Review: NAD 3130 Amplifier

Category: Amplifiers

Following on the heels of their high successful 3020 amplifiers, NAD released the next generation of giant killers with the 31 series and this review deals with the 3130 integrated amplifier.

Using the same basic formula of the 3020 series, NAD added a few very nice touches and a wee bit more power to boot. Finished in the same type of cosmetics as the originals. Cosmetics were never a high point of the NAD line and that continues to this day. With NAD the focus is on performance not cosmetics and to this end they have been very successful.

It's untimidating to look at by audiophile standards. NAD's standard grey casework offering a very utliitarian appearance. Nothing fancy, yet in its own way a sense of quiet elegance. I have a strong suspicion that the 3130 is constructed better than anything which NAD currently builds within this respective price range which was originally $229.95 in 1985 through 1987 (469.95 taking into account inflation through 2010).

NAD amplifiers are noted for transparent musicality, solid speaker-driving power, and economical no-frills design. The NAD 3130 stereo amplifier, while rated at a modest 30 watts per channel, has a high current output stage that delivers short-term bursts of 60 to 80 Wlch, not only at 8 ohms but also with the complex impedances of real loudspeakers.

NAD amplifiers are also exceptionally free of noise and distortion at low volume levels. The 3130's phono and tone control circuits are quieter than those in many separate preamplifiers. Every detail of the recorded soundstage is transparently reproduced, with no veil of low-level hiss.

Obligatory Specifications:


Phono input:

Input impedance (R and C): 47kohms/100pF

Input sensitivity: MM1 kHz: 2.5mVref. 0.5V
MC 1 kHz: MC 200 mV

Signal To Noise Ratio: MM 76dB ref. 5mV
MC 76dB ref. 0.5mV

RIAA Response Accuracy: ±0.5dB

Line level inputs:

Input impedance: (R and 0) 15kohms/100pF

Input sensitivity (ref. lW): 150mV

Maximum input signal: >10V

Signal/Noise ratio (A-weighled ref lW):85dB

Frequency Response: 20Hz - 20kHz / ±0.5dB

Line level outputs:

Output impedance:Preamp 800 ohms
Tape Source Z + 1kHz Ohms

Maximum Ouput Level: Preamp 8V

Tone controls:

Treble: ±7dB at 10kHz

Bass: ±7dB at 100Hz

Bass EQ: +3dB at 70Hz
+6dB at 40Hz
-3dB at 12Hz - 12dB/octave


Continuous output power into 8 ohms: 30W(15dBW)

Rated distortion (THD 20Hz - 20kHz) 0.03%

Clipping power (maximum continous power per channel): 45W

IHF Dynamic headroom at 8 ohms: +3dB

IHF dynamic power (maximum short term term power per channel): 8 ohms 60W
4 Ohms 70W
2 Ohms 85W

Input impedance: 22k Ohms

Input sensitivity (for rated power into 8ohm): 850mV


Dimensions (W x H x D) 17x15x5

Net weight: 20 Pounds

Minimum power 30 WRMS per channel, 20Hz - 20kHz, both channels driven with no more than rated distiortion.

Music Used For Evaluation:

LP Playback:

Bob James - Hands Down (Columbia FC 38067)
Hiroshima - Self Titled - (Arista MFSL1-525)
John Coltrane - Blue Train - (Blue Note BST 81577)
Wes Montgomery - Bumpin' - (Verve V6-8625)
Rickie Lee Jones - Self Titled - (Warner BSK 3296)
Wynton Marsalis - Live Blues Alley - (Columbia PC2-40675)
Eric Gale - Forecast - (KUDU Records KU 11)(CTI Records)
Kenny Burrell & Grover Washington Jr - (Blue Note BT 85106)
Earl Klugh - Finger Painting - (Blue Note MFSL 1-025)
Larry Carlton - Friends - (Warner 23834-1)
Sadao Watanabe - Autumn Blow - (Inner City IC 6064)
Doobie Brothers - Minute by Minute - (Warner BSK 3193)
Santana - Zebop - (Columbia FC37158)
Pat Metheny Group - American Garage - (ECM 1-1155)
Frederick Fennel - Cleveland Symphonic Winds - (Telarc 5038)
Paul Desmond/Jim Hall - Complete Recordings - Mosaic(MR6-120)
Time Out - Dave Brubeck Quartet (Columbia CS 8192)
Paul Desmond - Self Titled (Artist House AH - 2)
Ahmad Jamal - But Not For Me - Argo LPS 628
Bill Evans - At The Montreux Jazz Festival - Verve V6-8762
Bill Evans - At Montreux II - CTI 6004
Sunken Cathedral - American Gramophone - AG 361
No Bass Hit - Concord Jazz Label - CJ-97
Oscar Peterson - Night Train - Verve V-6 8538
Gerry Mulligan Reunion Chet Baket - Pacific Jazz ST 90061
Bill Charlap - New York Trio Stardust - Venus VHJD 22
Michael Garson - Serendipty - Reference Recording RR20
Bill Charlap - Things We Did Last Summer - Venus TKJV19111
Ahmad Jamal - Extensions - Argo 758
Tommy Flanagan - Plays Harold Arlen - Inner City IC 1071
Jazz At The Pawnshop - Proprius - 7778-79
Barry Harris - At The Jazz Workshop - Riverside RLP-1177
Adam Makowicz - The Name Is Makowicz - Sheffield Labs 21

CD's Used For Evaluation:

Ben Webster At The Renaissance (Contemporary Records OJCCD-390-2)
The Royal Ballet Gala Performances (Classic Compact Discs CDSCD 6065)
Jurassic Park Motion Picture Soundtrack (MCAD 10859)
We Get Requests - The Oscar Peterson Trio (Verve 810047-2)
You Won't Forget Me - Shirley Horn (Verve 847482-2)
On Every Street - Dire Straits (Warner Brothers 26680-2)
Trio Jeepy - Branford Marsalis (Columbia CK44199)
Paris Jazz Concert - Louis Armstrong (RTE 1001-2)
Braveheart Motion Picture Soundtrack - London Symphony Orchestra (London LC0171)
Patriot Games Motion Picture Soundtrack (RCA 07863 66051-2)
Highlights From The Plugged Nickel - Miles Davis (Columbia CK 67377)
Private Investigations Best Of Dire Straits (HDCD) - Dire Straits (Warner Bros 49891-2)
Straight Up - Bob James Trio (Warner Bros 945956-2)
Land Of Giants - McCoy Tyner (Telarc 83576)
New York Reunion - McCoy Tyner (Chesky 5173324)
Gladiator Motion Picture Soundtrack(Decca 2894670942)
Copland - Appalachian Spring (Telarc CD 80078)
Frederick Fennell - Holst Suites (Telarc 80038)
Tchaikovsky - 1812 Overture (Telarc 80041)
John Williams - American Journey (Sony 89364)
Bizet - Carmen (Telarc 80048)
Live At Sweet Basil - McCoy Tyner Trio (Evidence ECD 22106-2)
Paul Desmond & The Modern Jazz Quartet - Red Baron JK57337
Jimmy Smith - The Unpredictable - Verve 8230308-2
Dexter Gordon - Our Man In Paris - Blue Note 7 46394 2
Mike Garson - Jazz Hat - Reference Recording RR 114
Bill Evans - Live In 1975 Switzerland - Gambit 69232
Bud Powell - Essen Jazz Festival - 1201Music-1QGN9
Cannonball Adderley - Know What I Mean - Riverside OJCCD105
Bill Evans - Ronnie Scotts 1980 - Gambit 69242
Tommy Flanagan - Over C,s - Prestige - OJCCD 1033-2
Ahmad Jamal - Chicago Revisited - Telarc CD 83327

NAD with the 3130 added a couple of nice useful features, which are described below.


This circuit boosts the lowest bass frequencies, those below 60 Hz. In virtually all loudspeakers the useful output rolls off at frequencies below the woofer cabinet resonance (which typically occurs between 40 and 70 HZ). The BASS EQ circuit compensates for this rolloff, extending the useful response of the speakers significantly lower in frequency.

It your loudspeakers already have extended and powerful deep-bass response. the BASS EQ provides other benefits:

• It helps to correct the rolled-off bass in some recordings.

• It provides effective "loudness compensation" to restore subjectively correct tonal balance at low volume levels.

• It helps to compensate for listening-room acoustics. ("Standing waves" in the room tend to weaken the low bass and reinforce the mid-bass at typical listening positions.)

Of course very low frequencies are not found in all music, nor in all recordings. so the effect of the BASS EQ often won't be obvious. Sometimes you may find that switchhing it in and out does not produce any apparent change in the sound. simply because the recording contains no energy at very {ow frequencies. But usually the BASS EQ will provide an audlible (and occasionally a dramatic) strengthenning of the deepest bass.

The BASS EQ circuit also includes an infrasonic filter that rolls off the response below 25 Hz to prevent Inappropriate amplification of non-musIcal signals below the audio range.


Be prepared to switch off the equalizalion when playing recordings(especially digital mastered discs)that contain unusually powerful recorded bass. The combination of a high playback volume level, The Bass EQ and a bass heavy input signal could overdrive the amplifier into clipping - more important - overdrive your woofers beyond their safe excursion limits,causing the voice coils to clatter against the magnet back plates. This risk is particularly serious with small woofers, those smaller than 6 inches in diameter, which are not designed to accept high power levels at the lowest frequencies. As long as a speaker sounds good it is probably OK; but distorted or unmusical sounds, such as clattering or buzzing, signal distress in a woofer.

Be alert, also, for signs of acoustic feedback (in which the low-frequency vibrations from the speakers are picked up by the record-playing stylus and are re-amplified). if you encounter a sustained low-frequency roar, or frequent groove-jumping. immediately turn down the Volume and switch off the BASS EQ until a more nearly vibration-free mounting for the turntable is found.


The output from a record player usually contains strong but inaudible impulses at infrasonic frequencies (below 20 Hz) due to disc warps, stylus/tonearm resonance, and vibrations reaching the turntable. If these are amplified at full strength. they may waste amptifier power and produce excessive woofer cone excursions, muddying the sound.

The infrasonic filler attenuates these unwanted signals. The filter is normally in-circuit (With the button OUT), and it is especially desirable to have it in-circuit when a large low frequency boost Is being applied via the BASS control.

If you want to bypass the infrasonic filter. depress the INFRA DEFEAT button. As long as the button is OUT, the filter is active.

A second infrasonic filter is included in the BASS EQ circuit and is automatically engaged when the bass equalization is used. It is not affected by the INFRA DEFEAT button.

Very nice addition to the flexibility of the 3130, but must be used with moderation.

Also added is a second pair of speaker connectors, with the ability to use bare wire or banana plugs. A plus for me is the Mono switch as I listened to a lot of jazz that was recorded before stereo came in. The Low Level switch is another thoughtful feature, actually a Mute if you will to lower volume by at least 20dB, to answer phone or for extended use of volume control. And of course the obvious Loudness Compensation circuit which boosts bass and treble at low listening volumes.

The 3120 accepts phono either MM or MC phono cartridges, also inputs for Tuner,CD,AUX/Video,Tape Loop and pre in and main out so the 3130 can be used as a stand alone preamp or amplifier.

I am using a Denon 301MKII Moving Coil cartridge mounted to a Audioquest PT 6 tonearm on a VPI HW 19 MKIV turntable and the performance is all that I could ask for.

Of course like all NAD units, it has their Soft Clipping circuit which can be switched off or left on. I have listened both ways and I cannot tell a difference between the Soft Clipping engaged or switched off. I just left it on the on position.

As well on the back is a switch for speaker impedance and to select either 8 ohms or 4 ohms. Factory set is 4 ohms and left it there for the Alon speakers I am using which are a nominal 6 ohm load and have zero issues at that setting.

Yes NAD did accomplish their goal of pushing the NAD 3130 to a level slightly above the 3020. It is doubtful that the 3130 will eclipse the cult following of the 3020. That was a truly ground breaking integrated amplifier, that in my opinion has yet to be equaled to this day.

In 2004 NAD tried to recapture the glory of their earlier products with the C320 BEE model. Which in my opinion fell way short of the 3020 and 3130. Did not have a built in phono section. Although more powerful at 50 WRMS per channel it just did not have the magic of those early ground breaking amplifiers. Nice try, but no cigar.

I find nothing in their current catalog that is on par with the 3020 or 3130 for that matter. Just my opinion of course.

I have been told that Cambridge Audio Topaz AM10 integrated amplifier is the next generation of giant killers in entry level hi-end audio. Have not heard it so I can offer no comparison. However their 540A from 2004 failed to impress me at all. Hard, edgy, grainy signature, and a flimsy build quality. But things move forward and the Topaz AM10 could be just such a product. At least it has a phono section albeit a MM. At $349.00 may get one just to give it a spin and see what happens.

I remember well the day the NAD 3020 showed up at my high end dealer I was doing business with. Having just dumped a ton on Threshold gear, the staff was milling around the little 3020. The owner was one of those with a mercurial personalities to say the least. When he came in and saw the 3020, he said get that piece of crap out of here. Thier entry level was Yamaha, followed by Bryston and then Threshold. But nonetheless the staff continued with the 3020 and set it up to audition. All were impressed by the outright sound quality of the little 3020, although they carped on its short comings, but at $175.00, whats to complain about. About half and hour later the owner shouted from his office, I see you got that Bryston up and running. The tech shouted back no I haven't, this is that piece of crap you said get out of here. With that he stormed out of the office and stopped dead in his tracks. Glaring at everybody including me, with whom I had just spent thousands with. Okay, damn it buy 6 of them and the first complaint I get, I'll fire somebody. Well myself and all the staff bought one, they had to order a dozen of them and in a week all was gone. Thus my introduction to NAD 3020.

Value and performance does not have to cost thousands and NAD proved it. In the price/performance category NAD tends to lead the way. To be candid bad design costs no more than good design and when properly executed can approach the the lofty hi-end.

Candidly the NAD 3130 cannot compete with the ultra high end even in its hey day or now for that matter. But given for what it is and that is a solid musical performer, that one does not have to make an excuse for.

This unit was rescued from a thrift store for a paltry $15.00. After a good clean up and check out, was installed while the Spectral gear gets a rest. Yep I had indeed forgotton just how good a NAD 3130 sounds. In todays used market they sell for $130.00 and is a great find at that price. Now some 26 years in its service life it still retains that NAD magic we have come to expect.

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Well, that was a nice, long post. And it listed the music you listen to as well as the NAD's specification. And you went into great detail about how to use their bass compensating circuitry. But nowhere in that post do you actually give us a review of the NAD 3130...

All righty so what else do you want to know. Perhaps its ability to resolve music with a great deal of liquidity and transparency as well as detail while not being over analytical. It errs nicely on the side of being a warm not sterile sounding amplifier. Of course at its modest price level, it falls way short of any high end from Pass Labs, Krell,Levinson or Spectral. This is not a wolf in sheeps clothing by any means. Given what it is and that of a worthy contender in the arena of budget integrated amplifiers,past and present, then it has few peers indeed. And yes you can do far worse by overlooking this unassuming gem from NAD.

Getting ready to try it as a preamp matched to a Muse 100 power amplifier in the next few days and we will see if the performance as a preamplifier puts it the company of stand alone preamplifers.