NAD AV-716 AV-receiver
It's hard to believe at this late date, but the AV-716 is NAD's first A/V receiver. It is a distinctive entry into the field, however: NAD has distilled down what is absolutely necessary in a basic A/V receiver and has delivered that essence in a high-performance product.
The home theater nucleus of the AV-716 is its Dolby Pro Logic decoder, which employs a "latest-generation" analog decoding chip said to provide unusually low-noise outputs. Unlike some other basic A/V receivers, the AV-716 has a music-enhancement mode, called Hall. Its processing consists of about nine evenly spaced, delayed, decaying artificial "reflections" that are fed only through the surround speakers. Setting the surround-channel delay (which is variable between 5 and 30 milliseconds in Hall, and between 15 and 30 milliseconds in Pro Logic mode) also sets the Hall mode's reflection-spacing interval.
Compared with some other A/V receivers tested here recently, the AV-716 also seems comparatively lightly powered, at least as rated. In two-channel stereo, it is specified to deliver 80 watts per channel continuously into 8 ohms (115 watts into 4 ohms). In surround mode, the rating drops to 55 watts per channel into the three front speakers and 20 watts each to the two surround speakers. The circuit design, however, is capable of higher outputs than these ratings suggest, as we found in our tests. Connections and switching are provided for one stereo pair of main speakers (which serve as the front left and right speakers in a surround system) as well as a stereo pair of remotely located speakers.
The AM/FM stereo tuner is of the forty-preset, multi-tuning-mode variety, with the presets groupable into six "banks" (does anybody ever really need more than a dozen presets?). NAD claims unusually good performance in terms of selectivity, distortion, and noise. Connections for external sources are provided for a moving-magnet phono cartridge, a CD player, two audio tape decks (Tape 1 and 2), two VCR's (Video 2 and 3), and a playback-only audio/video source, such as a videodisc player (Video 1). The switching enables recording of one source while listening/viewing another, as well as playback of separate sources through the main and remote speakers (surround is unavailable when this multiroom mode is engaged, since it uses the surround-channel amplifiers to drive the remote speakers).
Special sonic benefits are claimed for the bass and treble tone controls, whose characteristics vary slowly throughout half of each knob's rotation in either direction. A Selective Tone button throws in low- and high-frequency boosts that are supposed to be suitable for "older recordings and soundtracks" that "often sound 'dull.'" The remote control has extra buttons for operating certain NAD tape recorders and CD players.
Compared with many other A/V receivers, the AV-716's rear-panel layout is blessedly clear and simple. The stereo pairs of audio input connectors are in the desirable horizontal array, and the video connectors (composite-video only) are directly above their corresponding audio jacks, making it easier to change connections by feel from the front. For the main and remote stereo speakers, the connectors are multiway binding posts that accept stripped or tinned wires as well as single and dual banana plugs (but not spade lugs). The surround- and center-speaker terminals receive less deluxe treatment, being fitted with snap clips, a type of connector that I have found to be less reliable with thick speaker cables (forget banana plugs) than the often berated spring connectors. The AM and FM antenna connectors are also snap clips.
There are two AC convenience outlets. A line-level subwoofer output next to the center-speaker connectors delivers a mono mix of the two input channels and so requires an external crossover system such as is normally included in powered subwoofers.
In the NAD tradition, the front panel is simple and unostentatious. The central fluorescent display shows, in big letters, the selected source or, when appropriate, the settings of the surround-mode speaker balances. Other, smaller single-purpose indicators show speaker selection, source selection, re-cording-source selection, remote-listening source selection, sleep-timer setting (up to 90 minutes in 10-minute increments), and the status of many other functions.
Such basic front-panel facilities are accompanied by NAD's equally traditional solid performance, which in some respects was exceptionally solid here. For instance, the overall FM performance was first-rate, better than that usually delivered even by high-end A/V receivers, with very good separation and selectivity. Stereo sensitivity was merely good, however.
As hinted earlier, the amplifier section was no slouch. On the test bench it delivered continuous output levels much higher than its ratings. Of particular note are the dynamic power levels and the performance into 4-ohm loads, all of which were excellent for a midprice receiver. In surround operation, too, maximum power at clipping was better than rated, by 1.9 dB or so for the important center channel. Noise levels were also low throughout.
The tone controls indeed offered very slowly varying changes between their 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock positions, though when set to their extremes they offered the same range of adjustment as conventional tone circuits. The Selective Tone button boosted the lows more than the highs and also increased midrange level by a decibel.
Measured Dolby Pro Logic performance was outstanding for an analog circuit, with very good separation figures, fine frequency responses, and excellent noise and distortion figures, especially for the often contaminated surround channel. The surround channel's noise-reduction calibration was right on the Dolby standard, and its frequency response tracked the reference responses extremely well, within +1 dB down to 30 dB below the Dolby reference level and to better than 0.5 dB from there down to -40 dB.
Operationally, the AV-716 is about as simple as a component À/V receiver can get. Except for the tuner section's preset-bank buttons, the front-panel controls are mostly self-explanatory, as are the buttons on the remote. The remote itself is nicely organized, with the buttons grouped by function into well-separated clusters. My only quibbles with the way the AV-716 operates - and they are truly minor - are that the green LED in the volume knob is too dim, the Pro Logic test signal circulates too quickly, and the surround-mode switch operates in round - robin fashion. But since there are only three choices for surround mode (off, Dolby Pro Logic, and Hall), cycling from one to another doesn't take long.
Surround decoding was accurate in image positioning and levels as well as in its dynamic behavior. The surround outputs sounded particularly clean, their low noise very welcome with those few soundtracks having a very wide dynamic range (such as Kurosawa's Dreams, my nominee for best-sounding movie on laserdisc).
I was less satisfied at first with the Hall mode - until I discovered that its sound could be varied widely via appropriate changes in both the delay-time setting and the surround-speaker level (the manual only recommends adjusting the delay time). With enough experimentation, which took only a few seconds, I was able to find a combination of settings that provided a markedly improved sense of spaciousness over regular stereo without obscuring vocal clarity or imposing an artificial color on the sound.
I'd advise not pushing the Selective Tone button unless you absolutely feel compelled to. The high- and low-frequency boosts it introduces are truly imposing and make even the material for which they were intended come out sounding manipulated. Much more useful are the tone controls, which can provide very delicate tonal-balance changes if not turned too far.
The operation of the tone controls is indicative of the AV-716's overall character: elegance and simplicity supported by well-considered engineering and high levels of performance in areas that really matter. Those areas include the overall FM tuner performance, the cleanliness of the surround decoder, the versatility of the Hall mode, and ample power reserves for high playback levels in most home installations.
The AV-716 may cost a little more than other À/V receivers with comparable power ratings, but it will outperform most of them while very likely remaining easier to use. You'd have to spend twice as much to get significantly better than the AV-716's Dolby Pro Logic performance, and for any price you couldn't better its manual's coverage of the hows and whys of setting up and adjusting a surround system. It has taken some time for NAD to come out with its first A/V receiver, but the AV-716 is well worth the wait.