Review: NAD 3120 Amplifier

Category: Amplifiers

I guess we could call this my week end story. I had forgotton all about this little gem from NAD. While cleaning out some closets came across this. To say it was dirty is a major understatement. Started to throw away figuring it just wasn't worth the effort. So finished the so called spring cleaning. With some time left over decided to at least take a further look. Removed the top cover and discovered enough dirt and lint to fill a dirt devil vacumn. Oh well, what the hell,have the cover off. Shook out as much dirt as I could. Then use compressed air to get rid of the remainder of the dirt. After about 4 hours worth of work had the NAD looking like new. Cleaned the volume pot and switches as well as the switches and RCAs on the rear apron.

Now to the litmus test,would it still work? Well I needed some speakers to test,so pulled out the DCM Time Windows. Now needed a source had a Sony CD Player that wasn't being used. So connected everything and turned on the NAD power switch. Placed a Disc in the CD player and the little NAD 3120 came to life and played music with astonshing depth and clarity.

Have to admit i was totally surprised by the sonics of this NAD 3120. While only 25 watts rms per channel played much louder and with more authority than I remembered.

The NAD 3120 is on the same chassis as the venerable 3020, but sans the tone controls,balance control,and LEDs. This is more of a purist version of the 3020, with less noise and blacker background. The NAD 3120 has provision for a turntable and can accept MM or MC phono cartridges. As well the amp and pre amp section can be separated by u shaped jumpers. Which means later on you can add a more powerful amplifier in the future. Has NADs soft clipping feature means if overdriven the waveform voltage so that the output devices are never driven into hard clipping.Thus the amplifier can safely be over driven beyond its rated power without harm to the speakers. There is also a switch on the back to set ohm loading at 8 or 4 ohms depending on which speakers you use. Uses 4 RCA high current out put transistors, that are usually associated with most manufacturers 50 or 60 watt amps. Has built in infrasonic and ultrasonic filters so amplifier power is not wasted on outside sources such as turntable rumble,floor vibrations, etc.

The front panel from left to right is power switch with LED,then buttons,for Aux,Tuner,Phone,Tape,Mono,Loudness and dual concentric volume controls for volume and balance. The loudness control is not the usually boost found on the competition models. The loudness on the NAD 3120 is gently contoured to add just enough compensation to be truly useful.

Here is an entry level integrated amp that delivers the promise of high end. With what I have assembled with the Time Windows and Sony CD Player. One could have one killer $500.00 vintage high end system.And that speaks volumes about the components used in this review.

Have redisovered a true gem that is very easy to live with and the sonics are very good indeed.

The NAD 3120 is a true giant killer among integrated amps, do not let the 25 Watts RMS per channel,keep you from trying one of these,should you be able to find one. I can say without question they are truly durable, do to the condition I found this one in. These were produced from 1984 to 1987 and were hard to find. Most folks were put off by the austere looks. But if you are really into music and are on a limited budget, here is the answer.

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Good save! Hope you continue to get enjoyable use out of it. I've assembled a beginner system for one of my sons around a 20 w/c NAD 310 amp, and it sounds good.
I passed on the 3225PE alongwith Mission 760iSE to my son who has it hooked up to the computer (with Audigy Card) The sound is just so good that he is not even interested in the 6 channel audio facility built into the card(better than new speakers which folks use, which normally sound crap). He just does not want to give it up, not only he uses it for games but to listen to music, which is what it was made for.

Happy listening!
Thought that I would post this here as well, as it is very revelant to the NAD 3120 and NAD 3020.

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.
How pleasant to read such glowing remarks about my little 3120 . I was looking on the net for a handbook and stumbled on this site . I was wondering what soft clipping meant and have now found out . I bought mine new years ago not really knowing much about the technical stuff but it looked nice and I could just about afford it . I am constantly chuffed about how musical it is against other amps . I wanted to find out how to connect a pre-amp if I need to when I get a new turntable .
Wholeheartidly agree with the above comments, been using this one on and off since my brother bought it new in 1986.

I have been through many amps and speakers through the years, and this (3120) is the only one that could take the abuse- I used to listen to music far too loud when I was younger, which tended to mean they were broken quite fast.

I've had many integrated mid-priced amps, and pre-power amps and this really tears up the competition at the price and even alot more. Sounded much better than my A&R A60 which cost more than twice what was paid for the NAD.

Used it with a Linn LP12 and Tannoy mercuryb mk1's and it sounded absolutly amazing!

These days I use it in my studio to power a set of near-field monitor, which works a treat.

Pulled 20 years worth of fluff out of it a couple of days ago, which is what made me look this site up when I got to thinking how good this machine has been to me..
Well here it is 27 years since the initial review in "The Audio Critic"

It appears that the NAD 3020/3120 has more than withstood the not only the litmus test, but the test of time as well, and continues to deliver the promise. If this is not a true icon of audio, then I don't know what is. A classic for the ages. Let's see what the next 25 years will bring. If anything will ever approach the NAD 3020/3120 in the price/performance/value arena. the competition has had all this time to outright challenge the NAD units, but thus far the NAD 3020/3120 has had no real world peers. It appears even NAD cannot improve on this original timeless design.

Late this summer will be upgrading a stock NAD 3120, with todays modern parts, such as black gate caps,etc. Will let this thread know if it is a decided improvement over the stock units. Circuit board will not be changed,just a parts upgrade.

Bravo NAD!

Some have gone on to say that the newer Nad 320BEE comes very close yet some say the magic is missing.

I will be very anxiously waiting for your feedback.


Acquiring the parts now. Other than using the stock circuit board. Parts and switches will be mil-spec such as found in the creme de la creme high end products. So in the not to distant future we will see if these upgrades are worth the time and trouble, or is it better to leave well enough alone.

This will be very interesting to say the least, as the NAD 3020/3120 is so very good as it came from the factory.

As always critical input will be appreciated.
A problem such as this, is best addressed by a knowledgeable service technician. The RCAs were in my opinion the only achilles heel in the NAD 3020/3120 series. This type of service is not for the novice.
My NAD 3120 amp was submerged for at least 3 days from Katrina. I let it dry, plugged it in and listened to Richard Thompson. If thats not reliability,what is! A great amp and one of the blessings in this storm.
My NAD 3120 amp was submerged for at least 3 days from Katrina. I let it dry, plugged it in and listened to Richard Thompson. If thats not reliability,what is! A great amp and one of the blessings in this storm.

That sure is one reliable amplifier! Would you be kind enough to elaborate on your drying method for the benefit of others?


Well low and behold another NAD 3020 came my way. It is a 3020B version. A few minor differences from the original 3020 and 3020A is the improved speaker binding posts. The Mute switch on the original has been replaced with a Mono switch. Appears to have better caps than the original.Also has speaker impedance switch on back to dial in for 4 or 8 ohm speaker loads.

Same great performnce and sonics, that to this day, still rival some of the finest integrated amps ever produced. A timeless classic if there was ever one in audio.
I have had a 3020A since about 1985. I have put that thing through hell. I just can't hurt it. It has had a beer spilled into it- in college 1990ish. Never missed a beat. I recently took it to a technician and had a few minor repairs to the AUX connections. Runs like new. I paid $120 for it way back. If I remember right, it was purchased from Direct Sound mail order. Unbelievable piece of equipment. I just had to chime in, and agree with the other 3020 enthusiasts.
I've been an avid 3120 fan since my early childhood. I was privileged enough to be the son of a director of the still current NAD agents for South-Africa and so always had the opportunities to try and test every new model.

Over the years I've been laughed at, played the fool with and sometimes even called names for my fundamentalist belief in this particular amplifier and to a little lesser extent it's more popular sibling, the 3020B.

To my knowledge and preference NAD has not succeeded in making a better amplifier than this model - bar none! Better in my frame of reference would be something more musically truthful and involving. I would agree to some newer models sounding more 'impressive', but this is side-stepping the high-end's quest for producing an accurate reproduction of a musical event, which in real life is filled with emotion and fulfillment - not sonic impact of an exaggerated frequency spectrum.

Since 1985 I've owned various 3120 models and after having sold one after the other I soon found myself in need of its simple, effortless grace irrespective of what other high-end gear I may have had on hand at the time. Not that the 3120 is such a giant killer to put the really big guns to shame, but there is a surety and reassurance that I associate with its sound in the knowledge that if I ever want to enjoy a bit of music without looking for obvious faults, I turn to the little NAD and voila! Music, music, music!

Sure the bass is a bit slow and the mids sometimes a little muffled, but the overall picture is one of involvement and what feels like endless pleasure. I regularly catch myself having played record after record for hours on end...

Now, isn't this what real musical enjoyment is all about?
My first amp was a 3020. It was stolen some 20+ years ago. The thieves carried through the woods my NAD, my Thorens, and my color tv. The bright side was that they lugged that heavy-ass tv away, and it was broken beyond repair! And they decided my Frazier Concertos were too big and heavy!!!
My second amp was a NAD 3120. I used it for many years. With the two NADs, and the Concertos, I played endless hours of music, sometimes lite and sweet, sometimes heavy and with extreme prejudice! My NADs never let me down. Years later my 3120 did some time as a preamp, then sold to a friend. I believe he is still using it.
When I bought the 3020, the most honorable salesman recommended it over the higher powered and priced NAD siblings. Said they were more powerful (and wpc specs were the rage back then) but the 3020 had them all beat when it came to playing music. I'm glad he did.
Now, what brings me to this thread so many years behind? After selling my Concertos to my brother, and then he to his friend, and he getting them back again, they ended up in storage for 12 years. Having bought a T-amp this year, I began thinking about them and asked him about them. For my birthday, he got them out and cleaned them up. Damn if after about 32 years they don't play as just like they used to! And of course, getting all reminiscent, I'm thinking about finding a 3020 or 3120! My 12/22wpc T-amp drives them well, loud levels in a medium sized room and sounds very good. It even makes bass as deep as my Cambridge amp does. But I cant stop thinking about the good old NAD.
Like I used to say all those years ago:
If you want great sound- Go NAD!!!
A few years ago I took a 3120 and rebuilt it with all state of the art parts. Probably spent over $500.00 in parts alone. The result was spectacular. However with that being said the outright magic of the 3120 had been lost. Sure the highly modded version corrected the shortcomings of the 3120 and would easily compete with any integrated up to the $2,500.00 price range. But the factory stock unit was not that far off the pace.

I eventually sold the modded unit to a friend of mine and he still has it as an everyday listening unit. Still have the original 3120 and every so often pull it out and give it a spin for a few weeks. Here it is some 30 years later and I still enjoy listening to it. Not many hallmark products that cost so damn little in the beginning, can continue to deliver the promise. Little wonder 3120/3020 have such a loyal following since day one of their existence.
Yeah, my 7225PE (same amp w/tuner) still sounds so good it's scary, and mine stayed powered up for almost 10 years straight w/zero issues and still keeps going. This particular circuit just sounds "right" to my ears.
Well, 9 years after my previous post, I'm listening to my 3120 again.
Got it back last year from my friend, and enjoying it so much I thought it was time to comment again. Anyone else still have one in service?
After about 33 years this thing still works perfectly, is very quiet and sounds better than I ever anticipated it would. The most surprising aspect is how powerful it sounds with a variety of different speakers.
The only problem I have ever had with it was my own doing. I inadvertently pulled speaker cables and broke the binding posts on one side. I have replaced them all with pairs of gold posts myself. This is a repair or upgrade anyone could do. The proof is the fact that I accomplished the replacement- if I can do it literally anyone can.
Right now I am listening to my 3120 powering a pair of Totem Rainmakers. This seems to be an unlikely love affair. The NAD really brings the Totems to life in a way that 25wpc should never be able to.
Yup, reliable is an understatement, and still delivering great enjoyment after all these years! This is a special amp.