If NAD had made a tube amplifier, then this would have been it. Designed by Peter Bath (who worked for Dolby, AR and indeed NAD), and manufactured by IEEE in Taipei (one-time makers of Cambridge Audio, Luxman, Proton and NAD products), it shared considerable DNA with the ubiquitous 3020. While the technical design was different, the concept was remarkably similar – an innovative, beautifully built, plainly styled, no-nonsense integrated amplifier with the focus very much on sonics. This time though, valves were used to deliver the sonic goods.
In 1992, tubes were about as trendy as nineteen seventies fashion. Despite the efforts of – among others – this magazine, the joys of the thermionic valve weren’t as universally recognised back then as now. Many were mystified then when the £750 CVT3030 appeared on the scene. It looked like a transistor amplifier, worked like a transistor amplifier (in terms of its reliability, low noise and user-friendliness) but certainly didn’t sound like one!
Its construction was a sublime mix of the old and the new. The boxy, dark grey 430x115x285mm case housed a sturdy metal chassis, explaining its considerable 12kg weight. Beautifully laid out inside, it featured separate pre and power amp sections. The latter was split into discrete left and right sides, each running two fixed bias EL34s complete with their own thermostatically controlled silent running cooling fans, plus seven high voltage MOSFETs. Each output transformer was a large, generously specified affair with both 4 and 8 ohm taps, while extensive attention was given to power supplies. Despite its sparse aesthetics, the AMC was generously equipped. A phono stage was provided, along with inputs for phono, tape, DAT, CD, tuner, video and aux. A switchable tape monitor, source direct switch, headphone socket and even bass and treble controls were provided. Round the back, there three high quality gold plated speaker binding posts per channel.
The result was a convincing musical performer which sounded quite unlike any of its price rivals. Its warm, big hearted nature made the most of music from any source. Bass is strong (if a little loose) with a very fluid and supple feel, midband lacks the clarity of its transistor rivals, but is very smooth and even handed without the slightest hint of an edge. Treble is sweet and silky, but still spacious and detailed. The result is an amplifier which drives most modern loudspeakers as effortlessly as any solid-stater, yet invests the music with a delightfully natural, organic sound.
Of course, the AMC’s sonics weren’t perfect. Although nowhere near as coloured as the Quad IIs or Leak TL12s of yore, it certainly isn’t as neutral as its (then) contemporary rivals like Cyrus’s 3/PSX-R or Exposure’s XX. Dyed-in-the-grain tube aficionados won’t like it either, because it lacks the languid, rose tinted presentation of the likes of Leak’s Stereo 20. In truth, it should be judged as an attempt to bring some of the musicality of valves together with the user-friendliness of solid-state – and on those terms at least, it succeeds admirably. Although something rare these days, there are more CVT3030s around than you’d think. These days, look very hard and you can pick one up for £250, although you should expect to shell out over twice that for a mint, boxed example. Even at this price though, you’ve got yourself a timeless curio, and something of a bargain in terms of sound-per-pound…