NAD D3020 V2 Review: Redefines the way we look at amplifiers
The history of the development of the NAD D3020 model is very interesting. The engineers strived to create a model that would have the same outstanding sonic performance as the 3020, but with modern realities in mind, in particular the prevalence of digital sources. And the first famous NAD technology that comes to mind is Direct Digital, the direct digital amplification found in the Master Series.
However, it is not possible to make such a device compact, and also inexpensive, therefore, only the technologies of a low-noise switching power supply were borrowed from proprietary, fully digital amplifiers. The signal part uses an eight-channel Cirrus Logic CS438 * DAC. There is no exact information about the chip model, but according to the manufacturer’s specifications, only two chips fit the description: CS4382 and CS4385. Both microcircuits are characterized by low noise level (-114 dB) and can work in balanced mode. But NAD engineers went further, using all 8 outputs (4 per channel) to further reduce noise and distortion.
This is followed by an analog part with a high-precision volume control and a pre-amplifier assembled on the basis of LM49860 microcircuits, and a proprietary clipping elimination circuit is installed directly in front of the power amplifier. NAD does not manufacture power amplifier boards for this and some other models, preferring to purchase a ready-made solution from the Danish company Hypex. They work in class D, but this, I recall, is analog technology, and specifically, the boards installed in the D3020 are also assembled on discrete elements. They do not use off-the-shelf PWM chips commonly found in low-cost amplifiers.
Not like everyone else
The simplest solution to gain acceptance for the D3020 would be to place all of the above technologies in a classic case. It might even have similarities with the original 3020. But the designers chose the opposite path: the D3020 amplifier is not like classic or modern models. He doesn’t look like a representative of the hi-fi world at all. This design is more like a game console, a fancy gaming router or a desktop hard drive. Only one vertical arrangement of the case goes across all the canons and standards of Hi-Fi design at once!
To be fair, I admit that the case allows horizontal installation, but the location of the controls, indicators and the form factor in general eloquently indicate that this is not the main scenario for installation.
On the other hand, if we abstract from the well-established and outdated principles of building Hi-Fi components and Hi-Fi systems in general, it becomes obvious that a small amplifier, and even in a vertical design, takes up a minimum of space. This means it can be easily positioned where full-size components are inappropriate or undesirable. The most likely scenarios: on a table or on a curbstone in a study, in a living room next to a TV, when used for both music and watching movies, in a bedroom and, in principle, in any other place where you want to install a mini Hi-Fi system with minimal impact on the overall appearance of the room.
Here we should go on another historical excursion, because these unusual devices with a vertical form factor have been in the NAD range for several years. Five years ago, three such components were released at once: the first version of the D3020 amplifier , the more compact D1050 digital-to-analog converter and the larger D7050 integrated amplifier . Sales statistics and user feedback prompted the company to re-release the D3020. It seems that this combination of numbers really plays a special role in the history of NAD. Without access to statistics, I can’t say how popular the first version of the D3020 was, but the very fact of the appearance of the D3020 V2 suggests that this model, even if it did not revolutionize the market, was at least able to form and fill its own niche.
And in light of this, it is especially interesting to trace the differences between the first and second versions. In both cases, we have one analog input, both types of SPDIF inputs, as well as a subwoofer output, which allows us to grow a full-fledged triphonic speaker on the D3020. Both devices have a headphone output with a 3.5 mm jack on the front, and a 12V trigger input on the back. The first version of the D3020 had one more auxiliary input on a 3.5 mm jack, combining both analog and optical interfaces at once, and most importantly, this device was equipped with a USB-B input for connecting to a computer.
The second version also lost the combined analog-digital input, but received a pre-amplifier output instead. The place of the USB-converter was taken by the input of the phono stage. The design changes are minimal, but significant in a way. Instead of the grip of a ribbed volume control knob, a stylish smooth one with a rubberized coating is used, and the science-like numbers of the output volume level indicator in decibels are replaced with a neutral chain of white LEDs that not only light up one by one, building a chain, but also smoothly change brightness, which makes the indicator informative …
It was decided to listen to an amplifier so unusual in its essence in an equally non-standard system. Instead of the usual cabinet acoustics, a pair of PSB C-LCR speakers built into the ceiling was used. It is a square, versatile model designed for both home theater and music playback. The front panel of the speaker is recessed and tilted at approximately 45 degrees, which is uniquely useful in minimizing standing waves in the room. At the same time, the sound wave arrives at the listening point rather gently, drawing a completely realistic scene.
With one amendment – the adequacy of the scene construction depends on the position of the listener relative to the place where the acoustics are directed. If you move further away, or even better, lie down or lean back in your chair, you get about the same sensations as when watching a movie from the first row of a cinema, when the picture is above your head. For sounding a bedroom – ideal. Well, if you prefer listening to music while sitting in an armchair, there are similar speakers built into the wall, with which you can get a classic stereo without filling the living space with unnecessary appliances.
But the most important feature of the PSB C-LCR is that, unlike conventional “pancakes” built into the ceiling, suitable only for background scoring, this model is able to play music in its entirety. In terms of accessories and technical characteristics, the PSB C-LCR is the equivalent of the PSB Image series floor stands. The same can be said for the character, scale and quality of the sound.
In the best traditions
The first impression can be described in two words: musically and in detail. On the album “Riding With The King” all the instrumental parts were legible, on the most vigorous tracks the guitars did not turn into mush. At the same time, the nature of the presentation of the musical material successfully combined the natural sounding with the warmth and expressiveness typical of the NAD-PSB combination. All the signature vocal and guitar moves of the blues masters have been drawn with a high degree of accuracy.
The sound of Daft Punk’s hits from the “Random Access Memories” album showed excellent rhythm and very confident bass control, which is difficult to expect from such a miniature amp. Pressing the Bass button, which raises the frequency response in the 70-80 Hz region by about 7 dB, did not complicate the load on the amplifier in any way. Having become more bass, the sound remains just as clear and controlled.
The theme of rhythm, clear processing of signal fronts and confident bass control was continued by Dire Straits’ Calling Elvis. And I really liked how confidently and clearly I played this piece, well known from the first to the last guitar riff. The ballad “Fade to Black” from the same Dire Straits album played both soulful and very audiophile, so it was hard to know what was more surprising: expressiveness or resolution. The amplifier did not fail in front of complex content either. He played classical, free jazz, metal quite honestly, accurately and musically. Having gone through a fair number of musical compositions of different genres, I basically did not come across a situation in which the amplifier would show weaknesses. In its price category, it is more than good.
If we draw some speculative comparison with the same NAD 3020 without the letter D, the new device has become more universal in terms of genre, and retained its “Nadovian” character exactly to the extent that it is appropriate for a modern approach to music reproduction. D3020 makes the sound more expressive and dynamic, but without losing detail and explicit accentuation of one or another part of the reproduced frequency range. And of course, the high load capacity has been fully preserved.
Curiously, the headphone output has largely retained the character of NAD analog amplifiers of yesteryear. It gives a darker and thicker sound with a tight, narrow scene. At the same time, I was pleasantly surprised by the resolution and the complete absence of audible noise. Unlike those headphone outputs, which most manufacturers install in amplifiers solely for show, here we have a quite worthy continuation of the main audio path, which can be used with no less pleasure than any other function. The load capacity and power of the amplifier will be sufficient to handle typical dynamic low impedance headphones. In addition, the vertical case of the D3020 also turned out to be an excellent stand for overhead and full-size models.
The NAD D3020 V2 amplifier deserves to be called the successor to the classic 3020. It also boasts bold and efficient circuitry, giving it an attractive price-performance ratio. But among other things, the D3020 V2 has another important quality: it gives an opportunity to take a fresh look at the question of the design and layout of the stereo system.
A second comparison cannot be avoided either: the first and second versions of the D3020 amplifier. The design of the new version is, without a doubt, more complete and less intrusive, which makes the integrated amplifier compact and user-friendly device. But the changes in the commutation plan were not so straightforward. We all know about the popularity of vinyl, which is why the appearance of a phono stage in the list of inputs is welcome, but the price of this innovation, in my opinion, turned out to be too high. The first version, thanks to the USB input, was the ideal desktop Hi-Fi for use with a computer, and now the amplifier’s set of interfaces is more reminiscent of the layout of the classic model, installed in a rack with other Hi-Fi components.