For the last couple of weeks, I've been driving a pair of Zu Omens with a D7050. The source music is a mix of FLACs and 320 and V0 MP3s through Airplay (Vox and iTunes).
First of all, for convenience and streaming connectivity in my Apple-dominated household, the amp is next to faultless. Setup was marginally less intuitive than my kitchen speakers (the terrific Cambridge Audio Minx Air 200) and the iPhone app isn't terribly useful if you don't run PSB speakers, but I've only experienced one or two sound dropouts so far (attributable, I believe, to router issues that have been ironed out). The energy-saving mode seems to work flawlessly. The alternative setup I was looking at was something like: Airport Express/TV > Schiit Bifrost > Decware Mini Torii (for probably twice the outlay of the D7050). I really like the elegance, simplicity, and always-on ease of the one-box source/amp solution I ended up picking. No interconnects, a single power outlet, and one pair of speaker cables.
Soundwise, any comparison with my last system (Naim Nait 5i/CD5i/Spendor S5e) is highly unscientific - not least because every variable has changed: source, amp, speakers, listening environment - but I am very pleased with the results after some tweaks to speaker placement/spike height. Electronic music (always a weakness of my old setup) is engaging and satisfying. Burial's "Loner" is grippingly propulsive, while the low end has a pleasing but unexaggerated weight. Refinement and detail aren't especially remarkable, but a jagged pop song like Haim's "Falling", which can be a strident mess on some setups, has a nicely coherent presentation.
On occasions, I'm hearing a certain flatness/hollowness to the sound that's probably related more to my living/listening room's two gigantic windows and paucity of upholstery/drapes/carpeting/wall treatments than to the system's limitations. Duke Ellington's "Diminuendo In Blue And Crescendo In Blue" (Live at Newport 1956
) lacks the delightful pace and dynamism that it had on my old Naim/Spendor setup. On the other hand, the Bill Evans Trio's Sunday at The Village Vanguard
sounds fantastic – lusher, warmer and more involving than I've ever heard it.
Overall, I'd say the new system is a step up soundwise to my old one at a lower price point (comparing RRP for new equipment). Dynamism might be lacking slightly on some tracks, but that's more than compensated by improved soundstage/imaging, transparency, bass extension, and a generally more enjoyable/engaging listen across a broader range of genres. (Again, this is a totally anecdotal comparison between totally different setups across different listening environments.) The setup is more forgiving, too, of thinner-sounding MP3s. It will be interesting to see how much of a difference there'll be with an upcoming upgrade to Mk. I-B drivers on the Omens.
As an aside, one definite downside to having a combination of no physical volume control with such sensitive speakers is that switching between different sources (e.g. from iTunes to system audio) often results in a startling blast of deafening, but quite unstrained and undistorted, music before I can readjust the volume. An optional volume limiter built into the D7050 firmware would be helpful.
It seems like opinions are still being formed about the D7050, and as professional reviews
start to emerge and more people try it out in their systems, it'll be intriguing to hear about experiences with other speakers.UPDATE on 2/12/14
I upgraded to Omen Mk. I-B drivers about a fortnight ago. They're still breaking in, but prove to be a stark enough improvement that the increasingly impressive amp evidently wasn't a bottleneck in performance. I'm hearing the biggest difference in the mid-lows and lows. Bass extension doesn't exactly go deeper, but is richer and fuller – that occasional brittleness (still present after adding furniture and window treatments to the room) I'd previously mentioned is gone. Playing a FLAC of Terekke's dubby YYYYYYYYYY
reveals an increased warmth, depth and resonance that's apparent even to my non-audiophile significant other. Separation and detail on ornately layered music like Darkside's "Golden Arrow" is noticeably improved. I expect high end clarity to become more refined as everything continues to break in. I can't talk too much about amp/speaker synergy since I haven't compared the Omens with other speakers using the same amp, but I'm highly satisfied with the NAD D 7050/Zu Omen Mk. I-B combination. (For anyone on the fence about Zu Omen Dirty Weekends vs Mk. I-B's, I'd definitely
opt for the latter if buying new or used – but wouldn't consider it worth a $500 upgrade if you've already got a pair of DWs that you're happy with.)
Ultimately, the most significant net difference between my new NAD 7050-based setup and my old one isn't necessarily one of sound quality, but ease of use. Call me lazy, but I'm finding that I listen to a lot more music now that I don't have to plug in any cables or press any buttons to start playing something. I have no idea how successful the 7050 will be, but it bodes well for NAD that they're one of the first major hifi brands (Linn and Naim also come to mind) with the vision to put aside convention and take a serious, ambitious stab at designing a 2-channel amp with the needs of modern consumers in mind. Computer-based high quality wireless audio playback - whether through Airplay, Sonos, Chromecast, or an upstart brand like Beep
- is the future of hifi. And while a digital-direct amp won't be everyone's cup of tea (and I was also considering a Decware or Sophia Electric-driven system), it reflects a distinct logic and thoughtfulness of design more and more people move towards exclusively listening to digital files.