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Monday, February 8, 2016

The NAD 3125 integrated amplifier, a Sony CDP-X55ES CD player and the Buffalo News

The A/D/S/ R1 stuff was so much fun to write about that it prompted me to get out my NAD 3125, as it is my all-time favorite amp (so far) and it was the first piece of 'high end" gear I ever owned.  I guess it's high end, I'm not sure how one goes about defining that.  The pictured example is my second.  When I bought my first one in college in 1987 or so (have to check on that date) no one in the dorm had ever heard of NAD, and there were some big Kenwood and Pioneer fans on my floor, so people had been to Crazy Eddie's and thought they knew a thing or two about stereo. In this case high-end certainly can't be based on price, as the 3125 is a killer amp that sold for very little money, even when new.  For a short time over the weekend I had it paired up with a Sony CDP-X55ES thusly:

I still had the A/D/S/ L470 out, so I was running those.  Short review: if you find one, buy it.  I would certainly think nothing of paying $200 USD for another one if it were in nice shape, especially if it had manual and box.  Here is Junior grooving to a Jean Sibelius symphony (or was it a Tone poem?):

My sophomore year as an undergraduate at Niagara University I had a very nice Technics/Cerwin Vega system that fared well in the dorm stereo wars, but I always knew it was sort of goofy sounding.  I even dragged the system down to the Rathskeller to DJ some parties, and it had a lot of cool lights and could play loud.  I don't know how many drunk women asked for me to play Brown Eyed Girl on it.  But it sucked for Chopin.  By this time I had discovered The Absolute Sound, and I think Stereophile as well, so I was itching to get something better.  I was aware of NAD and A/D/S/ for example from my Uncle's system, and I cobbled together something like $800 to upgrade (a pretty good amount for the mid eighties and my beer proclivities).  Not knowing how blessed we were, back then most cities had two or three hifi shops within reasonable driving distance, and my good friend JP gave me a lift out to the Speaker Shop to get an idea for what I could afford.  The Speaker Shop was (and still is thank goodness) located near the downtown State University of New York at Buffalo campus.  Here is their homepage:


Please visit.  They were very nice to poor college students.  They let JP and I listen to Audio Research and Magnepans.  I was too poor though, to do what I wanted to do: separates.  I was starting from the ground up after selling the Technics set up, and for a little while I thought about dumping the whole $800 on a pair of headphones and a disc player, which probably would have provided greater fidelity.  But no,  I was still somewhat social then (Not now.  Everyone can go straight to blazes now.  Do not pass "Go,"  do not collect $200. I really cannot stand people), and figured I would want to play tunes for someone else (girls maybe, probably, who knows, I don't even) so headphones wouldn't cut it. I did wind up buying an $80 pair of Nakamichis anyway based on JP's recommendation, and they were great.  I wonder where they are.

To make the budget work, I would need to go with an integrated amplifier (no McIntosh separates for me) and I would have to buy at least some of the gear used.  Certainly the cables.  Recall dear reader that this was 1987 or 1988 or both, and the interwebs only really existed then for academics to use message boards on usenet, no pretty graphics of Kate Upton in ZERO FREAKING GRAVITY, no Angry Birds.  No EBay, no Craig's List (what did the Nigerian Scammers do for fun back then?  Oh, right, stuff like this: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2617590). To find used stereo gear I had to use the classifieds in the back of the -gasp- Buffalo News.  I recall getting newsprint on my fingers.  Can you imagine what treasures people were selling used in 1987?  I wish I had kept those want ads.  I later also used the Buffalo News want ads to buy a Dual CS-5000 from a guy who was an industrial designer working for McCormack, but that is another story (a very cool one).  I wound up contacting a fellow selling an NAD 3125 integrated amplifier for the princely sum of $125.  JP being the trooper that he was and is, not to mention with what must have been a morbid sense of curiosity, accompanied me to some stranger's home somewhere in Western New York one evening to see the amp.  I barely recall the event now, but I do know that the amp was not hooked up.  It was not plugged in.  It had no documentation.  It did come with a .5 meter pair of Audioquest cables.  So of course I promptly bought it for the fully advertised $125, and as we walked back to the truck, JP commented that I "had big brass ones," which was a very polite way of saying that I was an idiot.  Well played, no arguments there.  Luckily, that amp worked.  Well.  

Later that week (if I recall correctly) we returned to The Speaker Shop where I dropped the remainder on a Sony CDP-208ES (yes, that's where THAT obsession started) and a pair of oak-finish Klipsch KG2 speakers, which just happened to be the perfect match for a 25 watt NAD amplifier.  That's right, 25 wpc.  Here are the details, per the manual:

Date of Manufacture from January 1985


Phono input
input impedence (R and C)                                     47 kilo ohms/ 100 picofarads
input sensitivity, 1kHz                                            2.5 mV  ref. 25W
Signal/Noise ratio (A-weighted with cartridge connceted)  75dB ref. 5 mV
RIAA response accuracy (20Hz to 20kHz)             +/- 3dB

Line level inputs
Input sensitivity (ref 25w)                                       150mV
Signal/Noise ratio (A -weighted ref 1W)                  86dB
Frequency response (20Hz- 20kHz)                         +/-0.5dB
Infrasonic filter                                                         -3dB at 15Hz, 12dB/octave

Tone controls
Treble                                                                        +/- 7dB at 10kHz
Bass                                                                           +/- 10dB at 50Hz

Continuous output power into 8ohms*                     25W (14dBW)
*minimum power per channel, 20Hz to 20kHz, both channels driven with no more than rated distortion
Rated distortion                                                         0.03%
Clipping power (maximum continuous power per channel) >35W
IHF Dynamic headroom at 8 ohms                                       >3dB
IHF dynamic power (maximum short term power per channel)  8ohms  50W
                                                                                                      4ohms  55W
                                                                                                      2ohms  75W
Damping factor (ref 8ohms, 50Hz)                             >50

Dimensions (W x H x D)                                            420 x 83 x 288mm
Weight                                                                         4.7 kg 

How would a puny 25 watt amp survive dorm life?  Would the girls in the next dorm over even hear  the opening lyrics of Black Dog blaring from the speakers hanging out of the windows at 8AM on Sunday mornings?  Why yes, yes they would, if those speakers dangling dangerously from the window sill by Monster Cable XP have a 90dB sensitivity rating and that little amplifier has 3dB of dynamic headroom. 

As you can see from the pictures above, the NAD 3125 is small.  It's even smaller than a Rotel DVD player:

In fact, it was dwarfed by every receiver in that building, but it easily blew them away.  It conquered not because it was loud, which when paired with the Klipsch's it was, but because it could play loudly and cleanly, with musicality.  Its' tone controls stayed flat, its' loudness button never got used.  it was accurate and just played music, and what noise it did add did not detract from the listening experience.  I used to love pointing out that the CD player was NOT the amp, and all the noise was coming from the little guy on top of the disc player.  Some of the more savvy accused me of using it as a preamplifier and hiding the amp elsewhere.  Not so.  The NAD 3125 is just super cool in a sleeper kinda way.  Plus it had really, really excellent external heat sinks (a sure sign of being high end, right?  Careful though, they are sharp):

As you can see from this picture, the current example I have has a coveted "Ontario Hydro Electrical" sticker, in the official orange (!).  This example I bought a few years ago complete with box, packing and manual (anyone need a PDF?).  The original one was unfortunately replaced by another, older and bigger NAD after I graduated, a 3150 I think.  I have owned a few other NADs since (not as many as one would think, given my issues), and I have a 3130 stereo receiver in my office whose only source is a Sony TC-K606ES tape deck.  I just had to have another 3125, though, and the one I have now is a forever piece.  I may request that it be buried with me.  They can use it to blast Bullet the Blue Sky during the wake.  Now THAT is a late eighties, early nineties Catholic University Student reference for you.  

This story can go in a bunch of directions from here, such as how the NAD paired with the X55ES, what happened to the KG2s (JP got them and recently sold them- shoulda called me first . . . ) or how the 3125 compares with more modern NAD amplifiers.  If anyone has any preferences, let me know.  For now I will warp this up by repeating- you probably want to get one of these, before they disappear forever.  It is a five-star piece of kit, in my not so humble opinion.



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