We decided to broaden the gear we test here at Inearspace so when the opportunity arose to review one of the latest products from NAD, we jumped at it! I played with this myself and really enjoyed how much it offered in terms of features, so much so my Dad is actually looking at picking up a unit for the house! For thorough testing i just don’t have the stereo gear to do a though out job but fortunately Josh does with both him and his Dad having always been into HiFi, so it made sense to hand this one other to Josh, so i will let him take this from here! – Sonny

Ok so let’s kick off with what this product is all about. Back in the 70’s the NAD 3020 was extremely successful and praised for its abilities in producing powerful, rich sound that was ‘true to the original’. This original amplifier is actually the best-selling amplifier in history! This new D3020 model is the next instalment of this model, so it’s carrying a large weight on its shoulders among the HiFi community; however this product delivers far more than the original in terms of spec at least. One can only assume that the ‘D’ in the name stands for digital. The original 3020 had no digital inputs and also a lower claimed wattage per channel but it does sacrifice the phono input of the original. So exactly what features does this £400 amp offer?

Features: 

This is one of the areas that this product really excels in. For such a tiny unit this product packs an astonishing array of convenient features that are rarely found in one unit, let alone at such a modest price tag. We have two analogue auxiliary inputs, one stereo RCA and the other is a single 3.5mm input that doubles as a mini optical. There are actually two optical inputs, one standard SP/DIF and one that requires a 3.5mm adapter. We also have an asynchronous USB input, a coaxial input and Bluetooth connectivity that features the latest in wireless technology, AptX, for a more lossless transmission with latest smart phones that feature it, to top off the digital options. Another few features this NAD boasts are a subwoofer out and an EQ so you can set the NAD to your personal tastes.

With all these digital inputs available the DAC unit couldn’t just be any old DAC to just ‘do the job’ and that’s why NAD has incorporated a 24/96 capable conversion chip into this product so even high res files can be played at will without any down sampling (unless your using 176.4 or 192kHz files of course). All of this in such a small unit, I know, it’s remarkable really.

We now come to my first little issue with the NAD. Now this is the only amp I have come across that has a sub output in the form of a 3.5mm jack, this requires the purchase of a 3.5mm Mono Mini Jack Plug to Single RCA cable which I’m afraid is just plain annoying. Although they are inexpensive cables I just can’t understand the reasoning behind it.

Style and appearance: 

NAD have created a sleek stylish product that uses a combination of gloss and matte black finishes to give a subtle level of class to the appearance of this product. The stainless steel highlights are also a subtle reminder that this is a well-designed product. When the product is off there is just a small red power light on the top of the unit but when this is tapped the unit lights up with a soft white glow underneath the black overlay, a nice touch. Being all touch controlled the actual profile of the unit is very organic and sleek, with only the volume knob protruding from the overall shape.

It is well worth noting that this product is a versatile unit in terms of positioning. It looks great next to a PC or under a television. Its subtlety helps this immensely but to be honest the only place this product looks out of place, is on a HiFi rack, which is a shame because it produces sound worthy of a product on a HiFi rack, I shall extrapolate later.

Hats off to NAD from a design perspective then!

Usability:

This is an area which I feel the NAD gets under praised. I think the touch controls are extremely easy to use and the whole touch interface works well in my eyes, not once have  I had an issue with this. I also have to mention that I am a big fan of the resistance on the volume knob. This makes the product feel extremely well built and give me confidence in the longevity of the product.

The handy remote that is also included!

I have used this product with my television as a DAC/amp and it was so easy to set up for a 2.1 system I simply ran an optical from the TV to the back of the NAD and connect everything to this one tiny unit. Extremely convenient, I loved the performance in this set up.

This product is extremely usable and convenient to use in today’s environment especially with the ever increasing use of laptops, tablets and phones as sources; this products hits every requirement on the head from that perspective.

Bluetooth: 

I’m going to be honest and say I have never been a fan of using Bluetooth for music transfer, unfortunately, this hasn’t changed. The occasional interruption of signal really grinds on me and this occurs no matter how close the device is to the amp. I have tried it with 3 devices and the same sonic differences are present across the board. The whole thing seems to sound a bit lifeless and to my ears a bit of added bass as well. Don’t get me wrong as far as Bluetooth goes it’s not bad at all, it’s a good Bluetooth receiver, but I urge you to use a wired connection whenever possible to get the best from the NAD, it deserves it.

Connectivity was quick and simple always so I praise the NAD for this and it is a feature that is available for people that need it but it’s not my cup of tea!

Sound:

Truthfully, at 30w per channel this amplifier worried me when I first received it. My HiFi has only ever been treated with the likes of 75wpc Arcam FMJ A28 and 125wpc Roksan Kandy K2 so 30wpc was going to be quite a change so I began by using more modest speakers and amplifiers in terms of price and requirements for this test.

To kick things off, let’s talk about the amplifier only. The first thing I did was connect the NAD up to a pair of old school mission 731 le bookshelves that retailed for £150 in the 90’s. First impressions were very, well, specific… and good! I just could not get away from the impact that this amp produces on drums and the lower mid-range. Now believe me, I know these speakers well from my younger years, and they had been given a new lease of life. The level of impact was something I hadn’t heard from these missions previously. The tremendously rich sound of the NAD came over instantaneously and coupled with the punch it was clear this amp wasn’t messing around. I had appeared to have underestimated this little black box. Time to step it up.

I started dabbling with some Yamaha BP400’S and the little NAD continued to impress with its punchy low end. Quantities throughout the frequency range seemed well balanced and tonally this amp is just so addictive. Further listening established there was some good detail here as well, especially compared to older amps at a similar price such as the technics and Denon amps I had to compare at this stage.  The extension at both ends was pretty good, even if a little rolled off at the top, only a small issue, but occasionally became noticeable to my ears over a few genres to be honest; but as I say only a small issue. The more I listened the more engrossed I became in the sound from the NAD. I’ve said, it is warm, but the ever apparent rhythmical qualities of the D3020 really do add to the enjoyment and musicality of the amp, lending the user to almost fully forgiving any little niggles.

The next area of scrutiny of the amp was the imagery and presentation. Imaging and the layering of the imagery in this amp is pretty solid, especially for the price. There is good positioning of vocals especially which is really nice to hear.  In my opinion it rivals the imagery of the Arcam A19, which although not the Arcam’s best feature, is still twice the price of the NAD again.

One benefit of this amp’s rich warm signature that benefits quite cold sounding, poor recordings and compressed tracks such as MP3’s and iTunes downloads. This makes this amp very easy and pleasureable to listen to no matter what the source is. However that’s not to say it doesn’t benefit from a better recording; it is not a transparent amp by any means but it does love the high res tracks just to show off its capabilities. The energy and attack that the amp offers on every genre is really enjoyable. It also seems to be pretty un-particular about pairings too (within limits), with other equipment and of music. The warm, punchy, rhythmical characteristics really lend themselves to techno and drum and bass though; this is where I fell for the NAD.

A quick word on the DAC then. Once I got to know the amp it was time to put some digital information through the NAD and realistically, the DAC is pretty good. For an all in one unit where a cheap DAC could quite easily have been thrown in, it is truly better than I expected it to be. It can extract details with apparent ease and is dynamically great, but the best thing to my ears is the synergy between the DAC and the amp. If possible I recommend using the internal DAC in this box; the two components really do love each other. I believe the DAC in this unit to be a tough competitor for the Musical Fidelity v90 which retails for £200. Not bad at all then!

So far It’s clear, the NAD is packed with features and has some very impressive sonic qualities for such a modestly powerful, inexpensive product. It brings some detail, good imaging and an almighty punch to a price range that seems to lack some of these qualities. With the lower cost bookshelves tried so far I cannot believe that this amp is only 30wpc its sonic capabilities are way above what I would expect from 30wpc amplifier.

If your system is in need of a bit of added energy and punch and you are using bookshelf speakers I can safely say that this D3020 warrants a serious audition. Don’t be fooled by the 30wpc output , it sounds like double that and couple this with its rich indulgent signature and the ridiculous abundance of features the NAD is easy to love. However this is not the end of this review. Up until this point the NAD was brilliant, but I wanted to push it hard to find its limits, find where it struggled…

The Kef LS-50 is a wonderfully transparent and a very fussy speaker that puts big requirements on its amplification. The NAD, unfortunately, struggled here to put it simply. The Kef’s sounded strangled, closed and a bit boring in all honesty. The D3020 was trying to convey its signature and push the Kef’s but the NAD really stuck out like a saw thumb. This problem of the amp only got worse when I used Teac’s UD-501 in place of the NAD DAC. Not surprising really considering the Teac DAC alone is double the size of the D3020. It was a real struggle for the amp that I truly wanted to triumph among the equipment double the price but the Roksan and the Arcam were in another league in terms of control balance and detail retrieval.  It was a similar story when paired with the wonderful IMF TLS80 mk2 floorstanders. The NAD didn’t have the poise, power or control to take a strong handle on these beasts but as I said I really wanted to test the NAD to breaking point so this last test did just that. Maybe a little unfair on the tiny amp but I wanted to see if the loveable box could truly be a giant killer. As it turns out, it’s not quite there.

Conclusion: 

If you keep the NAD within its comfort zone it is a truly fantastic performer at the price, I would have no trouble recommending it at this for the amplifier alone at this price, never mind the host of features it offers. If you are looking for a punchy, rhythmical, rich and genuinely loveable amplifier, audition it; let it win you over for its convenience, style, compactness and its moreish sound signature.

Thank you NAD for this great bit of kit.

Josh Coleby