After the excellent M10 stereo amplifier that received five stars from us, NAD also provides the necessary innovation for its AV receivers. The NAD T 778 -AV receiver brings the best elements of the M10 to a device with 9.1 surround: a large touch screen, extensive streaming options via BluOS and Dirac.
Introduction NAD T 778
With this device, the Canadian NAD presents their vision of the AV receiver of the future. Is it a totally new concept, like the HEOS AVR that appeared a few years ago? No, not that. However, NAD took the classic AV receiver and improved it in several areas to create a machine that marries good performance with functions that match the expectations that everyone has today thanks to mobile devices. Surround fans were therefore already waiting for the T 778. And, unfortunately, due to the delayed production due to the corona crisis (and the accompanying logistics nightmare), some patience will sometimes still be required. Unfortunately, but drop by drop devices do reach the shops.
With a price tag of just under 3,500 euros, this 9.1 receiver with Hybrid Digital is obviously not for the average consumer. It should appeal to enthusiasts who build a home theater themselves as well as professionals looking for a versatile device to power a surround setup. The necessary things are also provided for this, such as smart home integration, an RS232 port and many additional programmable triggers. The T 778 is a 9.1 receiver that is suitable for a variety of setups. 5.1.2 for example, which is possible thanks to support for DTS: X and Dolby Atmos. If you use it (fully or partly) as a processor via the pre-outs provided, you can go to 7.2.4. With 6 HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs, the T 778 is well equipped in terms of video connectivity, and plenty of audio inputs are also provided. There is also an input for a turntable.
This unit revolves mainly around the new hardware platform. What is under the hood. But the hood itself deserves some attention in this case. The T 778 looks very good. And that surprises somewhere, because unless you chose a device from the luxurious Master series, you always got something at NAD that was previously functional in terms of looks. There has been some change in recent times, and how. The T 778 is not part of the Master family like the M10 is, but it still comes with a very well-groomed face. And what a contrast to most AV receivers on the market! The NAD receiver does not display more buttons than the dashboard of a Boeing 747, like some rivals, but exudes ultimate austerity. One rotary knob, one on / off switch. A few connections. That is it. How is that possible? Very simple. The designers took the M10’s large touchscreen and placed it centrally in the front panel. This yields a triple profit: first, the front becomes less crowded, second, a touchscreen allows complex operation to be accompanied by more information, and finally you only see the settings you need at that time. The icing on the cake is that when streaming media on the display you will see the album cover and information about the track. Do you want another cherry? You can also show digital VU meters on the display that (possibly) move with the music.
The amplification is provided by the clever Hybrid Digital technology that NAD also uses in other devices, such as the C 338-, C 368 and C 388 stereo amplifiers. It’s good for 140 watts of power (if you count like most manufacturers) or 9 x 85 watts (if you use NAD’s fairer Full Disclosure Power figures). We find those FDP figures much more relevant, because measured at all channels loaded, over the entire frequency range and without freak distortion.
The menus in which you adjust the many variables that belong to an AV receiver are the T 778 presented very clearly. If you choose to adjust the settings via the touch screen, the interface will show on this display. This is sometimes very useful, for example if you want to rename a source. Changing “Source 1” to “Oppo UDP-203” is a breeze with the virtual keyboard.
However, we are also happy that you can work with the remote control. In that case, the menus will show on the TV screen. And sure enough: the interface presents fine on a 4K TV. It is an old complaint that most AV receivers still send menus in such a low resolution that you can count pixels on your UHD television, so it is positive that NAD does it differently. In itself, the interface is just in Full HD, but it is clearly designed to scale well to 4K. On a 65-inch Sony OLED TV, it looked great three meters away. A detail, but an important one for the enjoyment of use.
What you do not have is an app with which you can adjust the receiver. That surprises somewhere, but it is not that unusual. There is a certain trend away from complex app-based operation. The Arcam AVR20 that we tested a while back had no app and not even a TV interface. You can now set up at Arcam via the browser. That is not possible with the NAD, or at least partly.
The app that belongs to the T 778 is the BluOS app (Android, iOS, Windows and macOS). It is made to control the streaming options and for multi-room functions, and is easy to use. But the integration is not going to the bone. After all, BluOS is part of what the T 778 does, but it doesn’t control everything. As a result, you cannot adjust all settings of the receiver in the BluOS app. You can tweak speaker setups or DSP settings via the remote or the touch screen. We were also unable to adjust Dirac filters via the app, which was the case with the M10 or the C 658 streaming DAC / preamp that we use for stereo tests.
The included large remote control is typically NAD. Conveniently, you can use it to learn other IR codes, so you can control other devices from the same box. It is also practical that you can directly adjust the volume level of the center, sub and surround channels via three buttons at the bottom. But we find it illogical that when navigating through the settings pressing enter does not work as “confirm” but takes you to the next option in line (just like an arrow down). That is a convention so deeply ingrained in us that we are constantly mistaken. A pat on the back for NAD that they also provide a second simple remote. That is much more convenient and less daunting to the rest of the family (and reduces the chances of “oops, I pressed something” issues).
BluOS and More
Receivers are rarely short on streaming options. The T 778 also gives you several options. But you don’t often come across a function like BluOS, because it offers many more possibilities than usual. This platform is not only the basis of the Bluesound devices, but also runs on Dali speakers, NAD devices and CI products from Monitor Audio. You can combine and operate all these devices in your home from the BluOS app. The app is user-friendly – especially on a tablet screen – and supports its own hi-res audio files and many music services. All major and many small services are available. The only ones of interest missing from the app are Apple Music and YouTube Music. Both can be streamed via Airplay 2 or Bluetooth (SBC only) if you wish; YouTube Music can also be done via the Google Assistant. You can control the T 778 in terms of streaming by voice, provided you provide a device with a microphone (such as a Home mini).
Do you listen to Spotify or do you use an iPhone, iPad or Mac computer as a device to to listen to media? Then you do not have to use the BluOS app, because you can simply stream music from the app of your favorite service to the NAD receiver. One downside: the BluOS platform can only be used by attaching a USB dongle to the back of the receiver. This dongle includes the receivers for WiFi and Bluetooth, among others.
The MDC slots remain a unique asset for NAD. These are slots at the back that are of no use to you, but where you can insert an expansion card with new functions in a few years’ time. Older NADs with Full HD capabilities were upgraded to 4K some time ago. In short, MDC makes the T 778 more futureproof than almost all other receivers. We think this is a huge plus.
Perfect tuning requires knowledge
The T 778 comes with Dirac . As far as we are concerned, this is the best room calibration software on the market, so it’s definitely a plus. If you want to know more about Dirac and especially the new Dirac Live 2.x generation, please read our background.
Be warned if you have never used an application like Dirac before. The learning curve is significant if you really want to apply the software correctly. The challenge lies in various areas. The measurement requires attention and accuracy, because you have to measure up to eleven places to start. It is important that you take each measurement at an equal distance from each other. You also do best with a real measuring microphone (such as the 80-euro UMIK-1) and via your laptop, although NAD also supplies a microphone in the box.
Yes, that’s right: Unlike the calibration functions on most receivers, Dirac is software that runs as an app on your mobile device or your computer. The app makes the measurements, proposes a curve to address problems with your room and your speakers, and calculates a filter that is sent to the receiver. You may also adjust the target curve yourself. You can also download a custom curve from NAD, which is recommended, because it sounds better than the curve that Dirac himself proposes. Positive: The T 778 has slots for three filters, so you can compare your own experiments with the target curve. We would have liked you to be able to do this quickly via the remote. That comparison may be necessary, because with a small adjustment in Dirac you can completely change the sound of your setup. Dirac can simply introduce a lot of improvement into your room – but it can also make your system sound much worse. If we can give you two tips: correct with a soft hand and try not to demand dramatically different performance from your speakers.
EARS and more
Thanks to BluOS and the other streaming options, the T 778 is really a music beast. As usual, you can listen to your songs in stereo, but also in one of the many other sound modes. Neural: X was very disappointing in our tests, but we found the broader spread soundstage that EARS puts down very clever. Perhaps not very authentic, but even a playlist delivered via Spotify sounded very compelling on the Rubicon LCRs and Vokal in the front of the room with EARS.
For this test, we connected the T 778 to our regular Dali Rubicon surround setup, with two Alteco height speakers connected and a Monitor Audio Silver W12 subwoofer. A little variation during testing: At some point, we exchanged the Rubicon Vokal for center speaker mode on a Sony OLED television with Acoustic Surface. In terms of depth and fullness, that was a step back, but the Acoustic Surface approach is very effective when it comes to placing dialogues and sound effects right in front of you. Be sure to check out our background piece about that middle channel mode at Sony.
It’s double enjoyment at the spectacular ‘Ford vs Ferrari’ (Ultra HD Blu-ray, Dolby Atmos): the latent petrolhead in us gets a beautiful Served up as a piece of automotive history, the surround enthusiast can enjoy one of the most effective Atmos soundtracks ever. Car races apparently lend themselves well to height channels, because on Netflix you will also find “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” – also with a great Atmos soundtrack. You may not want to look at it if you don’t like the raw roar of a petrol engine, but “Ford vs Ferrari” is an experience to watch. Moreover, it is a story that revolves more around the great personalities of the industry of the time, such as the son of Ford, Shelby and Iococca.
A dramatic highlight comes midway through the movie, when racing driver Miles tests a new prototype at night. on a small, twisty test circuit and the brakes fail. In the meantime Shelby has a difficult conversation about the impending dismissal of Miles at the request of the management. Then there is a blow and an immense explosion. We note that the NAD T 778 -AV receiver ‘s many cornering effects translate very well into space, courtesy of the Dirac adjustment.
Obviously, there’s plenty of power available too, so that the sudden dynamic spikes in the hilarious scene follows to be taken effortlessly. Shelby convinces the daring Ford to take to the track. Who can not look at a gentleman with a grin. Ford bursting into tears after a test drive in the missile disguised as a racing car, he doesn’t own a heart.
Speaking of missiles, how does the T 778 perform in the Gravity test? It is no secret that we are fans of Alfonso Cuarón’s work. As for Roma, the Mexican director’s team won an Oscar or two for sound design for Gravity. Which is quite special, because in this film the soundtrack consists largely of sparse dialogue, threatening tones and silence. When it comes to SFX, the most captivating scene in Gravity (Diamond Luxe Edition, Dolby Atmos) is when the space shuttle hits the debris, despite astronauts George Clooney and Sandra Bullock’s frantic attempts to make it back to Earth in time. In terms of positioning, the T 778 does not drop stitches, but the rear channels do drop slightly when the camera looks out of Bullock’s helmet and her voice sounds at the back of the room. The problem may be that we intervened a little too much in Dirac for those rears. An illustration of an important point with receivers with Dirac, such as this NAD and also the Arcam devices: you have to take your time to measure Dirac correctly and to design good filters. That takes time or some knowledge, but maybe it’s just worth asking a dealer or expert to do it for you.
If this is where AV receivers go, then see the future look very rosy. The NAD T 778 -AV receiver mainly has advantages and only a few minor drawbacks. The simple yet complete controls, BluOS integration and many other streaming options, Dirac and the rather powerful HybridDigital amplification make this NAD the AV receiver to beat in 2020. And, thanks to the ability to upgrade through the MDC slots , perhaps also in the coming years. Already top performance and in the future, that deserves five stars.