Photos by Tony Cordoza
Anyone interested in an ultra easy-to-set-up home theater system usually has only one recourse: a system-in-a-box, comprising a combination DVD player and A/V receiver, five satellite speakers, and an optimistically designated "subwoofer." The weakest links in most of these systems are generally the speakers. So with many all-in-one systems you're stuck with what may be good electronics coupled to speakers that leave much to be desired.
Enter NAD's L70, a beautifully styled combination DVD player/receiver that's being sold as an up-market version of the DVD player/receivers found in those all-in-one-systems. Its upscale fit and finish extends to gold-plated binding-post speaker terminals, and the clean and elegant front panel boasts a set of A/V convenience inputs as well as a headphone jack, which automatically mutes output to the speakers when you plug in your phones. And with the L70, you get to choose the speakers to fit your tastes, the demands of your budget, and the acoustics of your listening room.
Both parts of the L70-the DVD player and the receiver-are intentionally basic to keep operation simple. The DVD player has all the primary disc-navigation and cueing facilities, all of which are accessible from the remote control and some from the front panel. Programmable playback and the repeat functions (chapter and title) are available from the remote even though the manual doesn't mention them.
Besides composite- and S-video outputs, the L70 has a component-video output, but it carries only standard interlaced (480i) signals. The lack of a progressive-scan (480p) output is a bit surprising since that feature is now available on standalone DVD players at very low prices. Then again, many buyers of this combo unit are likely to own analog TVs, which can't display progressive-scan images anyway.
Likewise, the receiver is pretty bare bones, which again makes its operation straightforward. The tuner section can memorize 60 preset stations (30 each for the AM and FM bands) and there's a turn-on/off timer that operates in conjunction with an internal clock-a handy feature that you won't find on most receivers. NAD includes three Dolby Pro Logic II (DPL II) modes-Movie, Music, and Emulation-which create a 5.1-channel surround sound experience from stereo and four-channel surround programs. Many receivers we've reviewed in recent months, including NAD's own T 752, have controls for adjusting the DPL II Music processing, but in this case the modes are not adjustable.
The other surround modes-Dolby Digital, DTS, an Enhanced Stereo (party) mode, and NAD's own Enhanced Ambience Recovery System (EARS)-are also less customizable than we usually find, but they do allow you to adjust the delay time for the surround speakers. This compensates for the speakers' varying distances from the listener compared with the front left/right speakers. However, the L70 setup menu handles this by asking you to enter only one distance for both surround speakers, even though they may be at different distances, as well as a distance for the center speaker, which NAD assumes will be at the same distance as the front L/R speakers.
In any case, along with having fewer components, and remotes, to deal with, the principal advantage of a combination product like the L70 is simplified hookup-the connections between the DVD player and receiver are already done internally. And a glance at our back-panel photo indeed shows far fewer connectors than usual for even a small A/V receiver. Among them is an external multichannel analog input for hooking up a Super Audio CD or DVD-Audio player. The only out-of-the-ordinary jack is a 12-volt trigger output, which can be used to control auxiliary equipment like room lighting or a roll-down projector screen-a rather esoteric touch considering that this product isn't designed for high-end dedicated home theaters.
Besides being comfortable to hold and easy to use with two hands, the infrared remote control is preprogrammed with codes for other NAD components, but it can "learn" those for any other gear you have as long as their remotes are operable. (To "teach" it, you have to put the L70 remote nose to nose with the source remote.) You can also record as many as 44 one-touch macro command sequences with a maximum of 64 commands each. A punch-through feature lets you keep a function key controlling one device active-the L70's surround-mode selection, say-even while the remote is operating another component. The buttons are rather spectacularly backlit-they all light up-with a programmable turn-off time. You can even turn off the backlighting altogether to conserve battery power.
You'd expect a product with a (deliberately) limited feature set to be easy to set up and operate, and for the most part, that's how it was with the L70. But every once in a while I came across an ergonomic quirk-like the bright yellow background for the turn-on screen, which makes the white lettering of the setup menus hard to read. Aside from that, using the setup menus-which themselves were few in number and very simple-was straightforward.
Fortunately, the garish turn-on screen is a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things. With such Dolby Digital productions as John Woo's Windtalkers, the NAD tradition of quality sound came to the fore, especially in the battle scenes with their complex, rapidly shifting sonic perspectives and peak power demands. The L70 handled all of the sonic mayhem quite well, as in the gruesome melee of Chapter 2 and the even more effective artillery and tank-studded invasion of a suspiciously Hawaii-like Saipan that starts in Chapter 9. (I grew up only a few miles from where some of the scenes were filmed and recognized the landscape immediately.)
DPL II also did its usual minor wonders in redistributing two-channel musical programs for 5.1-channel playback, with acoustic music (classical and jazz) faring best. Every stereo symphonic disc I tried, for example, yielded an increased sense of space (thanks to the surround channels) and a slightly firmer frontal image (thanks to the center channel). NAD's EARS mode also provided multichannel playback from stereo program sources. Its effects were different from DPL II-slightly more exaggerated in spatiality, but still appropriate for a wide range of acoustic program material. Since the DPL II mode is nonadjustable, EARS is a useful alternative to have.
The L70 was never intended to be all things to all home theater enthusiasts. Even the press release accompanying its introduction says it is "ideal for apartment and condo dwellers, and makes for an outstanding den, bedroom, or recreation room system." I interpret this as meaning it's best used in smaller rooms, to which its power capabilities are very well matched. A smaller room is also likely to have a smaller TV, on which the L70 player's lack of progressive-scan output would be less significant. While you may be able to get a separate DVD player and receiver that together will provide more functionality and better overall performance for less, you're going to be stuck with two components, two remote controls, and the task of hooking them up correctly-a job that the L70 has already performed for you right out of the box. S&V