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The NAD 3020 and My Quest for the Holy Grail: Exit to Vintage Street

The NAD 3020 was one of the best-selling audio components in history and has become a cult classic in the world of vintage audio.

NAD 3020 Stereo Integrated Amplifier closeup

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” So said Laozi (not Confucius) in the Dao De Jing. And so it is with the journey of building an audio system, or a record collection.

Anyone who cares about audio knows that vinyl has returned with a vengeance over the past decade. Records were for decades consigned as novelties to the back corners of music stores; vinyl now outsells CDs (as a percentage of overall physical format sales), and the shiny mirrored discs languish in dusty bins next to DVDs while records occupy the front walls and racks of music stores all around the globe. 

Consumers purchased 27.5 million LPs in the United States in 2020.  Incredibly, vinyl LP sales comprised 40.5% of all physical albums sold in the U.S. CDs were 94% of the market in 2004. They barely hit 5% in 2020. The 2021 H1 numbers were even better with 20 million new records sold in the United States alone.

Jazz Records
Jazz Records: Records and vintage audio are a great match. Record spines from Blue Note, Prestige, Impulse, and other jazz labels.

The vinyl resurgence, and popularity of original pressings and audiophile reissues of classic rock and jazz, has coincided with an uptick in interest in vintage audio equipment. The vinyl vibe pairs well acoustically and visually with receivers, amps, speakers, turntables and other equipment from HiFi’s “Golden Age” of the 1960s and 1970s.

As should be obvious already, I too am smitten with the vintage esthetic. One of the pieces that first piqued my interest was the NAD 3020. I’ve been enamored with this device – considered one of the most important components in the history of high fidelity audio (as per Wikipedia) – since it burst onto the audio scene in the late ‘70s. NAD sold over one million 3020 integrated amplifiers during its run – making it one of the most successful audio components in history. 

45th anniversary event
45th Anniversary Event: Celebrating 45 years since the release of the NAD 3020.

The 3020 has certainly been my grail amp for as long as I can remember, since well before it was even considered “vintage.” I remember reading the reviews of this iconic, 20-watt David when it first came out, but hadn’t actually heard one until an audio event at the Audio Room in Calgary in 2017 to celebrate the 3020’s 45th anniversary. Listening conditions were not ideal, but it impressed, and made my desire to have one even greater.

I’ve been a Mac user since the mid ‘90s when I got a PowerBook 145b. I’ve always liked the Apple design esthetic and “Think Different” mantra, and some of that love of scaled-down design can be attributed to the design of the 3020. No bells, no whistles, just clean and functional simplicity.

For those who bought the 3020 when it first came out (half a million in its first three years of production), the attraction was part design, part price ($135) and part performance.

NAD 3020 front
3020 Front: Another close-up of this iconic amplifier.

And what performance! Rated at only 20 watts per channel, the 3020 was quite capable of double that in short bursts. It played well with the demands of low-impedance speakers that could trip up far more powerful and expensive amplifiers. And sound quality punched well above what was available from budget amps of the time.

When I think about the 3020, and all early NAD equipment, I imagine Apple and Jeep getting together and having an audio lovechild. Simply designed, no-frills, four-wheel-drive audio. Beauty and the Beast.

NAD 3020 buttons
Buttons: NAD 3020 faceplate, push buttons and knobs. Definite keepers, but why?

Three years ago, I thought I’d secured my grail. I purchased a 3020 off Kijiji (Canada’s Craig’s List) but was gutted when it arrived DOA. Thankfully I was able to get my money back, but I also got to keep the carcass. I gave the case, innards and face plate to a friend who was rebuilding a 3020 of his own, but for some reason kept all the knobs and buttons. Premonition?

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A few months later I bought a pair of Klipsch Quartet speakers (since replaced with KLF 30s), and the seller threw in (!!!) a NAD 3140. Had that recapped, and fell in love with its dark background, sweet midrange and inherent warmth. Rated at double the 3020’s power (and benching close to 100 watts per channel when tested after recap), this was the first amp I owned to boss my beloved (and notoriously inefficient) KEF Calindas. More points scored for the NAD.

NAD 3140 Throw-in
3140 Throw-in: NAD 3140 thrown in with Klipsch Quartet purchase. Seen here with Arcam CD-73, Grant Fidelity TubeDAC 11 and Focal Elear headphones.

About a year ago, a friend in Calgary contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in his NAD 2600 power amplifier. We had talked previously about my desire to throw some big power at the Calindas. I read up on the 2600 online and reviews were universally positive and impressive. With that, and knowing what the 3140 could do, I jumped at the opportunity.

NAD 2600 Power Amplifier
2600 Power: The beast that is the NAD 2600.

The Calindas were transformed. The 3140 had handled them well, but with 150 watts per channel and high damping factor (a mark of an amplifier’s ability to control a speaker, not only getting it moving, but also stopping its travel), the Calindas were tamed, controlled, and a delight to the ears. NAD love burnished yet again.

calindas
Driving Calindas: NAD 3140 and 2600 driving the KEF Calindas to new heights. Yamaha YP-701 as source.

Fast forward to two weeks ago. Browsing Facebook Marketplace, a NAD 3020. Could this be the one? Would my quest be complete? In good shape and at a good price (a highly desirable combination, considering how vintage prices have exploded in the past couple of years). Messaged, set a time to visit, picked it up, brought it home, hooked it up, posted to Instagram, and almost immediately got a message from an Instagram follower asking if I was the guy who had just bought his amp. Small world!

Why the reasonable price? One of the speaker jacks was broken, and two of the push-buttons were missing. Speaker jacks will be repaired down the road (will have it serviced to make sure everything is ship-shape). As for the buttons, I still had those spares from before, so that was an easy fix and cosmetically we’re at a 9.5/10.

NAD 3020 Stereo Integrated Amplifier
Quest Over: My precious. NAD 3020 in her new home.

For now, I’m using the 3020 as a pre-amplifier with the 2600, and I’ve been very impressed. Driving my Klipsch KLFs, the sound is superb. All the warmth I expected, with a sweet, detailed sound, thundering bass and great control. Good things come to those who wait, and this is very good. Mission accomplished, and I’m a happy listener.

KLF speakers
Driving KLFs: Big Speakers, big sound. The NAD 3020 and 2600 combo makes the Klipsch KLF 30s sing!

Calgary is not an audio equipment hotbed. I can count the number of specialist high-end stereo stores (never mind vintage) on one hand. There’s not a lot of opportunity to try-before-you-buy (particularly during a pandemic), so many of my vintage purchases have been based on online reviews and discussions, with a little prayer thrown in.

That may sound like a strategy doomed to failure, but one of the great things about vintage is that If you don’t like something, you can usually sell it pretty easily without having to worry about depreciation (which happens very quickly with new equipment). If anything, as popularity increases, so does equipment value, and you may even come out ahead if you don’t like something or decide to upgrade down the road.

Enjoy the music playing Lee Morgan
Enjoy the Music: Jazz and the NAD 3020 are a great combo. Here with the Dual 701 as source, and Dynaco ST-70 powering the output.

And now back to building a vintage system. The journey begins with one step. If you’re just dipping your toe in the water with your first vintage system, and working within a tight budget for turntable, amp and speakers (or even just amp and speakers for a streaming system), you may not want to dive in too deep until you know better what you like and what’s out there.

You can start simple and still have an excellent system, and to me that is where a NAD amp can fit beautifully. You’ll get solid, functional equipment at a good price, and the power to handle pretty much whatever speaker you choose to go with it. And if you end up with a 3020, you get a piece of history to boot.

48 Comments

48 Comments

  1. Scott Lylander

    February 8, 2021 at 1:59 pm

    That was a great article👌🏽I had no idea the 3020 was so popular. I can’t wait for this ‘demic to be over and go listen to that over at my good buds AudioLoveYYC

    • Ian White

      February 8, 2021 at 2:23 pm

      Don’t we all. NAD equipment holds its value really well and the company is a powerhouse in the industry which is great for help and technical questions.

    • Eric Pye

      February 22, 2021 at 11:48 pm

      I can’t wait either. Cheers Scott!

      • Robert Champon

        February 28, 2022 at 6:57 pm

        Yes, Eric the NAD 3020 is a great little amp! But at 40+ years old, will be in need of a major restomod. The first and most important step is replacing ALL the electrolytic capacitors. The 4 power supply caps were seriously undersized–select new ones with double the capacitance. Even with that, the power supply is the weak point of the amp. I recently purchased an NAD3225PE–the last best iteration of the 3020. PE stands for Power Envelope and indeed it has a much improved power supply–featuring 10 x 3 amp diodes and 2 x 6800 uf capacitors!

        • Bob Erickson

          June 22, 2022 at 1:40 am

          I have a NAD 3045 from 1979. It works well and its condition is good to very good. But I cannot find anything online as to possible value.
          Can anyone help.
          Thanks.

          Bob

          • Eric Pye

            October 25, 2022 at 5:52 pm

            In these cases AudioKarma is your friend. Ask on there.

        • Eric Pye

          October 25, 2022 at 5:51 pm

          The Power Envelope stuff is excellent. I more-often-than-not run the 3020 as pre-amp through a 2600 power amp and that combination sings!

  2. Michael

    February 8, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    I was wondering where to get started, now I know!

    • Ian White

      February 8, 2021 at 2:30 pm

      The 3020 has been an interesting piece of equipment for a long time. I wouldn’t use it drive a pair of Magnepan planar magnetic speakers but it’s a lot more powerful than one would think. I still think 88 dB+ (8 ohms) is a good starting point for any loudspeakers with this amp.

    • Eric Pye

      February 22, 2021 at 11:49 pm

      Happy to help, Mike. If you have other questions, feel free to message me on Instagram.

  3. Gareth

    February 8, 2021 at 10:04 pm

    Cool. I have a 3020e – I’ve used it daily for 34/35 years – zero maintenance – it’s good as gold. Recently set it to work driving some Wharfedale Linton speakers – which it runs effortlessly.

    • Ian White

      February 9, 2021 at 10:22 am

      Gareth,

      The tonal balance of the 3020e matches up well with the Linton the are already on the warm side?

      Are these older Lintons or the new series that came out last year?

  4. Noam Bronstein

    February 11, 2021 at 5:59 pm

    Nice article! Congrats on the find.
    -Noam

    • Eric Pye

      February 22, 2021 at 11:50 pm

      Cheers Noam.

  5. Glenn

    February 11, 2021 at 10:35 pm

    Hi gang. I have had my 3020 now for about 35-40 years and it still works like the day I got it. Love NAD But I’m looking for a face plate ?

    • Ian White

      February 11, 2021 at 11:42 pm

      eBay, Audiomart, Audiogon might be good places to start.

  6. Pierre

    February 12, 2021 at 12:06 am

    We still have our original NAD3020 in daily use, purchased nearly 40years ago!

    And just recently joined by another iconic audio product: the Technics SL-10 linear tracker, to compliment our NAD 5120 flat arm turntable which was iconic in its own sense!

    • Eric Pye

      February 22, 2021 at 11:46 pm

      Great! I recently got an SL-DL1 linear tracker. Wonderful turntables.

  7. Joe McGinnis

    April 17, 2021 at 6:10 pm

    Hey – lovely article. I have had a place in my heart for this amp since I was a kid. My older brother had one with a Dual 506 and AKG headphones. He ran a record store then so his vinyl collection included Japanese half speed masters of the beatles library. All I can say is that in retrospect, I can’t imagine a more first class introduction to rock and roll for a kid. I was so fortunate. In college we had a set up built around one and my buddy uses it to this day. And now at 52 after years of exploring equipment and having pretty substantial systems carefully put together and massaged, I just had my mind blown by this amp again. I rescued one for myself finally and had it going today after some patient but superficial servicing and I can’t believe how good it is. I am stunned. Its a beautiful sounding amp. I never imagined it could still be this good.

    • Ian White

      April 17, 2021 at 7:16 pm

      Joe,

      We agree. It’s a very special component. The response to the article and sheer number of comments and DMs off-line prove that there is a generation of listeners who love the NAD 3020.

      Best,
      Ian

    • Eric Pye

      April 22, 2021 at 3:13 am

      I have been equally impressed. Glad you managed to track one down and can experience again the joy of your youth with it.

  8. Nicholas Comber

    May 12, 2021 at 1:08 am

    Great article about the allure of the NAD 3020 and you finally being able to purchase one!

    I bought my first 3020 in 1981 aged 15 after my first summer job. Being a young avid reader of the Hi-Fi magazines in the UK at the time, where it was heavily advertised. I loved it as my first real piece of audio equipment, probably not really realising how special it was. I upgraded a few times in the 1980s and those expensive upgrades never actually sounded better in the end. I have actually had 4 of the 3020s over the years and they have all had issues, due to being fairly cheaply made I think.

    I have drifted into iTunes and then streaming and Sonos in recent years…until just recently I purchased a completely rebuilt 9/10 NAD 3020 from Italy that cost me way too much, along with the shipping and duty. So after 25 years I have unpacked my Linn LP12 and Rega 3 and my VPI record cleaner and it has been a revelation! I just can’t believe how involving, holographic (at times) and fantastic it all sounds! The phono stage in the 3020 is very special too I think.

    I still wonder what amp I could buy currently that could match its sweet natural sound, any ideas? Btw can I ask where you purchased your entertainment console? It is exactly what I am looking for.

    • Eric Pye

      May 13, 2021 at 3:12 am

      Thanks for the comment Nicholas. I’ve had a similar return to vinyl a little under 3 years ago, and for me it has been a revelation, too. As a teen and university student I always wanted a 3020, and I’m glad in my 50s I was finally able to experience one. The console is a custom job, made for me in Calgary by my friend Scott. Look him up on Instagram at @audio_acoustic_engineering.

      • Nicholas Comber

        May 16, 2021 at 3:13 am

        I am curious as to what you think of the difference using the NAD 2600 power amp and if it takes away any of the magic. It certainly removes the limiting power of the 3020. Based on what you hear, do you think most of the 3020s sound signature is due to its preamp? I have never tried using a bigger power amp so far, but could be tempted.

        I checked out Scott’s instagram. Love that design, but as I am in Bermuda, unless he could do a flat pack version, I will have to stick with my plan of getting some Kallax units.

        • Eric Pye

          May 17, 2021 at 12:36 am

          To tell the truth, I’ve only used the 3020 as a pre-amp so far. When I first got it one of the speaker terminals was buggered, so I hooked it to either the Dynaco or the 2600 for power. Have had it serviced now, so am going to give it a run solo and see if I notice any difference in sound.

  9. Fuse

    July 1, 2021 at 6:35 pm

    Congrats on finding a 3020.

    Now that you have that classic, and a 2600, it’s time to experiment with bi-amping!

    Happy listening.

  10. Rick Chaffe

    July 21, 2021 at 3:32 pm

    Great review. I recently acquired a 3020 and love it. However, the previous owner somehow managed to drop it, damaging the right upper corner of the faceplate. I’ve tried to find a replacement with no success. Any chance you have a spare to sell? I’d be eternally grateful.

    • Bjoern Boesgaard

      February 5, 2022 at 3:36 pm

      Hi Rick,
      I have the same problem with a cormer missing. However, it is my plan to solve this in – to me at least – an upgrade… The idea is to make a wooden front, scan the original front for the text etc, print this in the wooden front, and finally laquer the thing..
      it should look a lot like a Holfi amp then. Maybe this idea appeals to you too? Bjoern B

      • Eric Pye

        October 25, 2022 at 5:49 pm

        Very cool idea.

  11. Chris Fletcher

    August 17, 2021 at 4:19 pm

    Great to see an article focusing on the NAD 3020 and even better to see some love for the 3140. I still have the NAD 3140 I bought in 1980 to drive a pair of ADS710 speakers, the 3140 needs repair and I actually considered getting rid of it – but after reading this article you have convinced me to get it rebuilt, even if I do have a Yamaha 701 integrated amp driving things now. At the time I bought it I had the option to get the companion NAD amplifier (2140?) for a bi-amp setup but given the money I had to pass, kicking myself today for not doing it. One of the great features of both the 3020 and 3140 was their ability to function as a pre-amp, which you highlighted in your article and which provides a lot of flexibility and growth potential. Finally, your comments on the warmth and strong mid-range highlight why I loved this amp!

    • Ian White

      August 17, 2021 at 4:48 pm

      Chris,

      Based on the rather astounding number of reads of Eric’s excellent article — there is a cult of NAD 3020 owners that extends to all corners of the globe.

      NAD needs to remake this amplifier. The class D version doesn’t come close.

      Ian White

    • Eric Pye

      September 3, 2021 at 3:04 am

      Would love to hear how things work out with the 3140 when you do get it fixed up. It really is a pretty amazing piece of equipment, and dare I say a step or two up from the 3020?

  12. Jim

    August 18, 2021 at 3:48 am

    Your stats on LP v CD sales look a little unfair, and seem to reflect a current, energetic attempt by some commentators to consign CD to insignificance. I’m right in thinking that CD’s ‘barely hit’ 5% of sales refers to all sales, includes non-physical media? In which case, LP sales will look even more marginal. Put another way, CDs accounted for almost 60% of physical media sold in 2019. The fact that rental music has taken over the world reflects sadly on long-term prospects for all physical media – it’s a shame that some vinyl fans still regard CD as the real enemy (I enjoy both formats, by the way, and am particularly grateful for the vast expansion of recorded classical repertory that CD allowed).

    • Ian White

      August 18, 2021 at 10:20 am

      Jim,

      I have been a huge cheerleader for physical media throughout my 20+ years as an A/V journalist and have written more pro-CD articles than anyone over the past 5 years both on this site, Digital Trends, Jazziz, and Gear Patrol.

      I own 5 CD players and still buy new/used CDs.

      We all know that “rental” music is here to stay and will eventually constitute 90% of the market. It’s almost there already in N. America.

      I have CD player reviews already in the pipeline for Q4 and will continue to push the superiority of physical media to our readership because I want both to not only survive but grow.

      Best,
      Ian White

    • Eric Pye

      September 3, 2021 at 3:02 am

      Jim, I’m with you on Classical and CDs. Lots of stuff either unavailable now on vinyl, or priced in the stratosphere. Still have close on 2,000 shiny disks, many of which I know I’ll never find in black.

  13. Jean-François Héon

    August 18, 2021 at 2:38 pm

    What a great audio journey.

    That sturdy looking stand with the vinyl & audio equipment deserves some kudos too!

    • Ian White

      August 18, 2021 at 3:06 pm

      Jean-Francois,

      It’s a custom media/record/equipment stand made in Alberta.

      Best,
      Ian White

    • Eric Pye

      September 3, 2021 at 2:59 am

      Thanks Jean-Francois. Kudos to Audio Acoustic Engineering.

  14. Bruce Goldberg

    December 18, 2021 at 5:31 pm

    I’ve owned the NAD 3020 as well as many other well-known vintage pieces. You’ll get much clearer high frequencies as well as better channel separation from a Harman-Kardon 430 receiver (*not* their 730, which I’ve also owned). This little guy featured separate power supplies for each channel. The old HK 430s blow the NADs out of the water, particularly when coupled with efficient modern loudspeakers. The audio critic from Fanfare magazine called the 430 “the King of receivers.” Getting hard to find, though.

    • Ian White

      December 18, 2021 at 5:45 pm

      Bruce,

      The Budget Audiophiler is a big fan of the HK Receivers.

      Ian White

  15. vincent mchale

    December 18, 2021 at 5:47 pm

    Hi,great article. Never had one but curious if you ever ran across the Advent300 receiver. I had one and used the preamp out into a Dynaco ST 70.Curious how they compare. All the best, Vinnie

    • Eric Pye

      December 18, 2021 at 8:42 pm

      One I’d love to get my hands on. Jeremy (@budget_audiophiler) has one and has written about it in his column here, but I don’t think he or I can compare.

  16. Ben Atkins

    December 28, 2021 at 12:23 am

    Great article, chimes very much with my audio journey. I’ve had multiple amplifiers over the years, vintage receivers, Cyrus, pioneer, Toshiba aurex and loads of other bits. I bought an NAD 3100 for less than a bottle of scotch on a sales page, I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said it changed everything. I couldn’t comprehend how this little black box with plastic buttons was so much cleaner and natural sounding than the multitude of silver faced machines aluminium tanks I’d had for so many years. I instantly fell for the sound. Balanced, rhythmical and so musical. I’ve now bought a 2600 which needs a little repair but luckily I know a fella. I have a feeling I may have my dream setup soon.

    • Eric Pye

      January 3, 2022 at 1:27 am

      Don’t doubt that 3100/2600 combo will put a huge smile on your face!

  17. Tim Price

    January 7, 2022 at 9:59 pm

    Eric, just happened upon your site.

    I was into hi-end when the 3020 was introduced so knew about them but never owned one until many years later. I found one from the original owner who even had the carton. I used that for several years for audio with my TV, driving Signet speakers. I must say, in spite of familiarity with higher end systems I was often surprised by the audio quality with concert broadcasts and sometimes movie scores.

    Mine has been boxed up following a major move. It is stock other than years ago I replaced the spring clip speaker connector with miniature 5-way binding posts. Maybe imagination but it seemed that made a small improvement with clarity.

    If I put it in another secondary system I imagine it would be worthwhile having a tech restore tired caps and what-not.

    Continue enjoying yours.

    • Eric Pye

      January 9, 2022 at 5:43 pm

      Thanks for the note. Probably not a bad idea to at least have it checked over. I had mine looked at when I got it as I wasn’t sure about it’s service history. One of the speaker clips was busted, so I had binding posts put on too. Don’t know whether it improved sound as I never heard it through the original clips (only used it as a pre-amp prior to service). Still enjoying it, and hope you’ll find a way to enjoy yours again too.

  18. rl1856

    October 19, 2022 at 6:13 pm

    Where in the US can someone have their 3020 restored for a reasonable price ?

    • Eric Pye

      October 25, 2022 at 5:53 pm

      My understanding is it’s not a difficult piece to work on, so any reputable vintage repair shop should be able to do it.

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