Just as the original NAD 3020 had ‘real world’ features and no gimmicks, so this new D version goes the same way. Any modern budget amplifier has surely got to work in Class D, because this mode of operation has lower power consumption, higher efficiency and higher power output (for its size) compared to conventional Class AB designs, which dissipate a lot of the power they use as heat. And so the D 3020 is, as its name suggests. Trouble is, some say the sound is a little drab and grey, lacking in the natural exuberance of a well-designed AB such as the original 3020. Still, let’s not get too prescriptive; experience teaches me that it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it!
The D 3020 is quoted as giving 30W RMS per side into 8 ohms, and the company claims dynamic power of twice that, and as the load halves the power pretty much doubles until it’s pumping out 150W on 2 ohm transients. That’s not bad at all for something of this size, indeed it’s claimed to consume only 20% of the power of a Class AB design – when on standby for example, it burns a measly 500mW per hour! The circuitry was done by the original 3020 designer, Bjorn Erik Edvardsen, and it uses the latest version of NAD’s PowerDrive circuit. And for any students wondering, yes it does have Soft Clipping too. This stops the amp overloading in an unsavoury way, lowering the risk of it destroying your loudspeakers in the middle of one of your swinging parties!
Being a thoroughly modern machine, you’d expect the D 3020 to have a plethora of inputs, and so it has. Of course, there’s a single pair of RCA analogue line-ins for your ‘legacy’ sources; that would most likely be vinyl, but you’d have to buy the matching phono stage for this. A 3.5mm mini-jack gives you additional analogue connectivity for your iPod. Then there are two optical and one coaxial digital inputs, plus asynchronous USB (working up to 24/96). Wireless Bluetooth is also provided, using the fine-sounding aptX protocol. Standard speaker binding posts are used, and facilities are kept to a bare minimum. The headphone amplifier, complete with 6.3mm jack, is the headline news here; plus a small card remote.
The D 3020 is a nice thing to have and to hold, with its rubberised side panels and backlit fascia and top panel. it’s designed to work standing up, Sony Playstation 2-style, but can be used on its side too. To this end, NAD supply sticky ‘feet’ for the owner to place in the relevant location, depending on which way they intend the amp to be used in. I do like the volume display, which illuminates from behind the smoked Perspex fascia, and the backlit source indication. The single large control works on the volume, predictably, and the overall effect is of a nice little compact amplifier whose ergonomics someone has obviously put a lot of thought into.
As you’d expect from a product that is totally different in engineering terms, the new D 3020 doesn’t sound identical to the original. Although there’s certainly some shared DNA, as the new amplifier has NAD’s distinctive ‘dark’ and ‘velvety’ tonality, and a nice, relaxed but enjoyable sort of gait. It makes music in an easy, effortless way and never sounds forced or in your face. Also, as per the original, the new 3020 goes a bit louder than its specifications suggest, and also drive tougher loads than you might expect.
Feed the new NAD some thumping drum’n’bass and you get a clean, punchy sound with a very even tonality; there’s no shoutiness across the midband, no harshness in the treble or boom in the bass. It’s a very matter-of-fact sound, but pleasant with it, and you don’t get the impression that there are any particular weak points. Bass is decently strong and propulsive, the midband glistens with detail and the treble is smooth and refined. There’s a certain ‘dryness’ that I found is synonymous with Class D amplifiers, and the NAD has this – it’s not quite as expressive and open as conventional rivals like Yamaha’s AS500, for example. The music is very ordered, but doesn’t quite breathe so well.
Using the NAD’s built-in DAC via the coaxial input, takes this a step further. In a sense, we get a little closer to the music, with a more intricate texture and slightly better detailing. The backing piano work takes on greater scale, and the strings in the chorus tug a little harder at the heart. The result is a very pleasing performance, and one that would delight most casual users of the D 3020. Moreover, going via its internal Bluetooth connection from an iPad, the NAD makes a nice noise from relatively humble beginnings. Still, it never really makes the leap from a good sounding amplifier to a prolific purveyor of musical passion – it’s too ‘easy listening’ compared to other £400 amps. The NAD is capable of highish volumes in smaller rooms , but even when cranked up has a sense of emotional detachment that doesn’t quite hold the listener’s attention like either the original 3020 or the better of its current price rivals.
NAD has done a ‘modern amplifier for all’. Its design and ergonomics are superb, and the company deserves hearty congratulation for daring to be different. The packaging is excellent, the DAC connectivity wonderful and the Bluetooth a surprisingly handy bonus too. However, this amplifier does sound a little ‘flat’ by the standards of its market rivals. It is certainly a nice, smooth, tonally sophisticated sort of device, yet never quite gets to the heart and soul of the music. If you’re looking out for a fine do-it-all integrated, then this is a genuinely interesting product. But unlike its classic namesake, it’s no virtuoso music maker that slays its rivals in sonic terms. The new D 3020 is aimed at a wider, less audiophile audience than the classic 3020, but in today’s complex, energy-saving, multi-source world, it still deserves to succeed.