The M15 is an ideal cosmetic partner for the M55 DVD player and simply exudes an air of classy, timeless design that most battleship Japanese AV amps miss completely. The heady mix of steel, aluminium and cast zinc for the chassis and casework look the business and the blue display complements the disc player in colour if not size of text, which is a little frustrating. At just under £2,000 the M15 is serious money but its substantial build and THX Ultra2 accreditation go along way to justify the price ticket.
The rear panel is awash with enough connections for the most ambitious AV system, although it only sports two-in, one-out HDMI and there is no analogue-to-digital video conversion. This means that you will need an additional analogue video cable between the M15 and the display just to set the thing up or switch non-HDMI sources - grumble, grumble. On the other hand, you get eight digital audio inputs, zone 2 AV outputs, twin sub outputs and a raft of IR repeaters and 12V triggers for those with a penchant for Blofeld-style gadgetry and automation.
Under the hood is a bespoke Holmgren transformer, a beautifully neat layout and a healthy dose of high-spec bought-in components including Silicon Image HDMI modules, twin Motorola 24-bit DSPs, Wolfson DACs, Burr-Brown chipsets and so- on. Interestingly the operation and decoding software in proprietary NAD design exclusive to the Masters Series and is, of course, fully upgradeable.
The processor is completed with a neat remote control which like the M55 remote is topped with aluminium. The wonderfully titled HTRM (Home Theater Remote Masters series) controls the M55 as well of course, lights up, is easy to handle and rather thoughtfully has little buffer bars to stop buttons being depressed when it is face down on the table. Neat.
However, there is no auto setup, no supplied mic, no RoomEQ and very few features that are often deemed essential for today's home entertainment system.
A la carte menu
Despite the M55 disc player's gorgeous and intuitive OSD, the M15's menus are seriously lacklustre. Boring monochrome block text on a black background with simple multi-page menus might be easy to use but it looks so clunky compared to everything else the Masters Series stands for - particularly as it is not even available through the HDMI output.
This niggle aside, the set-up is logical and straightforward, with little in the way of divergent tweakery to keep you away from your DVD collection. There is a handy lip-sync adjustment to 100ms, digital domain tone and dialogue tone controls and that's about it. I even had to find my yard-stick and dB meter for the speaker setup. Retro!
Thankfully the M15 cuts to the chase without recourse to bells and whistles, neatly entering auto format decoding on demand and punching out a full- bodied and robust sound. Again, the sound is a grower, starting perhaps a little laid back and dark but drawing you irrevocably into films with its subtle detail and natural dialogue. Push up the volume and there is not the ear-drilling upper treble of some of the larger AV amps, but a silky high-end sprinkled with that crafts a truly magnificent sound stage.
The balance makes the M15 very much an all-rounder, equally at home with dramas, chick flicks or all-action block busters. Hooked up to some very neutral and revealing power amps the sound is large and clean but doesn't manage the sheer emotional charge and impact that fills the room when it is attached to the matching M25 power amp.
As part of the complete Masters Series line up the M15 really shines, maximising the design synergy across the matching source and power components. From the crushing high-impact drama of Battlestar Galatica Season 2 to Pink Floyd's Pulse and on to Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were Rabbit Special Edition, the combo simply plonks you in the set of your favourite movies and doesn't let go until the credits roll.
Interestingly, the M15 and M25 partnership works out at about £4,000 - around the same ballpark price of Denon's flagship AVC-A1XVA. Features-wise the Denon wipes the floor with the NAD pairing but in terms of industrial design, purist simplicity and a sound that will impress all day without a hint of fatigue, the NADs have it. Richard Stevenson