Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review: Nakamichi SR-3A receiver

For some strange reason I decided to simplify the second system, replacing the odd couple Rotel integrated and Sansui tuner with a receiver.  Now I've never been a big fan of the "all in one box" approach to audio components, but having a single device handle the amplification chain and radio certainly takes up less space than all separates.  After cruising through several hundred items on Ebay, I finally zeroed in on a Nakamichi SR-3A receiver.  Why?  It uses a "Stasis" output stage, the very same topology that my now departed Threshold S/500 had.  This circuit was designed by the great Nelson Pass who continues to make some of the most interesting amplifiers around.  Though obviously built to a price point and lacking the muscular grunt of the Threshold, I thought the Nakimichi would provide good enough service for less intensive listening.

When I received the package, I opened the box and found a rather Plain-Jane receiver in that most boring of colors: black.  Hooking it up was a bit of a nightmare - the receiver depth is larger than expected, making speaker and RCA cables with large jacks almost impossible to fit because of the limited Ikea Expedit shelf space.  Also the banana jacks in the back really don't have any metal contact and are too small for the banana plug(!).  So in the end I ended up using insulated wire twisted together.  Other than that, build quality is pretty good - though not exactly McIntosh.

Once I finally had everything in place, I could finally turn the Nakamichi on.  There is a fairly dim display for the radio station, tuner signal strength, and that's about it for the light display.  There is an input for turntable (with a switch for MM and MC), CD, Video, and Radio.  The tuner portion is switchable between AM and FM (no surprise there) and stations can be programmed into memory.  Bass and Treble controls are defeatable.  There is a loudness contour button and two speaker selections: A or B.  The right side is dominated by a volume and balance combination - the inner ring controlling the former while the outer ring does the latter.

Listening to a record, the sound coming out of my B&W Matrix 805 speakers took on a different character.  The mids were cleaner and leaner, but, strangely enough, the lowest bass seemed to have more depth and control.  The top end had real "presence" - ie, slightly forward in it's presentation.  The phono section itself seemed to be very good with excellent overload characteristics and lacking that op-amp etch that many receivers have.  Though only rated at 45WPC, the Nakamichi SR-3A seemed to punch much higher than one would expect.  There was more than enough volume for my not-quite efficient B&W speakers and mid-sized room.   Dynamic contrasts were also more evident, making this receiver a good match for these classic monitors.

The tuner - which is popular for listening to classical music - was excellent.  I'm normally not a fan of digital tuning, but the Nakamichi really locked into the signal, easily bettering my analog Sansui AU-777.  Music from the radio also seemed more lively compared to my old integrated/tuner combination.

In conclusion, the Nakamichi SR-3A is one of the better "vintage" receivers I've heard.  It certainly doesn't sound overly warm or suffer from solid-state harness.  Instead, it's quite even-handed, even with my finicky B&W tweeters.  The Stasis output circuit really does remind me of a mini-Threshold amplifier; giving the user a taste of the real high-end.  Highly recommended.

Second System:
Analog: Dual CS5000 turntable
Digital :Pioneer DVD-V7400
Speakers: B&W Matrix 805s on stands
Wire: Various brands