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NAD PP-1 - MM phono preamp

For analogue-addicts on a budget

[Italian version]

Product: NAD PP-1 phono preamp
Manufacturer: NAD Electronics Co.
Approx. price: 100 US $ - 75 Euro
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu


The NAD PP-1 phono preamp

Integrated amplifiers with phono inputs are becoming quite rare nowadays. The reason is simple: many "new" audiophiles own just a CD player and CDs...so what's the reason to pay for an input stage one will never use?
BUT!!! There are still many LPs and turntables out there and even newbies are discovering the magic sound of the good 'ol vinyl discs. Hence separate phono stages are becoming pretty popular and strongly "needed".
The problem is that separate phono stages are/were normally quite expensive and devoted to the hi-end crew only. In order to answer to the needs of the market, several HiFi Companies have started designing and making affordable separate phono stages: QED DS-1, Rotel, KAB PH-1 (see review here on TNT-Audio) and...NAD. Introducing the NAD PP-1 MM phono preamp: a budget-conscious, audiophile-oriented opamp-based minimalist MM phono stage with outboard power supply and good quality cables with gold plated RCA's.
There's nothing more to say: a small sized STEEL black box with two RCA inputs and an internally soldered output cable (a "sano" choice). A LED that activates when the unit is connected to the mains via the outboard power supply (15 Volts DC) while no on/off switch is available: the PP-1 is meant to be kept permanently ON.

Tech specs

PP...Power on!

NAD has a good reputation for making good sounding phono stages - I can still remember the how good was the one of the famous 3020 integrated amp - so I was curious to listen to this smallish PP-1.
First of all, let me say it is very quiet, perhaps thanks to the outboard power supply, the signal/noise ratio is indeed very good for the price.
Only a small amount of 50 Hz hum could be detected when glueing the ears to the woofers :-)

Firstly the good news: the PP-1 does have a sweet mid and high range: voices are reproduced naturally, maybe a bit on the light side but still with plenty of detail. Male voices appears to lack a bit of "body" but apparent distortion seems very low.
The PP-1 also shows a good ability to investigate into the musical program, not exactly a magnification lens...but definitely a welcomed and unexpected gift considering the price tag.
Then the bad news: let's talk about the mid-bass and bass. The mid-bass lacks some articulation of the electric bass notes, for example, and it seems the bass player is always always the same string. Even the drums appear a bit on the "gummy" side while the overall feeling is that of a "loudness-like" sound.
The depth of the bass range is sufficient for budget-oriented systems and bookshelf loudspeakers...buy definitely and audibly limited with large floorstanders.
Looking at the musical presentation of the PP-1 as a whole one gets the feeling of a very "compact" sound, clean, undistorted but definitely not "groovy".


What would you expect from a 100 bucks phono stage? Miracles? I wouldn't. And, indeed, the dynamic performance of the PP-1 is just fair/average, some serious compression being clearly audible while the "pace" is a bit on the slow side.
Despite of this you can still get a good punch in the bass. But here comes another problem: the bass lines sound "out of time" with respect to the rest of the audio spectrum, so you find it hard to follow the rhythm.
Microdynamics are quite good, on the other hand, thanks to the good performance of the high range.

3D imaging

Oh well, do you really expect any "image" out of a budget phono stage? To be honest, the PP-1 does produce a soundstage but the depth of the image is almost inexistent while the width extends between the 'speakers and even a bit further. BUT!!! Do not set the 'speaker too apart one from the other or you'll experience a wide "black hole" in the middle space between them.
And yes, the sound remains mostly INSIDE the 'speakers, as expected. Anyway, potential buyers of the PP-1 won't worry too much about imaging, I guess.

Some advice

Using the PP-1 is straightforward: hook up the cables and the mains supply and you're done. Be sure to connect its output to any AUX (line level) input of your integrated amp or preamp. Then leave it permanently ON: it starts to sound decently after the first 15 minutes...before that...it is simply terrible.
Place it over a vibration-free (possibly damped) surface, phono stages are microphonic.


Nothing to complain about the manufacturing and the construction. As for the sound...well, it costs 100 $ so you shouldn't expect its sound to rival with that of a Lehmann Black Cube, for example.
Sometimes slow, a bit "loudness" with no real imaging to speak of.


Compared to other mags' standards this may appear to be a negative review but, dare I say it, it is not. Let me explain why: the PP-1 is a nice, well-built, honestly priced phono stage, one of the cheapest in the market.
Yes, it does not make you stand up and dance in front of the speakers but it still succeeds to produce a good sound, the kind of sound you get from inboard phono stages of good audiophile integrateds (NAD, Rotel etc.).
So, if your amp has just line level inputs, you own a decent turntable & cart combo (nothing esoteric) and you desperately need an easy to find, affordable and inexpensive phono input, the NAD PP-1 is "one" way to go. Not the only one, of course, but then it should always your ear to decide.

© Copyright 2000 Lucio Cadeddu - https://www.tnt-audio.com

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