NAD T975 and T175 Amp/Preamp Review

For those of you not familiar with NAD, it is a British company that’s been around since the 70’s and they are known to create spartan, relatively affordable, yet musical home audio electronics. You could say that they’re about the same level as Rotel in terms of price and performance.  The T975 is a 7-channel x 140W amplifier and the T175 is a Tuner/Preamplifier. Both are in their current product lineup (at the time of writing) and they’re a recommended match for a home theater setup.

The T975 amplifier is a monster. NAD claims it can drive all seven channels with 140 watts simultaneously and continuously. Those running conditions will fry a typical Onkyo receiver. I haven’t tried pushing the amp this hard, but the sheer weight of the amp alone is enough to convince me that the T975 is up to it. Peeking through its top cover, you will notice a mammoth transformer, and three huge fans to cool its output transistors. This amp is all business. It employs a headroom circuitry called “Power Drive” which basically allows the amp to handle dynamic transients. In lay man’s terms, it has a buffer of power for those movie explosion sound effects. I’ve watched some movies with this amp and I would say that it definitely delivers the goods. Somehow, the explosions and gunshots sounded snappier and more alive (compared to a top of the line Onkyo receiver). The amp definitely helped extract the full potential of the speakers connected to it. Playing music was more, er, musical, with a fuller tone and a neutral, less harsh treble.

NAD T975 7-channel Amplifier

The T175 pre-amp has all of the features one needs in a home theater: HDMI inputs and output, 7.1 channels, all the essential versions of Dolby Digital and DTS, as well as the (now) all important Audyssey auto-calibration system. True to being a typical NAD, it has no additional bells and whistles, but I would assume that contains top quality components and processors. It’s distinct advantage (again, over an Onkyo receiver) is that it seems to generate a more realistic surround imaging. The “movement” of the sound from front to back and side to side is more distinct and prominent. Although there seems to be a side effect to this: at times you can localize and point out which speakers the sound is coming from. Ideally the sound should seem like its everywhere and coming from nowhere.

NAD T175 Pre-amplifier: drab grey with hint of olive green chassis typical of NAD

To sum up: I was never really convinced that separate amp and pre-amp systems have a distinct advantage over receivers, but the NAD definitely changed my opinion. Amp and pre-amp separates are indeed better, specially in terms of power delivery and dynamics. Separates are worth the extra cost, more so if you have a “serious” set of speakers to go along with it. Separates will give a “full-on” theater experience that can’t be had with receivers.

Mercedes-Benz Viano Quick Review

The three pointed star’s latest people mover is called the Viano, and I’ve got to spend about a dozen hours with it going up to Baguio (and back) early this year. Hence, enough road time for a fair review.

Interior

The Viano Ambiente is very basic inside. It’s not clad with exotic paneling or loaded with gadgets. It looks and feels more like an entry level C-Class. But despite its simplicity, you still know (and feel) that you’re inside a Merc. The seats have top quality leather and are very ergonomic. Its a 7-seater, and a roomy one at that. There’s the standard driver and front passenger seat and the middle row has a pair of captain seats. The 3rd (last) row is “just” a bench, but it’s the best bench that I’ve ever laid my ass on. It’s supple, comfortable, adjustable and offers great lumbar support.

Features

As stated, you will find no avant garde features and gadgetry. It has the automatic sliding doors, but nowadays, it’s nothing special. No video on board, no GPS, no beverage cooler, not even an iPod jack. It’s disappointingly too spartan. As if to compensate, the Viano offers its passengers a very quiet, sound insulated cabin, with adequate cooling coming from the A/C.

Performance

The Viano is towed by a 3-liter gasoline power plant. It’s adequate at best, with enough power to carry a full load of passengers smoothly to Baguio. It would be stupid to drag race the Viano, probably not even with that new Hyundai Starex in the next lane at the stoplight.

This Mercedes van’s best asset would have to be its air suspension. It’s auto adjusting, so that the rear end wouldn’t sag under full load. Moreover, it gives the best riding comfort I have ever experienced in a van. It’s firm yet not jarring, and cruising the highways at 120km/h feels more like 60km/h from the inside.

The Mercedes-Benz Viano Ambiente, parked at Burnham Park Baguio

Conclusion

The Mercedes-Benz Viano has no whiz-bang gadgetry nor thoroughbred DNA. What it does have is the finesse and refinement to ensure its passengers are comfortable and relaxed. In this sense, the designers and engineers at Mercedes “get it.” It’s biggest disadvantage is its price tag, which is worth about three Hyundai Starex. In that light it is very difficult to justify, unless the paragraph below is important to you (read on).

On top of all these is the three-pointed-star emblem, that offers prestige and exclusivity. It’s probably the only boxy van out there that gets the stares from passers by. Rumor has it that mall Tycoon Henry Sy uses one. Note that the Viano is a full-blooded Mercedes-Benz, and absolutely not like the faker MB100 vans of old. Talk about arriving at your destination fresh, relaxed and in style. Red carpet not included.

South Korea: a Geek’s Perspective

I’ve just gotten back from South Korea as a tourist. It was my first time in the country and so I really took the time to soak in the culture. But apart from enjoying the food, climate and tours, I also enjoyed Korea from a geek’s point of view. Everyone knows that Korea is now one of the world’s leading purveyors of electronics and cars, coming from just a decade ago when nobody took their products seriously.

But more that the electronics and cars, there’s a lot about Korea that is sure to arouse the geek’s curiosity. I’m letting my pictures do the talking:

Korea considers Incheon Airport its main international hub, not Seoul Airport. Incheon Airport is definitely up there with the best of Asia. Some people I know hate airports. I absolutely am in love with them still.

Incheon by night - this city is mostly reclaimed and although relatively bare today, Korea has big plans for it.

Sheraton Incheon -- for me the best hotel in Asia so far. Those crisp, cold, and white bedsheets are always a welcome sight for the tired traveller.

Sheraton Incheon's room control panel will intimidate non-techies.

More tech in the hotel room - HDMI, USB, Audio, etc. all connecting your gadgets to the 32-inch Samsung LCD TV!

One of the best shots I've taken in terms of composition, color, sharpness and exposure.

The water curtain effect -- achieved by photographing flowing water at the lowest possible shutter speed.

Samsung branded surveillance camera--tech finds its way to the streets.

It's a given, Seoul offers the really good food for the hungry tourist!

Yakult - Korean Version

Bulgogi Burger and Big Bulgogi Burger at McDonald's. Too bad I didn't have the chance to try them.

The only not so good thing about Korea is that everywhere you go, the coffee is watered down. (This shot was taken with the Omnia HD--I was impressed by the sharpness of the cup against a good background bokeh.)

In Korea, Ssangyong's reliability and quality is not questioned; there are a lot of them on the streets. Here's one used by the Incheon Airport security. Check out the cameras and other gizmos on its roof.

The cockpit of our tourist bus is simply impressive. GPS, rear video, mobile phone, calculator, chipmunk figurine, shift knob bling... can you spot all the gadgets and goodies?

Koreans have a nifty way of double parking, yet being within reach by those whom they have blocked.

BMW Police bike

Yours truly, posing beside a Korean police bike. Until Korea is able to manufacture decent bikes, their police would have to use BMWs.

The Kia Picanto is called the Kia Morning in Korea.

For some reason, Korea abounds with Dunkin' shops. Western cars (such as the Mini seen here) are a rare sighting.

The K7 is Kia's Camry killer but is not yet available outside Korean shores. Rumor has it that Kia has gotten an ex-Audi designer to create their current cars.

Keizo Japanese Restaurant at the Fort

For tired and jaded tongues such as mine, it’s always a joy to discover quaint and authentic restaurants outside the mainstream. Tucked and almost hidden in Forbes Town, Burgos Circle is Keizo, a quiet, homey and truly authentic Japanese restaurant just across Bellagio Tower I. It’s a small place with probably no more than 25 seats and it’s packed with Japanese diners every night. A Japanese chef (and/or owner–I’m not quite sure) goes around to talk to the guests. Do you need any more proof of its authenticity?

I’m a Katsudon fan, and I must say that Keizo’s is the best I’ve ever had. Prepare to spend about 500-700 Pesos per head for  dinner. You may argue that it’s a bit on the pricey side, but truth is you get real value because Keizo offers a lot of “freebies” with your meal, such as hot or cold tea, a baby squid appetizer, miso soup and even a fruit jell-o dessert.

The only down side is trying to get a seat as it gets really busy and packed come dinner time. Keizo is highly recommended and worth a try. “Where do we eat this time?” has become one of life’s toughest decisions that we always have to make, and with that as a fact, Keizo is truly a godsend.

Keizo Japanese Restaurant's discrete facade