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Amplifier NAD 302 review

The King is dead, long live the King. From its original launch NAD’s stalwart 3020 series has held dominion over much of the budget amplifier market, aided by regular revisions. Does the latest design, the daringly titled 302, live up to its pedigree?

Certainly the styling is no real departure from the Lego-brick mentality of old, though this new version is more flexible with its extra tape and line inputs plus a tone defeat facility. Round the back are hard-wired 4mm speaker outlets, the customary Soft Clipping facility and a 4/8ohm impedance switch to select alternative secondary windings on the mains transformer. The important revisions all lurk under its bonnet.

These include a beefier power supply with improved regulation, a new Sanken-based power amplifier (2SA1186 and 2SC2837), better heat sinking, tighter RIAA accuracy (MM only) and a new low-impedance volume control. All of which adds up to an extra 20 quid.

Sound quality

‘This is a real trier’, announced the listening panel, ‘a loud but very positive sounding amplifier that skips its way through the busiest passages’. This loudness certainly lends the NAD 302 a degree of confidence and poise, leaving vocals sounding clean and clear without straining, and remaining consistant with compact and vinyl discs.

However, the imaging of the NAD 302 can prove slightly ambiguous. The piano from our Paganini LP, for example, was recessed deep into the soundstage but the lateral position of the violin was insecure, uncertain and lacking in focus. Nevertheless, the scale and sense of anticipation developed by Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances was well sustained by a big, generous and surefooted sound that belied its modest power rating.

Yet it was perhaps slightly too lively, and a little tizzy and synthetic via CD. Percussion from the pop and jazz selections sounded ‘processed’, not exaggerated or spotlit but lacking the metallic hue that the panel had expected.

Low frequencies also came in for token criticism as Marty Paich’s double-bass bounded over in a slightly bulky, bloated fashion. ‘Too full’, the panel remarked ‘but never so engorged that it was muddled’. Not quite accurate, it was agreed, but the music remained so spritely and uplifting that this really didn’t seem to matter.

Conclusion

And so the legend continues. NAD’s unassuming littie amplifier just happens to sound bigger, classier and certainly more entertaining than many of its rivals. There’s no trickery, fancy circuitry or flavour-of-the-month components about this amplifier, just reliable, solid engineering that delivers the goods.

It may be a little costlier than some, but with extra flexibility and power in hand the ?170 price tag is easily justified.

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