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Perfect match: NAD D 8020 Speakers - Sound & Image

04/10/2016

NAD does headphones, it’s done wireless speakers, but it does not, as a rule, extend its hand to passive loudspeakers — the parent company Lenbrook has PSB Speakers for that, after all. So why now? Well the packaging for the little NAD D 8020 speakers notes that they are “custom-tuned” for the company’s D 7050 and D 3020 Digital Series amplifiers. NAD obviously wishes to serve those who wish to avoid a mixed-brand system, preferring to stay all NAD.

Equipment

While we can see their black gloss finish making a fine and thrillingly dinky matching system with either of those amplifiers, it seems a shame to limit the D 8020 design’s abilities to such narrow usage — those two NAD amps are solidly neutral in their presentation, so these impressive little performers should have far wider applications. For example we had them in situ at the same time as Marantz’s do-it-all M-CR611 network CD receiver, and the combination made a highly capable and enjoyable small-room system. The NAD D 8020 speakers are passive compact monitors, really too small to be called standmounts, more a desktop solution, but capable of playing across a room as well as at close proximity in an office situation. They really are small — 19cm high, 11cm wide, tapering back to some 15.5cm depth (another 8-10cm required for plugs and cables) — while the drivers in each are a 19mm black anodised aluminium dome tweeter and a 90mm polypropylene cone with rubber surround. Despite their dinkiness they have full-sized binding posts on the back, above which is a horizontal slot port at the top. A further nod to their quality is the pair of thick speaker cables in the accessories box, and the gold-plated banana plugs with which these terminate.

Performance

Clearly at this size the laws of physics limit response in the lowest of octaves, but the D 8020s deliver upper bass well balanced with their energetic midrange, while those black tweeter domes behind their branded plastic waveguide proved extremely able in delivering a lively but smooth treble, never harsh, yet capable of impressive detail, creating fine stereo staging from monitors so small. Small rooms or close proximity will make the most of these little speakers, but we also had them either side of our TV on both music and TV duties, and regularly forgot we weren’t listening to our reference German standmounters, which are around ten times the price here. Do experiment with their distance from a rear wall — we moved them close, thinking to reinforce the air from their rear bass ports, but decided this slightly muddied the sound and we pulled them back out to a distance of around 25cm. We also noted that NAD says if you use them with the Digital Series amps, they are tuned to sound best with the bass EQ set to ‘on’. Taking the hint, we tinkered with the Marantz M-CR611’s own EQ, rejecting the dynamic bass option but adding just one or two stops of added bass. This filled out the sound without adding bloat, good for those who want a little more low-end, though again we soon enough switched back to the Source Direct setting, enjoying the NAD’s well-etched sonic pictures with their maximum clarity. The panned toms on a 24-96 stream of Bowie’s ‘Moonage Daydream’ had both thump and positional accuracy as they panned from right to left; ‘Starman’ jangled away with fine vocal cut-through and just a slight softness to the bass. They did an impressive job on the complex chorus of kd lang’s ‘The Air That I Breathe’, ducking the level of crescendo slightly but resolving the stacked vocals and not sharpening up, as do even many larger pricier speakers. The main loss is bottom-octave bass underlying modern recordings. The deep pulses of Blur’s 2015 ‘Ice Cream Man’ were absent, as were the low 30s of hertz in Neil Young’s ‘Walk With Me’ — you could hear the bass plucks starting and then dropping away. Not that they emerged thin — they were still substantial and enjoyable delivered at significant levels driven by either the Marantz or our reference power amp.

Conclusion

The more we played, the more we were impressed at the properly hi-fi results of this extremely compact speaker solution. Both NAD amps, and the D 7050 in particular, are capable of driving far larger and more difficult speakers, and also the D 8020 will suit other set-ups as well as NAD’s own. But the D 8020 speakers will certainly fit enjoyably and ideally with the D 3020 (above) in a desktop situation.

Credits: Jez Ford

Sound & Image

October 2016

Please find the whole review here.


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