NAD C320 2 Channel Amplifier

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NAD C320 Integrated: An Excellent Budget Amplifier

Dec 7, 2000 (Updated Dec 11, 2005)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:excellent sound; tasteful design, good reliability

Cons:no phono input

The Bottom Line: The NAD C320 is an elegant little amplifier that sounds good and costs next to nothing. Highly recommended.

The NAD C320 is a relatively simple integrated amplifier that delivers 40 continuous watts per channel into 8 ohms, and 90 watts dynamic power into 8 ohms. It is said, in NAD's promotional literature, to be a descendant of the NAD 3020 integrated amplifier, which became a classic among audiophiles on a budget during the 1980s.

The NAD C320 features NAD’s characteristic simple, low profile design, with an attractive dark finish, and the rotary volume control located at the lower right side of the front panel.

Among its features are:

7 line level inputs
two tape in/outs
defeatable bass and treble controls
a headphone jack
a remote control

We know that the year 2000 has arrived because this integrated amplifier features NO PHONO PREAMP! YOU MUST BUY A SEPARATE PHONO PREAMP IF YOU WANT TO USE A TURNTABLE WITH THIS UNIT.

My background with NAD

Over the past 15 years, I have put together several audiophile-on-a-budget systems for friends. Almost all revolved around NAD amplifiers or receivers, as I have constantly found NAD’s gear to offer excellent sound at a reasonable price. The sound of NAD equipment has tended to err on the side of soft and sweet, rather than hard and bright, and the “soft clipping” feature means that their amplifiers do no sound harsh (or damage your speakers) when you play your music loud.

A system I put together for a friend several years ago included an NAD 3020 amplifier, Dual turntable, Shure cartridge, Rotel CD player, and Polk speakers. The total cost of the system was under $2000.

Would I still use NAD as the heart of a bargain audiophile system today?

The Sound

This NAD amplifier sounds excellent with a wide range of speakers. Like good separate components (amplifiers and preamplifiers), it provides excellent inner detail, letting you hear subtle nuances on your CDs. It plays loud, especially given its relatively low power rating, and, in the NAD tradition, tends to err in the direction of soft and sweet. For a transistor amplifier, the sound is not harsh. I like that.

The treble on this amplifier sounds relatively flat, but perhaps a tiny bit rolled off, which is good for a CD-based system, as many CDs sound a little harsh. Bass is both tight and full.

The Tone Controls

The tone controls on this amplifier work only at the frequency extremes, which is good. You can increase the deep bass, if your listening room doesn’t support bass well, without making male voices sound unnaturally “chesty.” The treble control can be used to increase the sense of air around musical instruments without making the music sound harsh. You can also turn up the bass and treble a bit if you are an apartment dweller and have to listen at low volume levels (the ear becomes less sensitive to very low and high frequencies as the volume level decreases).

For the absolute best sound at normal listening levels, you can defeat (turn off) the tone controls using the tone defeat switch.

The Features

I found the features of the NAD C320 easy to use. You can hook up several line level sources to the amplifier, including a CD player, tuner, and several tape decks, and tape to tape dubbing is no problem. The only thing I missed was a phono input. I still do most of my serious listening with records, not CDs, as the best records still sound better than the best CDs.

The pre-out/ main-in feature means that you can buy a bigger power amplifier down the road (if you need more power for a huge listening room or monster speakers) and use the C320 as a preamplifier. Most buyers will never use this feature.

Neither of my preamplifiers (I use separates) have headphone jacks! I have to listen through my Nakamichi tape deck when the hour gets late. I am glad NAD decided to include a headphone listening jack on the C320. The sound through the headphone jack is good.

The remote worked fine, but I tend not to use remotes in audio systems, so I’ll leave it to others to comment on its ease of use.

Overall impressions

Were I to put together an under $2000 system for a friend today, it would consist of the following, including approximate prices:

NAD C320 amplifier (NAD C340 if you want a bit more power) $300
NAD tuner $300
NAD CD player $300
Paradigm Reference Studio 20 speakers (see review) $650 -or-
Cambridge Soundworks Tower II speakers (see review) $900

If you opt for the Paradigms (a bit more refined but not able to produce the lowest octave of bass) and want to add the lowest octave of bass, I’d look for an older M&K subwoofer at your local used stereo store. You should be able to find one for about $250 (I use one in my system, crossed over at 50 hz so as not to interfere with the mid-bass of my venerable DCM Time Windows).

The NAD C320 is an excellent little amplifier, continuing the NAD tradition of providing high quality and tasteful design at a low cost. It’s slightly soft yet detailed sound (some might describe it as “tubey,” as compared to solid state) is a welcome oasis from the hash that passes for hi-fi at your local Good Guys.

The only reason I’ll give this amplifier four stars instead of five is because of the absence of a phono preamplifier. Real men eat quiche if they damn well please, and real music lovers want to be able to listen to records as well as CDs.

Still, I rate this integrated amplifier Highly Recommended overall.

Recommend this product? Yes

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