Review: NAD 3020 Receiver

Category: Amplifiers

I heard this receiver for a few years and it is a good economical starting point for this exciting hobby (bordering on art if you will). Hooked up to a good cd player like panasonic MASH technology employing unit, and a good pair of bookshelf like polk, niles audio, mission, tannoy, etc., midfi can be surprisingly affordable. For students and new comers of this quest for sonic heaven, it is a good starting place that will give you years of enjoyment B-4 gaining that itch to upgrade again and again as your ear develops like an artist. Forgive me if I seem condescending - I know there are many who are far further down the road in this hobby - I think the purpose of reviews are to inform and advise, so I am doing simply that.

The receiver has a full and rich sound, and a warm character. Although one can talk about many specs, the important thing for me is that you the listener has to like the "character" of the amp. I came across excellent big names in audio that didn't quite move me because I didn't like the color of the sound or the character of the amp. Upscale Yamahas have good specs, but never moves me, and they are units costing thousands of dollars. "You get what you pay for" does not apply here - one can come across even affordable Japanese units that will do it for you, and you can spend thousands without hitting that aesthetical pleasure/artistic mark that we are all seeking. So, my advice is to hear many units before deciding, and "let your ears be the judge."

I would definitely recommend this begginer's unit because of the dynamic quality - music is satisfying and punchy because of NAD's ability to momentarily deliver more power. NAD's 20 watts is differnt than shelf unit's 20 or even 50 watts.
Please invest in better cables - buying good products and not using better cables than the supplied one's is defeating the purpose of choosing good products - might as well buy exec shelf units. Teac, yamaha, denon,aiwa,and sony offers pretty good sounding systems - I wouldn't call it a musical experience though. With this receiver, and doing homework with magazines like "What-Hifi" buyer's report, www.audioreview, and auditioning many products, you can assemble a surprisingly satisfying mid-fy for less than $1000. Do look in in electronic section for bargains. Let me give you a few brand names I respect - mission speakers (dark sound), niles audio os line (beautiful tweeter if you like soprano, flute),polk rt series ( unfatiguing comfortable laid back polite sound), klipsch (neo dymium tweeter gives alive sound - once you hear neo dymium magnets, you'll never go back ) although klipschs are not recommended for classical - too soft spring in the woofer ). Cd players are vital as well. Choose one that has a rich deep musical tone. Panasonic and Technic uses MASH technology allowing for the best sounding entry level units (under $200). For cables, monsters are ok but there are better ones out there for a little more money. If I have one complaint about the NAD, it is that it's not black sounding meaning it's noisy. In amps like Adcom, sounds of gold rises from silence to please our ears and more, but NAD has background noise that is not bad for the first hour, but eventually tiring (only at loud volumes). If you do extensive loud listening, perhaps this is not for you. Again, hear it for your self, and see if you would like to live with this musical instrument ( the character I mean ) - quite rich and warm.

Associated gear
Polk r series book shelf, Nakamichi CD player and cassett player

Similar products
Sony, onkyo, sansui, marantz
The NAD 3020 is an integrated amplifier, not a receiver. The receiver is the 7020. Having owned several of each over the years I can say that there is NOTHING out there for the same price that even comes close to these guys for sheer musical enjoyment. It has been my experience that the 7020 sounds slightly better than 3020.
The NAD3020 is great. I had one for about 5 years ... my first amp. To make it better pull the pre-power jumpers and run a CD player with remote volume direct into the power amp section ... much more dynamic, and less fuzzy. I used an external switch to select between the pre-out and the CD player going to power in so I could keep on using the phono, tape and tuner inputs, while running the CD direct to the power amp.
I hope this comment is not too offline, but I have been searching for some time for a used NAD receiver with a remote. Its place would be in my study, it on one end of the room and me in the other. So-called minisystems or executive stereos are not cost effective at all and I already have an extra set of Genesis speakers left over from my early days in the hobby. And, though I have never owned NAD, I have listened in stores, read the reviews, heard the comments and never - never have I heard anything negative of substance. The classified seem seldom to have NAD receivers listed.
For those of you wanting 3020, I heard that their new c320bee is a refined version for ($330) - 10 watts more per ch. as well. Due to age, capacitors drying out, those of us missing that NAD sound might want to go with the newer model.
3020 was later designated 3020i and one more revision of same piece of gear was introduced in 1990 designated as 3225PE which is basically the same thing with Power Envelope circuitry thrown in making it even better (from the point of view of power handling). I own the later version and is giving excellent service in my computer setup driving the Mission 760i Special Edition speakers hooked up with Audigy sound card.
Older NADs 1980s have warmer sound, and the newer ones are faster. Give me warmth over fast - for my taste.
While delving through some old archive material on audio I came across a review on the NAD 3020 from The Audio Critic, Volume 2 Number 2 - Summer/Fall 1979. The report was titled-"A Genuine Breakthrough in Inexpensive Integrated Amplifiers". Model tested was sr # 3225220 on loan from NAD. Price $175.00. Two Year Warranty. The following is the review and I quote.

It looks unassuming rather than cheap-a simple black box with a full complement of controls,including bass and treble, as well as a five-LED peak power indicator monitoring for both channels and displaying the higher output at any instant. The LED'S are labeled 1,5,10,20 and 35 watts into 8 ohms,the last is about 2 1/2 dB above the obviously ultra conservative 20/20 watt continuous power rating.

The unit came to us very highly recommended, so we threw the toughest test at it right up front. With a variety of speaker systems, we A-B-ed it against our very best pre amp/power amp combination, the Cotter System 2 feeding the Rapport Amp-1.(The latter has meanwhile become extinct.)The price ratio of A and B in this test was roughly 15 to 1. Well, what can we tell you? Everyone who was listening agreed that the NAD wasn't as good. Everyone also agreed that the difference was amazingly small. Both signal paths sounded clean, transparent, unstrained and musical. The NAD 3020 had a somewhat less open, neutral and finely detailed sound; it clipped a bit sooner;nevertheless it wasn't really a let down to switch to it because it was completely free of the hard "electronic" quality of most transistor amplifiers, cheap or expensive. If the Cotter/Rapport combination hadn't been available then and there as a reference, the NAD would have been accepted as just right-that's how good it is. By itself, it's difficult to fault it in clarity, smoothness and just plain accuracy.

We were able to make further and more detailed listening comparisons, since the 3020 can be separated into it's preamp and power amp sections via jacks in the rear. Thus it can be inserted into a reference system either as a preamp or power amp and A-B-ed against others. What we found out about it that is equally impressive. The preamp section ranks just below the top five or six separate preamplifiers we have tested so far at any price! and doesn't sound dramatically inferior to any of them. It never gets hard or overbright and is just a tad short of the ultimate in transparency. If the RIAA equalization were more accurate we could almost begin to talk about "Reference B" quality. As it is the error curve drops to -1dB at 20Hz,bunps up to + 0.2dB at 430 Hz, and shows a gradual decline above 1 kHz, down to - 0.7 db at 20 kHz in one channel, - 0.4 dB in the other. Not to bad, but not excellent. The power amplifier by itself is perhaps even more remarkable; next to the Hafler DH 200, for example, it sounds a little compressed and less open,but smoother and sweeter, without any trace of that hard glint on top. In other words, it isn't totally surpassed by the Hafler, which in turn is surpassed by only six or seven other power amps known to us, at any price. For a $175.00 amplifier with a free preamp thrown in,that's not bad at all.

The subjective perceived dynamic headroom of the 3020 can be increased by switching in the "soft cliiping" feature, of which NAD appears to be inordinately proud. In our opinion, this is a double edged gimmick that takes some of the unpleasantess out of frequent clipping when the amplifier is being pushed but also impairs the depth and three dimensional detail of the reproduced sound. Our rating of the NAD 3020 is based on it's sonic quality with the soft clipping switch in the off position.

The most interesting question, of course, is how NAD is able to do so much for so little. What do they know that others don't? New Acoustic Dimension is an international organization, originally founded and financed by a group of dealers, with offices in several countries and production facilities in Taiwan. Being dealer-based gives them a realistic outlook on consumer needs; having access to reasonably skilled labor at relatively low cost gives them an edge in price. The 3020 isn't built like a Mark Levinson amplifier but uses parts of fairly decent quality in all the important places and makes a few compromises wherever the penalty is tolerable. The designer of the entire line is Bjorn-Erik Edvardsen, a Norwegian now living in London,who has some very strong convictions about spending the available production budget on sound rather that cosmetics and sales features. He also seems to have a set of highly intelligent and effectual priorities in circuit design,giving us further evidence in support of our long-standing conviction that good thinking costs no more than bad thinking.

We were fascinated to find, for example,that the 3020 is not only bandwidth-limited to reject infrasonic and ultra-sonice garbage but also happens to use high-pass and low-pass characteristics that are very similiar to those of the state-of-the-art Cotter NFB-2 filter/buffer. Not that the Cotter filter's highly sophisticated time-domain correction is entirely duplicated, but the magnitude of the low-frequency roll-off is about the same and the measured rise time of 9 microseconds is exactly the same. What a coinidence and what a corroboration! DC-to-light freaks eat your hearts out. Correctly bandwidth-limited systems simply sound better. Large output transistors that are coasting most of the time, not much feedback, a very carefully designed power supply, and no current limiting protective circuitry are some of the plausible reasons of the 3020's sonic success. Without any allowance for its low price, this must be considered a thoroughly modern amplifier, designed with total awareness of errors of the past and obviously capable of handling complex speaker loads with aplomb. We're impressed beyond our wildest expectations.

The one thing that remains to be seen is whether or not the NAD 3020 will perform as impressively after years of heavy use as it does when it's new. We gave our sample as much of a beating as we could and found no change taking place, but we can't make any unqualified promises. It just isn't a mil-spec amplifier. It would be a pity, though, if all the $1,000.00 preamps and $1,000.00 power amps that are better built but don't sound nearly as a good outlived it to pollute the ears of our children. End Review/End Quote.

So here we are some 25 years after the introduction of the NAD 3020. While I no longer have my 3020 due to FP&L frying the 3020 with a power surge, I do have the 3120, which is the same unit sans the tone controls and LED'S. I can attest that the peformance has remained faithful all these years. This unit along with the NAD 4020 Tuner now occupy my office at work. Everyday I have to chase staffers out of the office, so I can get some work done! My reference system at home is my Forte Class A system. Yes it is better that the 3120. But the funny thing is, I have yet to get tired of listening to the 3120 and apparently my co-workers don't either.

Truly this is a product that has stood the test of time and has remained faithful. It just doesn't get much better than this. No wonder this has in the ensuing years become an icon in audio.

Having owned a NAD 3020 integrated 20wpc amplifier and having compared it against costlier equipment (ADCOM - Musical Fidelity - VTL) has convinced me that NAD is really special. It's also a slap in the face of those designers and manufacturer who are constantly pushing up prices way ahead of honest improvement in performance. NAD 3020 is amazing. Mine has driven Celestion A-2, Acoustic Research AR3a, ADS L400 and JBL 4311 and with every speaker surprisingly good sound was consistently reproduced. Even after 24 years of use! Long live NAD !

Improving it? Set Softclipping switch to off and if you like your music not too loud or do your listening in a small room, use amp lab-in. Also, polarize power plug. By the way discard those factory "U" jumpers between pre-out and amp-in and plug Audioquest interconnects instead. You are in for a surprise!

Happy listenings
I somehow missed reading the review Ferrari posted, thanks for doing that, it was sure an interesting read!
I went shopping back in 1981 for a stereo system, then Bryn Mawr Stereo (Tweeter now) recommended an NAD 7020, Mission 700's and a phillips turntable. After bringing it home and setting up I threw on A Dave Brubeck cut which started with a solo Piano intro. Both my Mom and sister came from different parts of the house wondering who the hell was playing the piano, the sound was that good. That system. for less than $500, was truly a classic. Absolutely outstanding sound.
If you can ever find one try the NAD 3120 purist version of the NAD 3020. No tone controls dual concentric Volume control also handles balance. No LED power indictator. Has better speaker posts than 3020. Other than that about the same, except the 3120 is sonically a couple of steps above the 3020. More purity of circuits sans the tone controls and LEDs and the better speaker binding post. NAD did not sell many of the 3120. Most folks put off by the austere looks of the 3120, but it is fabulous.
Has anyone of you tried to evaluate the headphone socket and how it sounds in comparision to anything you used as reference? Since the amp is sooooo gooooood I thought I'd ask your opinions.
During the years I had the 3020, used Grado,Audio Technica,Sony headphones and a couple of others I can't remember now. When the headphones are used it automatically switches the speakers off. I found the headphone section of the NAD 3020 to be better than most receivers or integrated amps of the day. Most likely a really good out board head phone amp would be the way to go if you listen to headphones a lot, but for casual listening I found the headphone section in the NAD 3020 to be very good indeed and I found no need to use an out board headphone amp. My best experience with headphones using the NAD 3020 was the Audio Technica ATH-3. No longer produced, but from time to time come up for sale on Audiogon and eBay.
I have used the Sennheiser 580 with the Nad 3225PE, the sound is not bad at all, but, I always felt that there was a very slight hiss in the background, I suspect this could be due to aging (1990). Since I did not have anything else I had no way to do any comparision, although I do have a headphone amp which my friend had built but it is not the last word in resolution.

Say, do you know of any mordern integrated which sports a very decent headphone socket? I do not listen to headphones that much so I cannot justify an expensive headphone amp.
I have heard the Magnum IA70 is a killer integrated and has a headphone jack that is reported to be very good. As well as an on board phono section for a turntable.

One on Agon now, here is the link.

Thanks for the link and advise. :)
Also check out the review on Audiogon of the NAD 7080 Receiver. Perhaps the finest receiver ever built by anyone.Very hard to find now and rare. Big and heavy with great features and wonderful sonics.

Link below:
I'm the proud owner and daily user of a NAD 3020i, but I don't have any idea of how many Watts it is able to deliver... in 8 ohms of course... Anyone who can tell me this?

Today, I'm running it on a pair of Dali5005, and they work exceptionally good together...!
As far a spec goes it is a 20 watter, but NAD is famous for being very conservative in quoting such specs, some believe it is more like 30 watts per channel. I have the NAD 3225PE and although the specs say 25 watts but I am positive it is more like 35 or more.
>> Please invest in better cables - buying good products and not using better cables than the supplied one's is defeating the purpose of choosing good products - might as well buy exec shelf units. <<

Mmmpf. If Gonglee is accustomed to amps so badly designed that they can tell the difference between 16-gauge zip cord and some overpriced gaudy speaker wire, I'd be hesitant about putting much credibility into his recommendation.

>> ... (neo dymium tweeter gives alive sound - once you hear neo dymium magnets, you'll never go back ) <<

It's the overall design of the tweeter that determines its sound, not particular magnetic materials. "Neodymium" (a marketing tradename) is fine stuff for speaker magnets when used in competently engineered designs; it won't help badly engineered ones -- just like ferrofluid, special cone materials, and so on.

>> although klipschs are not recommended for classical - too soft spring in the woofer ...<<

Mmmpf. Somebody tell Ed Villchur that softly-sprung woofers are no good for classical...

The NAD 3020 amp is a fine-sounding and (mostly) reliable little unit, though not quite up to the cult that seems to have grown around it.

But this reviewer has so little credibility and is so desperate to impress that most readers will simply ignore him as yet another pretentious adolescent...

Hey Creig, I have a 3020 too and it doesnt seem to sound that impresive. It produces ear fatige in just a few minutes, and doesnt give a good sound stage. Not a bad amp, but not as good as you all seem to find it.

What are you comparing this amp with? It is definately a fantastic amp when you compare it with something in the same price bracket. Besides, if you have it, is it in perfect condition? Maybe faulty?
The NAD 3020's Tone is what makes it so good.

The tone is right/pleasing.

Better than most amps... old or new,and it's dynamics are just great. It does not sound all HIFI. With good source and cables it still kicks a**

It's smooth too, unlike a lot of solid state amps.

I don't know why they wont make the same amp again.

No, the BEE model does not sound as musical,and it will bore you after awhile,as it did me,no magical tone either,(it is really punchy though)It has glare too,yuck!Music sounded like robots made it.

I didnt like the no tone controls version either,I only like the "A" version and no series twenty ones either.

Just 3020a, nothing else..

I love reading about this classic. I just received a 3020b and I look forward to replacing all of the caps, pots, and getting it up to new spec again for another 25 years. :-)

I will replace those jumpers with some good cables while I am at it. :-)
My 3 1/2 year old daughter is proud of her stereo which is a NAD 7020 with playstation 1 cd player running some speakers that came with the house in the walls. It sounds really good! The only problem is when I want to put on my Beveridge 2sw's she wants to play her stereo louder than mine! Bob
Okay your daughter wins! My first stereo, a bit older than 3 1/2, was a lovely white and orange turntable with built in speakers......way to grow an audiophile Baranyi!!
I am "between" amps in my office set up so I pulled my old trusty 3020A out of storage. I bought it new in 1983ish (paired with a Rotel RCD-965BX and AR27 speakers at the time I think) but never really treated it very nicely. It is a bit dusty and scratched up but I'm listening to it now on AKG701's and liking it a lot. It sounded pretty good driving my little 47 Labs speakers too but on the phones it sounds better. Best audio money I've ever spent.