It's amazing how easy it is to start an argument with a classic car nut: wait until the second glass of wine over dinner, then interrupt their lengthy tale of sourcing parts for their very rare ‘barn find’ Armstrong Siddeley with a naïve, ‘But wouldn’t it be better if you’d put the engine and driveline from a modern Jag underneath it?’ Pause for a moment while they go purple and build a head of steam, then add, ‘You could even make it electric with some Tesla bits…’
What’s that got to do with hi-fi?
Well, we’re in a bit of a retro-revival at the moment, with some companies celebrating significant birthdays – the beginning of the 1970s was very good time for new hi-fi brands – while others have just sensed something’s happening and jumped on the coattails before the carnival moves on. For anyone who’s been buying hi-fi for years, it’s like the time machine’s been busy: there are faithful recreations of classic amps from the past, new names pulling out the plans for iconic ‘BBC monitor’ speaker models, and seemingly every designer in the world re-making product that were beyond their means when they were younger.
However, that’s not the NAD way: Yes, the company’s reached qualifying age, having been started in 1972 – which may surprise those who think it only started with the million-selling 3020 amplifier in 1978 – but it’s not interested in nut and bolt recreations of its earliest designs, which after all were built before the days of digital audio, let alone streaming. Instead, the new C 3050, now on sale at £1299, has entirely modern underpinnings with styling echoing the 1970s 3030, from an age before NAD simplified everything down to create the revolutionary 3020.
Actually, there’s a little backstory here; the C 3050 was originally announced last year as an LE model, the limited edition running to just 1972 units, each selling for $1972 in the States – sense a trend here? – or £1799 here in the UK. The LE version is wrapped in a real wood ‘sleeve’, and as well as extensive streaming capability offers both BluOS multiroom audio and Dirac Live room-optimisation, courtesy of one of NAD’s MDC2 BluOS-D slot-in modules.
The standard C 3050 here has a more prosaic – but still high-quality – vinyl wood-effect wrap, and lacks the MDC2 module as standard: the slot to accept it is still there, and the amp can be supplied with the module in place for an extra £350, it's well worth it. Or in other words, for £1649, or £150 less than the LE version – if, that is, you can even find an LE.
You still get an amplifier that looks straight out of the 70s, complete with the flowery cursive ‘New Acoustic Dimension’ script on the fascia, to the right of the twin LED-illuminated VU meters to show how much power is being delivered to each channel. Or bounce along with the music, if that’s how you want to look at it. A large volume control is provided, with a bar of green LEDs lighting progressively as the level is turned up (or showing just one amber lamp at minimum volume), and then below the front panel’s ‘belt line’ are the minor controls: pushbuttons for selection of the six inputs (including moving magnet phono), tone and balance controls, and selectors for the two sets of speaker outputs and the full-size headphone socket. Meanwhile a rear panel switch can set the VU meters to reflect the level of the signal going to the speakers or that coming into the amplifier, and a button is provided on the remote handset to dim or turn off the meter illumination, although that might appear to be missing the point somewhat.
All very retro, then, so what continues the vintage theme within? Well, nothing. Rien. Zip. Nada. From here on in this is a thoroughly modern amplifier, from its network connectivity to its two-way Bluetooth, able to both receive music from your phone and send it out to a pair of headphones; and from its HDMI eARC input for TV sound to its cool-running, energy efficient HybridDigital UcD power amplification. This technology enables the C 3050 to deliver 100W per channel into 8ohms, or 135W peaks – and, as has been discovered in other NAD amps so equipped, can drive just about any speakers way beyond what might be expected of ‘only’ 100Wpc.
A full system remote control is supplied, and the streaming capability can be ‘driven’ using the Blu0S Controller app running on an Android or iOS device, bringing to the amp streaming services including Amazon Music Ultra HD, Deezer, Qobuz, Spotify, Tidal and Internet radio, plus playback of music libraries held on computers or storage devices on the user’s home network. It’s all simple, slick and easy, and using the app the C 3050 can be combined with other Blu0S devices around the house to create a whole-home wireless hi-res music system.
Completing the very modern specification is Dirac Live optimisation, with a measuring microphone provided to plug into the MDC2 BluOS-D module, where fitted, to assess then correct any room anomalies.
As might be expected by anyone familiar with current-production NAD hardware, from the company’s all-in-one streaming amplifiers to the massively powerful Masters Series separates, the C 3050 is an entirely convincing modern system hub wrapped up in its 1970s large-collared shirts, stack-heeled shoes, and heavily flared trousers. It’s able to sound big and rich whether driving high-quality compact monitors or hefty floorstanders, and still maintaining both complete control and delivering high levels of detail.
That gives the sound massive grip and confidence, making it both easy to enjoy and entirely fulfilling, and yes – you can crank the level high to get those VU meters kicking along with the beat without the amplifier showing any signs of distress. In other words, just like a 1970s amp – apart from the lack of distortion when you push things hard, and built-in protection to remove any chance of the amp going bang mid-party.
Whether you’re spinning music on a turntable or streaming it from the Internet, the C 3050 has you covered, and if you want to get into this whole 70s revival thing without all the drawbacks of hi-fi from half a century ago, this is an excellent choice.
It may look like an old-school amp, thanks to those meters and the wood-effect wrap, but this is basically a complete system in one box, to which you only need add speakers for total entertainment, from streaming music to enhanced TV sound. Think in terms of adding speakers such as the Bowers & Wilkins 603 S2 Anniversary floorstanders, or another anniversary, vintage-styled speaker from PSB, NAD’s stable mate, the Passif 50, (we’ve not tested this yet) complete with their dedicated stands, and prepare to be amazed.
A sense of nostalgia allied to an entirely modern specification – that’s what you’re getting here, and if you want to replicate your Dad’s hi-fi without sacrificing modern convenience, the C 3050 has a lot going for it, especially with the MDC2 BluOS-D module fitted. Pair it with a classic turntable and some suitably retro speakers, and no-one need know about your secret Tidal habit, or your ability to share your music with the kitchen, bedroom or even the garden.
Sophie Ellis-Bexter Tokyo
From her Hana album, inspired by a trip to Japan and then delayed – she flew back straight into the 2020 lockdown –, this is a beautifully-produced love-letter to the country’s capital, set amidst a string of (mainly) standout tracks
Tom Robinson et al 2-4-6-8 Motorway
Yes, the old 70s anthem rendered into an intimate acoustic track by Robinson, Steve Knightley and Martin Joseph in a closely-recorded live gig – Faith, Folk & Anarchy Live – from two decades ago, only now surfacing as a formal release
Hawkwind Quark, Strangeness and Charm
From the massive Days of the Underground eight-disc set of the band’s studio and live output over just three years – 1977-79 – this is the space-rock outfit at its pounding, over-produced best. This is what was also happening as punk thrived!
This is an excellent modern amplifier wrapped up in fashionably retro clobber and as impressive for its sound as its style. It’s not just a totally safe buy, but a stunning one too.