I know I’ve broached this subject before, but one of the things I’m constantly grappling with is the simple question of how one determines value, especially in the world of consumer electronics. One of the more fun—but admittedly weirder—tools I rely on is a silly little one-man game of The Price Is Right, usually played while I’m first unboxing a product. (And yeah, the game is kinda spoiled if I already know the price ahead of time, so it’s not always helpful.) At any rate, I thought y’all might like to play along as I dig into the packaging for NAD’s new C 399 Hybrid Digital DAC-amplifier.
The outer box isn’t very informative, of course, but even before I get to the goodies inside, I’m already thinking about some upper and lower bounds for pricing. NAD makes a lot of reference in its messaging to the trickling down of Ncore amplifier technology from the Masters Series, and the now-discontinued M32 (retail price $4399, all prices USD) is a reasonable match for the C 399 in terms of overall capabilities (at least on paper), so let’s pencil in a $3000 upper limit for an estimated price for the new integrated amp. On the other hand, it’s a pretty decent step up from its Classic Series sibling, the C 388 ($1749), with more power, dual subwoofer outs, and bass-management capabilities. So it’s hard for me to imagine it selling for less than $2000.
Peeking under the flaps, we get our first glimpse of the box for NAD’s MDC2 BluOS-D module, which relies on the Modular Design Construction expansion slot of the C 399 to add wi-fi and ethernet connectivity, along with BluOS streaming support and Dirac Live room-correction capabilities. I know the MDC2 BluOS-D carries a price tag of right at $550, so that nudges my estimated price range upward in the direction of $2500-ish to $3500-ish, which is admittedly a pretty sizable ballpark.
The packing material within looks like expanded polyethylene instead of polystyrene, and has been layered and cut with such precision that all of the accessories are tightly packed and secured. I’m not going to do a drop test or anything, but it looks to me like the C 399 could stand up to some serious abuse on the way to its final destination. Here you can also see the Dirac Live microphone included in the smaller box for the MDC2 BluOS-D module, along with instructions for installing the module—but no module itself! Don’t worry—we’ll get to that in a bit.
NAD also includes separate European- and North American-style power cords for the C 399, so no need for inelegant adapters. That’s a nice touch.
On the other side of the packaging, there’s a separate box containing the C 399’s IR remote and batteries, as well as a Bluetooth antenna that plugs straight into the back of the chassis whether you’ve got the optional MDC2 BluOS-D module or not.
The remote is pretty packed with buttons, to be honest—more so than I normally like to see on an integrated amp. But that’s no real surprise given that it’s a multi-function remote that can also operate NAD source devices. Taking it out of the plastic wrapping removes my reservations about the button count due to the ergonomics and overall feel of the clicker. It’s well laid-out, my thumb just naturally gravitates right toward the volume control, and it has grooves carved out of both sides of the back that make it equally comfortable when held right- or left-handed.
So where does that leave me in my little game of The Price Is Right? Well, getting my first good look at the unit as a whole, I find it’s exactly as well-built as you’d expect an NAD component to be. The volume knob—which longtime readers will know I have something of a fetish for—feels like good sex, and I can see myself quickly ditching the remote for plenty of hands-on time with this beauty. The navigation pad on the left side of the façade is also tight and well-constructed, with none of the looseness or wiggle you get from some uber-budget-oriented gear. So at this point in my guessing game, I’m shying away from the lower end of my estimated price range.
When I flip the chassis around to inspect the back, the first things that grab my attention are the red-and-blue binding posts—not my favorite, but I definitely don’t hate them. The I/O layout is tidy and logical, and you can see here that the MDC2 BluOS-D came pre-installed. At this point, I’m not certain whether that’s a perk of being a reviewer, and memory fails me as to whether or not that’s been true with previous NAD gear I’ve reviewed that came with MDC boards.
So what’s my final guess on pricing? Well, the binding posts do bring my estimation down a little, but the build quality and design of the entire unit nudge it back up a bit. Knowing a thing or two about the general pricing philosophy of NAD gear, I’m going to guess somewhere in the neighborhood of $2250 without the MDC2 BluOS-D add-on and $2800 with it.
Actual retail price? And I’ll take a drumroll here if you don’t mind . . .
It’s $1999 without the MDC2 BluOS-D and $2549 with it. Not horribly off the mark, but I am losing my touch a little. For what it’s worth, in looking up those numbers I also noticed that if you purchase the C 399 BluOS-D model, it does come with the MDC module pre-installed.
Of course, the ultimate test of value comes in the listening, and that’ll have to wait a few weeks. But keep your eyes peeled for my full review, coming soon to the pages of SoundStage! Access.
. . . Dennis Burger