NAD D3020 V2 Integrated Amplifier Review
Are the numbers ‘3020’ still the key to affordable HiFi greatness?
What is the NAD D3020 V2?The NAD D3020 V2 is a compact integrated amplifier and the replacement for the original D3020 we reviewed all the way back in July 2014. The model number is no accident as it pays direct homage to the original NAD 3020 integrated amplifier from the seventies. This amp became synonymous as the affordable starter model – often being partnered with considerably more expensive source equipment. The idea of the reborn 3020 was to create an equally adaptable starter amp for the 2010s and the resulting amp could be seen as just that.
Even though the two-channel market doesn’t move at the same rate of knots as multi-channel audio and video, four years is long enough for NAD to want to tinker with the recipe and lo and behold, the D3020v2 has been released. Outwardly, the amp is very similar to the original but there are some alterations to the specification that are both slightly surprising and possibly indicative of the curious state of the market in 2018. More presciently though, we have looked at some excellent integrated amps in recent months, so is the NAD able to compete in an extremely competitive market?
SpecificationsThe NAD is an integrated amplifier but like a number of amplifiers we have looked at in recent years, it offers rather more than a row of RCA inputs like its ancestor. NAD has taken a considered look at how people seem to be using amplifiers and built one that offers the inputs that it feels are useful for the task rather than going with tradition – although in one regard, there seems to be at least a nod to the past.
This means that the D3020v2 has a solitary RCA stereo input labelled Aux. This reflects the decline in the number of devices you are likely to have that need such a connection. It is in turn partnered with a coaxial and optical input that are 24/192 capable. The DAC chip that is used is not specified in any of the literature that NAD supplies for the amp but an interesting technical note is that the DAC is an eight channel design which sums to stereo. This means that there is a likely candidate for what it is and that performance should be strong as a result.
This spread of single inputs means that the NAD is able to work with a wide selection of equipment but not necessarily handle vast amounts of it. Given that a significant majority of systems that are assembled at this price point are single or double source only, the decision that NAD has taken seems like a logical one. No less importantly, if you need a conventional amp with a more conventional input roster, NAD still makes the C316BEE which is going to fit that requirement perfectly.
The biggest change to this new model though is that the USB-B connection fitted to the original D3020 has been removed and replaced by a moving magnet phono stage. If you wanted to sum up the strange nature of the audio industry in 2018, this change might be a pretty good thing to cite but there is a method in the madness. Firstly, turntable sales continue to be significant – NAD themselves have just re-entered the market – so having the D3020v2 work directly with a turntable is always going to be a useful thing. No less significant is that that the number of people who are looking to directly connect a computer to their amp is something of an unknown quantity. I’ve always liked the idea of it but I don’t know many people that actually do it. NAD’s action in this instance might look odd but I don’t think it is an unreasonable one.
The additional connectivity of the D3020v2 is also useful. Apt-X Bluetooth is fitted which means that a number of computers will talk to it perfectly happily via this medium. No less useful is the fitment of a 3.5mm headphone socket on the front panel which gives some useful extra flexibility. This is joined by some other 3.5mm sockets on the rear panel that further boost what the D3020v2 is capable of. Unlike the preceding model, the D3020v2 has separate preouts and subwoofer outs on the rear panel and NAD has had the presence of mind to supply a 3.5mm- stereo RCA adapter to make this is a useable connection. A 12v trigger connection is also fitted.
The amplifier that this is partnered with is a continuation of NAD’s enthusiastic work with Class D. It produces 30 watts into both 4 and 8 ohms and connects via a single pair of speaker terminals. An area that NAD makes great play of is the energy efficiency of the D3020v2 and if you are taking this area into account when buying an amp, it is hard to argue that it is considerably more efficient than any Class A/B rival and that this efficiency also means that the amp is smaller and cooler running. 30 watts isn’t going to worry the pyramid stage at Glastonbury but a thoughtfully chosen pair of speakers will be fine with it. One interesting fitment is an adjustable bass EQ on the rear panel that can give the NAD a little extra oomph at the bottom end.
DesignThe D3020v2 looks very similar to the original and, for me at least, this is no bad thing. The decision by NAD to make the amp work when mounted on its side or its end has resulted in a flexible and appealing little amplifier that simply feels more modern than most rivals. This is helped by the use of an illuminated volume and input indicator and the absence of physical buttons, with NAD instead preferring to use a touchpad at the top of the amp for power and input selection. This touchpad is a slightly mixed bag in that it looks excellent and feels nice to use but in a world where we expect high speed responsiveness from these controls, the one used here can feel slightly sluggish.
Elsewhere, the news is pretty good though. The volume knob has a pleasant resistance and gearing to it and the chassis itself feels well made and well thought out. In some respects the NAD feels less like a piece of audio equipment and more akin to the way that games consoles and set top boxes present themselves to the user. From my perspective, I think this is a nicer device to have on display than the more conventional (and more expensive) C338 we looked at last year. Like the C338, the D3020v2 has been given the same small and easily lost remote but it feels more acceptable coming with a £400 amp than it does a £600 one.
That £450 price point is an interesting one too. When we reviewed the original D3020, it cost £400 but this rose to £450 over the life of the product. NAD has managed to peg that with the new model which is extremely impressive and makes the D3020v2 look like strong value against some of the key competition. Certainly, if you take a more conventional amp like a Marantz PM5005 which is notionally half the price of the NAD, once you add the means of receiving digital signals and Bluetooth, that price advantage erodes pretty quickly.
The biggest change to this new model is that the USB-B connection fitted to the original D3020 has been removed and replaced by a moving magnet phono stage
How was the D3020v2 Tested?The NAD was connected to a pair of Spendor A1 speakers for testing as these have been a consistent test partner for most recent affordable amps and do a fine job of letting the listener know what is going on. Source equipment has included a Naim ND5 XS connected via the coaxial connection, a Yamaha WX-AD10 running into the aux connection and an Audio Files modified Audio Technica LP5 turntable with Goldring E3 cartridge was used to test the phono stage. Bluetooth testing was undertaken with a Motorola G4 Android phone. Test material has included lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF, Qobuz and some vinyl.
Sound QualityWhen I reviewed the original D3020 nearly four years ago, the element of the performance that stuck out the most was that it was consistently good fun. The most important thing about this newly updated version is that while it builds on that performance in some ways, it hasn’t lost that basic desire to entertain. Listening to Tosca’s Springer via the Naim into the coaxial output, the NAD retains the focussed and lively overall presentation that its predecessor had. This is a pleasant relief because the C338 doesn’t always have this sense of get up and go to it. No less importantly, 30 watts into the right speakers – and really this means pretty much anything tested recently sub £500 as well as the extremely benign Spendors – can be driven to a decent level in-room without any signs of strain.
The NAD is a fairly elegant demonstration that the amplifier type in use in a product doesn’t have the final say in the way it will perform. This is neither a thin nor bright sounding amplifier and instead has a pleasant sense of balance and evenness to the way it makes music. The most interesting difference that seems to be present in the v2 though is that this is a more spacious and open sounding amplifier than the older model. This is hard to prove outright – the Spendor A1 being used for testing here is a more spacious sounding speaker than the Mordaunt Short Mezzo 1 I used in 2014 – but there is still a convincing sensation that there is a better sense of soundstage than there was before.
There is also a more pronounced difference between the digital and analogue inputs with the v2. Listening to the Naim via the coaxial input and then via the aux input, there is a definite top end lift to the digital input that isn’t present via analogue. This extra treble energy is fairly well judged – it is never overly bright or harsh as a result and it gels nicely with the NAD’s fundamental sense of timing and drive. If anything, it means that the 3020v2 can sound fractionally less appealing when used via the analogue input with some devices. The Yamaha WX-AD10 becomes fractionally soft when used this way and for the best results with the NAD, I would recommend using the digital inputs.
This extends to the phono stage as well. To be clear, the phono stage itself is pretty good for one built into an already flexible £400 amplifier. It is more than up to the job of keeping most sub £100 designs honest and the results with the Goldring E3 are perfectly listenable. Some of the punch and drive that the modified LP5 is capable of though is lost and the result can sometimes sound a little safe. Interestingly, the bass tuning facility on the rear panel is able to bring a little more oomph back to the performance although you risk digital sounding a little overblown if left in this augmented setting all the time. If you are dead set on creating a vinyl fronted system for the ages, the NAD possibly wouldn’t be my first choice (really, you need to find an extra 50% of your budget and secure a Rega Brio- R) but the NAD is good enough to do justice to vinyl on a semi regular basis.
The Bluetooth input is a usefully close match to the performance of the digital inputs of the 3020v2 too. The bass extension from the Motorola G4 can seem fractionally softer than the same Qobuz files played via the Yamaha WX-AD10 but, once again, the 3020v2 has that bass tweak to help you out and, if you happen to use the NAD for the unusual combination of vinyl and Bluetooth, will offer the same lift into the Spendors worked well.
The most interesting difference that seems to be present in the v2 is that this is a more spacious and open sounding amplifier than the older model
- Lively and engaging sound
- Flexible specification
- Compact and well assembled
- Limited number of each input
- Phono stage is good rather than great
- Will struggle with very insensitive speakers
NAD D3020 V2 Integrated Amplifier ReviewThe generally similar appearance of the D3020v2 to its predecessor should be a clue that NAD isn’t looking to drastically reinvent their little amplifier for its second generation. This is no bad thing though. The D3020 V2 modifies the feature set to give the amp a greater spread of abilities and then proceeds to tweak the sound in a generally positive way. If you are using the digital inputs especially, this is an outstanding amplifier, supplied at a very keen price that should be able to deliver serious musical satisfaction with a wide selection of partnering equipment.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £399.00
Ease of use9
Value for money9
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