In NAD lore, “3020” are hallowed numerals. The long-ago integrated amplifier that bore that designation might have been a barebones affair, but it marked a departure from the budget norm when it first debuted in 1980. Built solidly, without extraneous signal-robbing bells and whistles, the 3020 offered musical truth in its tonal balance, lack of coloration, and dynamism in spite of its conservative 20Wpc specification. Music lovers responded en masse; more than one million 3020s have been sold— an astounding number for a high-end product.
Now, the 3020 is back with a “D” prefix for clarification. A capital “D.” As compared with the all-analog original, the new D 3020 is a digital animal designed primarily for computer/USB sources. Power output is a solid 30Wpc thanks to NAD’s ultra-compact Class D topology. True to NAD tradition the amp’s power rating is deceptive in that it can output bursts up to 100W (into 4 ohms) during dynamic peaks. In digital connectivity, it offers aptX Bluetooth music streaming—an efficient alternative to Wi-Fi—plus a USB input that plays back computer-based music in up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution, and operates in asynchronous mode to ensure low jitter.
Nothing can prepare you for just how compact the D 3020 is when you first encounter it up close and personal. Truly a design for our times, it’s improbably small and portable with a vertical form factor that lends it the visual profile of a network router. And I hasten to add, portable enough to be drafted into service as a headphone amp. Note that where space requires, it can also be positioned horizontally.
A top-panel touch control powers the D 3020 on, and the vertical front panel of inputs and volume indicators blinks to life for a few seconds. The gradations of the large volume control are indicated in 20dB numerical steps, the display fading or intensifying as the user makes changes. The look is nifty but I didn’t get much of a sense of precision as I navigated up and down—only a rough idea of where the volume was actually set.
The back panel hosts a trio of digital inputs which includes USB, SPDIF, and Tos-Link plus a subwoofer output and a single, lonely analog input. Additionally there’s a bass-equalization toggle and a multi-purpose auxiliary input that can be used either as a headphone jack from a MacBook Pro or, with the supplied TosLink mini-adapter, as an extra optical input. In a nod toward energy efficiency, when the amp doesn’t sense a signal for about fifteen minutes it reverts back to a 0.5W standby mode.
Operationally I’ve only got a couple of nitpicks. The lack of a mute button seems a weird oversight. Also the iPod-style IR remote is all flat-black, including the navigation buttons. The only way to see what you’re doing is to angle the remote so that it catches a glint of light to illuminate the markers. Most of us will memorize the six key buttons (on/off, volume +/-, and source select arrows), but really!
Sourcing my hard-drive-based music collection via USB was a snap; however, I was more impressed by how easy it was to get Bluetooth (BT) up and running— an area where I’ve occasionally run into snags in the past. Here, I simply selected Bluetooth from my Mac’s SYSTEM PREFERENCES and made certain BT SHARING was selected within the SHARING submenu. This made the D 3020 discoverable as a device. A simple click to connect and, after opening iTunes, I was instantly listening to one of my own “stations” on iTunes Radio. While the sonics of Bluetooth are more geared to convenience than to our inner audio connoisseur, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it sounded darn good—not as open and dynamically sophisticated as the high-res USB connection but far better than I remembered from previous BT experiences.