Hands On: Small-Footprint Amp Breaks New Ground
CE Pro senior editor Bob Archer reviews the NAD D 3020 amp, which is suitable for desktop listening, small music systems and 2.1 setups with soundbars.
Robert Archer · June 27, 2014
NAD Electronics has some deep roots in the audiophile world and for many the company was a point of entry into “high-end audio.” Driving much of that adoption back in the day was the company’s now legendary 3020 integrated amplifier.
Recently NAD decided to revive the 3020, but it did so in a bold way. Forgoing the easy way, which would have been a standard rack size analog amplifier, the company introduced its D 3020 as a new-era, space-friendly digital amp that can be used for desktop, computer-based audio, 2.1-channel A/V and traditional two-channel audio.
The small-footprint D 3020 is a lifestyle-friendly solution that offers 30 watts of power to each channel, as well as a touch-sensitive interface, a simple volume knob and a credit-card size remote control. The amp’s rear panel features a set of binding posts, and connections for USB (it supports 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution audio), coax, optical, RCA analog plus a subwoofer out option for extra low-end muscle. Its illuminated front panel provides volume and input selection information, as well as on/off status.
I used the amp in a variety of configurations: fueling a two-channel system; in a 2.1 system after adding a sub; and in a desktop audio system driving passive monitors and headphones. In each configuration I found 3020 D easy to set up with loudspeakers from Leon, as well as PSB Speakers, and sources as varied as my iPhone 4 (via 3.5mm and Bluetooth), a Mac- Book Pro via USB and a Toshiba DVD player connected with RCA cables. In addition, it was as simple as using a 3.5mm-to-RCA cable to utilize the subwoofer output option.
Not surprisingly, the real estate on the amp’s rear panel is tight, but banana-terminated speaker cables worked great and bare wires should work just as easily. Spade termination may require staggering the insertion into the binding posts and this may preclude some from using that type of speaker cable, but spades aren’t out of the question either. In each listening scenario, it really only takes a matter of minutes to set up the amplifier and companion components.
My first setup employed the Leon TiUltima speakers in a near-field environment with my computer connected via USB and my phone (Bluetooth and 3.5mm to left/right RCAs).
After putting about 30 hours on the D 3020, I thought the Leon/NAD combination produced a nice, wide soundstage and a balanced image. The amp was anything but cold and “digital sounding” too. My only complaint with the amp is the touchsensitive controls, which I thought lack consistent responsiveness and the “numb” feeling of the volume knob that could use some tactile feedback. I much preferred the little remote that NAD includes.
I didn’t notice a discernible difference in quality between using the RCA inputs and Bluetooth. The RCA was slightly better, but based on how people will use the products and my listening experience with them, the wireless Bluetooth will be more than satisfactory for most people especially with its range of approximately 30 feet.
As for the USB input and my MacBook Pro, the input was dead quiet and the audio from both iTunes and GarageBand was clean and noise free.
Using a more traditional setup with both the Leon and a pair of PSB Image B4 speakers, along with the DVD player and iPhone, the system threw an enormous soundstage that provided lots of texture and depth. Obviously with the small B4s, it wasn’t a full-frequency listening experience, but playing CDs such as Lorde’s “Pure Heroine,” as well as pop, rock and fusion instrumental material from my phone including Michael Jackson, Oasis, Elton John and the Aristocrats, I found the D 3020/Leon combination to be revealing enough to show the strengths and weaknesses of each recording.
Adding the subwoofer provided even more vitality and oomph to recordings regardless of the format or connection, and is a bonus for an integrated amp of this compact size.
I love this amp and throughout my time with it one of my recurring thoughts was how it really represents today’s home audio era. It’s perfect for desktop listening, small music systems in bedrooms, dens and dorm rooms, and it’s absolutely ideal for 2.1 setups with soundbars.
With the ability to effortlessly drive a two-channel passive soundbar and connect to a powered sub, the D 3020 does everything that a majority of homeowners want from their A/V systems. It allows users to come home and select the Bluetooth input to wirelessly stream music from across their house while cooking dinner, then they can switch over to their cable box or Apple TV connected via digital coax, optical or analog RCA to blast their favorite shows or the movie they streaming on Netflix.
My only point of contention with the D 3020 is that I’m not crazy about the user interface. However, the handheld remote basically eliminates the lack of touch and responsiveness of directly dealing with the amp’s controls. Like the original 3020, the new “D” provides everything a 20- or 30-something modern apartment dweller or condo owner wants from their music and A/V systems without sacrificing quality for price. It’s also great for empty nesters that are downsizing, but still want the benefits of digital home entertainment.
CE Pro Verdict
PROS: Reasonably priced and extremely versatile; Clean sounding, very “un-digital” in its tonality; Forward-thinking features and industrial design
CONS: Touch-sensitive interface not communicative; Volume knob feel also lacks communicativeness
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Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob also serves as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons in Haverhill, Mass. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Robert at firstname.lastname@example.org
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