NAD 3020 front

NAD 3020: Hi-Fi Myth or Merely Legend?


PRE-AMP SECTION Phono input:

  • Input impedance: 47kΩ/ 47pF
  • Input sensitivity, 1kHz: 2.5mV ref. 20W Signal/Noise ratio: (A-weighted with cartridge connected) 75dB ref. 5mV
  • Line level inputs
  • Signal/Noise ratio: (A-weighted ref 1W) >86dB Channel separation: >60dB
  • Frequency response: (20Hz -20kHz) ±0.5dB Infrasonic filter: -3db at 15Hz, 24dB/octave Ultrasonic filter: -3dB at 35 kHz, 12dB/octave
  • Continuous output power into 8Ω*: 20W (13dBW) Rated distortion: (THD 20Hz -20kHz) 0.02%
  • Clipping power: (maximum continuous power per channel) 30W
  • IHF Dynamic headroom at 8Ω: +3dB
  • IHF dynamic power (maximum short term power per channel): 8Ω 40W
  • 4Ω 58W
  • 2Ω 72W


  • Dimensions (W x H x D) 420 x 96x 240mm
  • Net weight: 5.3kg
  • Shipping weight: 6.7kg

What is it about the NAD 3020 that makes men of a certain age go weak at the knees and gaze longingly into the distance? Perhaps it’s the memory of spending those years of youth in a darkened room, the floor strewn with gatefold sleeves and ADC headshells, instead of indulging in healthy outdoor pastimes such as running around chasing girls and kicking footballs, (hey, I’m British, and we actually do kick footballs). Possibly they have a picture in their mind of endless sunny days, lived to a soundtrack by Steely Dan or Little Feat, and spent with whoever, or doing whatever, might have taken their fancy at the time. Or maybe, just maybe, they realise that they enjoyed listening to music more then, on a meagre budget and with simple, entry-level gear. The sound was mighty good.

I bought my 3020 in 1980 for £79 or so, (about $120 USD in those days), from a shop in Glasgow. I think I may even have the receipt somewhere. I lived in Edinburgh where there were no NAD dealers, and so a trip to Scotland’s biggest city, with its dark streets and even darker tales, was required. By the way, Glasgow is a great place and many of my closest friends are citizens of what was once the Empire’s second city. I even went to college there for three years. The beer, if you look around, is rather good, and the same can be said of the golf courses. Anyway, I’d read about the beast for months, and had decided that I had to have one. I was aiming for the classic budget system of the day: Rega Planar 2, AR 18’s and NAD 3020. Add some QED wire, buy some more LP’s and life was all right. With the addition of the NAD, I reached my first audio destination.

NAD 3020 front

What made this unassuming little amp so different to the Pioneer’s and Sony’s that dominated the market in the late 70’s and early 80’s? Compared to the equipment available from the big Japanese companies, it was fairly dull and non-descript at first glance. Most low priced amps were big, silver boxes with clunky controls and wild power claims. Despite looking solid they were pretty lightweight in build and sound, a far cry from the stuff we can get for a few dollars or pounds nowadays. They promised much but offered a pretty basic performance on the whole, and they were tuned for eastern ears, a crucial point that we hadn’t yet taken on board.

The 3020 was designed in the UK but built in Taiwan. This kept the price down but gave hopes that the sound quality would be high. No great claims were made about power output with only 20 watts available per channel. However, these 20 watts were real watts, and they offered a control and drive never heard in an amp of this price before. And it had inbuilt upgradeability. There were separate pre and power sections, a decent phono input and a headphone socket. There was even a mute, a loudness button and a switch for something called ‘soft clipping’.

NAD 3020 back

How did it sound? As sweet as a nut. Smooth, clear and easy. With an ADC VLM loaded onto the R200 arm of my Rega 2, (why did I get rid of that wonderful ADC?), it could take you through a Colorado Fall with Dan Fogelberg, make sense of Steely Dan’s weirdest lyrics, or get your feet tapping when the needle hit the groove of any Crusaders album. It was thoroughly involving, and gave an intriguing hint of the high end.

It took me through the Rega turntable family, from 2, to 3 and up to 25, grooved with a load of cartridges, and drove numerous speakers. In my present system of P25, EEI 800 cartridge, and Rega Alya speakers, I can only say it still sings and swings. It isn’t, and was never meant to be, an extremely revealing amp, and so you can play almost anything and enjoy the sound. Carole Kings ‘Tapestry’ (Epic/Ode), is a poorly mastered and engineered piece of vinyl, and to be honest I find it hard to listen to when I use my resident Micromega Minium amp. Through the NAD, it may not be state of the art sound, but you can hear what the lady is trying to say. These are great songs, and this little, black/brown box simply lets the music through. (Someone, please, grab hold of the master tapes and issue a 180g slab that is worthy of the music. And while you’re at it, you could lock yourself in the Warner Brothers vaults and rescue the James Taylor tapes.)

With modern speaker designers and up-to-date materials giving us transducers that are bright enough to strip the bark from trees, the NAD is a better than useful tool. I played more than one messy album from the later years of vinyl through my rediscovered NAD. Rock and pop by Chaka Khan and Genesis, classic jazz from the likes of Bill Evans and Miles, singersongwriters from Bishop to Mitchell, and the NAD loved them all. It drags you in, makes you want to listen, and isn’t that what it’s all about?

It has a few problems, but after twenty-five years, and at such a price, it couldn’t be perfect. The springclip wire connectors are poor, only accept bare wire, and are prone to breaking, (if only they could be changed), and the switches can get noisy. But it’s easy to fix that by taking off the lid and giving them a squirt with something from Radio Shack. The little red LED’s occasionally drop into the chassis, but again just take of the top and voila. I’ve had mine serviced once, many moons ago, and the switches have been cleaned twice, and it cost very little.

Lately my amp has been living with a musician friend, connected to his Mac, and playing back his sounds through small Tannoy speakers. But I have plans. I’ve long decided that I am going to go valve, (or tube if you prefer). The question is how? Well, maybe the budget way is to use the 3020 as a simple pre-amp with useful phono stage, and find an affordable power amp. It might be one of the new kids on the block built in China, or a well-loved oldie that needs a little care and attention. Whatever path I choose, I have a feeling my old friend will be up to it. But before that, it’s going off for an upgrade. Somewhere in Scotland, there’s a little man with a workshop full of tools, and he promises to lift my old NAD to a new level with some new capacitors and a bit of magic dust, for only a handful of green notes. Well, £90. And I believe him. Maybe I’ll pass on the results.

I’ve been looking through e-bay, and on this side of the pond you can pick up a 3020 for £50 or so, ($95 USD). In my opinion it’s a bargain. And it’s also a little bit of hi-fi history. Go get one. Then sit back and enjoy.

Associated Equipment

  • Turntables
  • Rega P25 with RB600 and Roksan Corus (re-tipped by Expert Stylus)
  • Thorens TD 124 with RB300 and Elite EEI 800
  • Amp-Micromega Minium amp CD Player-Micromega Minium Speakers-Rega Alya
  • Cables-Entry level Kimber loudspeaker, attenuated interconnect and power cords


  • Carole King -Tapestry James Taylor -One Man Dog Steely Dan -Aja
  • Dan Fogelberg-Souvenirs
  • Pat Metheny-Offramp and various other stuff!

from affordableaudio, By Kevin Brock