Because the device is light enough to carry around, we first take it to an environment in which it should be able to stand tall. A Marantz DV-6200 DVD player’s audio channel is easily connected to the D 3020 through the coaxial digital output (and thus acts solely as a drive mechanism). The speaker terminals are hooked up with a pair of Dali Ikon 5 Mk2 speakers. They provide a fairly flat impedance curve at a relatively mediocre efficiency (87 dB/W/m, as specified by the manufacturer) and while they always perform nicely with any amp, they do appreciate a partner that stands tall when it comes to power supply.
Between unboxing and “power on”, it’s love at first sight. The magic device brings life, color and body in music playback in a way we really quoie haven’t heard before, not even in combination with amplifiers that stand higher up on the store shelves. Bass is tight and deep, voices and instruments sound more tangible, and everything pieces together effortlessly. The DAC and its amplifier stages bring out the finer qualities in the Dali speaker set while at the same time adding a full-blooded, dynamical character to the rendition that makes you forget you are listening to relatively small standing speakers. All things considered, it’s pretty impressive.
Strengthened (or overconfident?) by this experience, the device is being set up with two Avantgarde Duo loudspeakers, connected through a 47Labs 4708 OTA cable. The Duos have an upgraded crossover, with Sprague paper-in-oil capacitors with a Teflon bypass and Tritec air coils. The CEC CD drive passes its digital output signal through the Audio Note AN-V coaxial cable not through an Audio Note DAC 3.1x with De Jong Systems upgrade, but is directly linked to the D 3020. Connected to the analog input is a phono-chain, that appears to be just an unbalanced a choice in terms of ratio between price of the various components, as the ratio between the amplifier and the speakers is.
(Enlarged? Click the image!)
A wildly expensive but very good Brinkmann EMT Titanium phono cartridge is built into the tone arm of a Music Hall MMF 9.1 turntable. The step-up transformer is an older model by Audio Innovations, and the phono stage is a heavily modified Audio Note M1 RIAA with, among others, a choke-loaded power supply. This really can’t work, can it? An element at almost one and a half times the price of the turntable plus tone arm, a CD drive in the top range, and a “desktop amplifier” with an onboard DAC priced just under 500 dollars, connected to a set of loudspeakers thirty times the price...
Well. It actually does work. In spades. One listener observed that not for a moment he felt that he was listening to a makeshift collection of audio components, that’s how convincing the overall performance was. The ability of the Avantgarde loudspeakers to blend intimacy and engagement with an almost unprecedented magnitude, directness and dynamics, remained fully intact and stood tall. Record after record, cd after cd is thrown at the D 3020 to test its abilities. In between we fool around with different interconnects and net cables, resulting in audible differences. Most strikingly, the output sound is completely free of the sonic artifacts that usually betray conventional class AB amplifiers (both transistor and valve amps) in a comparable setup. The D 3020 keeps its act up in the same way a much pricier D class design would. This quality is probably attributable to the basic design with short signal paths, which makes the music playback sound direct, natural, clean and fast.