Among different designs of amplifiers existing today there is one in particular that has been standing strongly on its ground for decades – the good old stereo amp. No matter how far the technology gets springing off fancy multi-channel standards, the basic sonic concept is this: two channels are the necessity and sufficiency for two human ears. With the design so fundamental choosing the right product can get tiresome. We looked at best stereo amplifier brands to help with that. Read on to check the candidates to be the best stereo amplifier in 2019.
1. PS Audio Sprout100 Complete HiFi DAC Amp
Usually the 1st place goes to one of those full-sized guys that take up half of your shelf, but not today. Sprout100 doesn’t just bravely stand out among its bigger competitors as small, but confident. Today it steps forward. When you picture a slim, sharp looking gentleman wearing a fancy three-piece suit and a hat among a bunch of strong dudes do you really expect a lot from him? What can a 3-pound amp, dressed in brushed aluminum and real walnut, really do? Some may say that attracting looks is just a cover for lack of inner power, but by no means shall you be fooled by that as that hat has tricks in it. The improved version of old amp by PS Audio now has remote control, double the power, which is 50 and 100 watts into 8 and 4 ohms correspondingly, and a newer DAC chip capable of handling 24-bit/384kHz. Equipped with standard audio input/output Sprout100 also has Bluetooth, USB and optical connectivity. Not to mention the phono stage for the vinyl playback. The front controls are pretty simple – volume and source knobs and a headphone connection. You will need an adapter to use your 3.5mm headphone jack with a quarter inch headphone input. It is a full featured integrated amplifier so everything required is there, including the subwoofer output.
On the performance side you’ll find that Sprout100 does a good job spilling clear sound with detailed soundstage. It has been noticed, however, that headphone experience does not quite make it compared to listening through the speakers, but this is pretty subjective and may not be the big deal for many listeners. But there is one thing we feel potential buyers need to be warned about – the bass boost. It is on by default, so if you’re unaware of it, you may get deceived into thinking that you can add extra power at the low end, while in fact you can only reduce it. Such an unpleasant surprise may ruin the whole impression for some bass lovers. Other than that it is very hard to find any other downsides.
This is the type of amp that can do a lot of things for you. This amp’s main goal was to create an easy, enjoyable and hassle-free experience right out of the box. With its size in mind one can see how it can be the best mini stereo amplifier. Our hearts are taken by this amplifier.
2. Sonos Amp
In 2019 we could not possibly overlook such an interesting piece as the Sonos Amp – The Versatile Amplifier as they call it. This is definitely a close competitor to the winner and the choice wasn’t wasy, but to be honest these two amps are hard to compare. Let’s just see what makes Sonos Amp so interesting and what held us from giving it the 1st place. First of all, it is a very nice and modest looking unit that will not try to drag too much attention to itself. Think of a boxing champion just before appearing to the boxing ring: hood-covered face is slightly down, but there is enough power and confidence hidden inside. That power is the 125 watts per channel that Sonos Amp can throw in. Aimed at multi-room experience with the wireless connectivity this amp was targeted at serious music enthusiasts that potentially can be interested in custom installations. The stackable design of the amp makes it perfect for that purpose. This is a truly 2019 amp because in addition to capacitive control buttons and two Ethernet inputs as part of digital connectivity it also features an HDMI port for the TV and AirPlay 2 compatibility. Two standard analog inputs and a subwoofer output complete the basics. The set-up is done via a piece of software and comes out as an easy process.
In terms of the sound quality this may be the best stereo amplifier for music because hi-fi is one thing Sonos Amp is really good at. You may need to play a little with the sound settings as its out-of-the-box sound tone may seem a little too bright. However, after all adjustments are made, you can get great and powerful sound, which is superb if you like to indulge in TV experience. The little downside here is to make a fully powered home theatre you will have to invest a little more money on top. But as it is, Sonos Amp is a good candidate for the best stereo amplifier under $1000 title.
Not meant for an average music listener, Sonos Amp can make a center base for an entire home music system powering most of your sound sources.
3. Onkyo A-9110 Integrated Stereo Amplifier
After looking at somewhat unconventionally designed amps we are back to the standards in this entry. As we know, higher price does not mean better value. This unit under $500 is here to prove that. Classic and old school is what one may say about Onkyo A-9110. From all of the amps on the list in this review this one has the highest user experience ratings and we found out why. Built with a rigid metal chassis and solid wide insulators the heavy A-9110 is not going to be afraid of its own power and will not give you unwanted body noise from resonance. The front is neat looking with a volume knob in the front and minimum of essential controls.
Obviously, without DAC capability A-9110 could not really hope to take the prize, but on the analog side it shows strong and pretty determined performance. What we really liked about A-9110 is that folks at Onkyo did a very good job providing users with options to keep the sound quality on top in different situations. Onkyo A-9110 provides clean and powerful sound through the entire frequency range making no exception to the weighty bass that kicks. Everybody knows how the bass can subjectively fade away at low volumes. This is not the issue with the Phase Matching Bass Boost function that recovers sound detailing if you need to keep the volume down. If you don’t want to keep it down even at night times, then A-9110 has you covered with a separate headphone amp. Another feature we like is Direct Mode that helps you bypass the tone control circuitry thus providing the shortest route from the source to your speakers for even cleaner sound.
The one-line display is not very helpful with its tiny size as different information sources need to compete for it against each other. Also Onkyo A-9110 does not have any digital inputs, but we’ll leave that to its competitors. What in our opinion makes A-9110 the best value music stereo amplifier is that the strong focus on audio aspect shifts the scale cups to the decision point, while the price tag blows off any possible doubts if there were any.
The old-school techniques still work – this is the message that Onkyo A-9110 manifests. A good stereo power amplifier is the one that delivers best possible sound to your ears no matter what the conditions are. With Onkyo A-9110 you’ll have it taken care of at more affordable price than its close rivals.
4. Yamaha A-S301BL Natural Sound Integrated Stereo Amplifier
Yamaha is the name that has been on the amplifier/receiver market for decades, if not to say, for ages. Some may smile in nostalgia, some may even scoff. But the fact is Yamaha is a samurai that faithfully follows its path no matter what. Yamaha A-S301BL shows its predecessors’ style – brave and not shy to be big and bold, definitely not trying to hide itself from view. As a true samurai this Yamaha amp is able to find balance between following new trends in home theatre niche and staying a true protector of true audiophile values. With a set of standard RCA inputs Yamaha A-S301BL supports the digit with a coaxial and an optical inputs. So your TV and Blu-ray player are covered. With the optional YBA-11 wireless adapter A-S301BL can be wirelessly connected to a Bluetooth capable audio source, like a phone or a PC. Additionally, the capabilities of the amp include an option to connect two different set of speakers and easily switch between them. Nice thing to have if you want to power up two rooms.
What about performance? You can trust Yamaha on building their amps with high quality components. This is a tradition, period. As we would expect from an audio-oriented amp, A-S301BL has different ways to manipulate the sound: standard controls can be bypassed with a Pure Direct option for more sound purity. It should be noted that unlike many amps today Yamaha A-S301BL is very confident on its mid-range. With the phono stage input that makes a perfect set-up for playing quality records. We understand that it is a hard job to stick to the spoken and unspoken audiophile standards and at the same time try to expand into the world of new opportunities. But we believe that one cannot seat on two chairs. A-S301BL is a very good amp that you may want to have in your basement for your TV and get-together experiences, but it didn’t get us too excited – in our opinion it essentially is just a device that amplifies the sound signal.
If you want a very reliable and trustworthy power amplifier for your sound system, A-S301BL is an option.
5. Onkyo M-5010 2-Channel Amplifier
Just like previously mentioned unit, Onkyo M-5010 is a pretty simplistic device designed to basically provide for a clean amplified sound. Nothing too fancy. What we liked almost immediately is the minimalism of the futuristic design – one knob on the front and no other controls. It is even possible that should there had been a remote control, there would be nothing on the front panel, but the thin blue LED. It could have been awesome actually. Take this lack of moving parts on the front panel, then add to it durable materials, and you’ll know this amplifier will last long. Its weight, size and supports will prevent from unwanted resonance, so Onkyo M-5010 was with no doubts made to do heavy work. Powered with 75 watts per channel M-5010 can rock a variety of speakers with its impedance selector switch. The best part is that it is easy to set up and use – isn’t that what some people need for their sound systems?
Performance-wise Onkyo M-5010 produces virtually no distortion, even at higher volumes. And rest assured, with its power capacity M-5010 can get pretty loud. Sound produced is a tasty sound sandwich – nice punch in the low end, full-bodied mid-range, and all that covered with some crispness in the high end. Stereo separation is flawless. So, Onkyo M-5010 is a very good amplifier under $300 that can get the sound signal from A to B without losing a single sonic drop. Of course, for that price you will not be getting extras, but it was never part of the destiny for the amp so good for the price.
Onkyo M-5010 is a simple, reliable and minimalistic solution for your sound system – stern and affordable.
6. Fosi Audio BT30A Bluetooth 4.2 Stereo Audio Amplifier
Next, we have an entire bunch of inexpensive amplifiers coming from under the same roof. They really go close to each other, especially considering their prices. On the other hand all of them have distinctive features that make them serve same purposes, but with different flavors. Fosi Audio BT30A is a mini amp that can probably go first, because it shows a good balance between power and frequency. Fosi Audio BT30A gives 50 watts per channel, which is pretty good for a small unit like that plus a 100 watt for a subwoofer channel. It only weighs less than 2 pounds and small in size, so it can fit on a desk or a shelf with no issue. It can also be moved around easily, because protected by durable aluminum casing.
Frequency range of 20-40 Hz is enough for most purposes. For the price amplifier produces great sound with consistent mid-range. Very modern looking Fosi Audio BT30A can be a cool addition to your PC audio system. You have the control over witch between wired and Bluetooth connection.
Good budget solution to work with a PC.
7. Fosi Audio BT20A 4.2 Stereo Audio Amplifier
You can think of Fosi Audio BT20A as of a modification of its sibling in the previous entry. The main difference is that BT20A doesn’t have a subwoofer output, but provides twice as much power per each channel, 100 watts each. Same small size, but with a slightly different design with all three knobs of the same size and style, which makes it look somewhat cool.
Simplicity is a key trait of this type of mini amp. Compact size, lightweight (1.7 pounds), yet quality sound. This is an amp that can be used pretty much anywhere at your home as long as the source has Bluetooth connectivity. Let the hardcore audiophiles stay puzzled – we know that there a plethora of users out there who need lightweight functionality with no frills. Fosi Audio BT20A can do that for you. Also, this amp, just like its subwoofer-equipped brother, produces no sound during operation, which is good thing about an amp under $100. You need to keep in mind though that input switch on this amp is performed automatically, so plugging your wired source will switch Bluetooth off. It is hard to believe, but this amp is loved on the market.
Fosi Audio BT20A is definitely a great option to fix your home sound system for under a hundred bucks.
8. Fosi Audio TDA7498E 2 Channel Stereo Audio
Fosi Audio TDA7498E is also another small amp featured on the market for less than a hundred dollars. Built into a durable aluminum casing with very minimalist design, TDA7498E is made to provide as much as 160 watts of power per channel. It is equipped with thermal overheat protection. The most simple solution for two-speaker stereo system. Good news is that it can be used even outdoors. This is retty much like a DYI amp that people used to make, and perhaps still make, just for fun. The only thing is with the same expenses it is ready to use.
If you are not so picky and if you are just looking for inexpensive and easy solution, then you’ll love this aluminum box with a metal switch and a single volume knob.
9. Yamaha R-S202BL Stereo Receiver
By looking at this Yamaha R-S202BL Stereo Receiver it is kind of hard to believe that it’s priced in such a low niche. Not many similarly priced budget amplifiers can show off such an elegance and solid build with a brushed aluminum finish. Okay, having been on the market long enough Yamaha had learnt to stay in style, but what about the insides? First, the power it can push is more than satisfying 100 watts per channel, which can get to maximum of 140 watts each. Second, the input is done through both RCA and Bluetooth, which is good. There is no any digital input or a phono stage input. We do not expect this to be a huge limitation for most listeners. Besides, the output provides for two sets of speakers that can be hooked up in both (A or B) and (A+B) configurations. So far so good. But looking at the back panel one can see the spring clips for speakers, which are installed on most inexpensive receiver. So with this much wiring at the back one can expect to be a little more focused connecting it all together.
The real good comes during the amp’s performance. Even in this low price range Yamaha produces decent and clean sound and distinct soundstage. The bass could have been a concern, but not with Yamaha R-S202BL. A headphone jack is also there. It I also worth to mention the power saving feature. We like this green initiative.
For a simple stereo system with a decent sound Yamaha R-S202BL can make a good solution.
10. Grace Digital GDI-BTAR512N Integrated Stereo Amplifier
Grace Digital GDI-BTAR512N is a small device for use in a home. It is designed for connection with a PC or a smartphone – the physical AUX input is only a 3.5 mm jack, but it also has Bluetooth connectivity. It can do 50 watts at each channel that should be enough for home use. At the back you can also find a line out port and USB port for charging smartphones or tablets, which is interesting. For a small amp designed to sit on a shelf having a remote control is not just a convenience, and this amp comes with a simple remote. What we didn’t find too attractive is that the front controls implemented as buttons are not super convenient. To understand this, imagine trying to push one such button just to see the amplifier being pushed away. The amp’s weight should prevent that, but we’d rather have knobs or maybe even a slider.
The sound is pretty good and can be controlled at low and high ends. But as described earlier in this review, there are more inexpensive and even more attractive options. Talking about the looks we must say that this unit has way too many light indictors of different colors. At least they could come in an identical color gamma – an amp should not look brighter than a Christmas tree, right?
Really, the only occasion we would suggest buying this amp is if it was on sale and better options were sold out.
Provided that funds are not a limitation, for the best experience you can choose between the Sprout100 and the Sonos Amp, but remember that the latter is quite a specific product and the former will work for most listeners. Onkyo A-9110 can probably be the most optimal solution if you’re on a budget, yet looking for a detailed sound. Those after a natural sound so praised by Yamaha can look at both A-S301BL and R-S202BL depending on their fund allowance. Onkyo M-5010 is there to do the good job on the basic needs. Fosi Audio offers good low-priced amplifiers, so get a BT30A if you are planning to use a subwoofer, or a BT20A to get more power. Fosi Audio TDA7498E is another interesting option for an small cheap amp.
Every amp, even in the same design category, can have a whole variety of different features and aspects affecting a buyer’s choice. What needs to be remembered is that there is always a product that will possess the best combination of those features to suit your needs.