Vintage Audio Showdown – NAD 3155 vs Harmon Kardon HK 3270


As a kid, I liked playing around with radios and tape recorders, experimenting with different speakers and antennae just to see what would happen.

My mom bought three of these: Red, blue and yellow. Mine was yellow.

We had a cottage on an island at Georgian Bay which, until the 1980s, had no hydro connection. So battery operated radio was my exclusive link to the outside world and all the latest hits. Some days at the front of the island I felt like a long distance voyager trying to pick up distant signals with my AM radio.

CFTR used to be a great AM music radio station. It came in better than CHUM, which was also good. Today they’re talk radio. News and Sports.

Back in the city, my elder brothers and sisters had their own stereos so I had a chance to test them out too. As a teen, I got my first amp. A Yahama Natural Sound Stereo Amp rated at about 65 watts per channel.

I liked it but by the time I was in university, I wanted a bigger sound with more bass. So I bought a NAD 3155 (55 watts/ch) that still works today.

Before buying the NAD I tried out a Harmon Kardon amp rated at about 60 watts/ch. It was punchy and dynamic but after a few hours, I found it too harsh for my sensitive ears. Back then in the mid-1980s, I was living in Peterborough ON and the electronics store where I bought the HK was just outside of Toronto. So I did the long drive to return the HK.

Around that time my parents bought a small HK 380i receiver rated at about 30 watts/ch. I enjoyed its excellent bass and punchy sound at low volumes but like the bigger HK, it seemed harsh, especially at higher volumes.

Over the years, I eventually got bored with my NAD, even though it reminded me of happy days as an undergraduate student.

The thrill was gone, as the song goes.

A few weeks ago I bought an Insignia receiver from Best Buy and returned it the next day. Mediocre sound, no phono input. My 30-plus-year-old NAD sounded better. But I was still bored with it.

So I began searching Kijiji, hoping to pick up a quality, vintage amp at a rock bottom price.

Turns out someone was giving away an HK 3270 because it had some issues. They lived nearby so I drove over and grabbed it.

This twenty-something-year-old HK has a few electronic glitches and only pulls in clear FM stereo after midnight. But on the whole, the amp works fine. It also has nice subwoofer-out jacks which the NAD lacks. (I have a finicky Yamaha subwoofer another person was throwing out!)

Here’s a summary of the pros and cons for the NAD 3155 and the HK 3270:

NAD 3155

Pros:

  • 20-20k Hz frequency response
  • A and B speaker terminals
  • Loudness, bass boost, and infra-defeat buttons
  • Low-level button
  • soft clipping switch
  • ohm selector switch
  • Turntable input (switchable MC and MM)
  • pre-out / main in for linking to external amps
  • realistic, warm sounding – strings sound like strings, guitar sounds like a guitar
  • nice highs that don’t grate on the ears

Cons:

  • No subwoofer out
  • Bass can sound a bit soft and boxy
  • Dynamics are fair but not exciting
  • Aged volume knob makes some noise when turned
  • No tuner nor remote

HK 3270

Pros:

  • 20-20k Hz frequency response
  • A and B speaker terminals
  • Turntable input (MM)
  • Pre-out / main in for linking to external amps
  • Clean sound
  • Excellent dynamics
  • Strong midrange
  • Subwoofer out with tight bass response
  • Partially working remote (volume and input selector still work)
  • FM radio sounds better (after midnight) than the FM tuner on my Android tablet

Cons:

  • Highs not quite as present as with the NAD
  • Strings and horns can sound a bit ‘electronic’
  • Mute on remote doesn’t work
  • FM cannot consistently receive stereo in daytime despite hooking up dipole antenna at ground level
  • AM/FM presets don’t stick very well

So who’s the winner?

It took some time to adjust to the new sound but for now, the HK 3270 with Yamaha sub came out on top. The NAD has been retired for storage until I use it somewhere else, or possibly as my main amp a few months down the road.

For me, the sound of music has to keep changing to be compelling. I probably have more jury-rigged setups in the home than most people. And I’m always shifting components around, mixing and matching. Some people enjoy several cars. Others, lots of clothes. But for me, it’s music and all the low to high-end tech that can go with it.

A big thanks to the person who passed on the HK. Their taking the extra time to place the free ad in Kijiji not only gave the environment a bit of a boost but also afforded me hours of geeky fun. They even thoughtfully included the manual and remote in a ziplock bag. This helped me reset the receiver and remove some existing FM presets.

It really doesn’t get much better than that. 🙂

Gracias!

 

One comment

  1. After writing this I went down to St. Michael’s Cathedral for the night Mass, which always clarifies things. I just made a few edits. Mostly repetitive phrases and perhaps slightly unfair reviews. 🙂 Later I took another pic in FM stereo mode. I often listen to music late at night so it’s sorta cool that it really comes into its own at that hour!

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