Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Note: Measurements can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceNew Acoustic Dimension (NAD) was founded in London, England, in 1972. Since 1999, the electronics manufacturer has been owned by the Lenbrook Group, the Canadian parent company to sister brands Bluesound and PSB Speakers. NAD’s reputation for making no-nonsense, high-value gear began in 1978 with the 3020, a legendary integrated amplifier that combined genuine hi-fi sound quality with supreme affordability ($135 USD in 1978). In 2012, to celebrate NAD’s 40th anniversary, the 3020 was reimagined as the D 3020, a diminutive, class-D integrated amplifier-DAC. In August 2018, Sathyan Sundaram raved about that model’s successor, the D 3020 V2 ($399), which was then named one of our Products of the Year. The D 3020 V2’s combination of a power rating of 30Wpc into 8 ohms, a moving-magnet phono input, and a variety of analog and digital inputs and outputs, make it a flexible, albeit not universally comprehensive, one-box integrated-DAC. It’s not perfect -- 30Wpc is enough for smaller rooms, but not for larger spaces and/or inefficient speakers. The D 3020 V2 also lacks some useful connections, and has some uncommon connectors; e.g., stereo miniplugs for its subwoofer and preamp outputs.

NAD

The subject of this review, the D 3045 integrated-DAC ($749), was designed to address some of these omissions, and I’d say NAD has succeeded. The 7.9-pound integrated shares the same design language as the D 3020 V2, but it’s considerably bigger at 9.4”H x 2.9”W x 10.5”D, and weighs more than 2.5 times as much, splitting the difference between the D 3020 V2 and NAD’s full-size models. For most consumers -- note that I didn’t say audiophiles -- I’d wager it’s a Goldilocks-ian “just right.” In keeping with NAD’s reputation for value, the D 3045 gives you a lot for your hard-earned money. Its Hybrid Digital class-D, UcD amplifier modules, licensed from Hypex, generate 60Wpc into 8 or 4 ohms, the total harmonic distortion (THD) at either impedance measuring <0.005% from 20Hz to 20kHz at 1W. NAD has upgraded several components to help drive down distortion compared to the circuit used in the D 3020 V2, and the same goes for the switch-mode power supply, which boasts greater voltage and current capacity. Check out NAD’s white paper on the Hybrid Digital architecture for additional details; it’s a short but worthwhile read.

The built-in DAC is also much improved, forgoing the Cirrus Logic CS42528 chip from the D 3020 V2 and instead opting for an AKM AK4490 chipset. The latter, a 32-bit chip, offers better performance, as well as native DSD support. The D 3045 also offers MQA support, as noted below. Short of Wi-Fi and Ethernet -- connections that form the basis of NAD’s D 7050 DirectDigital network amplifier -- purchasers of the D 3045 are presented with a full menu of digital inputs, including: asynchronous USB (24-bit/384kHz PCM, up to DSD 256, and MQA); two optical and one coaxial S/PDIF (24/192 PCM, MQA); two-way, hi-rez Bluetooth via aptX HD (24/48 PCM); and HDMI Audio Return Channel (ARC), for connecting to a TV’s HDMI output.

NAD

On the analog side, there’s a built-in moving-magnet phono stage that uses “1% tolerance parts for perfect RIAA equalization,” per Greg Stidsen, NAD’s Director of Technology and Product Planning. According to him, this phono stage also includes NAD’s infrasonic canceling circuit, and is based on a current-generation super op-amp with typical THD of <0.0001%. Further, there are a stereo miniplug input, an RCA input, a preamp/subwoofer output, and, on the front panel, a 3.5mm jack for the D 3045’s dedicated, op-amp-driven headphone amp. The volume control is an analog, resistive-ladder design controlled in the digital domain and stepped in increments of 0.5dB. Other connections include run-of-the-mill chunky plastic binding posts, a 12V trigger, a USB Type-A service port for firmware updates, and a standard IEC power inlet for those who prefer an aftermarket power cord.

The D 3045 is pretty attractive for its aggressive price, with profiles tall and slim or rack-huggingly low, depending on whether you stand it on end or lay it flat. The amp’s face is covered by a glossy plastic finish that slopes up and over one narrow side panel, over a screen that displays the selected source and the output volume (in dB) on the front, and a capacitive power button on the top of the case when it’s stood on end. There’s a big volume knob at top and, below it, a smaller input knob, both of hollow-feeling plastic. The ability to reorient the D 3045 permits more creative setups, including use on a desktop or next to a TV -- and the display switches its aspect ratio depending on the D 3045’s orientation, just as on a smartphone. Each side panel of the D 3045 is finished in matte-black plastic; a narrow ventilation grille toward the bottom also provides an aesthetic flourish.

NAD

The D 3045 is built to a high standard -- I found nothing in the way of flex, gaps between panels, or inconsistency in materials -- but looks better than it feels: The touch of the controls, and the latency between turning a dial and seeing the results displayed, are constant reminders that $749 doesn’t buy you everything. However, concessions need to be made at this price point, and I think NAD and its customers are more than happy to give up a bit of premium feel if it results in a flexible wunderbox that delivers genuine hi-fi sound.

The included plastic remote control is adequate and functional, if not exactly a looker. There are buttons for On/Off, Source, Volume, Mute, Play, Bass, and Dim. That last button lets you set the NAD’s display to full, half, or no illumination. The Bass button is for use with small, bass-challenged minimonitors: Press it once to boost the bass by 7-8dB at 80Hz, with a sharp rolloff from there down; press it additional times to enable second-order (12dB/octave) high-pass filters at 120, 80, and 40Hz, for those who connect a subwoofer or two to the D 3045’s sub outputs. Recently, while reviewing a budget subwoofer, I made frequent use of this incredibly handy feature.

Setup

The D 3045 comes in a stylish cardboard box with its power cord, remote control, Quick Start Guide, info about its two-year warranty, and a set of little rubber feet. Setup was dead easy. When I connected banana-terminated AudioQuest Rocket 33 speaker cables to the NAD’s binding posts, which aren’t the deepest around, the bananas stuck out a bit; spades might be the preferred connector for the D 3045. I ran NAD’s stock power cord from the D 3045 to the wall outlet, a DH Labs Silversonic USB link from the NAD’s computer port to my Intel NUC Roon Core music server, and a generic HDMI cable from the NAD’s ARC input to my TV’s ARC output. I also inserted two optical S/PDIF links: one to the TV’s audio out (as that’s how I normally link TV to stereo), and one to a Google Chromecast Audio, to use with my wife’s Spotify Premium account via Spotify Connect. The ARC linkup worked perfectly, with my TV’s remote now controlling the NAD’s volume -- a nifty feature not seen on many integrateds. I verified that the two analog inputs worked by hooking up the Chromecast Audio using its stereo miniplug-to-RCA adapter. I also briefly streamed lossless FLAC files via Tidal to the D 3045’s Bluetooth input from my iPhone 7, and liked what I heard; I’d wager that most listeners couldn’t tell the difference between the NAD’s Bluetooth input and one of its wired digital inputs.

NAD

I did some listening with Paradigm’s excellent new Defiance V10 subwoofer wired into the NAD’s subwoofer output, which I integrated with the output of my KEF LS50 minimonitors with the help of the NAD’s built-in high-pass filters. Other speakers -- pairs of KLH Kendalls, PSB Alpha P5s, Scansonic M40s -- also had time to play with the NAD. Unfortunately, I couldn’t try out the D 3045’s MM phono stage -- despite my avocado-toast-loving Millennial roots, I’m no vinyl guy. Still, many will appreciate the inclusion of a phono stage, and especially that its input is not routed through the D 3045’s internal DAC, as in some of NAD’s costlier DirectDigital models -- the signal path is pure analog.

Listening

First impressions are funny things. With some products, I find myself immediately drawn to one or two aspects of sound quality -- impressive soundstaging, say, or incredible retrieval of low-level detail. Others pull my musical strings more demurely, without calling attention to themselves. Neither sort of device is better or worse than the other; just as with people, first impressions are, by definition, not final or lasting impressions (except, of course, when they are). With the little D 3045, I experienced a bit of both. On its arrival I’d immediately unboxed it and tossed it into my system as a direct replacement for my Hegel Music Systems H590 integrated-DAC, and my gut reaction was that the little Canadian amp didn’t sound all that different from its outrageously expensive ($11,000) Norwegian counterpart -- at first blush, a very good thing. But by the same token, nothing about the NAD’s sound really jumped out at me, and I worried that it might turn out to be merely very competent, even a bit lifeless to listen to over the long haul. As the listening hours racked up, however, I identified several characteristics of the NAD’s sound that should appeal to an awful lot of listeners.

In the intro of “My Oh My,” from David Gray’s breakout album, White Ladder (16-bit/44.1kHz ALAC, RCA), I had the easiest time tracking the fingers of Gray’s left hand as it moved up and down the neck of his acoustic guitar. The notes picked by his right hand, aiding the lazy supporting melody along, rang true to my ears -- the instrument’s sound was tonally perfect, with a combination of sweetness, finesse, and articulation I hadn’t thought possible for anywhere near $749. Gray’s funny singing style, which combines a nasal sound with a folksy delivery, also sounded fulsome and lifelike through KLH’s Kendall floorstanders, making for easy Sunday-afternoon listening.

NAD

“Walk On,” from U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind (16/44.1 ALAC, Interscope), was more of a challenge. A tambourine tinkles in the right channel and Larry Mullen Jr.’s drums sputter in the left, before Bono’s soft voice and Mullen’s whomping kick drum kick it off. Soundstaging was OK through the KLHs, but my reference KEF LS50s offered more width and depth with this track. I found myself able to focus on whichever aspect of the performance pleased me, from Bono’s velvety lyrics to The Edge’s brief, silk-smooth solo on electric guitar. And yet, at the same time, “Walk On” was also entirely dynamic and engaging. The NAD’s incredibly balanced sound revealed more about the speakers wired to its binding posts than it did about itself. That’s as it should be, isn’t it?

In honor of the late Keith Flint, the colorful, larger-than-life frontman of The Prodigy, I cued up “Mindfields,” from the electronic pioneers’ landmark album, The Fat of the Land (16/44.1 ALAC, Maverick). This expansive track features plenty of fat, warbling synthesizers, and a driving upper-bass line that begs to be played loudly. It’s not the most sophisticated fare, but when this album was released, in 1997, it helped push big-beat electronica into the public consciousness -- and was a formative disc for this brooding teen when I picked it up a couple years later. The D 3045 kept the nostalgia alive for me as I hammered the KLH Kendalls for all they were worth, with -10dB indicated on the NAD’s small white display (its range is -90dB to +10dB). The amp had more than enough headroom for these big floorstanders and their specified sensitivity of 96dB, and still sounded composed even when I swapped in my little KEF two-ways (though I didn’t have it in me to push these 85dB-sensitive minimonitors to a displayed “0dB” to achieve a similar volume level). I’m confident that the D 3045 will be more than enough amp for 99% of listeners whose systems are set up in rooms of small to medium size. As for Flint -- who took his own life earlier this year at 49, after struggling with depression -- his boundless energy and enthusiasm were credibly reproduced by the little NAD, each word he sings cut from the soundscape between my speakers with impressive definition. Admittedly, the D 3045’s aural image of Flint’s voice wasn’t quite as accomplished as through my reference Hegel integrated, which is costlier by more than an order of magnitude, but I was still very impressed by just how resolving and engaging “Mindfields” was through the little NAD. The D 3045 was actually quieter than the Hegel, which produced notably more noise with no signal playing.

NAD

Curious about how the little D 3045 would cope with a big orchestral recording, I streamed a hi-rez, extended, deluxe version of Hans Zimmer’s original soundtrack for the film Interstellar (24/44.1 MQA, WaterTower Music/Tidal), watched as “MQA” appeared on the NAD’s display to indicate that it was properly decoding the incoming Tidal signal, and selected “No Time for Caution,” a standout track. From the haunting, faint women’s chorus echoing in the distance to the wooden clacking of the metronome, and the metal drums resonating all around AIR Studios’ Lyndhurst Hall, in London, I could have sworn I was listening to an amp that cost multiples of the NAD’s price, such were the amounts of texture, detail, and precision unfolded by the D 3045.

And yet, unlike so many other class-D amps I’ve heard, the D 3045’s Hypex-based circuit sounded anything but “digital,” with none of the hash or glare some associate with older ICEpower designs. The NAD not only didn’t sound bright, it sounded limber and natural -- in fact, its sound was reminiscent of one of NAD’s larger class-AB amps. Listening fatigue was not a problem. The four-manual Harrison & Harrison organ in London’s Temple Church, which Zimmer features in the soundtrack, exhibited plenty of power in “No Time for Caution,” but wasn’t quite as focused and impactful as I would have liked -- the finer elements of control eluded the little plastic NAD. But . . . a deal breaker? Hardly. Remember, this fully featured integrated amp costs only $749.

NAD

A quick word about the D 3045’s built-in headphone amp. It’s adequate, with a livelier, snappier sound than you can expect from the D 3045’s speaker binding posts. I heard an edgier, more congested reproduction of Nicki Minaj’s “Starships (edit)” through my NAD Viso HP50 headphones, which are quite easy to drive, than through my KEF LS50s, or even PSB’s Alpha P5s. I was also easily able to hear the noise floor of the D 3045’s headphone output through both the HP50 over-ears and my PSB M4U 4 in-ear monitors, which might be problematic for those whose taste runs to orchestral and chamber music, and/or singer-songwriters. Not ideal, and a far cry from what my Oppo HA-2SE dedicated headphone amp-DAC (discontinued; $299 when available) can muster from the same recordings. It’s a shame NAD didn’t nail this headphone amp; if they had, I’d bet a fair number of folks would have been attracted to it, given the D 3045’s small size and weight.

Comparison

In 2013, NuForce, now owned by Optoma USA, blew away fellow SoundStage! reviewer Roger Kanno and me with its DDA-100, a 50Wpc (into 8 ohms) DirectDigital integrated amp ($549) that’s similar to NAD’s own DirectDigital offerings, such as the Masters Series M32 ($3999) I raved about a couple years ago. Roger and I each used the DDA-100 as our reference budget amp for a few years, with good reason. Its all-digital architecture includes three S/PDIF ports (two TosLink, one coaxial), a USB input, and a small, stylish, minimalist appearance that meant it could be used in a variety of setups -- just like NAD’s D 3045. The DDA-100’s lack of any of the NAD’s other connections, though, makes it a far more limited product.

It had been more than a year since I’d listened to the NuForce DDA-100, and swapping it in for the D 3045 reminded me of the little amp’s outsized dynamics. With The Prodigy’s “Mindfields” I noted the DDA-100’s emphasis on attack, this track’s transients and sibilants very much front and center. This effect was impressive for a track or two, along with a quiet, squeaky-clean midrange and a noise floor on a par with the NAD’s. But the longer I listened, the more artificial the NuForce sounded. While its treble is clean and extended, it’s ultimately unnatural -- not something I ever heard from the NAD throughout my time with it. Moreover, with Hans Zimmer’s “No Time for Caution,” the DDA-100 wasn’t as composed through the bass as the NAD; it sounded looser and lazier, and its treble emphasis served only to make that big pipe organ sound recessed and less impactful. The NAD also provided more stereo separation with this track, with a more natural re-creation of air and space around instruments. Sure, the NuForce was more exciting to listen to, but its slightly aggressive sound stood in stark contrast to the more balanced, refined, mature sound of the NAD.

Bottom lines: Despite being now long in the tooth, the NuForce DDA-100 more than holds its own -- but NAD’s D 3045 shows just how far digital amplification and pint-size electronics have come in the last six years.

Conclusion

Of all the products I’ve reviewed in the past few years, there’s not one that I’ve recommended without a single reservation. Some have been pretty good, and many others have been excellent in one way or another, but there hasn’t been one that I felt I could suggest to any audiophile. “One size fits all” may be a theoretically ideal approach, but given various products’ differences in functionality, sound quality, and appearance -- not to mention individual user preferences in all of those categories -- it’s far less so in practice.

NAD

But NAD Electronics’ D 3045 integrated amplifier-DAC has earned that distinction. It’s a fabulous little amp. Its modest dimensions make it an easy proposition for main and secondary systems alike, and set upright on a big enough expanse of wood or fiberboard, it could even work as the hub of a desktop system. Yes, its headphone output was a bit of a letdown, but that doesn’t color my impression of it as a terrific product. Its wired and wireless digital inputs provide true hi-fi sound at an affordable price, while its subwoofer outputs, ARC HDMI port, MM phono input, and -- the icing on the cake -- support of MQA provide the kind of flexibility that should satisfy any audiophile. The D 3045 is the cream of the crop of integrated amp-DACs for $1000 and under. If I were shopping in that market, it’s what I’d buy. That it can be had for just $749 is outrageous. What a steal.

. . . Hans Wetzel
hansw@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- KEF LS50, KLH Kendall, PSB Alpha P5, Scansonic M40
  • Subwoofer -- Paradigm Defiance V10
  • Headphones and earphones -- NAD Viso HP50, PSB M4U 4
  • Integrated amplifiers -- Hegel Music Systems H590, NuForce DDA-100
  • Digital-to-analog converter -- Benchmark Media Systems DAC3 HGC
  • DAC-headphone amplifier -- Oppo Digital HA-2SE
  • Sources -- Intel NUC running Roon with Qobuz, Tidal
  • Speaker cables -- AudioQuest Rocket 33, DH Labs Q-10 Signature, Dynamique Audio Caparo
  • Analog interconnects -- Dynamique Audio Shadow (RCA), Nordost Blue Heaven LS (XLR)
  • Digital links -- DH Labs Silversonic (USB)
  • Power conditioner -- Emotiva CMX-2

NAD D 3045 Integrated Amplifier-DAC
Price: $749 USD.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.

NAD Electronics International
633 Granite Court
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1
Canada
Phone: (905) 831-6555
Fax: (905) 837-6357

Website: www.nadelectronics.com