Reviews

Review: NAD C 3050 – Retro amplifier with many possibilities

Review: NAD C 3050 –amplifier with many possibilities offering Retro design elements, including satin Walnut casing, front panel VU meters, push-button controls, ’70s-style cursive brand logo, and dark gray finish

Many integrated amplifiers now identify themselves with the label ‘all-rounder.’ With these versatile devices, you can do everything with a TV, a record player, and streaming. But few devices exude a vintage atmosphere. The NAD C 3050 has mastered that. And the sound quality?

To celebrate NAD’s 50th anniversary, the company created a limited edition amplifier. Only 1972 pieces were offered, a number that referred to the founding year of the audio brand with a witticism. The C 3050 LE (for Limited Edition) went over the counter like hotcakes. However, insiders knew this special version was just a taste of what would come. This brings us to the C 3050, the ‘regular’ version with the same retro look and amplification section. The concept also remains the same: to offer an integrated amplifier that completely fits the vintage trend in terms of design but uses the latest technologies under the hood.

The result is a complete music system. The NAD C 3050, 1,599 euros, comes standard with an HDMI-ARC connection, an input for a turntable, and Bluetooth. Still, by inserting an optional BluOS-D MDC2 module, you add BluOS multiroom and streaming, AirPlay 2, and Dirac chamber calibration. For around 2,278 euros, you get a complete package that appeals to retro enthusiasts.

WhatIntegrated amplifier
inputsHDMI-eARC, optical, coaxial, phono (MM), cinch
Outputssub out, pre-out, headphone out
Extrasexpandable with BluOS-D (streaming and Dirac)
Dimensions45 x 11 x 35.5 cm
Weight12.6 kg

With a Dutch engine

NAD likes the concept of an all-in-one amplifier to which you only have to add speakers to build a complete music system. Several devices, such as the C 389, C 399, and M33, fit this description. The C 3050 is an outsider in the group. Yet when it comes to its appearance, its wood finishes all around, and the black front panel with illuminated VU meters breathes the atmosphere of the late seventies and early eighties. The time when punk still preached anarchy, while new wavers already applied the black mascara. Because although the LE version of the C 3050 was a celebration of NAD’s fiftieth anniversary, the design is strongly inspired by a successful younger device from 1978.

By the way, don’t be fooled by its retro looks. The amplifier fits nicely on a vintage piece of furniture you bought on the market. However, the technique used remains closely related to what you see with ‘modern’ NADs. So it’s class D amplification, not the class AB of yesteryear. No surprise because if there is one brand that has made the step to class D with conviction, it is NAD. This device contains UcD modules from the Dutch Hypex, good for 2 x 100 watts continuous (both at 4 and 8 ohms, full frequency range). Also present is a Texas Instruments DAC. That is relevant because NAD’s approach means that all incoming analog signals are digitized after all, which allows you to stream that vinyl record elsewhere via BluOS or to apply Dirac room calibration.

What is MDC2 again?

After all, almost all NAD amplifiers are equipped with an MDC or (newer) MDC2 slot. This includes the C 3050. In concrete terms, you can expand this amplifier with an MDC2 card that you can easily assemble yourself. It is simply a matter of unscrewing a panel at the back, inserting the card, and then tightening a few screws. This way, you add functionality. In this case, the obvious upgrade (currently the only one available) is the BluOS-D card.

This is one of the big differences between the C 3050 and the almost sold-out LE edition: the BluOS-D card was already installed in the factory with the anniversary model. You paid 2,499 euros for the C 3050 LE, more than the 1,599 euros for the regular device. But if you add the MDC2 card, you get about the same price. That LE edition does have some cosmetic touches, including real wood veneer on the housing.

However, you don’t need that MCD2 module to connect the C 3050 to your TV. This is simply possible via the HDMI eARC port. If you have the BluOS-D module, you can set this port so that the amp turns on immediately when you turn on the TV (or jumps to the HDMI input on the C 3050). We briefly thought we must miss out on this useful feature, which would have been less. But in the manual, we found that you can activate this support for HDMI-CEC by pressing the HDMI button on the front panel for a few seconds. The corresponding LED will blink twice. And indeed: when we then switched on the connected Sony Bravia TV, the amplifier kicked into action. Funny detail: it has to ‘warm up’ for a while, and then the VU meters turn an angry red.

VU meters could not be missed

Appealing to nostalgia, NAD does that with great conviction here. Look at the black front panel, which is almost a 1-to-1 copy of the NAD 3030, a popular model from the hi-fi era. The VU meters, the many push buttons to select inputs, the tone control, and the large volume knob you turn. And, of course, the graceful ‘New Acoustic Dimension’ – NAD, that is – in a font that no one uses in the 21st century. There are some subtle signs that this is a 2023 device. For example, the BluOS and Bluetooth labels or the row of LEDs indicate the volume level.

Also from yesteryear is the contrasting side and top in wood finish. This is a matt plastic, but one that is very convincing. You notice no relief only from a few centimeters away, as there is usually with real wood. Don’t worry; you won’t see the difference if you’re listening to a playlist in the seat.

The wood finish runs over the back. That also gives the C 3050 the necessary retro look on that side. In addition to a hidden button to switch the VU meters between input level (more movement) and speaker level (perhaps less, unless you are organizing a party), you will find a useful range of inputs here. An input ready for an MM cartridge turntable, a regular line-in, two digital inputs (coaxial and optical), and an HDMI-eARC port seems sufficient for most people. Do you want a 2.1 setup with smaller speakers and a subwoofer? There is a sub-output, but the BluOS-D module gives you more control options via the BluOS app. If you look closely, you will also see a pre-out and a main-in connected by bridges. If you remove those links, you can use this device as a preamplifier or output stage. Perhaps not scenarios that will occur soon, although retro lovers who want more power may eventually add a – we say something – C 298 Purifi output stage. But with normal use and speakers, the C 3050 is certainly capable enough.

BluOS

There is no streaming on the C 3050. That keeps the price low. So music lovers who mainly listen to vinyl or want their streaming solution do not pay for something they do not want. We suspect the C 3050 will often be sold with the accompanying BluOS-D module. Adding those makes the C 3050 even more versatile. You can fully control the amplifier via the BluOS app, including switching to a physical input (such as the turntable). BluOS is also a multi-room platform. If you have another BluOS product at home, such as a Bluesound speaker, you can also play the record on that speaker. The BluOS app also contains many streaming services, much more than you usually find with streaming amplifiers. This app will be given a makeover with a new interface at the end of this year.

Fine for vinyl

Fans of retro design probably also like vinyl, we quietly suspect. You can park a record player next to the C 3050, thanks to the phono input on the amplifier. It is designed for MM cartridges. That’s usually the case with integrated amps at this and even a much higher price point. And you could argue that an MC cartridge deserves an external phono amplifier anyway, but then we digress. In any case, almost all record players under 1,000 euros are equipped with MM (and many more expensive ones as well), so we do not find NAD’s choice a shortcoming. But how does it perform? We close an affordable Argon TT-4 turntable on, with an Ortofon 2M Red and with the built-in phono amplifier switched off. Our speakers for this review are our DALI Rubicon 2s, which usually pair very well with NAD amps. But other choices are also possible, of course.

Several favorite records are reviewed, including ‘The Smile’ and ‘This Machine Stil Kills Fascists’ by the Dropkick Murphys, with good performances on the NAD side. In this situation, you must also think away from the characteristics of the cartridge; the greater detail is certainly good, making the acoustic guitars sound authentic with the Woodie Guthrie interpretations of the Boston punks. Tonally there is a fine balance. A little lower could be done, but that’s what the bass control is for, and the screams on ‘All You Fonies’ convey the rousing exactly as intended.

Stream for cheap

We tested the C 3050 without the BluOS-D module. Because we did work with the LE edition earlier this year, we can tell you something about it (see box above). However, for this test, we connected an external streamer. We first go for a cheap option: the NAD CS1, a streamer that adds Spotify, Chromecast, AirPlay, and more for 349 euros. If you connect it via an optical cable, you can count on the DAC’s quality in the C 3050. Also handy: a USB port on the back of the NAD amplifier provides enough power to power the CS1. So no extra socket is needed, and you can easily hide the small CS1 box at the back of a cupboard. Soon you will read a separate review about this handy and affordable streamer. Still, in the context of the C 3050, we could stream ‘Evolve’ by Imagine Dragons via Spotify Connect without any problem. The stream may not be of the highest quality, but it is not a problem. The tuning of the C 3050 is nice and forgiving, so you are not quickly pointed out things that may be less good. A good combination. Of course, for a few hundred euros, you get the same options with the BluOS-D module plus much more, including room calibration.

As a more high-end option, we choose the iFi Audio Neo Stream. Its built-in DAC is of a high level, so here, we could have chosen between connecting the streamer analog or digitally. We choose the latter again because it allows us to better focus on the C 3050 performance. The HiFi Audio, like BluOS, is Roon Ready, so we stream Lana Del Rey’s “Ocean Blvd” through the audiophile music software. Also, ‘Fuse,’ Everything But the Girl’s first album in over fifteen years (and 20, if you ignore re-releases), is featured. A somewhat floaty selection, but the C 3050 and the DALIs create a sound wall with a high density. It is spacious – the Rubicon 2’s radiate broad – but the music retains its intensity by not putting everything ultra-wide and thin. Especially those pop songs from Everything But the Girl sound powerful and a bit sultry. That doesn’t get in the way of finer work. Such as the performance of Albinoni’s beautiful ‘Adagio in G minor’ recently released by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. It’s only six minutes long, but it has tremendous emotional power. The C 3050 creates a beautiful soundstage, where the strings are presented warmly and compellingly, and the organ also has a very warm character. A very nice result for this price point. 

Conclusion

Many people will fall for the looks. Or not, but there are plenty of alternatives with a modern face for them. Fortunately, the C 3050 is also an all-rounder in audio that performs well and can easily match almost any loudspeaker. While you dream away at the moving hands of the VU meters, you enjoy a powerful NAD sound that combines sufficient detail with a powerful layer. Pounding rock or orchestral works, both and more, this amp handles excitingly. And those are qualities that also make the NAD very suitable for TV sound.

The price tag of the C 3050 is not exaggerated; you also pay something for the back-to-the-seventies design. It seems logical that you immediately buy the BluOS-D card to add excellent streaming options and room calibration.

Pros

  • HDMI eARC
  • A vintage design that looks very authentic
  • Decent phono part
  • Expansion possible via MDC
  • Immersive full sound

Negatives

  • BluOS-D module is larger and more release
  • Retro design is not for everyone
  • Only one line in