NAD first made a name for itself in Britain in the late 1970s, creating deceptively simple yet high-quality audio gear that gave those on a tight budget an entry point into the world of the audiophile.
The 3020 integrated amplifier was a game-changer and award-winner that still sounds brilliant today. We bought our first NAD in the mid-'80s – the 3020i, a slightly revamped version of the original – and followed it up with a few other models over the years.
The company has changed hands a couple of times over the years – it's now based in Canada – but has stayed more or less true to its roots. It's now introduced its first compact all-in-one speaker system under its VISO sub-brand.
The $699 VISO 1 is an audiophile-grade iPod/iPhone-docking and Bluetooth wireless system that slots in among products such as the B&W Zeppelins, the Geneva Sound System Model M and the B&O BeoSound 8.
In the NAD tradition it's simplicity itself. It's a kind-of-cylindrical shape with a black plastic back and sides, black fabric front and longitudinal silver metal band that holds the adjustable and rotatable dock in front. It's a stunning design, and it's beautifully made.
Operation is similarly simple: In the box is a 10-step visual guide that's all you need to get started. (You can download a full manual from the NAD website if you do get stuck, though.)
On the VISO 1 itself is a three-button bar for Source and Volume Up and Down. The Source button cycles between the dock, Bluetooth and the optical audio-in jack at the back of the unit. The latter lets you connect a source such as an Apple TV to the NAD.
When Bluetooth is selected, the VISO 1 shows up as a device on any of your Bluetooth-enabled sources (iPad, iPhone, iPod, Mac, etc) and there's no code needed to make the connection.
A beautiful little black remote has the same controls, plus Play/Pause, Skip and Mute buttons. What more do you need? You certainly don't want to play with the sonic signature of this baby!
Which brings us neatly to the sound.
Hearing the VISO 1 for the first time is one of those "Am I hearing right?" moments. It has clarity, depth, beautiful balance and coherence.
But its most impressive attribute is the resolution – the real-ness – of the sound. Singers sound like they're in the room; you can hear the breath of a sax player; each instrument in a group or orchestra has its own identity. For a small system like this to achieve this level of sophistication is remarkable.
Performance over Bluetooth isn't quite as spectacular as the wired sources, but it's still very good when compared to the competition.
So, among all these bouquets, is there any room for brickbats? Yes, one. If you've been using a Bluetooth device and place an iPod or iPhone in the dock, the NAD turns off. Starting playback from the dock then necessitates turning the power off and on again, and pressing the Source button until you hear the audio. Making the dock playback automatic would be a good move.
All in all, this is our new favourite iPod docking system – it ticks all the boxes from simple to sophisticated. Sure, it's a hair under $700 but there are plenty of systems that cost as much and don't sound as good.
NAD is distributed in Australia by Audio Products Group.