Integrated amplifiers have been around for decades, but they've quietly become a viable alternative to AV receivers, thanks to TVs that now offer extensive switching capabilities and more integrated amps that include an optical audio input.
That's the context in which we looked at the NAD D 3020 ($500 street), along with several other integrated amplifiers that include an optical audio input. The D 3020 is the best of the bunch, with terrific sound quality, a solid feature set (including built-in Bluetooth) and a handsome, compact design. The D 3020 also sports a dedicated subwoofer output, making it simple to set up a 2.1-channel speaker system, plus there's a USB port, so you can connect it to a computer for high-resolution audio playback. And unlike the Teac A-H01, the D 3020 can be powered on and off from its remote, so it plays nicely with universal remotes.
Cost is the biggest issue with the D 3020. It feels pricey when you compare it with Sony's STR-DN840 ($400 street price), which costs less and offers a lot more functionality, including six HDMI inputs and built-in Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and AirPlay. Ultimately, you're paying for the D 3020's excellent compact design and minimalist simplicity, rather than a big box with a bunch of features you may not ultimately need.
We think that's a worthwhile tradeoff for many buyers, especially if you're tired of bulky, frustrating AV receivers and can live without surround sound. The NAD D 3020 may be expensive, but it's a potent little box that can power your living room for years.
Design: A smaller, prettier black box
The NAD D 3020 isn't the smallest integrated amp we've looked at, but it still feels wonderfully compact, sitting 2.31 inches tall, 7.38 inches wide and 8.63 inches deep. It can be placed in the more traditional horizontal orientation, but you can also stand it up vertically and NAD includes some grippy rubber feet to keep it stable. The D 3020's 3-pound weight is a good one, feeling heavy enough to be a "serious" piece of audio equipment, but light enough that it's easy to install in your living room.
It's also a nice-looking box, wrapped in a glossy finish around two sides, with the rest of the amp covered in a textured matte black finish. Turn the amp on and its front-panel display lights up, showing you the volume level and the selected input in sleek white lettering. Overall, the D 3020 certainly doesn't compete with the gorgeous curved wood of the Peachtree Audio Decco65 and it's arguable that the ultraminimalist NuForce DDA-100 looks even better, but the D 3020 is still a sleek, stylish amp, especially compared with a full-size AV receiver.
From the front there appear to be no buttons on the amp at all, only a headphone jack and a volume button. Around the side, you'll find two touch-sensitive buttons: one for power, one for cycling through sources. The side placement isn't ideal in either horizontal or vertical orientation, but the D 3020 is small enough that you'll likely be able to get to them in most cabinets.
You can also control the D 3020 using the included remote. It has a good size and shape, feeling substantial in your hand, but the button's labels are the exact same color as the buttons, making them very difficult to see. You'll also notice there's no dedicated mute button, which seems like an oversight. If you're using the D 3020 in your living room, you'd be smart to replace the clicker with a solid universal remote.
Features: Plenty of inputs and built-in Bluetooth
The D 3020 has four inputs on the back: two digital audio inputs (one optical, one coaxial), one analog input, and one "mixed used" input that can function as either an additional optical input (using an adapter cable) or a minijack input. That's a healthy set of ports for an integrated amp, even for living-room use, as you can use your TV as a switcher and connect its optical output to the D 3020.
Those intending to use the D 3020 in the living room should also note the lack of onboard decoding for Dolby Digital or DTS bit stream formats. In most cases, that shouldn't be a problem, as most TVs "dumb down" incoming surround soundtracks to stereo PCM anyway, which means you don't need any decoding. If your TV does pass on "bit stream" audio signals, you'll want to adjust the settings so that it doesn't or configure your source devices (such as your Blu-ray player) to decode to PCM.
There's also a USB port on the back that you can use to connect a computer directly to the amp, after installing the correct drivers. We tried using the NAD with a MacBook Pro and it worked perfectly, letting us listen to our iTunes music collections as well as high-resolution tracks.
Another perk is the D 3020 includes a dedicated subwoofer output, which many of its competitors don't have, including the Onkyo A-5VL, NuForce Dia, and NuForce DDA-100. You can still connect those amplifiers to subwoofers that have speaker-level inputs, like the budget Dayton Sub 800, but a dedicated subwoofer output is more convenient and makes for considerably less wire clutter. Note that the subwoofer output is a somewhat unusual minijack connector, so again you'll probably have to buy an adapter.