Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.
Here’s a peek behind the curtain that I may end up regretting giving you: More often than not, when I’m doing these unboxing posts, the first image of the unopened container is there to fill up space and give me room to monologue about the product and its place in the overall market, or my anticipation for reviewing it. In the case of NAD’s new limited 50th-anniversary-edition integrated amplifier—the C 3050 LE—I actually want to draw your eye to the packaging itself. It’s a little cheeky, a bit retro, but not a slave to past conventions.
Its big red squares and monochromatic Mondrian-esque composition are a throwback to an era when boxes actually said something about the contents thereof. It evokes a bygone epoch in which shag carpeting ruled the world, but it isn’t beholden to it. It makes me want to wear corduroy, but somewhat ironically. In a sense, it’s the perfect setup for the C 3050 LE, whose $1972 price in the US is an homage to the year of NAD’s founding. If this isn’t what NAD’s packaging actually looked like in the ’70s, the past was simply wrong and should be ashamed of itself.
Open up the box, though, and it’s obvious that NAD is only willing to take the retro vibe as far as makes sense. At first blush, the white coloration of the foam made me fear the company had padded the C 3050 LE with EPS, which was far more common in the days of yore. The foam is actually white expanded polyethylene, though, instead of the gray NAD typically uses. EPE was technically around in the mid- to late-1970s, but nowhere near as common as it is now.
Why does this matter, though? It gives the amp good cushioning and should provide enough shock absorption to endure even rough handling in transit, but it’s not as crumbly and fragile and messy as expanded polystyrene. Plus, it simply feels nicer.
You can also see here that NAD has included its standard 21st-century remote with the C 3050 LE (no complaints there), along with the expected literature and a piece or two of unexpected bits. You can see here, if you squint hard enough, that the little certificate that shipped with my review unit is marked “void” and features a serial number of XXXX of 1972. Needless to say, that means that we journalist types won’t be hogging precious samples of this exceedingly limited integrated amp. This is not a retail unit, but as far as I know, it’s functionally identical to one.
Lift up the top section of EPE, and you can see that the amp is further protected by plastic and cloth wrapping. But more importantly, we get our first tantalizing look at the design of this lovely mashup of nostalgia and forward thinking. You can see hints of the open-grained satin walnut and the perforated-metal ventilation grilles, but also the distinctive red and blue of modern-era NAD binding posts.
I don’t know why, but all of the warnings on the plastic bag also amuse me. I’m grateful for them, mind you, but they’re perhaps the most anachronistic thing about this entire affair. I was born in 1972, the year being celebrated here, the year in which NAD was founded, and my parents still gave me paregoric—camphorated tincture of opium—as a sleeping aid and later as a teething ointment when I was a baby. Needless to say, there weren’t a lot of choking-hazard and suffocation-risk warnings around back then, at least until the uproar surrounding Battlestar Galactica toys and missile-launching Boba Fett figurine prototypes reached a fevered pitch.
Under the amp itself, you’ll find a little accessories box that includes a few other items that give away the C 3050 LE’s modern design, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth antennas, along with a Dirac Live microphone and its USB adapter. NAD also includes separate power cords for North American and European markets—a nice touch.
Backing the integrated amp out of its protective bag, we get our first clear look at its connectivity. In almost every sense, it’s remarkably similar to the back panel of the C 399 I reviewed in early 2022. There aren’t quite as many line-level or S/PDIF inputs, nor as many IR or 12V trigger connections, and the C 3050 LE lacks an RS-232 control port. But it does feature mostly the same layout, as well as the HDMI ARC port. Keen eyes might have also spotted the VU meter switch, which definitely sets it apart from the rest of NAD’s modern HybridDigital DAC-amplifiers.
One thing that surprised me was the appearance of the pre-loaded MDC2 BluOS-D module, which I suppose wouldn’t have been a surprise if I’d bothered to read the press release for the C 3050 LE more carefully. MDC stands for Modular Design Construction, and the BluOS-D module in particular adds Dirac Live and BluOS multiroom/streaming capabilities. I guess what surprised me was that the MDC2 BluOS-D isn’t optional with the C 3050 LE. It comes pre-installed, which I wouldn’t have expected at this price point. Normally, that’s a $600 add-on.
Above the MDC port, you can also see the 50th-anniversary badge, as well as the XXXX’d-out edition number of my review unit. I would seriously punch a baby quokka to get my hands on number 1972 of 1972, but that’s a personal concern for another day. This unit isn’t in-house for my enjoyment, but rather to endure a lot of poking and prodding and dispassionate evaluation.
And here’s the moment I’ve really been waiting for: the first good look at the front of the amp, which is a callback to the design of NAD’s legendary Stereophonic Amplifier 3030 from the mid-1970s. It features the same cursive script; the same subtle reminder that NAD actually stands for something and isn’t just another example of screaming product names typical of today’s market; the same button layout, with a few modifications, of course; and the design element that almost seems like cheating: those gorgeous VU meters.
Here’s a closer look at them. If memory (and photo reference) serves me, the VU meters for the C 3050 LE feature a somewhat wider aspect ratio than those of the old 3030, but that works with the slimmer design of this chassis. It also avoids a lot of blank white space above the meters themselves. Again, the goal here isn’t to ape, but rather to evoke—to preserve the best aspects of the company’s vintage designs while updating what could stand to be updated. It’s nice to see up close that this philosophy applies to every aspect of the amp, not merely its HybridDigital signal path and Hypex UcD amp topology.
I’ve had a lot of integrated amps pass through my front door over the past two years. None of them have legitimately excited me as much as this one does, and it’s not merely the limited exclusivity that blows wind up my skirt. I was actually planning on writing an opinion piece for the new year begging some manufacturer to do exactly this: blend the aesthetics of vintage gear with the latest and greatest in terms of connectivity and engineering. NAD beat me to the punch, but I’m not even mad about it. This honestly kinda feels like Christmas.
. . . Dennis Burger