19 August, 2012

Review: NAD 3020 (original version)

Review: NAD 3020 (original version), Part I
Preview: TAD TSM-2201

Last Revised Feb 29, 2016 (More recent experience of 3020 + Klipsch added)

Review: NAD 3020 (original version), Part II describes
NAD 3020 Driving Klipsch Forte


Recently, I helped a Macau friend pick up his NAD 3020 amp from repair. Back home, I tested it briefly and was quite impressed, even astounded.

NAD 3020 (Official Info has Data Sheet and Manual)(Service Manual pdf file)
This one is the original icon, without any suffix, probably the most famous integrated amplifier of all time. There is a huge amount of info on the internet, and I shall provide only few links. There are some interesting latter-day reviews. It's worthwhile to read these:

--wikipedia entry
--TAS review (Chris Martens)
--tnt review
--Page 25-26 of TONEAudio article  (large pdf file; takes a moment to download), where the beneficial "benign error" was mentioned.
--NAD vs NuForce

Later 3020 Iterations The much emulated 3020 series had a long life. The original 3020 morphed into the versions with alphabetical suffixes, A and then B, and there are only small differences between them. BUT, starting with the 3020E, significant revision was made. This then became the 3020i and there was also 3120. There may be even more but I am far from being a NAD historian. It seems the general opinion is that only the 3020's up to the B version have that je ne sais quoi quality. Certainly my previous encounter with the lackluster 3020i is in keeping with this sentiment.

Phono The 3020 has only MM phono; whereas the 3020A/B have MC/MM, selected by a switch. Therefore low-output MC users are likely to prefer the A/B versions.

Sound I hooked this up to my rig of the day:

Analogue: Lenco GL-75/SME 3009S2i/Denon DL-103R into Denon AU-3000LC SUT
Digital: YBA WD202 or Sony CDP/DAS R1
Loudspeakers: TAD TSM-2201-LR

Brief Note on TAD TSM-2201-LR This recent addition to the TAD line (info) is a killer, selling like hotcakes here in HK. Its modest price (manufactured in China) belies its quality. It has a bona fide monitor sound, needless to say highly revealing, yet it is also musical. There shall be a detailed review here later.

NAD 3020 drove the 86db 4-ohm TAD with no signs of stress Despite its 20 wpc (into 8 ohm; therefore 40 into 4 ohms) rating, at my normal listening level, only the first two lights flickered occasionally. It was almost a perfect match, the warm (but not overly so) and musical 3020 together with the highly detailed TAD with extended treble. Only in the largest orchestral pieces did I sense a bit of compression. The TAD is brand new and not yet run-in, yet the results was comparable to what I tried just before, with my Leben RS-28CX and the trusty 100 wpc Rotel 870BX amp. The latter combo surely yielded more details and power, yet the NAD was musically their equal - now, that says something! The phono was also surprisingly good, and quiet.

NAD 3020 Driving Klipsch Forte This is written at a later date. See Review: NAD 3020 (original version), Part II

With the stellar performance, now I have to revise something I wrote before.

My previous NAD experience I owned an 3020i before, and was not too impressed. I wrote in my Integrated Amplifier Overview: "...For once I agree with Ken Kessler that the "venerable" 3020 is flaccid-sounding and hopelessly over-rated. I got a 3020i as a close-out from Ming Fat and till I sold it some years later I never realized what the hell was it all about!. I much prefer the current remote-equipped 315BEE, which garnered rave reviews everywhere. After reading the detailed review by Ken Kessler in Hi-Fi News I bought one, and that's a first for me with this reviewer! Now it's the 316BEE. I also have a 325BEE in NYC. Buy any of their BEE series with confidence..." OK, now I have to eat my own words. I know why. The original 3020 and the 3020i are very different animals. The original 3020 is now one of my favorites, and that article shall be duly modified.

The 3020 is a classic that absolutely deserves its fame!

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