NAD CS-1 HD Audiophile Endpoint Reviewed

Price: $349.00

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Why is Wall Street trying to get every classic rock-era artist to sell them their songwriting? Streaming is why. The music business is now the software business, and the software business is good and always has been. Just as you will never again install a version of Microsoft Office from a DVD, the days of playing your audiophile music from a physical disc are likely numbered. That’s going to enrage some entrenched audiophiles, but they need to hear it, because sometimes change is a good thing, even if audiophiles tend to struggle with the concept. 

The NAD CS-1 (buy at Crutchfield) is an affordable, small form-factor HD solution to easily access all sorts of music coming from your favorite streaming sources. For a mere $349, this little black box “endpoint” delivers you a pretty easy to access HD window to your musical world. There are endpoint-type devices that are geared towards audiophiles, but they tend to lack HD resolutions. Non-audiophiles can easily hear the difference, and today’s streaming services like Qobuz, Tidal and Amazon Music are offering more and more music in 24-bit “HD files” these days. For the cost of one Compact Disc or less than any respectable piece of new vinyl, you can have unlimited access to a nearly unlimited library of streaming music. 

The NAD CS-1 is an endpoint more than a streamer and can bring music via the streaming company's app to your system at a very low cost.
The NAD CS-1 is an endpoint more than a streamer and can bring music via the streaming company’s app to your system at a very low cost.

Note: the NAD CS-1 is an endpoint more than a streamer like the Bluesound Node. For an Apple user like me, this means that you use Airplay 1 (basically an alternative to Bluetooth that is capable of 24-bit/48kHz performance, where Chromecast is capable of 24/192) to connect the NAD CS-1 as an “Airplay Speaker” (it is not a speaker per se – that’s just how it connects) in the Settings/WIFI of your iOS device. After giving the process 120 seconds or so, you are good to go to connect to the unit and click “done.” You can use whatever streaming service that you like, be it Apple Music, Tidal, Qobuz, Pandora, Spotify etc. What you don’t get with an endpoint is something like the Bluesound App (BluOS), like you do on the Node, which is much more comprehensive (read Greg Handy’s review). You also can’t upload your own music to the NAD the way you can with a slightly more expensive Bluesound Node. The NAD CS-1 is basically an external version of what you might expect to be included inside of, say, an NAD component as many today offer some form of streaming connectivity which is very thoughtful. The NAD CS-1 allows you to add said basic yet reportedly HD functionality to your system at a very low cost. How does this endpoint compare with other music streamers and endpoints? How does it sound digital out into higher-end DAC? We are going find out …

What Makes the NAD CS-1 Audiophile Endpoint So Special? 

  • Access to music in HD (24-bit) files is pretty impressive in this little audiophile component for $349. Other low-cost mainstream more home theater oriented endpoints can rock movies in 4K, but don’t always have HD music streaming capabilities for audiophiles. We are audiophiles, and we love ourselves some music in HD – especially at these prices. You have to find HD music from your collection on your device or via your streaming sources, but that isn’t impossible these days. 
  • There are both analog and digital outputs from this small audiophile streaming component. There is a very respectable internal Texas Instruments DAC inside the unit, as well as both optical and COAX digital outputs that you can run into whatever higher-end DAC that you want to use. I am currently using an $1,895 Benchmark DAC 3B via COAX input (review pending). 
  • You can use Apple Airplay to get access to your Apple-centric music, but this is not in full HD resolution (limited to 48 kHz).
  • Google Chromecast allows for more HD-level access to your music (reportedly 24/192) if you are living in the Android world. Apple seems more mainstream these days, but HD is what we are here for, and those in the Google bubble will be better served on the HD front with the NAD CS-1.
  • Roon, just purchased by Harman (aka: Samsung), is well-suited for the NAD CS-1 for those who are a little bit more advanced in their streaming at this point. Some people have put some serious effort into making Roon (or other audiophile software for that matter) jump through hoops, and this little low-cost box gets us easy and simple, using our devices such as tablets and phones. 
  • The packaging for the NAD is simple and thoughtful, and uses recycled paper versus plastic or Styrofoam. This is kind of a hippie comment, but it is encouraging to see the Lenbrook folk look to make their packaging a little more mindful of climate change. 
  • Setup of the NAD CS-1 is pretty easy. Plug the unit into the wall or your power conditioner. Then connect the analog (RCA) or digital (optical or COAX) cables to your receiver or preamp. Then go to your phone or, in my case, iPad and get going. You will want to have your streaming service passwords all entered in before this step. Amazon Music is my go-to streaming service, but I have others, too, like Pandora, Qobuz and now Tidal, as Tidal is the best interface with the Bluesound Node, thus I re-signed up. You need to set the unit up as an “Airplay Speaker,” which is in Settings/WIFI, and then use your apps from there, be they Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, Amazon – whatever you like. Then start playing music from wherever you like. That’s not too hard, is it? 
Here is the NAD CS-1 endpoint parked next to a Bluesound Node and other cool audiophile gear in Jerry Del Colliano's reference audiophile system
Here is the NAD CS-1 endpoint parked next to a Bluesound Node and other cool audiophile gear in Jerry Del Colliano’s reference audiophile system

Why Should You Care About the NAD CS-1 Endpoint?

If you are seriously into streaming and/or want to buck up an extra $100 for the Bluesound Node, which runs on its own BluOS software and can do a lot more than an NAD CS-1 endpoint – specifically allowing you to import your own ripped files. The person who cares about the NAD CS-1 wants to bring the easy access of an audiophile-grade endpoint to their system without much fuss, muss or expense. 

These days, the record store is pretty much dead, along with physical media, but a product like the NAD CS-1 allows you the ability to explore new music, even if you are mainly listening to CDs or LPs today. It allows you to stick your toes in the water of the streaming world without having to jump in with both feet.

Here's a rear view of the NAD CS-1 showing all of its output options be it digital or analog
Here’s a rear view of the NAD CS-1 showing all of its output options be it digital or analog

Some Things You Might Not Like About the NAD CS-1 Endpoint 

  • With an endpoint, you are not able to import your own music into this Apple or Google controlled environment on the NAD CS-1.
  • There is no app like BluOS with the NAD CS-1, because it is an endpoint. All endpoints are designed to deliver the music from your services and what you have loaded onto your devices using Bluetooth and/or Chromecast (note: Chromecast doesn’t work on the Bluesound Node, but does on the NAD CS-1), as well as their apps.
  • Airplay is like a fancy, proprietary Bluetooth connection for Apple Users, and it works pretty well, but music in HD or really any file tends to have a better, fuller, less stripped-down sound when using Bluetooth or Airplay, versus dealing with everything in the world like the BluOS on the Bluesound Node. That likely is because of the 48 kHz sampling rate that is much higher in the Google Chromecast world, or with other components like the Node that I have parked right next to my NAD CS-1 endpoint. 
  • The small size of the NAD CS-1 doesn’t suggest how powerful the unit is. This little audiophile component is capable of a lot. Don’t sell it short because of its tiny case, as it is quite capable of producing some pretty good sound. 

Listening to the NAD CS-1 Audiophile Music Streamer

“Fly As Me” from An Evening With Silk Sonic is the big hit from this must-have, 2021 audiophile-grade R&B recording. With the Benchmark DAC 3B as the digital to analog converter, and the volume matched between my Bluesound Node and the NAD CS-1, you can hear that the Airplay connection has just a little bit of a thin or less-than-full digital sound, when compared to the same track, both via Amazon Music. Anderson Paak’s snare drum sound isn’t as rich and smooth on the CS-1, but the overall sound is pretty present. The internal DAC on the NAD CS-1 isn’t bad at all, by the way, and you can’t help but to love the price of $349 all-in. I took a moment to listen to the analog outputs of both devices and, while the Node sound a little better (better power supply), you could by all means go RCA out from your NAD CS-1 into an analog input of your preamp and be OK. COAK out into a nice DAC provided an even clearer window to the music, as well as the quality of the stream/recording. 

Silk Sonic’s “Fly Like Me” is a great, modern audiophile track

“Gold Dust Woman,” from the all-time audiophile classic Rumours from Fleetwood Mac, was a great showcase of well-known music in HD via Amazon Music. This well-recorded, almost all-acoustic recording highlights the subtle details that an HD track can resolve. The NAD CS-1 was quite enjoyable to listen to, but the Bluesound Node delivered a more resolute, more three-dimensional sound. The subtle flanger effect on one of the guitars sounded more alive and exciting on the Bluesound Node versus the NAD CS-1. The bass didn’t sound quite as tight. In an odd way and, like my Sonos, I sometimes liked this track more via the internal DAC than the far more expensive Benchmark DAC. I think the direct-digital feed might have been a little too much “no makeup” and the internal DAC is possibly filtered to be a little bit more sonically forgiving. By no means is the NAD bad-sounding; that’s just not the case. The concept of the Node simply delivers a better sound for a very small additional amount of money than the NAD CS-1.

“Gold Dust Woman” is one of the best demo tracks on one of the most iconic audiophile recordings of all time.

Will the NAD CS-1 Hold Its Value?

At $349, your expectations for this audiophile component should be that it will within a few short years be worthless. This is a product that you are more likely to recycle in your local E-waste location than resell or give away. And that’s totally OK, because the unit is well under $400, and you will get much more than the value for the unit just in a few years of playing with it. Not every audiophile component is a blue-chip place to invest your money, and when the money being asked for is this small, it really doesn’t matter, as the NAD CS-1 is worth well more than what the company asks for it. 

What Is the Competition for the NAD CS-1 Audiophile Endpoint?

The BlueSound Node ($499 buy at Crutchfield) is the best comparison, as it has the exact same operating system as the NAD CS-1, with a few more audiophile-oriented options. It is odd how the Node has a control screen on top of the unit, as I professionally rack-mount my products, but then again, I control my NAD and Node via my audiophile iPad, and that’s fine. From a comparison chart provided by Lenbrook, some of the things that are missing in the NAD CS-1 versus the Bluesound Node are Line In, Digital Inputs, HDMI ARC (for your TV speakers or center channel) and dedicated app. The NAD is a full endpoint when the Bluesound Node isn’t, thus it works better with Roon, if that is how you roll with your streaming these days.

The Orchard Audio Pecan Pi+ ($799 – buy direct) is from one of our favorite newer audiophile companies, and it too is a small format but less mainstream audiophile streamer. I just received both of their well-under-$1,000 endpoint/DACs in for review, with the main difference being the nature and quality of the internal DAC. This is a very utilitarian audiophile solution focused more on the DAC chip and delivering an upgraded power supply, which always tends to help digital devices … This component, like the NAD CS-1, uses other services for their front end, unlike the Bluesound Node which has its own BluOS to run from. 

The Eversolo DMC-A6 DAC ($849) is one of the most hyped new products in the audiophile space, but I present it with warnings. I’ve never seen this product sold in an AV dealer. I’ve never seen the company display at an audiophile show, and I’ve been to most in the United States through much of 2022, and especially in 2023. I’ve never seen them advertise, even in the most oddball print magazines or ultra-obscure audiophile websites. This company could go away as easily as they came onto the market. Their DMC-A6 product is nicely made, but it also isn’t a full-sized audiophile component, like their more expensive DMC-A8 product. The fit and finish of this unit is very nice, and the early reviews from end users are very positive. The company wouldn’t send one (or even respond to an email), but we got one in for review for Greg Handy, as we are covering more and more endpoints and streamers in 2024. 

Sonos’ Port ($449) has been a staple of my home automation system for years. The company has made incredible strides, and their user interface is simply fantastic, but they LACK ANY HD OUTPUT. If Sonos had HD outputs via digital or analog, it would be a very viable source for an audiophile system. Up to Compact Disc quality, the unit’s ultra-easy-to-use interface is appealing, but its lack of HD 24-bit performance makes the NAD, Node and others a better option for audiophiles. The Sonos also can’t take on your music collections like the Bluesound Node, which kinda sucks for many audiophiles, but its OS makes it less of an endpoint and more of a streamer, in that you tend to live in the Sonos world, not the app world, and you connect via their own MESH network, as opposed to Bluetooth or Airplay or something else. Make no mistake, Sonos’ interface should be compared with K-Scape or Apple, as it is that good. They could easily make these upgrades and widen the appeal of their products. For now, Sonos is an OK solution for Compact Disc playback, but without HD, it is better for running your distributed, whole-home audio than being the top gun source in your audiophile system. 

Final Thoughts on the NAD CS-1 Audiophile Endpoint…

The NAD CS-1 brings the internal endpoint advantage that many of NAD’s products have included under the hood right into your audiophile system, and does so at a very low asking price. The unit is small yet quite capable. It does require you to be using other types of streaming platforms, such as a Google or Apple device to control the material that is connected by Airplay or Chromecast. With that said, and for the money, you can get rocking and rolling pretty quickly with the NAD CS-1, and for about the cost of a nice Omakase order at your favorite local sushi joint. 

Who should buy the NAD CS-1? I could recommend a product like this to a first-time audiophile who already might have some roots in mainstream streaming services. More advanced audiophiles who are new to streaming might like the price, and might not care about the audio performance benefits that you get from the BlueSound Node (not an endpoint, but more of a streamer). 

This is a cool little audiophile component that can open up a whole new world of musical exploration. I used to have a young woman who worked at the U-shaped desk at Aaron’s Records in Hollywood. She had a bolt in her nose and pretty freaky hair and, boy, did she know her music. I would tell her what I was listening to and she always had excellent recommendations. She was my personal musical concierge until the day that Aaron’s closed its doors. Today, we have algos and AI to do the musical selections for us, and maybe that’s not a terrible thing, in that you can do your music exploration without speculation, right on your sofa, and the NAD CS-1 is a suitable and affordable way to get into that world for various different audiophile profiles. 


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Terry

Will this stream nugs.net with it’s 360 surround codec?

Graham Gillies

This is exactly the kind of article I am interested in. As a long time audiophile, I have made the switch from vinyl and cd based physical media, to a more streaming based system, paired with powered loudspeakers. My long term goal is to end up with a pair of the Dutch & Dutch 8C’s, but my first foray into the genre was via a Bluesound Node, paired with Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo speakers, and I have been extremely happy with that as my starter system.

I do want to get a higher end streamer, preferably with AES output, so I can go directly to the Dutch & Dutch speakers, without adapters or having to use the optical or coax Toslink connectors, which most streamers have.

Last edited 10 days ago by Graham Gillies
Ross Warren

For people dipping their toes into streaming devices like this might be fine. But others looking for better sound quality will not appreciate the limitations of Chromecast, Bluetooth, or Airplay. One thing to consider is that none of the streamers without an asynchronous output (USB or the more esoteric I2S) will get the “best” from an external DAC because the cheaper clock of the streamer will remain the one in control of how much jitter you get. The better clock on the more expensive external DAC will not be used by Toslink Coax or SP/DIF optical outputs – at least that is my understanding. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Another looming issue is that we have been spoiled with streaming as of late. But just as quickly as streaming pushed the idea of hearing “anything, anywhere, anytime” it seems that some streaming companies are now rethinking that…and might start culling their catalogs a bit. If one does it and it doesn’t hurt their bottom line, others will likely follow. It’s a changing world and always will be.

But if you purchase physical media (which supports the artists you like) no one can take it away from you on a whim or because of a legal spat.

Trevor

Agreed that the streamer provides the clock that sets the DAC sampling rate accuracy but surely all modern DAC chips provide a clock phase locked loop (PLL) circuit to reduce jitter on that incoming clock? Clock inaccuracy is small & probably inaudible. I assume the DAC also contains a small data input buffer (FIFO) to allow for streamer clock jitter during data transfers from the streamer to the DAC.

Trevor

Hi Jerry, I’m having some trouble understanding the difference between an endpoint & a bridge, please advise?
I’m used to a bridge where the phone or tablet controls the bridge over Bluetooth (to select music etc) & the bridge access’ the internet directly to stream Hi-Rez music.

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