The Entry Level #35

In the mornings, just before I leave for work, I power up the system, turn the volume down low, and set the CD player to Repeat. I like to think that if I play calm, soothing music while Ms. Little and I are away, the cats will feel less alone and more relaxed. It's also nice, on returning home from work, to walk into a room filled with music. One evening a few weeks ago, I stepped into the apartment, dropped my bags to the floor, settled down into the couch with my iPhone, and began scrolling through text messages. I'd been seated for only a moment before I had to turn my attention entirely to the sound of the system, which, even at a very low volume, sounded warm, detailed, and unusually good—unbelievably, almost unbearably engaging.

The song had something to do with it, for sure. It was the title track of Sandro Perri's excellent Impossible Spaces (CD, Constellation CST085), which combines finger-picked acoustic guitar, hand percussion, sweet euphonium, and the surprisingly realistic sounds of distant birds—the last so expertly reproduced that the cats were as startled as I was. I sat there a while, transfixed, feeling almost lost, wishing that all of my friends and family could enjoy this level of sound quality in their homes. In what world, under what circumstances, would that be possible?

The system was mostly familiar: Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 loudspeakers ($349/pair), NAD C 316BEE CD player ($299), and AudioQuest Rocket 33 speaker cables ($329/10' pair) and Big Sur interconnects ($109/m)—each component representing extraordinary value and integral to the system's overall sound. Only the integrated amplifier was new. That day, it was NAD's D 3020.

The original NAD 3020
The D 3020 ($499) is a very new type of audio component that takes its name from a classic. In 1978, NAD, then called New Acoustic Dimension, released the original 3020 integrated amplifier, a rather funereal- but purposeful-looking thing with a drab gray chassis and large, blockish buttons. Stripped of all but the most necessary features, it was conservatively rated to deliver a meager 20Wpc and had the kind of cheap plastic speaker-binding clips that too easily break when carelessly used. Still, the 3020 became the best-selling integrated amplifier in the history of high-end audio. Counting its various iterations (3020B, 3020e, 3020i, 302, and 312), well over a million units were sold worldwide.


Why was the 3020 such a success?

Price must have had something to do with it. The amplifier's introductory price of $149 seemed an impossible bargain to most erudite audiophiles, but struck ordinary customers as fairly reasonable—not an insignificant expense, but one within their means. The 3020 was not only an affordable purchase, it was a smart one: Removable jumpers on its rear panel allowed users to tailor the 3020 to their specific needs. Stereophile senior contributing editor Wes Phillips spent lots of time with the 3020—as an integrated, as a dedicated preamplifier, and as a spare power amp. He told me via e-mail: "A lot of audiophiles did what I did and bought it expecting to utilize its separate pre- and power-amp sections, typically using it as a preamp when we bought our first power amps." Still, the 3020 wasn't merely a placeholder for something better down the road. "Those of us who moved on to separates usually kept the 3020 around as a backup," Wes added. "Few of us could part with it."

Appearance must also have been a factor. The 3020, modest as it was, was a radical alternative to the glitzier, feature-rich models then coming from Japan; by contrast, it was straightforward, no-nonsense, and entirely unpretentious: the workingman's amplifier. In the 1980s, Stereophile's webmaster, Jon Iverson, sold "boatloads" of them at Audio Ecstasy, in San Luis Obispo, California. "We joked about its military look," he told me, "but it always outperformed any similarly priced receiver. It gave us a secret weapon with a great story—killer sound, perfect set of features, and nothing more—and made customers feel like they'd made a move toward musical enjoyment."

So, sound had something to do with it. I've never actually heard a 3020, but everything I've been told suggests that its sound was entirely inoffensive and easy to enjoy—even impressive, for its special combination of smoothness, warmth, and detail. To those listeners more accustomed to table radios and prepackaged stereos, the NAD 3020 was a revelation—a small but important first step into the world of true high-fidelity sound, and an investment in quality. "When our customers bought a 3020, they felt like they had turned the corner and stepped up to caring about sound," Jon said. "I'm guessing it started a high percentage of today's audiophiles on their paths."

The 3020 became an unlikely status symbol, one that both diehard audiophiles and ordinary consumers could appreciate. "When we were able to sell one to a customer—and nobody had ever heard of NAD until they came into a store like ours—they then loved us and became a customer for life," Jon recalled. "If you walked into someone's apartment and they had a 3020, you thought to yourself, 'Yes. This person has audio discernment.'"

The 3020 wasn't perfect. "The sum was greater than the parts," Wes said. "Used separately, both the pre's and power amp's faults were more glaring than when connected. But the 3020 wasn't tizzy or flat or distant—it got you right into the music."

Could the 3020's success have been partially due to the state of the music industry and the popular music of the late 1970s and early '80s? Wes thinks so. "We had LPs then. Today, people have MP3s, so their music is stunted before it reaches the next stage. Demonstrating the superiority of the 3020 was easy: 'Hear how much better your music sounds!' Today, it's 'Well, your music sounds worse, because every file you own sucks!' A much harder sell.

"Plus, you had albums that stood out even from the average LP: Steely Dan's Aja, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, pretty much every Lyrita recording, and so on. These were immensely popular, they sounded great on crappy gear, and better and better as the gear got better.

"Who wants to hear that all of their music sounds crappy?"

Probably not too many people; certainly not a million of them.

The 3020 may have lacked most bells and whistles, but it did have two interesting features: a variable Loudness control and a Soft Clipping circuit. Custom A/V installer Robert Saglio, who sold plenty of 3020s during his time at Stereo Lab, in New London, Connecticut, believes the Loudness control and Soft Clipping circuit had much to do with the 3020's success. The former is intended to maintain music's natural tonal balance at low volume levels; generally speaking, the highs will still have sparkle, and the lows will still have impact. More intriguing was the Soft Clipping circuit, which cleverly limited the amount of high-frequency energy delivered to a loudspeaker, protecting the tweeter from damage and the listener from unpleasant distortion. Considering the inexpensive, easily agitated speakers typically partnered with the 3020 three decades ago, Soft Clipping now seems brilliant. If purist audiophiles didn't care for what Soft Clipping did to the overall sound, they didn't need to use it: Their speakers were fine. Others, however, could drive their cheap speakers to unusually high levels while getting completely lost in Dark Side.

Stereophile senior contributing editor Kalman Rubinson married into a 3020. Before she got to live with his big B&Ws and multichannel system, Kal's wife partnered her 3020 with a Bang & Olufsen turntable and a pair of small RadioShack speakers. "I remember the sound as uncommonly smooth and warm in this setup—which, considering the speakers, is remarkable," Kal told me.

NAD's 312 integrated amplifier, the last to use the 3020's audio circuitry, was discontinued in 1998. To this day, however, hi-fi collectors and enthusiasts still seek original 3020s. As I type, a handful of samples are for sale on eBay, some gently used, others downright abused. The cleanest of the bunch looks practically new, includes the original box and manual, and is said to be in perfect working condition. You can buy it now for $250. Steve Guttenberg, a Stereophile contributor and writer of CNET's The Audiophiliac blog, bought his first 3020 from an eBay dealer just two years ago for $66. Driving a pair of new Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 loudspeakers, the old NAD sounded rich, sweet, and unusually powerful, said Steve. "I doubt any of today's receivers or entry-level integrateds can handle low-impedance speakers as well as the 3020."

In November 2002, to celebrate its 40th year of continuous publication, Stereophile published "The Hot 100 Products," a list of the 100 most important hi-fi components of all time, chosen by the magazine's editors and writers. The NAD 3020 integrated amplifier was ranked No.19. John Atkinson wrote: "The ridiculously inexpensive 3020 showed that an amplifier didn't need machined faceplates, intimidating heatsinks, or technically glamorous components to be able to drive real-world speakers. It put NAD on the map, but they never matched the 3020's overall achievement."

NAD (footnote 1) has made several technological advances over the last decade—its Master Series components offer state-of-the-art performance both on the test bench and in the listening room—and the company continues to produce exceptional entry-level products. Is the 3020 still NAD's greatest success?

"Yes," JA told me recently. "The 3020 was so good and so cheap that later NAD amps, though objectively better, never achieved that combination of value for money and sound quality." Echoing Steve Guttenberg's comments, JA added: "The original 3020 could drive big speakers with difficult impedances with aplomb."

"It was understated and underspecced and it overperformed," Robert Saglio summarized. "With its variable loudness control and soft-clipping feature, people could play pop music louder than expected, and it would still sound good. I think NAD could have made it forever. All they'd have to do today is add an iPod input."

With the new D 3020, NAD has done that and more.

Rethinking the 3020
Why now? Many of NAD's recent budget amplifiers, including my own C 316BEE ($380), have been marketed as descendants of the great 3020, but none has borne its name. Why was this the right time to finally resurrect the hallowed 3020 model number?

"The D 3020 started as a way to celebrate our 40th anniversary," Greg Stidsen, NAD's director of technology and product planning, told me (footnote 2). "Instead of gold-plating a C 326BEE and squeezing another micron of performance out of the very mature analog technology, we decided to rethink the elements that made the 3020 so relevant in its day and re-create the concept using today's most advanced digital technology."

The D 3020 was unveiled to a limited audience at NAD's 40th Anniversary Distributor Conference, held in Munich in spring 2011. "The response we received from our distribution partners was intensely positive," said Stidsen.

"Meeting the objectives of price, performance, size, and efficiency was something else," added Bjørn Erik Edvardsen, NAD's longtime designer and the man chiefly responsible for the original 3020 and now the D 3020. "The challenge led to some new ideas and the application of some really advanced technology." NAD spent another two years developing the D 3020's audio circuitry. "We rejected promising circuits that didn't meet the performance targets," said Edvardsen. "I wouldn't sign off on it until we got it exactly right."

In terms of appearance and features, the D 3020 bears almost no resemblance to its namesake. You might not recognize it as an integrated amplifier at all. The industrial design was conceived by David Farrage, whose DF-ID firm boasts a client list that includes Donna Karan, Movado, and Lamborghini. The D 3020 is sleek, shiny, and minimalist, made to look right at home with today's personal computers, smartphones, and other high-tech devices. Uncommonly sensuous for a hi-fi component, with a textured volume knob and soft, smooth side panels, the D 3020 practically begs to be touched. In fact, it features a touchscreen that occupies all of its front panel and extends through one entire side panel—either its topmost or right-hand side, depending on how you orient the chassis.

Weighing just 3 lbs (1.4kg) and measuring an unusual 7 3/8" (186mm) high by 2 5/16" (58mm) wide by 8 5/8" (219mm) deep, the D 3020 can be placed horizontally, like a traditional component, or stood upright, like a modem or hard drive. This aspect of the D 3020's physical design may be cool and unique, but struck me as unnecessary and ultimately compromised. For it to really work, the visual display would have to automatically reorient itself to the amplifier's placement—like an iPhone's or iPad's display, which adapts to the user's needs by assuming a landscape view when held horizontally, a portrait view when turned upright. The D 3020's display is static.

Placing the D 3020 horizontally within a standard component cabinet, as I initially did, calls for some awkward craning of the neck when reading the volume level, and does no justice to the amplifier's good looks. Several times while switching cables I accidentally tapped the D 3020's power button, thus knocking the amplifier out of sleep. And, for some reason, though I could reliably power up the amp via its touchscreen, I could turn it off only by using its remote control—a mild annoyance. For its part, the uncluttered remote is perfectly suited to the D 3020, with the same pleasantly smooth feel and a similarly distinct look. You won't want to lose it. That such a considered remote can be included with a $499 product leaves me wondering why so many far more expensive components come equipped with unwieldy plastic afterthoughts.

In any case, the D 3020 wants to stand upright, out in the open, where it can be easily seen and touched. Furthermore, a vertical orientation will provide the best dissipation of heat. Placed horizontally in a rack, the D 3020 ran warm but not alarmingly so. It uses an energy-efficient class-D output stage rated to deliver 30Wpc into a standard 8 ohms. NAD has always placed greater emphasis on their products' more impressive IHF "Dynamic Power" ratings, however (footnote 3). The D 3020's IHF ratings are 65Wpc into 8 ohms, 105 into 4, and 150 into 2.

I almost forgot to mention the outer box, a very attractive slipcase. Right out of it, the D 3020 sounded clean, clear, and resolving, if a bit small and bass shy. After only a day or so of use, however, the D 3020 sounded far bigger and more powerful than its size and weight would suggest.

For the most part, I partnered the D 3020 with small, affordable loudspeakers—PSB Alpha B1 ($299/pair), Pioneer SP-BS22-LR ($129/pair), Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 ($349/pair)—but toward the end of the listening period I hooked it up to a pair of glorious KEF LS50s ($1499/pair) and turned the volume up high. I was bowled over by the sound, which easily matched the best I'd ever heard at home, and reminded me in many ways of what I'd recently experienced with the tubed Croft Phono Integrated ($1895).

If there was a weakness in my system, it was not the NAD.

Digital ins and outs
The D 3020 is a decidedly modern integrated amplifier for the modern listener. With its coaxial and optical digital inputs, users can connect satellite and cable receivers, integrate content-management devices such as the Apple TV media streamer, or process the digital signal from a CD or DVD player. But if you really want to get the best sound from your CDs, you should rip them to your computer using something like X Lossless Decoder (for Macs) or Exact Audio Copy (for PCs), then send the signal to the D 3020's 24-bit/96kHz–capable asynchronous-mode USB input, thus bypassing your laptop's own compromised audio circuitry. Or forget about CDs altogether and instead take advantage of the growing number of online retailers now providing music in high-resolution and CD-quality digital formats. A few of my favorite download sites are Bleep, Boomkat, and HDtracks, but there are many others. Specialized media-player softwares, such as Amarra (Macs) or JRiver Media Center (PCs), should work seamlessly with Apple's ubiquitous iTunes, but will provide automatic sample-rate switching and better sound (footnote 4). You'll want to know that you're getting out of the NAD D 3020 exactly what you're putting in.

The D 3020's rear-panel iPod input is a sign of our times, but is also the amplifier's least impressive feature. I suspect NAD thought so, too, which is why they've included a TosLink mini-adapter to convert it to an additional optical input, which will also accept the digital-audio output from a MacBook Pro. The D 3020 has only one traditional (RCA) analog input, a fact that I at first mourned—until I realized that one was all I really needed. Do I need a Disc input? No. Do I need an Aux input? No. Do I even know what a Tape input is? No.

I do want a headphone output. Do I need one? Not really, no—for the most part, I listen to headphones outdoors, on the go. The D 3020 has one—a front-panel minijack, perfect for use in a desktop system with today's popular headphones. You won't be able to use the D 3020 to drive old-fashioned cans that have ¼" phone plugs (unless you employ an adaptor), but you can use it right away with your Skullcandy Aviator, B&W P3, Harman/Kardon CL, Grado SR60i, Sennheiser Momentum, Monster DNA, Beats Solo HD, or any of the other exotic, colorful, celebrity-endorsed 'phones.

Footnote 1: NAD Electronics International, 633 Granite Court, Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1, Canada. Tel: (905) 831-6555. Web:

Footnote 2: NAD was founded in December 1972. You can see a timeline of the company's history here.

Footnote 3: John Atkinson discussed this in "Must We Test? Yes, We Must!," his "As We See It" for the August 1989 issue.

Footnote 4: For a comprehensive list of download sites and invaluable information about digital-music hardware and software, visit the "How-To" sections at AudioStream.


deckeda's picture

It'll make her very happy, because she can AirPlay over to it from her iPhone ... and it'll sound better than BT and connect to anything that has an analog input, or TOSlink input via one of those minijack adapters like the D3020 has.

Jimmy_G's picture

Today I see so many people crying about the death of hifi, that the public is more interested in gadgets than great sound and that manufactures aren't producing products that fit our modern lifestyles.  That mass market retailers and compressed mp3s have killed the industry.  

Hogwash.  I think today is a great time to be an entry level audiophile.  I love the idea of NAD's D 3020 and I'm seriously considering it for my bedroom system.  And there are so many other wonderful new and affordable products as well.  The Brio R and Pro-Ject Carbon jump instantly to mind.   Further down the cost spectrum, Yamaha has a trio of even more affordable integrateds.  Wharfedale and Pioneer along with PSB, Monitor Audio and Paradigm all provide great entry points too. 

Yes, there is certainly a lot of compressed audio and over-engineered "loudness"* out there.  However, there is also greater access to higher quality audio then at any other time in history. The sheer volume of recorded music available at this very moment to anyone willing to seek it out is frankly staggering.  

Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm.  And now if you will please excuse me, I need to go turn up volume.  

*It's not a war, nobody's dying because dynamic range has been neutered.  

BradleyP's picture

I totally agree about this being a great time to be an entry-level audiophile.  While I am not entry level, that's where the fun is, and that's what's on my desktop where I do 95% of my listening.  I love marvelling at how good $600 can sound!  The level of audiophile just below the lunatic fringe drives the market for technological advances that quickly trickle down.  For that reason,  we all need the high end.  With my favorite streaming service, I can explore hundreds of albums, finding and loving talent I'd never have found otherwise, and sometimes buying the HD download.  

When a tablet or phone can transmit a 96/24 signal wirelessly to a good pair of powered speakers, we will have reached our destination.  That will be real hi fi for under a grand, and it will sell like mad.  Hi fi will have gone mainstream again despite its proclivities.  I give it three years.

christopher3393's picture

Stephen: You give good entry. Don't let the clowns get you down.

dbster's picture

The first part of this sounds familiar, since my first real stereo was an NAD 7020 (same integrated amp as the 3020, plus a tuner). It looks very similar to the 3020 in your article, with the addition of the slide-rule tuner dial and a band switch. It was recommended by Al Franklin's Music World in Hartford, which no longer exists. The system I bought also had an ADS L420 bookshelf pair of speakers, a JVC L-A21 turntable,  and a cassette deck that I don't remember.  I bought this two months after a major car accident, mostly because after the accident I thought I should have something I wanted new. I bought the stereo a month before a replacement car (buying my first new one), which in retrospect shows my priorities even back then. Not only does this system still work 30 years later, but the NAD and ADS are now in my oldest son's college dorm room, playing FLAC files. In that time, neither component has been serviced, nor neglected. So we are talking about entry level gear that was well built, solid, and lasting. The heatsink on the NAD that contributed to its weight was a plus to an electrical engineering major.

While my turntable, pre-amp, and amp are somewhat better now, though no where near extravagant, I am still running ADS bookshelf speakers, though the larger brother, the ADS L810.  I have also suggested to people than for new entry level, NAD and its corporate sister PSB are a good start, no matter what decade.

Just thought you'd like to hear a two generation NAD entry level story.

dan m's picture

My first 'serious' integrated was a NAD 314.  It was more than capable of producing great music when paired with some good speakers and an 'entry level' turntable. There seems to be a bit of prejudice against digital amps, but I must say the Wyred4Sound integrated I currently have is doing a great job.  Seems NAD is embracing the new tech. as well and giving the consumer good sound irrespective of what's in the box.

BTW, the back photo seems odd to me - I always thought with RCAs that 'right is red'.

pablolie's picture

right IS red

dan m's picture

Not on the analog input!

pablolie's picture

The big question mid-term is... where does the DAC belong? the speaker? the integrated amp? a separate stand-alone? NAD has always known how to make clean sounding equipment, always a safe bet. to me the big question is as to the future of "integrated". it used to be phone, pre- and power-amplifier and one. i own an Accuphase E-306v i *worship* sound-wise, but i am not sure it is the mid-term answer to my future audio needs. i like the concept of vanishing components in general.

ideally i'd like a preamp with a fantastic DA at under $2k feeding into active bookshelf speakers (better imaging than towers every time in most real world listening rooms, really) with -oh heresy- a musically designed sub to complement the lowest lows. the old rule of thumb was speakers ought to be 2-3x the price of the amplification.

with a DA-preamp like the Benchmark DAC2 that means $8k for the entire backend, amplifying and speakers. given the fact the entry end is so seductively well-designed, i think that poses a huge challenge and a yet to be truly filled market need for the partial chain behind the DA-preamp.

the NAD design discussed here seems to indicate that the DAC is the new MC-MM phono component in the IA. is *that* the right answer?

it is an interesting time to be an an auidiophile because we are (a) an endangered species (admittedly because very decent audio has become very attainable), and (b) because innovative designs are constantly throwing utter curveballs at our old preconceptions. it is a Saturday night, and i am listening to a 320k MP3 of a John Coltrane album through a sub $1k chain that sounds so incredibly superior to my first $10k system in the mid 80s it is not even funny. TEAC 6030S was my main source back then... remember? what is the optimal component mix in the future? things have *never* been that murky in that respect. we used to know, it was easy: a source, then the big debate about IA or separate pre and power amps... now it is wow. what will we settle for? personally i think it will be active speakers. but it is an adoptions thing.

mixpro's picture

Well pablolie, I've had great fun with a Benchmark DAC1 lately, from my Mac via Toslink running iTunes with Amarra. While it's true you would need the DAC2 to support analog, the original DAC1 sounds fantastic and DAC1 USB is an option if you have to have USB. $600-800 used. I've been spending a lot of time away from my main system listening to the DAC1 through Sennheiser HD-598's. I have to say the Amarra was a marked improvement over standard Apple Core Audio (iTunes)  and better than the same music via coax from the CD player. My ears say that with Amarra, Toslink is better than USB so I'm trying not to get sucked into all that. For analog I'm using an NAD 316BEE in this second system, but it's headphone amp sucks. For me, Amarra made the whole thing come together although it's hard to justify the $189 for software.

donunus's picture

What is the difference between the dac in this unit and NAD's DAC only unit that looks the same as this?

JoeinNC's picture

I bought a NAD 3120 integrated amp in the very early '80s (just like the 3020B, but with binding posts, no tone controls or power meter), and used it for more than twenty years. It was an awesome little amp, and I regret giving it away to a family member. 

Johan B's picture

Buy 2 and biwire them to 2 speakers?

Et Quelle's picture

The new D3020 definitely fits the onthego digital music lover; tiny

Andrew R's picture

Great article and fun read. In the introduction, you mentioned that upon arriving home to your system, it had sounded better than usual with this the D 3020. I wanted to know if you think that the sonic figerprint is as neutral or better than to your Nad C 316bee when using it for analog music such as your turntable? Would this provide an equal listening experiance without compromising sound for versatility to the audiophile who prefers LPs?  

PJDubyaM's picture

I had mine arrive yesterday. I switched from saving up for a Peachtree Nova 125 to this because of a single chunk of the Stereophile review:

"[...] but toward the end of the listening period I hooked it up to a pair of glorious KEF LS50s ($1499/pair) and turned the volume up high. I was bowled over by the sound, which easily matched the best I'd ever heard at home, [...]"

Before I start, some context: I'm a bit of an entry-level audiophile - I appreciate decent bits of kit, but am convinced that differences between much of the higher-up stuff is pure psychology, so I draw my line earlier than most ardent audiophiles. (and even if it's *not* pure psychology, the fact that *I think it is* means that my brain is primed *not* to tell the difference between different bits of equipment... Damn you, brain.)

I'm running an old Mac Mini as a headless HTPC, with my 14000-strong iTunes library (all CDs ripped to ALAC, or - over the last couple of years - wavs downloaded direct from the labels) freshly transferred onto a Synology NAS. The Mac is plugged directly in to the D 3020's USB port, to take advantage of the latter's DAC and jitter correction. And on the other side of the D3020 are a pair of Kef's LS50s.

That little lot is replacing what I had the previous day: the Mac in a different room, beaming to an Airport Express wired into a NAD C350.

Although I've not listened much (only a few hours in so far), I'm very impressed. There seems to be a lightness and an airiness there that wasn't there before - a sense of there being more space. The C350 always struck me as a big bruiser, and coloured the music accordingly. The D3020 seems to bring with it a delicacy that I rather like. It's still got punch, and can still go loud (although I may be detecting a bit of strain up there; further listening needed to see if it's down to the box-fresh equipment, or if I'm imagining it or not). Even Mrs M, who tolerates rather than celebrates my low-level audiophilia, thought it sounded immediately better.

Very glad I went for it. Love the design of it as well - not only visual, but tactile. I'm a real fan of things that are 'confidently ugly' (the LS50s being a glorious case in point). The design isn't *quite* right (in my opinion, the fact that they've labelled the volume knob 'volume' is something that spoils its aesthetics more than you'd think), but it's an awful lot better than most out there.


dan_rc3's picture

Fantastic story, I loved reading the history as well as the enthusiasm for a fun product. Wonderful article.

pablolie's picture

...and to echo what many have said, it is a fantastic time to be an audiophile .. And what we call entry level delivers on a price-performance that is mind-boggling to those of us that have tried to cobble together music shrines for over 20 years. I have 4k speakers from 93 that struggle and lose out with many entry level speakers these days. 

Thats why I love Stephens column. It is very relevant. And the KEF LS50s are stunning -at any price level.

skris88's picture

Great review but, "....Daft Punk's Random Access Memories is today's Dark Side of the Moon: immensely popular, and musically and sonically excellent"? Hmmmm..... Good album, but comparable to Dark Side Of The Moon?  Nah!  ;-)

More seriously though, re the original Loudness control I wonder how many actually used it, and - with varying input levels, how it could have been correctly calibrated, if at all?

Loudness of sorts (Dynamic EQ) is also available with the new Audyssey systems, and I worry as to what people are listening to since most tracks are recorded hard against the 100db max that digital music can be stored at (wasting all that dynamic range).  My digital files are ReplayGained to 85db as I've found over 90% of my downloads are 15db too high. I suspect DACs must overload with these inputs too, about time Stereophile did a proper test. Re my own system, I can hear (or am I imagining it?) improved dynamics and lower distortion (these ARE MP3s after all) when I do so, than if I left my digital purchases as is.


John Atkinson's picture

skris88 wrote:
most tracks are recorded hard against the 100db max that digital music can be stored at (wasting all that dynamic range).

Actually, as long as the peaks reach 100%, you are maximizing the dynamic range capability of the medium. If you are talking about compression of the music, that is an independent issue and is not related to the digital level.


skris88 wrote:
My digital files are ReplayGained to 85db as I've found over 90% of my downloads are 15db too high

I don't understand why you would do that. You are throwing away 2.5 bits of resolution. Why not just turn down your analog volume control, which will preserve low-level digital resolution?

skris88 wrote:
I suspect DACs must overload with these inputs too, about time Stereophile did a proper test.

I have only rarely found a DAC that clips, whic is why I almost never discuss the issue. Yes, it is always possible for the reconstructed signal to peak above 0dBFS between samples, but this is something that mastering engineers strive to avoid these days - meters that correctly display inter-sample overs have been around for 20 years now.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

skris88's picture

Hi John

I can hear a big difference, and horrible digital clipping sounds, on tracks I receive until I ReplayGain them.

But mainly I use ReplayGain to set the average loudness between tracks on Random play. The idea is that when I switch between a 70s track with 15db dynamic range and a recent Top 40 hit with 5db of dynamic range I don't have to reach for the volume control, as ReplayGain is advertised as taking the RMS levels of each track to set the default playback level.

Is there another better way?


John Atkinson's picture
skris88 wrote:
I use ReplayGain to set the average loudness between tracks on Random play. The idea is that when I switch between a 70s track with 15db dynamic range and a recent Top 40 hit with 5db of dynamic range I don't have to reach for the volume control, as ReplayGain is advertised as taking the RMS levels of each track to set the default playback level.

In which case the reduction in resolution is still happening, but it will affect the dynamically compromised files the most, where the sound quality is already damaged.

skris88 wrote:
Is there another better way?

When you are using ReplayGain or other loudness normalization, it is good practice to set it to apply to albums rather than individual songs, That way, you preserve the album's dynamic light and shade that the artist intended. But if you are not listening in shuffle mode, don't use ReplayGain at all - use your system volume control instead, if you want the maximum sound quality.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

3MaJ's picture

Great review!

Any chance we can see some measurements, like you guys usually do with other amplifiers? I'm interested if D3020 can be used to drive MartinLogan Electromotion ESL (91dB efficiency, 6ohm nominal, 1.6ohm min. at 20kHz)... The D3020 datasheet does mention dynamic power at 2ohms, and Hypex Class-D amplifiers (which are at the core of this model I guess) are 2ohm-stable, so it should be possible in theory...

It is just so compelling to have this single (wonderfully desinged) tiny box instead of a huge set of separates that perform 10% better and cost 5x more.

I'm interested in "normal" (mostly for jazz) listening levels at around 3.5 m distance.


Laurence Svirchev's picture

I'm still listening on an NAD 3020 bought circa 1982 from Commercial Electronics circa 1982. I have rarely turned the device in all that time and it is running smoothly tonight, playing Vince Guaraldi's "Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus" (remastered) and a contemporary CD,Benoit Delbecq's "Crescendo in Duke." Has the NAD's sound deteriorated? My 68 year old ears say "no", but can those ears actually tell the difference? My psycho-acoustic memory says the reproduction is pretty exact. An amazingly-well engineered product, which prompts me to buy the D3020 to power an augmentation of my listening systems.

argyle_mikey's picture

An interesting thing happened the other night. We're downsizing in the new year, which caused me to dump my Marantz AV amp and Paradigm speakers outside my son's room and replace it with some proper Hifi. I started with a NAD D3020.

I still wanted to watch the TV through the amp and my speakers (for now, an elderly pair of Kef Q15's) so connected my Philips HDTV box to my Philips TV by HDMI, and the TV to the NAD by digital coaxial. But what I forgot to do was change the box settings away from outputting Dolby Digital.

On Sunday night I caught 5 minutes of the BBC telecast of "War Horse" (the attack scene just before the gas is fired). Sitting in the sweet spot between the speakers, maybe 4 foot back, I got a proper surround effect to the side and behind of my listening position. It was excellent to be honest - my better half agreed - and fortunately I recorded it for comparison purposes so was able to toggle some of the sound output settings in the box which removed/restored the effect. I must emphasise the effect was really very convincing for a virtual one, and will be much better for film watching than vanilla stereo in our new, smaller, front room.

So, although not documented and whilst the D3020 is not advertised as an AV amp replacement, it DOES seem to resolve Virtual Dolby Digital or Dolby Virtual Speaker, whichever this was.

Any thoughts ?

olc's picture

The only touch controls are on the top (when vertical), and they are very difficult to get to respond. You have to touch them several times before they take effect.

The remote control is similarly awful. Nearly impossible the read the matte black on matte black lettering. Fortunately it's a simply layout - just on/off, volume, and cycle through inputs. It works when aimed at the center of the D 3020, otherwise it's iffy. The volume control on the remote runs from low to high almost instantly so it is hard to get just what you want.

But it does sound great, even the aptX Bluetooth. Whether that's enough to overlook the seriously flawed ergonomics, I'm still deciding.

604Yarks's picture

Thinking of picking this up for use with a Uturn Orbit Plus (on it's way in a few weeks) as part of my first "entry level" audiophile system. Good idea? Bad Idea? Is there something substantially better for the $? Size is important (small space), as is sound, but some of the features I read about here make it seem damn appealing too. Does it have a natural rival, or, is there an entry (but good) competing unit for getting good sound from vinyl?

ivayvr's picture

Currently I own the C326BEE and recently I developed the upgrade bug again (very hard to cure). While browsing the recommended components I was surprised to find that the D3020 is exceptional value (denoted by $$$ sign) but even more so, that it is borderline class B. NAD C316BEE, the younger brother of my 326BEE, has been classified as exceptional value in class C for a couple of years. There is no mention of my 326BEE in any of the listed categories in recent years. I am most intrigued by the "borderline class B" status of the D3020. Class B is the market segment that is out of my reach most of the time.
I would really like to hear your opinion about the sound of the D3020. Is it really that good or the "borderline class B" rating is the combination of sound and very flexible connectivity options. Can I expect to hear better sound if I switch from C326BEE to D3020?
My main source, most of the time is Logitech Squeezebox Duet streaming FLAC files and occasionally Teac CD H750. I have Martin Logan LX16 bookshelf speakers and Paradigm PDR 80 sub in a relatively small room. It would serve as my primary and not a desktop system.

Ross Gillett's picture

I just purchased a NAD D 3020 and I am quite disappointed.

It picks up loud hum from the AC mains power from my DVD Player (which runs from a AC Adaptor and hence is not itself grounded) and from my Samsung television (which has a polarized plug).

This noise appears both while using the analog signal input and the coaxial digital audio input even when it is not selected as the signal source. Other systems in this same setup have worked with no problem over the years, as they should (all operate from the same power outlet, so no 'ground loops' exist here).

The only way it works without hum is using the optical digital audio interface. If it worked this well with other electrical connections I would be pleased. As it is, I think they have missed something in the common-mode rejection performance of the analog section, since it clearly seems unable to operate correctly.

I was so excited at first to have this product, which should have met all of my needs, however I now need to return it for refund.

John Atkinson's picture
Ross Gillett wrote:
It picks up loud hum from the AC mains power from my DVD Player (which runs from a AC Adaptor and hence is not itself grounded) and from my Samsung television (which has a polarized plug).

If your sample is not broken, then the problem lies elsewhere in your system. Is your TV connected to a cable provider? Hum problems are very common when there is a cable connection, due to differences in ground potentials between your audio system and the cable company's connection. I note that your system is not grounded in any way, so it may be that you were just lucky with your previous amplifier.

Sorry to hear that the NAD didn't work out for you.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile