Speaking of sonic performance, the D 3020 for all its humble appearance is pure NAD. It’s firmly midrange-centered in its balance and never over-reaches in the sense of growing shrill on top or tubby on the bottom. Yes, it’s lighter in overall sound due to some bottom-octave attenuation, but the D3020 retains an essential presence, a midrange integrity, that sculpts the body of a performance and makes it live in the listening space. It also maintains a solid grip in the midbass, resolving Lee Sklar’s mellow bass lines with good pace and precision during James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” [Warner]. Its response softens and loses definition only slightly when confronted with hard-charging electric bass pulses or the double-kick-drum rhythm figures flying off the feet of Metallica’s Lars Ulrich.
Vocals tended to sound a bit dry at times, an issue that affected female singers a little more than male ones. But multiple vocal images were generally very good. For example, during Jackson Browne’s “Colors of the Sun” [Asylum] the D 3020 reproduced a significant amount of the detail and interplay between the vocals of Browne and Don Henley.
While the specs and form factor of the D3020 suggest that it is ideally suited for desktop duty, I wanted to throw a wrench in the gears by giving the NAD a real shake-down with a highly esteemed compact loudspeaker, the Franco Serblin Accordo, a two-way compact of impeccable craftsmanship and provenance, and one of the last speakers authored by Serblin, who passed on in 2013. At 87dB the Accordo’s a medium-sensitivity loudspeaker with midrange and top-end response that are truly world-class. The D3020 never hiccupped at the challenge.
One of the liveliest recordings I have is the electrifying Jacques Loussier Trio playing The Best of Play Bach—a smile-inducing collection of jazz/classical bon-bons. The D 3020 handled the dynamics and harmonic and ambient density of this recording quite faithfully. There was some dynamic constriction and low-frequency pitch instability at moments, but overall performance from a sub-$1k 30Wpc amp has rarely been more impressive. And I admired the grip of this amp once again when confronted with the midbass tom-toms during Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “More and More” [Columbia]. Though piano timbre during “Sometimes in Winter” was a little cool, there was still a suggestion of the felt on the hammers damping the strings.
Perhaps the biggest surprise I encountered during my listening sessions was the quality and smoothness of the amp’s top end. This was a region where the Accordo tweeter would easily expose deficiencies, but the D 3020 met the challenge. As I listened to pianist Janne Mertanen play the Chopin Nocturnes [Alba], transient speed and harmonic openness were truly enthralling. Although there was a little bit of a ceiling over the performance—at least compared with pricier, wider-band amps that operate with more dynamic headroom—the D 3020 had little else to apologize for.
Although I’m an infrequent headphone user, whenever I don my AKG K501 cans (still terrific after all these years) I am always impressed by the gorgeous midrange tonality and intimacy these 120-ohm ’phones produce. As a headphone amp, the D 3020 does its job noiselessly and is musically satisfying. The tonal characteristics that make it so appealing with conventional loudspeakers translate fully to the more intimate world of earspeakers. Frankly I haven’t ever appreciated headphone listening as much I did during the time I spent with the D 3020.
If computer audio is your primary source for music, and Blue Tooth capability is a must, then the D 3020 makes a compelling argument. The other argument is, hello, its price tag of $499, making it by most standards a small miracle of packaging and portability, and with few exceptions a delight to use and listen to. Too small for you? NAD has you covered with a bigger cousin in the new D 7050—a streaming integrated with more power, advanced topologies, plus AirPlay wireless at $999. For many, however, the D 3020 will be just what the digital doctor ordered. Faithful to the original 3020 but totally dialed in to our times.
SPECS & PRICING
Power output: 30Wpc into 8 ohms
Inputs: Three digital (USB, SPDIF, TosLink); one analog
Dimensions: 2.3" x 7.5" x 8.7"
Weight: 4.6 lbs.
NAD Electronics Intl
633 Granite Court
Canada, L1W 3K1