NAD has a history of producing some of the worlds most well regarded amplifiers. Most famously their 3020 integrated, which upended the industry by offering a do-all component that provided more muscle and audiophile finesse per dollar (or pound). Over a twenty year span, the NAD 3020 became the most successful amplifier in history. Lessons learned, NAD has done little to steer away from the formula of success, and done well over the years to build on that recipe. More recent to the trophy mantel, the NAD 316BEE V2 which I reviewed over at our sister publication Part-Time Audiophile. The 316BEE V2, though a 2018 update to an existing product, shares more in common with the 3020, an amplifier that preceded it by forty years. The “spiritually” newer NAD 3045 ($699) changes many things fundamentally and aesthetically from the usual box, button, and knobs we have known to be an industry standard. At first glance of the NAD 3045, I look at it and want to say, “Klaatu barada nikto!”, in hopes that it won’t destroy me or my sense of knowing what is (and isn’t) audiophile.
Like most things reviewed, there is an unboxing and installation process, but none so far have ever tempted me to write about the unboxing like the NAD 3045. Yes, this may be a one time occurance, but it’s worth mentioning, as it foreshadows much of the experiences yet to be had with this newfangled integrated do-all amplifier. A slick, and line-artfully adorned package that resembles more the unboxing of a vinyl record than an amplifier, the NAD 3045 is surrounded by a thin but dense cardboard jacket. Upon sliding out of the main container, another slickly finished black box is revealed, a single logo and model number adorn the top lid. Opening it revealed the amplifier nestled like an egg in a carton, along with a single box containing power cord and a few other accoutrements. This experience feels like high-end tech, and to me that is what the new NAD 3045 feels like after a few months of use. It’s a great blend of new technology and true to the heart audiophile sound.
In lieu of a thick manual, the end user is directed by a bi-fold and glossy “quick setup Guide” on how to install the NAD 3045 as the centerpiece of a stereo system. Line art is detailed, and further instructions can be accessed through NAD’s official website for downloading if needed. Installation of cables: HDMI (arc), speakers wires, digital and analog inputs, all seem rather straightforward, but at times crowded. Speaker outputs are limited to a single stereo pair of five-way binding posts. Digital inputs are one USB (labeled computer), one coaxial, and two optical. The addition of a second optical is a welcomed site for an amplifier unit with such a small footprint. Analog input is handled by a single 1/8th auxilary socket (labeled Line 1), a pair of RCA’s (labeled Line 2), and a phono stage pair of RCA’s with ground. Pre/Sub out is included as well, but were not used in this review, and as such will remain uncommented on. While I am on the subject of features I didn’t use, they are as listed: the service USB port, HDMI arc, the 12 volt trigger, Bass EQ and MQA.
The NAD 3045 is a sleek, sexy, and petite amplifier. Small in size, I could easily see this amplifier standing tall amidst an uncluttered desktop, pulling nearfield duties in a PC based system, or horizontally in a component rack, looking more like a DAC than a full function amplifier. In truth the NAD 3045 lends itself to almost limitless placement and use. During my review period, it was even slim enough to find itself doing the Limbo underneath a 4K television. For 99% of my review however, I decided to use the NAD3045 in a vertical orientation as I wanted to acquaint myself with that style of use, and I also found it easier to view the units top (or side) mounted power switch and indicator. That more or less leads me to how I interfaced with the unit, which did prove to challenge my norms and nerves from time to time.
An LED lit capacitive touch sensor is how the NAD 3045 is powered on. In standby mode the amplifier’s power-on sensor glows a warm amber color, and cool white when activated. My one gripe with this implementation is that it seldom responded to my purposeful touch, and was often activated by an unintended caress. How much of a reminder do I need of my dating life in an amplifier review? Sheesh. Quick thinking, my son who accompanies on most of my review journies said, “Dad, just use the remote.”, and I did. However at times, the remote (or remotes) I had on hand would not engage power-on or source select toggles functions reliably. Often I felt frustrated with the capacitive touch power button taking multiple physical passes that numbered in the teens, or a remote that in one moment would be received instantly, and the next moment ignored. I tested both NAD remotes on an NAD 316BEE (also in for review) and they worked flawlessly. Something must be up with the IR receiver and touch sensor when used with the glossy plastic that makes up the center vein of the 3045’s main body. Source toggle (vs direct select) often felt a bit of a hassle too as the many inputs of the 3045 result in quite a list to run through and with only the front panel LED display to denote which and where. To my aging eyes, or when glasses off, and no direct-to-source buttons located on the remote, finding my correct source wasn’t as easy as I expected. I am happy to report for nearfield users that the speed of the digital volume knob was a delight to use, however the remote (when not being finicky) was slow in response to increase or decrease volume selection. There are no bass or treble trims to speak of, however there are a few bass management settings that allow the user to better integrate a subwoofer into the system, by reducing the bass sent to the amplifiers main speaker outputs.
Upon scrolling through the source menus I noticed Bluetooth connectivity, and found it quite compelling as a reliable and smooth sounding source input during the few times I used it. Using Qobuz streaming, the Bluetooth receiver built-in to the NAD 3045 did well to resolve the gains in resolution provided by Qobuz tracks through all genres of music. One handy feature, a Dim Button on the remote did well to quell the rather bright and cool LED source display during its use. Which reminds me of a few other green attributes the NAD 3045 has over much of the competition. For one, the front LED source display will dim on it’s own after a few minutes of static use. Along with auto-power-off of the unit as a whole if a signal isn’t being sent to the amplifier. Though the 3045 is already green by nature of being a Class D amplifier, this power-off feature goes one step further in staying green. There were times when listening sessions were interrupted and with enough time passing, powering on the amplifier to resume listening was required. That may seem like a nitpick, but when the aforementioned powering-on issues I encountered were part of that ritual, things became frustrating.
Hybrid Digital? There isn’t much word to be found on the subject, but this is what the amplifier is labeled by NAD to be. One unofficial source claimed it to be just “Class D with DAC”. Either way, I found the sound of the NAD 3045 to be quite impressive. Here folks, is where the clouds part for my experience with the 3045, and sunny days are a plenty. The sound of the NAD 3045 on just about any speaker I owned (or borrowed) was nourished with a rich and detailed sound. A subtle sense of EQ was detected by my senses, but I was more than okay with its presence. Using all of the inputs I could, the NAD 3045 showed no weaknesses. Power and finesse with larger speakers pushed the 3045 to new heights even as the volume knob reached for the skies. Albeit, it is not the most powerful amplifier I’ve used by any stretch, I want to describe the NAD 3045 as powerful. The NAD 60 watts of Class D amplification seemingly drips with swagger and sophistication. Swagger in the way that it handles all of the modern digital inputs with great flexibility across genres, and uses its power to best show off it’s control of the speakers. Sophistication in the way the 3045 showed off its prowess with vinyl and analog, to present a dark and noise free background for music to stand in perfect contrast. The NAD 3045 ultimately impressed me where it matters most, in the sound. Nothing about the 3045 seemed, dare I use the word “mid-fi”. Treble was delicate and mid-range precisely measured in the proper amounts no matter the source or material. Though my impressions and gripes may vary with other users, or be off putting. I finally found myself more in love with the NAD 3045, than I initially imagined.
In conclusion, I do recommend the NAD 3045 as it’s sonic attributes are many, it’s svelte and attractive build are near limitless in domestic application and appreciation. Its feature set is proudly wide and adapting to many lifestyles. It’s inclusion of two-way bluetooth is welcomed, reliable, and sounds damn good. Overall the NAD 3045 offers so much in the way of connectivity and award winning sound, that I can’t at any plateau of neurotically amplifying my own reservations, convince myself to overlook the NAD 3045 for just a few nitpicks.
by Eric Shook