It takes a lot for a one-box home cinema system to make it into the review pages of Home Cinema Choice, but the L73 screamed out for inclusion. For starters, it has the heritage of the NAD brand, for years synonymous with affordable audiophile sound. But our interest in this product is about more than just respect for a manufacturer's heritage: on paper at least, the L73 is a cut above the vast majority of its rivals.
The L73 doesn't come bundled with speakers, suggesting it's designed to be used by the more performance-aware, spatially-limited home cinema buff. There's no superfluous bells and whistles here, and each and every feature has a use somewhere down the line. What you get is a DVD receiver: basically a disc player coupled with a 5.1 channel amplifier and decoding electronics. The unit is surprisingly versatile.
NAD has seen fit to not only support DVD-Video and CD, but to also offer playback of DVD-Audio - although not Super Audio CD. It's also capable of recognising a number of file formats, including CD-Rs loaded with MP3 tracks or JPEGs for viewing images from a digital camera.
NAD's claims for the power output are surprisingly modest (45W in multichannel, 60W in stereo). Our Tech Labs rate power output with two channels driven at 65W mode (8O, 0.7% THD), with barely any drop with five channels driven (8O, 0.8% THD). So while not a powerhouse, the L73 outspecifies many other system solutions. NAD has used discrete output stages for all channels, and has eschewed the common practice of using digital IC amplifier modules. It has also opted to use Crystal Sigma-Delta DACs; their 96kHZ/24bit resolution is not only necessary for DVD-Audio playback, but also has advantages for the rest of the amp's multichannel output.
In terms of audio, the L73 supports both Dolby Digital and DTS. There's also Pro- Logic II and Dolby Headphone, the latter of which is great for late-night private viewing sessions. It also offers Dolby Virtual Speaker, so you can get some semblance of surround if you are working your way up to a full-on system and only have the cash to start with a couple of speakers. The L73 also sports NAD's proprietary EARS (Enhanced Ambience Recovery System) - one of the systems around for generating multichannel music from a stereo source.
Video processing is pretty well served, although there's nothing in the way of the video upscaling we're now seeing in dedicated receivers at around this price. There's a good selection of connections, including a high-definition-capable component video output and RGBcapable Scart. It would have been nice to see HDMI make it this far down the food chain, but sadly it's notable by its absence. There's also a component video input, plus the usual rag-tag collection of composite and S-video sockets that litter the back of most AV hardware.
Those people drawn to this product because of its clutter reduction potential will be pleased with the inclusion of NAD's impressive HTR-L73 eight-devicelearning remote control, which makes the L73 easy to set up and control, and cuts down on unwanted wands falling down the back of the sofa. Oh, and if you are really interested there's also an RDS tuner on board - so one fewer box again!
Even though NAD has packed a lot into the L73, in use it feels like you are accessing two boxes rather than one - which is a good thing. Menus are easy to navigate and have a variety of options for the more enthusiastic tweaker.
There's a sense of quality here that few one-box systems - bar the likes of Linn's Movie Classik at almost three times the price - can offer.
Look at that fringe!
Picture quality via the component video output proves itself to be typical for its class. The DVD section of the L73 is capable of producing deep blacks and some impressive levels of contrast. Fine detail performance is good. At 5.8MHz, frequency response is typically good at 1.2db. After the component output, Scart is the next best quality output option.
Sonically, the NAD L73 is a mixed proposition. Movie soundtracks are delivered with a good deal of gusto, if not guts. At low to medium volume levels the L73 is capable of a very nice performance. There's an impressive degree of clarity to the sound, and, considering the price, a good deal of the information on the soundtrack is right there for you to hear. Highlights of the L73's audio output include natural voices and a good grasp of the subtleties involved in delivering convincing steering FX.
However, when push comes to shove, and you really turn the volume up, the L73's lack of oomph starts to show, and it appears less than superheroic when it comes to blasting out the soundtrack to The Incredibles.
There's too much colouration at these kinds of levels, and the sound gradually becomes more distorted as you turn it up. While this happens on most receivers, it kicked in slightly earlier here than I'd have liked.
As a CD player, the L73 is reasonably good. There's slightly more body to the unit's two channel presentation, which really benefits music. In fact, if you're after a relatively affordable, upscale dual-purpose system, then this could tip the balance for you.
Although there are only a few DVDAudio releases available, it's DVD-A performance is good. There is little of the unappealing glassy sheen that adversely affects some supposedly high-resolution one-box systems.
Integrated kit like this rarely makes enthusiasts sit up and think about dumping their separates, and this NAD system doesn't quite manage it either. However, for those looking for a credible performance in a single box, then this NAD has a lot going for it. The L73 provides a sense of separates without the bulk. Shaun Marin