NAD VISO 1 iPod Speaker/Sound Bar
Every iPod speaker manufacturer pays lip service to sound quality, but very, very few deliver on the promise. To be fair it's a huge challenge, cost constraints are very real, and the pressure to keep the speaker’s size down to an absolute minimum cannot be denied. The iPod certainly isn't the limiting factor, you can load it up with lossless or WAV files and have a bona-fide high-end sound source. Now NAD, a brand with a long history of making great sounding products is sure to shake things up with its first iPod speaker, the VISO 1 ($700). It's a doozy!
A new acoustic dimension?
NAD engineers are a smart and brave bunch, so they bit the bullet and designed a bigger than average size iPod speaker. The VISO 1 is 18.9 inches wide, 10.25 high, 11.8 deep, and it weighs 12.3 pounds. The vertical band running down the center of the speaker houses the docking cradle; the upper section of the band sports volume up/down and source selector buttons. The band also serves as a carry handle for the unit. The VISO 1’s right side has a power on/off button, and the left side a bass port. The speaker’s rounded shape and ample curves make it look like a fat pillow.
It’s nowhere as sleek as the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air, and the VISO 1 lacks the Zeppelin’s AirPlay, Wi-Fi and Ethernet features. Alright, but the Viso 1’s Bluetooth aptX wireless technology works with computers, iTouches, iPhones and iPads, as well as Android and Windows-based smartphones and tablets.
The VISO 1 benefits from NAD’s proprietary Direct Digital amplifier technology that debuted in the $6,000 M2 DAC/integrated amplifier. The VISO 1 is an all-digital design and bypasses the iPod/iPhone/iPad’s internal DAC and analog circuits; it works from the device’s digital output. NAD’s speaker is the first I’ve seen to do that, including the Zeppelin. The docking cradle supports the top and bottom of the iPhone or iPod, and can rotate 90 degrees, allowing for "portrait" or "landscape" orientation of your device.
Connectivity wise, the VISO 1’s optical digital input accepts up to 24-bit/96-kHz from high-resolution music sources; the component video output sends iPod videos to your HD TV; and there’s also a USB port for software upgrades. You also get a nifty little remote control for volume, play/pause and track advance.
The speaker drivers are proprietary units, designed by PSB Speakers’ Paul Barton specifically for this VISO 1. I couldn’t remove the cloth speaker grilles to admire his handiwork, but there’s a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter mounted coaxially in the VISO 1’s 2.75-inch midrange drivers, and for bass, there’s a 5.75-inch woofer. I was happy to see NAD didn’t call it a "subwoofer." The digital amps deliver 15 watts per channel to the stereo drivers, and 50 watts to the woofer.
Bluetooth setup and operation aren’t covered in the owner’s manual; thanks go out to NAD’s Mark Stone for his kind assistance helping me get up to speed on the wireless front. It’s not at all complicated, but NAD should include detailed instructions on how to activate Bluetooth operation from computers and portable devices. Bluetooth reception wasn’t what I would call robust, it would occasionally sputter and drop out if I walked in front of the VISO 1, or put my hand over the front of the iPod Touch. Stone told me NAD will soon post Bluetooth setup instructions on their website.
More gripes: I wish the VISO 1 had a display or just a row of LEDs to indicate volume level and the selected input source. To avoid sudden bursts of sound when changing sources I lowered the volume, a display of some sort would have made it easier to live with the VISO 1. Bass and treble or some sort of tone control would be nice, maybe we’ll see that on a future VISO.