adds
a lot of complication and expense (yet another license).
Because HDMI is being driven by the video interests, video performance has
been focused on first. As you know, HDMI is based on the PC format of DVi
with encryption and audio added. This is pretty much the way it is rolling
out, with the first HDMI a DVi cable with a different connector and 2
channel audio, then HDCP was added, and now multi-channel audio is next.
There isn't any way to upgrade older versions; it is a 'sealed system' due
to HDCP. But it is the video that is the trick. We have other ways to
handle the audio that are very good, the advantage with HDMI is higher bit
rate PCM like DVD-A. The problem we have now is getting the consumer
excited about DVD-A. Right now compressed formats have far more interest
There are other system architectures that open up once we have a good robust
wide bandwidth 'pipe' like HDMI. So I think your digital preamp is a
possibility for the future. It will be a trade-off between cost and
performance. Right now, such a device would be expensive, so you'll see
someone like Meridian get there first.
Just keep in mind that HDMI is not just a new connector on the same old
wire. It is an incredibly complex interface that is operating at RF
bandwidth. It is extremely sensitive and difficult to engineer. Like all
things digital, everything has to be perfect or it won't work.
M3 uses analog filters. The M3 has a PURE ANALOG signal path under full digital control. We have digital things in the works, but the M3 is likely to stand as the all time benchmark for analog performance. The only product I know of that can match or exceed the M3 noise and distortion spec is the Halcro. There will be a market for analog for a long time to come, and we know of no digital amps that can meet this spec (yet). The M3 has 10 times less distortion than anything within twice its price point.
Well, when I say "giddy", for Greg, that *is* giddy. Any time I can get him to type more than a line or two, he's really excited