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Monday, August 8, 2022
Home Technology Best Budget Integrated Amplifiers - ecoustics.com

Best Budget Integrated Amplifiers – ecoustics.com


For this installment of “Best Right Now,” we sat down with Tarun: A British Audiophile to discuss some of the best budget integrated amplifiers between $ 350 and $ 1,000 USD.

Between the two of us, we’ve listened to at least 20 new integrated amplifiers over the past 2 years and think they make sense for a lot of consumers in 2022.

Overview

Integrated amplifiers have become very popular again with audiophiles for a few reasons and we think it’s fair to say that expensive separates are becoming less relevant.

Most integrated amplifiers being introduced today combine a power amplifier, pre-amplifier, phono section, headphone amplifier, and in some cases a DAC or internal streaming capabilities.

It’s probably more accurate to refer to amplifiers that include network connectivity; either via Wi-Fi or Ethernet as Streaming Amplifiers or Network Amplifiers. If you scroll through the features of most of these amplifiers, you’ll notice that many offer support for TIDAL Connect, Spotify Connect, Roon, Qobuz, Chromecast, Apple AirPlay 2, and different Bluetooth codecs.

What features should you look for when selecting a new integrated amplifier or network amplifier?

A subwoofer output to conveniently connect a powered subwoofer. This output may or may not include a low-pass crossover or bass management settings.

Digital Inputs such as USB, Optical Toslink or Coaxial enable connectivity to external music sources such as CD players or digital music streamers. Such inputs mean the amplifier has an internal DAC.

A USB input to access digital music locally from USB stick, hard drive, laptop, tablet or computer.

A headphone output generally means the amp includes a special amplifier just for headphones, mainly audiophile headphones with high impedance requirements. Ideally it makes headphone listening sound better.

A remote control is usually included, but not always.

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Design Considerations

Build quality matters. Circuit design does too. And most importantly, equipment matching to speakers and other devices matters more than one would think.

Do not be seduced or turned off by power ratings. Some loudspeakers only require a few watts into an 8 ohm load, while others require an amplifier that can double its output into 4 ohms and is stable at that impedance. You are more likely to damage a loudspeaker with less power than more.

Should you go with a tube or solid-state integrated amplifier? Tube amplifiers certainly require more hands-on maintenance and it is incorrect to state that all tube amplifiers have a “warm” or “rich” sound. Not all solid-state amplifiers are neutral sounding; we can think of more than a few that are darker or warmer sounding than some tube amplifiers.

Remember to budget accordingly when building your stereo system. This guide should provide a great starting point for building your first stereo system or upgrading an existing one.

Whether you’re looking for a purist integrated stereo amplifier or one packed with features, we think these are some of the best to buy right now for the money.

Best Budget Integrated Amps

Iota VX SA3 ($ 552)

Learn more: A British Audiophile Review

Iota VX SA3 Integrated Amplifier Rear

  • Reason to buy: Tonal balance is quite even, fast, transparent, and dynamic sounding
  • Reason to pass: Bottom end could have better definition

NAD C316BEE V2 ($ 479)

Learn more: See our full review

NAD C 316BEE V2 Stereo Integrated Amplifier Front View
NAD C 316BEE V2 Stereo Integrated Amplifier Rear View

  • Reason to buy: Solid phono stage, more power than ratings would suggest, warm tonal balance, good built quality
  • Reason to pass: No wireless capabilities, bottom end could have more impact

Cambridge Audio AXA35 ($ 379)

Learn more: See our full review.

Cambridge Audio AXA35 Integrated Amplifier Front
Cambridge Audio AXA35 Integrated Amplifier Front Rear

  • Reason to buy: Solid build quality, above average phono stage, warm tonal balance, excellent choice for 2-way bookshelf loudspeakers under $ 500
  • Reason to pass: Bottom end can be slightly loose sounding, not a lot of detail on top

Rega IO ($ 725)

Learn more: See our Rega IO Audiophile System Builder

Rega io Integrated Amplifier Front
Rega io Integrated Amplifier Rear
  • Reason to buy: Minimalist design, solid build quality, above average MM phono stage, tonal balance is perfect for more neutral sounding loudspeakers
  • Reason to pass: Limited power, no DAC or streaming capabilities

Rotel A11 Tribute ($ 799)

Rotel A11 Tribute Integrated Amplifier Front
Rotel A11 Tribute Integrated Amplifier - Back
  • Reason to buy: Minimalist design, very solid MM phono stage, above average power for the price point, clean and transparent sounding, Ken Ishiwata magic
  • Reason to pass: No DAC, power might not be enough for some larger bookshelf speakers or mid-range floor standing loudspeakers

Audiolab 6000A ($ 995)

Learn more: See our full review. See Tarun’s video review.

Audiolab 6000A Integrate Amplifier Front Black
Audiolab 6000A
Audiolab 6000A Integrate Amplifier Rear Black

  • Reason to buy: Powerful, excellent transparency, detail, pacing, can be used as an integrated amplifier, pre-amplifier, or power amplifier
  • Reason to pass: No USB digital input, rather lean tonal balance require careful system matching

Rega Brio ($ 1100)

Rega Brio Integrated Amplifier Front
Rega Brio Integrated Amplifier Rear
  • Reason to buy: Powerful presentation, excellent MM phono stage, warm tonal balance, punchy
  • Reason to pass: Bottom and top end are rolled off, no DAC or wireless streaming capabilities

Best Budget Streaming Integrated Amps

Bluesound Powernode

Learn more about the Powernode.

Bluesound POWERNODE Amplified Music Streamer Front
Bluesound POWERNODE Music Streamer White Back

  • Reason to buy: BluOS, Roon-Ready, powerful, very easy to use, excellent Bluetooth and Wi-Fi streaming capabilities
  • Reason to pass: No Chromecast, limited connection options

Yamaha WXA50

Yamaha WXA-50 Integrated Amplifier Front
Yamaha WXA-50 Integrated Amplifier Rear
  • Reason to buy: Power, connectivity options, excellent value for the money
  • Reason to pass: Discontinued

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