Audio Review: NAD D3020 Hybrid Digital Amplifier

Once in a while you would chance upon something that is at once refreshing and mind boggling that you wondered how come no one ever did it before even when there are so many good products around it. In the case of NAD, they have actually done it with their milestone amplifier called the 3020 that was launched way back in 1978.

The 3020 is a budget level amplifier that have shaken the audiophile world then that can reproduce good sounds at very cheap prices (80 pounds in 78-79 prices). I personally have heard it while I was studying in NTU way back in 1996-7 as I have hostel mates who are avid stereophiles. Being students we don’t have much money ourselves and 2nd hand 3020 Amps are definitely a good set to have. That fantastic experience led me to reuse my family’s old Luxman and started my own Hi-Fi journey.

15 years later I have literally forgotten about the 3020 until Techgoondu with Lenbrook  Asia Pte Ltd came out with a sound room testing session earlier this month with the latest D3020 Hybrid Digital Amplifier. This was followed by a review piece written by  Aaron that got me curious and prompted me to do a sound test at their shop at Shaw Towers.

I’ve heard, listened and tested. A session that I put aside 15 minutes for has morphed into a 45min session. If not for a meeting, I would have stayed there till closing time. I thought it was buyer impulse so I leave the shop letting the experience subside as much as possible, hoping that after my photography trip to Kedah, Malaysia, that impulse would just disappear.

During the trip, I kept revisiting the experience in the testing room and the more I thought about it, the more I feel that the D3020 can fill the Headphone DAC void in the study room and link it either with my PC, my PS3 or my phone via Bluetooth. So after my business in Kedah is done, I went back to the show room and got myself a set.

Normally I would and could just walk away as it was my experience when it comes to big ticket purchases but this is something I can’t walk away. I can and have walked away, for example the Sony A7 product launch, and be pragmatic about potential purchase, looking for excuses (sometimes lame) to avoid buying anything. So to do what I did for the NAD D 3020 is as good as chancing upon a gem and sold everything to have it as per Jesus’ parable about treasures.

Very small foot print even when lying on its side. This won’t be your typical multi speaker Amp but dedicated to stereophiles with multiple inputs. USB input and Bluetooth is what the D3020 is for – PC/Mac and Mobile devices. For that extra bass ommph there is an output to connect to the subwoofer.

Now I totally understand the concept of the NAD D3020 and why it is so petite (size of a good sized fictional hardcover book). It is designed and meant for the study room or in other words – a man cave (room). Even though at 30W on paper, the amp (or pre-amp) is anything but weak. In fact it is more than sufficient to drive my speakers in the living room. Perhaps the fact that our living room isn’t much bigger than the bed/study room makes it easier to fill the room. Still the stereo sound stage afforded by the D3020 is great even for audiophile standards, either by using floor standing speakers, shelf speakers, headphones or even earphones.

I have matched it with my old Chario Hiper 1 Mark 2  + NAD502 CD player where the bass of the Chario is curtailed with the D3020 to provide with a warm, bassy tone but not to the point it will cover the mid and high portion of the track.

For the first test, I played a straight digital recording of Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah from his vinyl album ‘Grace’ via Youtube through Bluetooth streaming. The slight crackle and subtle warmth from vinyl can even be heard from the D 3020 which was the huge surprise. I often look for that throaty mid and bass that some Hi-Fi sets missed when it comes to vocals and the D3020 didn’t disappoint, giving a level of performance worthy of a standing ovation.

I say again…a digital recording of a vinyl source taken from YouTube and listened through Bluetooth streaming. Not your typical source to test Audiophile standard equipment.

I would also say something about the simplicity of the D3020 when it comes to Bluetooth streaming music. Audiophiles cursed the existence of Bluetooth stereo streaming as though it is the illegitimate child of a no strings attached relationship between an old fart stereo hi-fi and sexy mobile music earphones. Somehow during Bluetooth’s existence the experts decided that the codex has degraded the source too much to be of audiophile quality.

The D3020 somehow take the Bluetooth stream by the throat and enhanced it to the point you have a sound stage that puts some mid priced hi-fi stereo set up to shame.

I kid you not – the Bluetooth aptX from CSR has turned my disdain for BT stereo experience unto its head. I will use more of the BT streaming from now on and fulfill the convenience as promised by BT.

For the second test I have played The Vard Sister’s Flower Duet and using the NAD 502 CD player. It is able to separate the little nuance & voices of the sisters very clearly to the left and right of the centre. Most systems would have lumped them together at the centre of the whole sound stage. Not to mention the distinct play and position of the harp and other musical accompaniment that comes with the song and it envelopes the listener very easily. Do note it was a typical pop track and not an audiophile remixed track.

Given the size, the D3020 won’t feel out of place in a man-cave just next to the Playstation 3/4, a pair of shelves and the PC. Since it is an amp too, being a headphone amp to the whole set up is the icing on the cake. Do pair it with a headphones that is a tad more mid and high such as my cheapo Shure 240A and you have the perfect balance of everything.

If you use a very good headphones with it – such as my Bose AE2 – whatever comes out to my ears is very close to multi-hundreds headphones with expensive dedicated DAC units. Perhaps my ears are not as well trained as those who are used to high end Hi-Fi but I am very sure that it performs well above Amps that cost as much as or even more than the D3020.

One can control the D3020 using a very minimalist remote controller or using the touch enabled panels on the unit itself except for the volume which is controlled via a dial. Some would definitely prefer real buttons and dials for such equipment.

All in, it was a good buy… a very very very good buy. Price? S$699.00

Disclaimer: I am part of Techgoondu and there was a promotional exercise by Techgoondu for Lenbrook, the importer of NAD devices. The review I have done is to reflect my own personal experience in using the D3020 and is in no way an advertorial or a marketing piece for Lenrook or Techgoondu and I don’t get any rewards or renumeration for marketing the D 3020 via my blog.

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10 thoughts on “Audio Review: NAD D3020 Hybrid Digital Amplifier

  1. I had the old NAD 3020i during the 90s. It served me well until it broke down 5 years ago. During the Christmas holiday, I finally get myself the D3020. It definitely didn’t dissapoint me.

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      1. For me I didn’t have the vinyl player until after I got the D 3020. 3020i was eons ago I that belongs to my friend’s who happens to stay in the same Hostel (hence I get to play the system whenever I was free).

        That was 13 years ago.

        I am out on my limb on this so I would say if all my old gear either maintained or improved over the Luxman L-116A (my previous amp) then the 3020i performance won’t be that far off since they are around the same era.

        Having said that, I still play with the L-116A because it mellows the base somewhat so it is a different character altogether.

        I put in this way…you won’t go wrong with D 3020 even if it is not going to perform at the same level as the 3020i because your choice of sources has increased.

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