Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh History and Autoformer Technology (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - NAD Viso HP50 Headphones (May 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - GoldenEar Technology's Anechoic Chamber (May 2016)

Although NAD is a Canadian-owned company, its roots are in London, UK, where many music aficionados never abandoned the turntable as their favorite music source. So it’s not surprising that NAD’s new C 558 record player ($499 USD) follows the pattern set by Linn, Rega, Revolver, Roksan, and other British firms: a turntable thoroughly traditional in concept and totally modern in practice, with no frills, flash, or gimmicks.

Description

The C 558 follows NAD’s usual color palette: relentlessly charcoal/black. Its heavy MDF plinth is finished in a beautiful but plain matte black, and the tonearm is black as well. The platter breaks the monochrome color scheme -- a 3.85-pound chunk of clear, solid glass topped by a black (who’d have guessed?) felt mat. The C 558 looks right at home in my Mid-Century Modern wannabe music room! Its heavy-duty dustcover is of clear Plexiglas, with hinges that are simplicity itself -- they shouldn’t cause cracks in the cover. The C 558’s platter spins at two speeds -- 3313 and 45rpm -- and the turntable sits on four damped feet to minimize the transmission of vibrations from footfalls and other floor traffic. The whole thing measures 17.1”W x 4.9”H x 13.4”D and weighs 12.1 pounds.

NAD

The tonearm is a standard 9” length and seems made of black, crackle-finished aluminum with a nonremovable headshell. It looks extremely well made. The C 558 comes with a pre-mounted Ortofon OM Super 10 cartridge ($75-$100 when bought separately, and then you’d have to install it).

The C 558’s top deck is unmarred by controls. How to turn it on? How to change speeds? Patience, Grasshopper: The power switch is hidden under the left-front corner of the plinth; to change speeds, you remove the felt mat and glass platter (NAD furnishes white cotton gloves to prevent smudges), then move the drive belt from one motor pulley to the other. This is not especially convenient -- I’m spoiled by the pushbutton transmissions of German and Japanese turntables -- but consistent with the norm of British ’tables.

Unlike some turntables we’ve reviewed, the NAD C 558 is entirely manual in operation -- it’s a purist’s turntable. You lift the arm from its rest using the finger lift on the headshell, then lower the stylus into the record’s lead-in groove; at the end of the side, you again raise the arm with the finger lift and return it to its rest. Such a minimalist mechanical design has the advantage of few moving parts to wear out or break. The only maintenance it should require is eventual replacement of the drive belt -- a 30-second task -- and occasional lubrication of the platter bearing.

The C 558’s motor is driven by a wall-wart AC power supply that plugs into the rear panel, where you’ll also find a ground post and the RCA jacks for the phono cable’s right- and left-channel legs. The C 558 is supplied with a better-than-usual phono cable and ground wire, but the jacks let you roll your own.

NAD

The C 558 resembles turntables from Rega Research and Pro-Ject, which is no tragedy. Both companies make excellent, well-thought-of turntables, and the solidity of the C 558 is most assuring. The retail price of $499 seems very reasonable for a well-built turntable bundled with a much-better-than-entry-level cartridge already installed and a two-year limited warranty

Setup

NAD has made setting up the C 558 pretty simple. Open the box and the first item you see is a Quick Start Guide. Next is the dustcover, in a protective covering. Remove some packing, and there are the platter, mat, and turntable. At the bottom of the box are the power supply and tonearm counterweight.

First to install is the drive belt. For 3313rpm, loop the belt around the motor’s smaller pulley, then around the gray plastic subplatter. A plastic hook is included to ease installation of the belt, but I didn’t need it. Then put on the white gloves (I got a kick out of them) and lower the glass platter over the subplatter. Lay the black felt mat over the platter.

NAD

Installing and setting up the tonearm is a whole ’nother kettle of fish requiring more patience, Grasshopper. First, place the counterweight on the arm’s rear end. Then comes the tricky part: adjusting the arm’s vertical tracking force (VTF), for which NAD furnishes a basic but fairly effective stylus-pressure gauge. The Quick Start Guide instructs you to place the stylus of the Ortofon OM Super 10 between the 15 and 20mN (roughly equivalent to 1.5 and 2.0gm) marks on the gauge, and move the counterweight back and forth until the arm balances.

This was the only setup step that I found less than ideal. Those German and Japanese turntables that have spoiled me instruct the user to balance the arm, set the counterweight guide to “0,” then turn the counterweight/guide to the desired VTF -- much more convenient and much less fiddly. Of the 40 minutes it took me to set up the C 558, trying to get its arm set to the proper VTF took about 27. I finally gave up on NAD’s gauge, pulled out my decades-old Shure VTF gauge, and messed with that till the stylus pressure was close to the recommended 1.75gm. NAD provides an Allen wrench that lets you lock in the proper counterweight position. By contrast, the antiskating control is simple to use -- on my review sample, it was preset to nearly the right force.

Serious tweakers can then adjust the vertical tracking angle (VTA), which, when set properly, should let them achieve something close to audio nirvana (true tweakers will never admit that perfection is possible). I’m willing to bet the folks at NAD know how to set up the C 558 properly for the Ortofon cartridge it’s supplied with, so I didn’t mess with it. Nonetheless, NAD supplies another Allen wrench designed to loosen and tighten the requisite VTA nut. You’ll probably need to adjust VTA only if want to use a different cartridge. If so, that will require a lot of further fiddling -- this tonearm’s headshell can’t be detached from its armtube. There are good reasons for that, primary among them greater tonearm rigidity, to suppress any resonances. But a nonremovable headshell makes installing a different cartridge a real task. (Been there, done that, in the process discovering and uttering new and original obscenities.)

NAD

And for folks who want to really diddle their gear, the C 558 offers adjustable tracking azimuth, to ensure that the arm-cartridge-cantilever-stylus assembly is absolutely perpendicular to the record surface. But as that assembly in the C 558 is set up at the factory, it shouldn’t require attention.

Almost done. The power supply, designed for universal use, comes with three different male connectors: one each for the US, the UK, and Europe. Install the proper plug, and connect the power supply to the turntable at one end and to your favorite AC supply at the other. Connect the interconnects and ground wire and you’re set.

The Quick Start Guide will get you up and running, but for a more thorough overview of the C 558 and its features, download the extensive owner’s manual. It covers all the tricks, such as adjustments of VTA and azimuth, in detail. NAD’s Greg Stidsen told me that NAD now directs users to their website for owner’s manuals, as this practice fits into the company’s commitment to responsible social conduct.

System

Nothing new, except a better carpet in the music dungeon. It slightly softens the sound, and eliminates a slight bounce of direct sound from the speakers off the hard floor. I’m still making adjustments; so far, so good. My primary record player is an ancient but still willing Dual CS5000 belt-driven turntable from the early 1980s, equipped with a Shure V15 Type V-MR cartridge. I’d been hoarding the Shure, but recently asked myself, “Why?” I figure I’ll use it till its stylus wears out and the cartridge becomes useless -- authentic replacement styli are not available for this model.

Listening

I was excited to hear the C 558, but before doing any critical listening I broke in the cartridge by playing 10 to 15 hours’ worth of LPs. In my first serious listening session, I noticed right off how accurately the arm cue drops the stylus in the lead-in groove. It’s one of the best I’ve encountered.

As you probably know, “You Can Call Me Al,” from Paul Simon’s Graceland (Warner Bros. 25447-1), features lots of percussion, and the NAD-Ortofon combo was right on board with that. I heard excellent detail in backing instruments, a fine soundstage, and good slam on the deep percussion. The horns were crisply reproduced, with no slop.

As I often do, I followed Simon with his former partner: “Finally Found a Reason,” from Art Garfunkel’s Fate for Breakfast (Columbia JC 35780). Garfunkel’s ethereal voice was reproduced beautifully, with none of the slight sibilance I’ve heard from some other turntable-cartridge combos. There was very nice soundstage depth, with the backing singers well to the rear of the stage. The bass was tight, and the acoustic guitar was detailed without undue resonances. It sounded so good that I played the cut again, just to enjoy its beauty.

NAD

I next played some cuts by Manhattan Transfer, for me the ne plus ultra of jazz singing. The one that provided the best selection of results to talk about was Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia,” which ManTran performs with Bobby McFerrin and the late, phenomenal Jon Hendricks on Vocalese (Atlantic 81266-1). The tune is performed a cappella -- no instruments, just voices. McFerrin starts it off with a wild, wordless version of the melody, backed by ManTran. Hendricks comes in and goes off on a mesmerizing scat riff. For any lover of jazz singing, this is an absolutely magical performance. The C 558 with Ortofon OM Super 10 reproduced every smidgen of sound stamped in the groove. This cut, too, I listened to multiple times.

For something hotter, I pulled out the title track of Steve Winwood’s Roll With It (Virgin 7 90946-1). Nearly all the instruments in this cut are synthesized, other than a tambourine -- attacks and releases are instantaneous. There’s no echo other than whatever was added by the engineer. As good as the C 558 was with jazz and pop, it could also rock with the best of them. With most turntables, Winwood’s voice sounds too raspy -- not like Rod Stewart gargling with razor blades, but still. Not so much with the NAD C 558. There was just the right touch of rasp or grit, and the drum sounds snapped as they should. The bass line was in the front of the mix, accenting the beat. And the Hammond B3, Winwood’s longtime instrument of choice, just freakin’ smoked.

To hear how well the C 558 would handle a really difficult-to-track LP, I put on the granddaddy of them all: Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, performed by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (Telarc DG-10041). For 40 years now, this recording has been used in hi-fi parlors as the ultimate tracking test, because it includes real cannon fire cut at very high levels. Their sound is not a boom but a heavy-duty CRAAACK. In some cases, tonearms have flown across the LP due to the sudden change in velocity of the stylus in the groove. Many modern cartridges can handle these passages with little to some discomfort, but don’t leave the groove. The NAD-Ortofon combination, however, was bumfuzzled by the very first cannon shot, and skipped some. Of course, this is the toughest tracking test I know of; with 95 to 99% of LPs, the C 558 should do just fine.

NAD

For a comparison, I relied on my Dual CS5000 turntable, but swapped out my Shure V15 Type V-MR for a Shure M97xe, as I felt the latter was the most complementary cartridge in my collection to the C 558’s Ortofon OM Super 10. On the C 558, the cover of Fred Foster and Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” on Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind (Reprise 6392) sounded, overall, as mellow as Lightfoot’s voice. Everything was smooth and tasty. One thing I look for in this cut is how crisply the hand slaps are reproduced. The C 558 did well, if on the mellow side of neutral. The Dual-Shure combination offered a slightly brighter sound overall that showed off the slaps slightly better.

Conclusion

Now that vinyl is hip again, the market is flooded with entry-level turntables. Some -- though none of the ones we review -- are junk. At $499, NAD’s C 558 is a bit more expensive than many you’ve seen reviewed in these e-pages, but the extra cost brings benefits.

The C 558 was dead silent: in all my time with it, I heard no extraneous sounds or resonances. Its speed of rotation seemed spot on and steady. And Ortofon’s OM Super 10 cartridge is the perfect partner -- its sound was smooth and mellow in most cases, never dull or lifeless. When asked, it got up and boogied.

NAD

I have one caveat: To correctly set the VTF takes patience. If you buy a C 558 from a bricks-and-mortar store, see if the dealer won’t set it up for you. If not, it’s up to you. But you can be thankful that doing so is probably a onetime event, as I see no point in changing the cartridge. The OM Super 10 can be upgraded by buying and installing a different Ortofon OM-series stylus, and installation of a compatible stylus doesn’t require removing the cartridge itself.

In all, the NAD C 558 is a great turntable that’s far above entry level. I could see myself using one for years to come. I recommend it to anyone returning to the vinyl fold, or coming aboard for the first time. It’s simple, it’s elegant, it works marvelously well. I can offer no higher praise.

. . . Thom Moon
thom@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Turntables -- Dual CS5000, Pioneer PL-516
  • Phono cartridges -- Grado Gold, Shure M97xE and V15 Type V-MR
  • Preamplifier -- Linn Majik 1P
  • Power amplifier -- NAD C 275BEE
  • Speakers -- Acoustic Energy Radiance 3, Advent ASW-1200 subwoofer
  • Analog interconnects -- Straight Wire Chorus
  • Speaker cables -- Acoustic Research 14-gauge

NAD C 558 Turntable with Ortofon OM Super 10 Cartridge
Price: $499 USD.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.

NAD Electronics
633 Granite Court
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1
Canada
Phone: (905) 831-6555

Website: www.nadelectronics.com