I need speakers. Which ones?
December 17, 2019 3:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a pair of speakers for my NAD 3020. What speakers should I look for?

I have an NAD 3020 amplifier and I want a pair of speakers to go with it. They're for a small room (15ft x 15ft) and, ideally, they should sit on my bookshelves. I prefer clarity over loudness.

I have little money so my budget is limited to eBay bargains. I've seen a couple of local listings that I can afford. Google gives me the following specs:

Gale 3010s:
Sensitivity: 85 dB.
Impedance: 4-8 ohms.
Power Rating: 100W.

Wharfedale Diamond 9:
Sensitivity 86 dB
6 Ohm
Recommended Amplifier Power 15 Watt

Specs for the NAD 3020:
Power output: 20 watts per channel into 8Ω (stereo)
Frequency response: 10Hz to 70kHz.

Would either of those speakers suit my amp?

What specs should I be looking for?
posted by popcassady to Technology (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I’m not familiar with either of those. But, just looking at the specs, I think your NAD (a great amp, by the way) might struggle a bit with the Gales.

FWIW, I have nice pair of Polk bookshelf speakers hooked up to my old Pioneer 35-watt receiver, and they sound great. I highly recommend them. Price-wise, they should be comparable to the other two.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:21 PM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

You want more efficient speakers for a small 20-watt amp. Look for speakers with 90 dB or above efficiency ratings. Most Klipsch speakers will have high efficiency ratings, but be sure you get a chance to listen to them for a while before you go with them. Their sound can be somewhat harsh to some listeners, myself included.

You're also going to want to look out for speakers rated at 4 ohms. These can overheat an amplifier that is not meant for this kind of load. I'm guessing by the wattage that this is an entry-level amplifier and is probably not going to like the 4 ohm load if pushed. Stick with 8 ohm speakers if you can.
posted by TrialByMedia at 6:37 PM on December 17, 2019

I love NAD amplifiers; I now have a NAD C316BEE powering a pair of Paradigm Titan large bookshelf speakers that I've owned and used for 22 years or so. They are really solidly made speakers and with the NAD amp they give a lovely warm sound and a clear sound-image at low and high volumes. The Titans appear to be available on ebay.

I unfortunately don't have much technical knowledge about how to match speakers and amps in terms of efficiency or ohms and such, but if you can confirm that that side of things looks okay, and you have room for the Titans in your space, I definitely recommend.

Other, smaller bookshelf speakers from Paradigm might also do the trick, assuming their build quality is comparable to the Titans.
posted by bertran at 9:27 PM on December 17, 2019

I've seen an ad for a pair of Wharfedale Laser 80s local to me. They're not quite 90w but do you think they'd match the amp?
85watts, 8ohm impedence, 88db sensitivity
posted by popcassady at 2:00 AM on December 18, 2019

There have been multiple versions of the 3020, which is making a exact info a bit hard to find, but I'm gonna educated-guess that you have one of the "original" models.

Mostly, to be honest, you're probably going to be fine with almost anything you've listed here or similar - home stereo equipment tends to be built with a certain level of "safety factor" as it's going to be used by amateurs.

From a manual I found (NAD 3020 manual):
"High-Voltage High-Current Output Stage
Although the 3020 is rated at 20 watts/channel, it behaves as if it were much more powerful. Its high-voltage design yields an IHF Dynamic Headroom factor of 3.0 dB, meaning that in musical transients the 3020 can deliver twice its rated power or 40 watts into an 8-ohm impedance.
Even more important is the amplifier’s interface with the highly variable impedances of real loudspeakers, which often are much lower than 8 ohms and partly “reactive” with high peak current demands. The output transistors in the 3020 are the same large devices which other manufacturers employ in their “60 watt” amplifiers, and in musical transients the 3020 will easily deliver over 58 watts/channel into 4 ohms or over 72 watts/channel into a low 2-ohm impedance, with no distortion due to triggering of protection circuitry.
IOW, the NAD will handle multiple speaker impedances, and because physics the power output varies in relation to the speaker impedance. I would not run an amplifier at two ohms for any length of time, but you're not going to get into that unless you're running multiple speakers per side. Any 8, 6, or 4 ohm speaker will be fine.

Power handling/recommended amp power ratings of speakers are . . . well, let's just say they're kind of a vague specification. Mostly it means "If we've rated it at 85 watts, don't hook a 300 watt amplifier up to it and turn it all the way up." As TrialByMedia points out, sensitivity/efficiency ratings are a bit more useful - higher sensitivity means the speaker is more "responsive" at lower volume. Although I would not worry about a 1db difference there. Any speaker 15-100 watts should be OK.

I have little money so my budget is limited to eBay bargains

My general advice would be buy the newest speakers you can afford. Speaker components are basically a bunch of paper and coils of wire as part of a simple electromagnet, this stuff wears out with time and use. You don't know what sort of abuse previous owners have put them through, and even if they've been super-careful with them, 10 years of regular use is going to have a greater effect vs. 5 years of same.

So with that in mind, I would, for example, go with the Diamond 9's over the Laser 80's, simply because the Lasers are such an old model that I'm having trouble finding specs on them.

And while I'm not in the UK, my general understanding is that Wharfedale is a reputable brand worth looking for.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:35 AM on December 18, 2019

The NAD3020 can easily drive 2 ohm speakers, so the advice to stick with 8 ohm and stay away from 4 ohm can safely be dismissed.

You can hook up any set of speakers that fits your budget, is rated at 30W or more, 4 or 8 ohm and, most importantly, sounds fine to you. At normal listening levels in a smallish room you rarely exceed a few watts of output power per channel, and that only in the loudest passages.
posted by Stoneshop at 6:37 AM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

If NAD indicates that the amp is 4-ohm stable, then definitely disregard my advice about avoiding 4-ohm speakers.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:03 AM on December 18, 2019

I don't know if they're made the same as before, but I had some similar small Wharfedale Diamond speakers 16 years ago and they had a good sound for the price (at the time, and they seem to be much cheaper now).
posted by anzen-dai-ichi at 9:09 PM on December 18, 2019

I bought a set of Wharfedale Diamond 9.1s back in 2008 and use them as desktop speakers daily today in a room slightly smaller than that. I love their sound. (Only caveat to my recommendation is that I am driving them with a much bigger amp (the Dayton Audio APA150), but I'm sure your NAD would make them sing equally well.)
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:33 AM on December 19, 2019

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