NAD 3020A Meets Yamaha NS-1000
NAD 3020A vs Cyrus I
Micromega CD-10, Part III, vs Sparkler S306
Review: NAD 3020A
Review: NAD 3020 (original version), Part III
Note: Review: NAD 3020 (original version), Part I covers 3020 driving TAD-TSM-2201; Part II covers 3020 driving Klipsch Quartet. As to me the 3020A sounds identical to the 3020, I also label this article as Part III of that series. In this article I shall describe sonic aspects in more detail than before.
See also Micromega CD-10 Part II for basic info and more on the CD-10.
NAD 3020A (Manual available through Official Link) There are tons of info on the original 3020, but little on the A and B per se; this is because they have only minor differences (I will attest to that in my Listening Notes below). For basic info, see above links to the 3020. Both A and B versions have minor revisions and differ from the original (MM only) in having switchable MC/MM, thereby facilitating use of low-output MC's. Serious Vinyl People like me would prefer the A and B versions.
NYC Experience 1 - My First 3020A Ever since I had the 3020 experience in HK (links above) I wanted one. My first was bought almost two years ago from Ebay UK, a 220V unit. I had it mailed to NYC, intending to bring it back to HK. Somehow I had forgotten to write that up, and by now I had forgotten the details. Suffice to say, in NYC, even handicapped by the use of a step-up transformer, it went up against my expensive stuff and never batted an eye. No, it wasn't the best at this or that, but in overall terms its musicality was simply astonishing, duplicating the previous HK experience. Its phono section was also simply excellent and capable even with my very low output MC's! Somehow I procrastinated in bringing the unit back to HK. I am due soon again in NYC; maybe I will re-test it if I have time.
NYC Experience 2 - A Sour 3020 Note Bolstered by the experience, I immediately started hunting for a 110V unit, and soon got one from US Ebay. It turned out to be a lemon. The preamp section was fine, but the amp section kept blowing fuses. I returned it, but am pissed off that the shipping fee was not refunded, and I had to pay for return shipping. IMHO, if you sell a lemon, you should be fined/warned by Ebay, and you should pay the shipping fee both ways! That was almost $60 down the drain. So be careful shopping!
HK Experience - My Second 3020A I picked up my second unit from a very friendly HK seller a few days into the CNY. Previously he had blown the 1A fuses when he accidentally shorted the outputs while disconnecting the unit. That the unit functioned well attests to the soundness of protection. I had to get replacement fuses but, not knowing whether the original is a quick- or slow-blow, I opted for a quick-blow 1.5A (the schematic does not seem to tell me which one; if you know, I'd appreciate letting me know). I lost no time putting it up against my Nait 3, in my System A:
CD Transport: Sony BDP-S190 Blue Ray Player (Belden 1694A)
DAC: Sparkler S306
CDP: Micromega CD-10
Integrated Amps: Micromega IA-60; Naim Nait 3
Speakers: Yamaha NS-1000
System A Notes If you'd like to know more of what I think of my System A, please read my two previous articles: Review: Weiss Minerva vs Sparkler S306 vs Sony BDP-S190
details the strength of the Sparkler DAC; Review: Micromega IA-60 Integrated Amp; CD-10, Part II treats the Micromega CD-10, and the amps I have used in this system, including the Micromega IA-60 and Naim Nait 3. The context is important for the comparisons I am about to make.
Cyrus I I still own two of these, and it is still one of my go-to amps in a pinch; ridiculously cheap, handy, compact, workman-like and all-around competence. It was briefly treated in my Integrated Amps Overview. Given my fondness for it, I'd not mind to try the II and III someday!
- Test Discs For the A/B comparisons, my usual Channel Classics and Manger discs.
- NAD 3020A General Notes As mentioned, its all-around excellence is perhaps unparalleled. You are just immersed, though the audiophile half may still asks questions! :-) Ease of Matching As documented, it also seems to partner every speaker I have heard well! Soft Clipping Although I listen to large scaled orchestral music, the power indicators barely flickered (the second one occasionally). Therefore, I have no use for this feature and it is always off. Power/Dynamics As expected, given my previous experience with the TAD-TSM2201 in a larger room, the 3020A has no problem handling the demanding Yamaha NS-1000, but in a rather different fashion (more description below). Soundstage/Imaging/Hall Sound This is the most interesting aspect of the amp. The airy feeling is amazingly close to tube amps: there have been many solid-state power amps, particularly Class-A designs (like Pass Aleph, old Krells and Thresholds etc), that have been said to be tube-like, and I have used quite a few of these together with excellent tube preamps (a constant for me). IMHO, even without the help of a classic tube preamp, the 3020A betters those power amps in the depth and enveloping sense of soundstage. Imaging is very good but always integrated with the soundstage and hall sound. Not a weak link. This is not to say that, compared to the best tube gears, one fails to notice that some of the bloom seem a little artificial and fuzzy, but who cares if it sounds so great?
- 3020A vs 3020 The sonic signature and immersing experience are so similar that I have to conclude they are very similar, if not identical. For me, 3020 = 3020A. I suspect B is the same. Which is why I also labelled this article as 3020, Part III.
- NAD 3020A vs Micromega IA-60 vs Naim Nait 3 Overall In many ways, the NAD 3020A is like a cross between the Naim and the Micromega. Power/Dynamics At louder volume, the 3020A is a little more at ease than the Micromega IA-60, but less composed than the Naim Nait 3. Interestingly, as TNT noted (links above; Part I), one always wants to crank it up further, a sign that the increasing decibels are compressed (understandable for the basic wattage rating). Soundstage/Imaging/Hall Sound Here the NAD hits its stride. The Naim is more upfront and less accurate about hall sound/ambience clues. The Micromega is more spread out, but on a somewhat smaller scale, with images of less substance. Also of note is that, when the going gets rough, the NAD preserves more of these spatial clues than its rivals. Transients The leading edge of the 3020A is very good, not quite as fast as the excellent Micromega IA-60, but never feels wanting; and definitely not like some of the relentless modern stuff. Rhythm and Pace Reviews such as TNT (above) have faulted this aspect, but partnered with a great CD source (either Sparkler or Micromega) this is not the case at all. The NAD perhaps is more like the Micromega IA-60 - incisive; as opposed to the Naim Nait 3's slightly slower and more sinewy way. These amps illustrates why I just love well-designed integrated amps -each is imperfect, yet an irreplaceable gem. Depending on one's associated equipment, one's preference may change.
- NAD 3020A vs Cyrus I General As I spent little time on it, this is perhaps not a fair test. My Cyrus I had not been fired up in several years, and should benefit from some re-run-in.. Yet, the Cyrus I immediately yielded a very decent sound, clear and lucid. Power/Dynamics Clearly the Cyrus I is as powerful as the Naim Nait 3, but with a dryer sound as compared to the Naim's fuller contour. Soundstage/Imaging/Hall Sound The Cyrus I is perhaps more like the Micromega IA-60, with good spatial clues but less fleshy images. With increasing volume, control is superior. Transients The leading edge of the Cyrus I is very good, almost as fast as the excellent Micromega IA-60. Rhythm and Pace This is where the Cyrus I loses out a little. Incisive as it may be, its rhythm and pace does not quite have the subtlety of inflection that its rivals possess (I include the Micromega and Naim here). I suspect some of this is due to the long idle condition of the unit. When I have time, I'd love to re-run it to form and re-compare.
- Micromega CD-10 vs Sparkler S306 Finally I got around to re-setup the Micromega in this system; one reason for this is to circumvent the lack of muting of the Sparkler S306 as used with the Blu-Ray Player (see links above). Initially, the sound was more rounded and somewhat more indistinct than that of the Sparkler. Unusually, I finally substituted an old Audio Note (UK) AN-V (silver) interconnect and that did the job. Sound was clearer, bass quicker and more balanced. The Sparkler S306 (transport Sony BDP-S190) was still more incisive, but the Micromega ran it close in all parameters. I don't use silver interconnects often, but this shows the Micromega (and my setup, bass-resonance prone) benefits from some careful matching. Both are to stay: For the best material, I still prefer the Sparkler S306/Sony BDP; but for average use, the Micromega is more than satisfying!