Review: NAD C-320BEE Amplifier

Category: Amplifiers

The NAD 320BEE is used as the power source in my second system. It is a 2 channel system that is used for both music reproduction and home theater. The NAD 320BEE replaces a Harmon Kardon 3370 receiver (used as a preamp) and an Audiosource Amp 2 power amplifier. Replacement was necessary as the HK 3370 shorted out and went up in smoke. Previous to this set-up, a Denon 2801 home theater receiver was used. The NAD 320BEE was purchased at Harvey Electronics (NYC).

Music/Sound Reproduction:

Both male and female vocals were clear, deep, full, and warm sounding (Nanci Griffith, "Winter Marquee"; Raul Malo "Super Colossal, Smash Hits of the Mavericks"; Frank Sinatra, "Songs for Swinging Lovers"). Guitars and strings, in general, were crisp, distinct, and revealing (I heard guitar lines in Neil Diamond's "Shilo" for the first time in 30 years). Rock music sounded exciting and powerful (Rolling Stones remastered, "Let It Bleed"); compelling and inviting (Robert Plant, "Dreamland'); and alive, with well reproduced bass (Doves, "The Last Broadcast" and Metallica, "S&M"). Horns were clear and deep and had just the right edge to them (Clifford Brown, "With Strings"). On action/adventure DVD's (James Bond, "Tomorrow Never Dies"), explosions/gun-shots/crashes/helicopter roars were loud and in-the-room realistic sounding.

The NAD 320BEE plays loud. The NAD replaced previous units that were rated as having more power, but the NAD just sounds as if it has much more power. It drives my AR speakers (85 db sensitivity) with ease. In fact, the NAD really brings out the best in the AR's (very musical sounding, full range speakers capable of going down to 35 hz).

Product Features and Build

The unit appears to be solidly built and has good heft to it (it weighs in at just over 14 pounds). It has inputs for 7 sources (cd; video; disc; tuner; aux; tape1; tape2 ), as well as defeatable tone controls and NAD soft clipping. The unit is supplied with a remote control that can be used with other NAD products (CDP; tuner; etc). My only two quibbles with the general design (and they are minor) are: I would have preferred a "lighted" volume control (so, I can see the volume level in low light conditions) and a detachable power cord.

This is my first piece of NAD gear in 31 years of enjoying quality gear (I got started early ... when I was 14). I enjoy believing that if I pick quality equipment up front, I can spend my time listening to the music and not worry (so much, anyways) about the gear. So, my comments are usually about how the music sounds and not so much about soundstaging; etc. (if you have house cats, speakers are usually placed where the claws aren't). The NAD320BEE is a quality piece of equipment that makes the music sound very good.

Product Weakness: Not forgiving of poorly recorded music sources.
Product Strengths: Smooth non-fatiguing sound. Excels at music reproduction (vocals; strings; brass). Quality product build and full feature set.

Associated gear
Pioneer Elite PD-65 CD Player; SONY S560D DVD Player; Acoustic Research 302 Speakers Classic Series (85db sensitivity); IXOS GAMMA SILVER 1002 interconnects; Radio Shack Gold Series 16 gauge speaker cable
I too would recommend this little gem to anyone interested in building a budding audiophile's system. This unit is truly a marvel in driving anything but the most difficult speaker load. I hope that the people at Harman Kardon or Rotel will sit up and take notes . . . then again, maybe not. They are probably too busy coming up with their new surround receivers.
I just recently aquired this "little gem" (boy is it ever) and I just love it. However, Rarl above says that one of its weaknesses is that it's not forgiving on poorly recorded sources. I don't think that's a
weakness. It tells me of it's neutrality, not adding or subtracting to mask the sound. What you feed it is what comes out. This amp is an absolute STEAL for its asking price.

Hi. When I wrote the review last December, I was recovering from spine fusion surgery and so, I was listening to my stereo about 12 or so hours a day. I was really enjoying how my system sounded with the NAD ... but, I was getting annoyed with how certain CDs were now sounding.

I tend to agree that "weakness" is not the best way of describing what would be considered a positive trait. If I were to say it differently, I would say that the NAD will bring out the best in a well recorded CD and will demonstrate that there are benefits to be gained from acquiring "audiophile quality" CD pressings.

In the past year, I have upgraded the speaker cables and interconnects to Signal Cable products. I have also added a tuner (TEAC T-1D). Otherwise, I am completely satisfied with the NAD and feel that it is an absolute superb piece of equipment .

Regards, Rich
Hi Rich,
I noticed in your living room system you have a Musical Fidelity
A3 integrated. Was wondering if you've replaced it with the NAD to see how it stacked up against the A3.
Hi Mosfetti,

A few months ago, I was wondering the same thing, so I A/B'd the NAD 320 BEE and the MF A3 in my living room system. My expectations going into this was that the sound should be very similar, since the only thing that would be different is the CD player (normally, each system would be using the same speakers ... the Acoustic Research 302).

Both amps were enjoyable to listen to. Both amps emphasize sounding musical, as opposed to sounding analytical. However, for pretty much all of the music that I listened to, the MF A3 sounded richer and smoother. The MF A3's sound just had more depth to it. You could tell that the MF A3 was the more expensive amp, because it just sounded that way. The NAD and MF are both good amps, the MF A3's just takes the sound to the next level.

I got a good deal on the MF A3 from Upscale Audio (paid $875; list $1200) and I paid list for the NAD ($400) at Harvey's. Is the MF worth 3 times or 2 times the value of the NAD ... possibly ... but then you are getting into the whole audiophile/worth discussion.

Hope I haven't confused the issue too much. Regards, Rich
This is the 25 year anniversary edition of the famed NAD 3020, which in itself set a very high standard in 1979. It is little wonder that the NAD C-320BEE is receiving such I praise, its pedigree is unchallengeable. And the designer is the same gentleman as for the 3020 Bjorn-Erik Evardsen, hince the BEE designation.
I forget in which magazine I was reading this, but the BEE designation also has other significance within the NAD world. Apparently, Mr. Evardsen feels that the BEE designation is for those NAD components that give you 90% of the overall performance that you would expect of a component in its class and that it would cost you ten times the BEE component's cost to achieve that additional 10%. (I believe I got this right). Very impressive statement and if the 320BEE is any indication of other BEE designated components ... I might tend to agree.

Regards, Rich
Another update regarding the associated gear that I am using with the NAD 320BEE ...

The Pioneer PD 65 cd player has been replaced with the Music Hall MMF CD25 cd player. The difference in system performance is literally like comparing night and day ... and I have always been skeptical of these types of claims. There is a synergy between the NAD and the Music Hall that just did not exist with the Pioneer. If this makes any sense ... the music just sounds sweeter. For example, there is an enhanced richness to vocals ... especially male vocals. This was particularly evident with the new Mavericks recording, as well as the Jayhawks "Rainy Day Music." Music with acoustic properties and/or a stripped down quality sound more exciting (Beatles "Let it Be ... Naked" and Pete Townshend "Scooped"). Even a 1st generation CD pressing of CSN&Y's "DeJa Vu" sounded pretty good. A real surprise.

I have resurrected my 14 year old Adcom GTP 500 II tuner/preamp and I am using it as a tuner only. The TEAC T-1D was OK sounding, the Adcom is just better.

That's about it for now.

Regards, Rich
I have been using this for just over 3 months now, and am very impressed ! much better than the Rotel Ra02(Which was a a bit brighter with my speakers) as well as the Marantz PM7200..
The strength lies in its Smooth Warmth as well as its Very well controlled Bass.
As a tip, try replacing the rather cheap connector (removable) between the pre-amp and Power Amp section with any decent Interconnect and the difference is pretty Good. I use this with a NAD 521BEE CDP and love it !!
Got the NAD 320BEE about 5 days back .Thanks to all of you for your candid comments on this forum .Iam delighted !
Thanks all for your comments, very helpful.
But it seems that you all combine NAD C-320BEE with a power amp.
I wonder how it would be when used alone (as integrated amp only)?


I have only used the NAD C320BEE as an integrated amp ... its preamp is actually pretty decent, especially given the price of the NAD. The sound is quite detailed and musical and can be listened to for hours. If you like, please refer to my 2 channel HT system to see how I use the NAD.

In that system, the room size is 15 X 10 X 8 1/2 and the speakers are not very efficient (85 db), but the NAD will play very loud with music (somewhat less so with HT, as HT poses more of a drain on power).

Without knowing your particulars, the NAD is an excellent integrated if paired up correctly.

Regards, Rich

Anyone compared the sound of this to the old 3020?
or to the NAD monitor series recievers?

I am curius...
Hi Gong:

I am not quite sure what would be achieved by comparing these two amplifiers head to head, unless you were going to do a four way comparison and use both modern era and vintage speakers. The comparisons would then be 320 w/modern; 320 w/vintage; 3020 w/modern; and 3020 w/vintage. This would be the only way to be fair to both amplifiers.

Amplifiers are designed either using certain speakers or with certain speakers in mind. In my experience, vintage amplifiers/receivers sound best when paired with vintage speakers. Now, not that the vintage stuff will sound bad with modern speakers ... but they tend to shine with vintage speakers. I have two vintage receivers (Marantz 2240 and 2216B) that see a lot of use in my house and the speakers that I have wound up using (NHT SB2 and Omega Super 3's) sound pretty good, but my hunch is that the Marantz's would be happier with say ... EPI 100's or AR4's, etc.

Regards, Rich
I heard that they were both designed by the same guy - after all these years...

That might make the sound similar, but I am wondering if the later has not gone down in quality. Some companies once a reputation is established, cut back on quality - thinking of the profit morgin no doubt, like Adcom, and Mark Levinson.

Has the same thing happened to NAD? Some say the 3020 is their best effort so far. Is this true, in which case one might want to hunt one down, and replace the capacitors. Or is the more powerful 320bee equal to his earlier effort?

I am looking for affordable systems for my friends, who do not want to spend that much.

Hi Gong:

See your point ... but words like quality, and I am taking that to mean sound quality, are so subjective. I still think that a meaningful (and pretty cool) comparison, from an academic point of view, should be done with speakers and possibly sources from both today and 25 years ago. For example, the 320BEE does not have inputs for a turntable, assuming that the amp would be paired with a CD player or a DVD/CD player. With that in mind, the designer, Bjorn-Erik Evardsen, may have voiced the amp differently than he would have 25 years earlier.

I am torn when it comes to vintage equipment. First, you have to track the item down and then restore it. The restored item winds up costing nearly as much as something new or alternatively, you now have a DIY project and even after having the experience of working with my Dad for years repairing TV's and radios ... it is not something that I would jump at doing.

I had a Marantz 2240 receiver restored. The 2240 listed for $450 in 1974 and is actually a little bit older than the 3020. Dollar wise though (adjusting for inflation, etc.), the amp section on the 2240 and the 320 should be on par (as well as the 3020). The 2240 has a nice pleasing sound, has a fantastic tuner, and has a superb retro look ... but today's NAD 320 is clearly superior as an amp ... when using speakers from today. I wonder how the NAD 320 would fare with the speakers that I had back in 1979 (EPI 100's), because the Marantz was killer with those.

Regards, Rich
Thanks for the post, Rarl.
I will keep that in mind when system matching.
I like the sound of the 320bee - although a bit dry.
I will try to mate it with the newer stuff, and see if it will sound better.
Glad to see some good reviews on NAD. Will anyone be able to offer some advice - I don't seem to get sufficient bass defnition with my system in fact the low frequencies sound rather blur. Does anyone else have similar components or can offer some suggestions.

Cambridge Audio 540C
Ruark Epilogue Speakers
XOL ER-10 power cord
Synergistic Research interconnect
StraightWire Quartet speaker cable

My hunch is that your bass definition issues may lie with the Ruark Epilogue speakers. These speakers are mini monitors, designed to work in small rooms, that only go down to 55 hz and need to be out in the room to be able to go that far down. The usual questions come up here now ... what is speaker placement like; what type of speaker stands are you using; how big a room are you using the speakers in; etc. The NAD C320BEE can be paired with a wide variety of speakers ... I was using AR 302's which can go down to 35 hz and the bass was tuneful and crisp.

Regards, Rich
hi Rarl,

Many thanks for the prompt reply. My room is 5meters by 3 meters. I've placed my setup along breadthwise .25m from the wall and I'm seated 2.5m from speakers. Actually these are the best I could do. My speaker stands are non-branded but steady (with spikes). Tried bringing the speakers closer to the wall but it gets worse.

Have you heard Spendor S3 with NAD?
HOw about adding a sub-woofer?
Hi Van:

Does moving the speakers out into the room (a meter or so from the wall) improve things any? The Ruarks are designed to operate ideally out in the room. The bass may be sounding smeared because the speakers are too close to the wall. Alternatively, you could try plugging the rear ports to see if that tightens the bass any.

If you go to Ruark's web-site , under the q&a section, the first item is about speaker placement. Some general guidelines are given and the point is made to avoid placing the speakers too close to rear & side walls. This may be hard to achieve given how you have your room set-up. Ruark goes so far as to say to avoid rear ported speakers, if you will be placing them too close to the walls.

Your listening room is about the same size as where I have my 2 channel HT system. I have my speakers set-up inside of bookcases on the long wall and accordingly, I can only use sealed box or front ported speakers. Most rear ported speakers would be a disaster in this set-up.

I would try different speaker positions, before I invest in a sub-woofer.

Regards, Rich
Hi Rarl,

Did try that but although it gave me improved depth but didn't help me. But you're right in that the problem lies in my speakers. I borrowed a EPOS EL3 from a friend and the bass seems fine (in fact, a lot better)but unfortunately the treble is shiny. Considering that my friend is not keen on music he may be OK to swap :-)

Have you tried Kimber Hero or Atlas Questor interconnects with NAD? I'm looking for a interconnect(since I'm living with a borrowed interconnect at the moment) which is warmer and that can give tight bass and solve the treble issue. How's IXOS GAMMA SILVER 1002 ?
Hi Van:

I have been using the IXOS SILVER GAMMA 1001 interconnect in one form or another for the last 3 or 4 years and have had great success with it. I prefer sound that it is on the warm side with a reasonable amount of detail and nuance and the IXOS has done its part nicely. I started out with the 1001 (neon yellow jacket) and the 1001 now comes in a red/gold braid jacket. Accessories4less has the Silver Gamma 1001 reduced from $200 to $60 and in a variety of lengths. It's well worth the price.

I had tried the EPOS ESL3 with the NAD C320 and felt that the EPOS sounded boxy. Admittedly, not the best speaker placement had a lot to do with it, but I was still not thrilled with the overall sound. I much preferred the sound of the NHT SB2's with the NAD. I also paired the NAD with the Music Hall MMF CD 25 cd player and felt that the synergy was stunning.

Regards, Rich