NAD has an almost cult-like status when it comes to hi-fi equipment at reasonable prices. Just about everyone in a design that would make a sparrow look boastful.
The NAD C338 is the smallest in the company’s New Classic series of amplifiers. As you would expect from a device called “Classic”, there is a full set of inputs and outputs: three analog inputs, including one for turntable, and four digital inputs (optical and coaxial). In addition, Bluetooth and Chromecast wireless inputs. You can thus stream the music wirelessly in full quality from e.g. Tidal.
From the outside, the NAD C338 is as minimalist as you can imagine. A display and a rotary knob as well as two pushbuttons to select the source. The back is well filled up. The bushings are solid and in okay quality without being lavish. The speaker outputs are made of plastic and look like something from a school physics room. Exactly as one would expect at NAD. All the good must be inside. Three rotating antennas connect to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
The power is supplied by a set of 50 watt class D amplifier modules designed by Dutch Hypex. However, the most interesting feature is Chromecast. Once the C388 is incorporated into the network, one can stream to it from most music apps on mobile and computer.
The sound of NAD C338
The NAD C388 paints an open and coherent picture of the acoustic scene. The air between the instruments is probably not as clean and transparent as much larger and more expensive amplifiers can handle. But the whole is solid and warm. The depth perspective may have been experienced better, but it is fully offset by musicality and closeness in buckets. On “I’m Confessin ‘” from Jazz at the Pawnshop, you really feel the joy of playing and the live atmosphere.
At the same time, the dynamics impress. Although the effect is limited, there is enough energy for the tips. C338 has a huge surplus for such a small amplifier. As long as you do not try to play impossibly loud, there is calm and control over the soundscape.
NADC338 sounds in many ways like a much larger and more expensive amplifier. Where, after all, it meets its limitation is when it comes to playing loud. When the volume knob is turned to the right, reality comes into play again: the bass loses control and the midrange becomes hard and pressed. But it does so at a higher sound level than we are used to for a relatively cheap 50 watt amplifier.
You get a lot of amplifier for the money with the NAD C338, which combines Chromecast streaming, pleasant sound and well-chosen features in well-known minimalist NAD packaging. Although we are dealing with a fully equipped amplifier with plenty of inputs, the price is at the lowest end of the field. However, NAD is being overtaken by Onkyo, which trumps radio, multiroom and built-in streaming services.