NAD D3045 hybrid digital DAC/integrated amplifier

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Integrated amplifiers,
Digital-to-analog converters
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NAD D3045
NAD D3045 hybrid digital DAC/integrated amplifier

Back in the 1970’s, NAD created what turned out to be a modest-looking, sensibly priced, wildly overachieving, and downright unlikely high-end giant killer in the form of its legendary 3020 integrated amplifier. The little amp wasn’t terribly powerful (at least not on paper), it didn’t have many flashy technical ‘bells and whistles’, and its muted charcoal grey finish gave it a humble and unassuming appearance. But it did possess an astonishingly fine phono section and a deceptively capable amplifier that could handle real-world loads better than many ostensibly more powerful amps. As a result, when connected to good analogue source components and sensitive high-performance loudspeakers the 3020 flat out sang as few other amplifiers—large or small—could do. 

To give you an idea of just how big an overachiever the original 3020 really was, let me mention that I once knew the manager of a high-end audio store who could have taken home any of the store’s products. What did he choose for his personal home system? An NAD 3020 amp driving a pair of original Mission 770 stand-mount monitors as fed by a well-equipped Linn analogue rig, which combination sounded simply marvellous. The irony, of course, was that the 3020 amplifier was by far the least expensive component in the system. At the time, I too owned a similar NAD/Mission system and audiophile friends routinely commented that my little grey NAD actually sounded better than the far more expensive preamp/power-amp combination it had replaced. In this way the 3020 earned its reputation for being a simple, no-nonsense, everything-you-need/nothing-you-don’t kind of product that, for obvious reasons, became a runaway sales success.

Now let’s fast-forward to the present day, where audio systems can in many respects be far more complicated than back in the 1970s. In recent years, NAD sought to recreate the magic of the original 3020 with its contemporary, DAC-equipped D3020 v2 integrated amplifier. It was a credible and laudable effort, but one whose only practical limitation was the fact that its honest 30Wpc amplifier section was perhaps not quite enough power to take full advantage of some of today’s better mid-priced loudspeaker systems. However, this is where our review subject, the remarkably versatile and twice as powerful 60Wpc NAD D3045 comes in. 

In a high-end world where hyperbole and self-aggrandising adjectives have become the norm, an amp like the NAD D3045 might seem modest to the point of being mundane, but trust me on this; it’s not. To be candid, the word ‘versatile’ is not one likely to get most dyed-in-the-wool audiophiles salivating in anticipation, but perhaps it should be. Given the incredibly broad scope of practical use cases facing modern day integrated amplifiers, product versatility becomes something that is not merely desirable, but downright necessary. Happily, versatility is one of the D3045’s greatest strengths. 

Let me explain. The D3045, much like Thomas the Tank Engine, is a ‘really useful’ amplifier thanks to its brilliant and very carefully thought-out range of inputs and outputs. On the analogue side the amp provides two conventional line-level inputs (one via RCA jack, the other via a mini-jack), a high quality MM phono input, plus an analogue preamp/subwoofer output. Completing the picture are a stereo pair of five-way speaker output binding posts on the rear side of the D3045 chassis, plus a front panel-mounted mini-jack output for the built-in low impedance/high-current headphone amplifier. 

On the digital side, the amp incorporates one coaxial and two optical S/PDIF inputs supporting up to 24-bit/192kHz digital sources, an asynchronous USB input providing MQA and DSD decoding and supporting up to 24-bit/384kHz digital sources, a rarely-seen but very desirable HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) input, and a two-way Bluetooth input/output that supports Qualcomm aptX HD (24-bit/96kHz-capable). 

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