Table of Contents
- Buyer’s Guide
Today we will touch the niche of integrated amplifiers, but in an unusual way – this is not going to be a classical comparison of immediate competitors with similar features and capabilities. Instead, we’ll try to embrace a variety of aspects affecting the choice of an integrated amplifier. This way, each of the top 5 our picks can claim the title of the best integrated amp, each in its own way: depending on their features, design, power, price and the looks. Read further to find out what exactly we believe can be the best stereo integrated amplifier in 2021.
1. Cambridge Audio Topaz AM10 Integrated Amplifier
The reason we start with the Topaz AM10 amplifier is simply because it falls right in the golden middle, thus sticking to the classical concept of what a good high end entry level amplifier should be like. AM10 by Cambridge Audio is a slick all-metal box with a stylish brushed aluminum front panel housing a ruffle-free functionality that can suit all practical needs of an audiophile. Don’t be fooled by the amp’s price against its more expensive relatives as it will not make you disappointed by what it can give. The seemingly insufficient 35 watts per channel can do the job well if placed in the right context – with the suitable speakers it can give a spacious soundstage with a strong midrange image for your living room or even fill a small cozy basement lounge with a hi-fi sound. Topaz AM10 is turntable friendly – with built-in phono stage you can instantly connect your turntable and spin some old vinyl of yours for your friends and guests in case playing CD’s is just not atmospheric enough. Designers of the amp stayed focused on providing the overall pleasant sonic experience, so this Topaz AM10 even has toroidal transformers normally found on separate high end devices. This helps to get a better bass response and a deeper, richer sound all together.
That said it must be noted, however, that the adequate match-up of AM10 with the speakers is crucial for getting the most audio quality. But when this part is done you can enjoy a fully submerging audio experience with a variety of sound sources: for your everyday use AM10 is conveniently ready for iPod, MP3 player or a smartphone right from the front panel. Rear panel carries inputs for the more basic hook-ups like CD player, tuner, DVD player, TV or Blu-ray transport.
2. YAQIN MC-13S EL34 (6CA7) 4 Vacuum Tube Integrated Push-Pull Amplifier
YAQIN MC-13S can be considered one of the best class A integrated amplifiers, namely the best integrated amplifier under 1000 dollars. Let’s see why. The very foundation for the reasoning can be found right in the amp’s full name: MC-13S is a tube amp with the circuitry based on the push-pull design that has been proven over time to deliver quality audiophile sound. But those are the expected basics: necessary but not sufficient. So to support the promising design YAQIN equips the MC-13S with high quality components made by a number of world’s reputable electronics manufacturers. Such consistency in quality approach makes it possible to provide a reliable path for the sound signal to pass. Obviously, being the tube amp MC-13S is a rather bulky device, so you can imagine how much pain it can become reaching for the back panel to make connections. Not with this amp! Since MC-13S has 4 line inputs switchable from the front panel, you’ll only need to make you cable connections once and then work your way between the auxiliary channels as necessary.
You may wonder what exactly MC-13S may be missing so that it can fall under a thousand dollar mark. Well, the price paid for the sound quality is the lack of extra features normally found in more expensive amps. With the target price category in mind, the circuitry was designed with the primary focus on the sound quality that a tube amp is expected to provide. So in the end you get pure minimal functional quality, which seems more than fair.
3. Onkyo A-9050 Integrated Stereo Amplifier
Now that we’ve looked at two amps representing somewhat conventional approach, let’s turn our heads to a digit in our quest for the best integrated amp with DAC. Onkyo A-9050 comes with Wolfson DAC able to decode at 24 bit/192 kHz resolution. Although among digital enthusiasts this is only considered semi-professional level, this is still much better for providing quality digital sound. This can be even more pleasing if you keep in mind that having a DAC on board is not to be taken for granted for most amps under $500. Another point of pride of this Onkyo A-9050 is the Three-Stage Inverted Darlington Circuitry that combined with DIDRC filter works toward eliminating virtually any distortion. This is especially important for a digital-capable amp operating at 75 watts of output power.
A little drawback for the true old school audiophiles is that the sound produced by A-9050 comes off a bit on the bright side while missing that warmth and richness praised by audio purists. This, however, may not be the issue for those looking for a full-bodied bass that Onkyo A-9050 can deliver, which is awesome for the price.
Another good reason to consider Onkyo A-9050 the best integrated amplifier in its price range is its set of inputs (1 optical, 2 coaxial, 5 analog, and 1 phono) that gives plenty of options. Connect your turntable or play music directly from your computer in addition to the basic input features. To make it just a notch more appealing Onkyo A-9050 comes with a wireless remote control.
4. Orb Audio: Booster 50 Watt Mini Integrated Amplifier
Okay, not everybody needs an expensive amplifier that can shake the house or scare all nearby wildlife away. For some even the smallest inexpensive device capable of giving good sound quality for a variety of input sources may be the best integrated amplifier in the world. This is where Orb Audio: Booster 50 Watt Mini comes in. Booster 50 Mini is a very compact and nice looking amplifier can be very useful for your audio home needs. 25 watts per channel is more than plenty to power your satellites, bookshelf or even the floor-standing speakers. Its small size and the weight of mere 1 pound lets you handle the device easily. One thing you can do with the Booster Mini that is impossible with larger amps is you can hide it, like putting it behind your TV. Not that we expect you to be willing to do that as this amp looks pretty stylish and neat.
As for the sound experience Orb Audio Booster 50 Mini delivers very good and clear sound with the capability for the subwoofer. The amp comes with the bunch of useful inputs: 2 x 3.5 mm inputs, optical, USB power port, Sub out. This lets you play music from virtually any modern device you may have: iPod, TV, smartphone, gaming console, HDTV etc.
Few words on the amp limitations to consider before making a decision: no Bluetooth connectivity and no headphone jack. Also, it has been reported that remote control operating range is limited so don’t expect to operate the amp from another room.
5. Marantz HD-AMP1 – Stereo Integrated Amplifier
Finally let’s look at the more expensive option in the quest of best sounding integrated amplifier. Now this is a pretty compact amplifier for the features it is equipped with. Just by looking at it one can see how HD-AMP1 by Marantz celebrates the classy spirit of the quality experience for demanding audiophiles: glossy side panels with retro wood-style patterning, yet modest and serious. The brushed aluminum front panel brings all the controls out with a digital display.
One of the main strong points of this amplifier is the amps digital capabilities. Marantz HD-AMP1 is an amp that takes the digital audio experience to the professional level: the state-of-the-art ESS SABRE 32-bit/384-kHz ultra high performance DAC is capable of playing a wide range of digital audio of high resolution (WAV, FLAC, ALAC and AIFF files). Enforced with the special noise isolation technology HD-AMP1 can provide virtually perfect sound from a digital source, like laptops, phones, and other devices via 5 digital inputs – 2 optical, 1 coaxial, and 2 USB. Despite its main focus on digital functionality Marantz HD-AMP1 also has two pairs of analog inputs.
The power output comes at 70 watts at 4 ohm or 35 watts at 8 ohms. This may not be a lot, but this is well compensated by the purity of the sound with the very detailed soundstage. Add the subwoofer capability to that and you’re all set for consistent and rich musical experience. Marantz HD-AMP1 also features a separate headphone amplifier with 3 selectable gain settings for compatibility with the widest range of headphone types.
If you’re not quite sure where to start or if you’re looking for a high quality amplifier with all audiophile-oriented features then Topaz AM10 is your best high end integrated amplifier. With all the pros and cons Topaz AM10` is a highly cost-effective integrated amp out there in its price range.
If you need an integrated amp with a tube sound quality, but still want to stay under a $1000, then YAQIN MC-13S will definitely do the trick.
On the other hand if you care little less about the body of the sound, but strive for more power, then consider Onkyo A-9050. It is aimed for listeners who are less demanding on the warmth of the sound, but at the same time looking for some bass power combined with the digital capabilities. With that said Onkyo A-9050 is by our opinion is the best integrated amplifier with DAC under $500.
If none of the above seemed quite satisfying for you and if you still have extra budget allowance then Marantz HD-AMP1 may be your amp. If Marantz HD-AMP1 was to be reviewed as the best integrated amplifier under $1000 it would most likely lose to its more expensive rivals. On the other hand it is sold just over a $1000 so for the price and digital capabilities Marantz HD-AMP1 is definitely best solid state integrated amplifier by our opinion.
For all other less demanding buyers just willing to get quality with convenience on a budget Booster 50 Watt Mini can become a solution. Thinking of building a small stereo system for your bedroom or even kitchen or using it with your computer? Then look no further as Booster 50 Watt Mini by Orb Audio will definitely become a great member of your family.
In our attempt to find the best stereo integrated amplifier in 2021 we tried to look into different aspects of the industry: we ranged price from under $200 to over $1000, we considered consumer and hardcore audiophile markets, we compared quality with quantity, and we didn’t even forget the old-school tube amps. From computer-fed digital audio system to playing a 100% analog source like a vinyl record, we attempted to determine the best integrated amplifier for 2021 for every demand, and we did our best.