Best Stereo Amps of 2019
Amps act as the intersection between all your gear, and if you have a bad or disorganized intersection, you can find everything crashing into each other in the most unpleasant of ways.
Of course, it’s never really that simple, and for those of you who aren’t very technically minded, the jargon and expectation of basic knowledge, that isn’t very basic, can be overwhelming.
Thankfully though, stereo amps are generally of high standards nowadays, so you don’t necessarily need to know what RMS is to know that a $2,500 amp is a good one.
Before we go forward though, we’d like to point out that all the stereo amps on this list are integrated, so you aren’t going to find discrete power/preamps here. Also, we’ve done our best to keep the budget within a reasonable amount, although unfortunately integrated stereo amps tend to be expensive.
If you’re not very sure of what either of these things mean, we do have a buying section below which covers a lot of the technical aspects and terminology we’ll be using here.
See related: Best Home Theater Systems for 2019
Stereo Amps Reviews - Our Top Picks
1. Best Overall - Peachtree Audio nova300
- Weight: 17 lbs
- Power: 300W/8Ω (RMS)
- DAC: Yes, ESS Reference 9018K2M Sabre
- New generation ICEPower amplification
Peachtree Audio nova300 Review
The Peachtree Audio Nova300 has been around for about 12 years now and for good reason; it’s easily one of the best integrated audio amps out there.
One thing that really makes the Nova 300 is that it’s both high-end and yet incredibly portable, something you don’t often find in these types of devices.
A Jack of All Trades
On the other hand, it’s still also an excellent unit to use in your permanent setup. As such it’s a bit of a jack of all trades stereo amp, and surprisingly cheap for what you’re getting.
In terms of technical specs, the Nova300 uses a really awesome DAC; the ES9018K2M SABRE32, which gives a really clean conversion between a digital and an analog signal.
It can accept a whole bunch of different inputs including 24-Bit/192kHz PCM compatible coax, 32-Bit/384kHz PCM and 5.6MHz DSD. So you’re never left out in the rain, so to speak (although, please don’t use this out in the rain).
The preamps are also pretty sweet, with a signal to noise ratio of roughly 110 dB, a nice bump from the previous generation’s 80-90 dB. The Nova300 also includes a Mono Magnet (MM) mono input for things like turn-tables or any other monophone source.
That being said, if you have another dedicated preamp you’d like to use, you can certainly bypass the Nova300’s MM for line-level signals.
Introducing ICEpower Amplification
Finally I’d probably mention the ICEpower amplification, which can give you 300 watts per change (something that’s rather impressive if we do say so ourselves).
While the Nova300 uses a Hybrid Controlled Oscillation Modulator (HCOM) to help with a variety of things, it primarily helps with the problems associated with power stages and output filters.
In essence, it allows you to run a large variety of speakers, with an impedance as low as 2.5O and as high as 16O, while still maintaining the musicality of the source. All in all, the Peachtree Audio Nova300 is at the top of hierarchy for the really awesome tech it manages to get into such a tiny space and price.
It allows you to push your audio through a variety of different devices, while still maintaining a clear and excellent sound. Sure, it might cost a pretty penny, but it’s absolutely worth it.
2. Best Mid-range - Rega Brio
- Weight: 11.2lbs
- Power: 195 Watts at 115V with a rated load of 8Ω
- DAC: No
- MM Phono Preamp and Headphone Amp
Rega Brio Review
You don’t often find a great budget integrated amp, especially one that looks so retro and is analog-only.
Looking through the tech specs of this old-school style amp, you might not really be impressed and might even think that it’s outmaneuvered by its rivals. Fortunately, the face value of the Brio bellays the quality gear that’s hidden underneath, one that can give you sustained performance.
A lot of times we’ll be looking at the best case scenario for the stated specs, and real-world performance never lives up to it, and thankfully Brio isn’t one of those products.
While the power output is 50 watts RMS over both channels at 8Ω and 75 watts at 4Ω, it actually manages to sustain that, and do so cleanly. This is helped by the preamp and the power having their own rectification, which helps with isolation, specifically between the low and high signal stages of the amp.
The secondary power supply, and the picking of higher-end hardware, means that you’re getting an incredibly clean signal even when pushing a variety of different speakers. Check out our comprehensive guide if you want to know more about the best bookshelf speakers.
What’s similarly impressive is how the Brio is balanced across frequencies, an issue which previous generations certainly had in the treble.
Ultimately that means that whether you’re watching a film or listening to an operetta, the sounds are robust, clear, and very importantly, dynamic and loud enough for you to enjoy.
That being said, it can’t really compete in terms of dynamism with more expensive or bigger integrated amps, but we can’t really expect it to when it comes so cheaply.
As mentioned, this is an analogue-only device, so you’re missing out on a digital input, which isn’t great. Thankfully, there rest of the inputs are nicely arranged, even though a bit snuggly and fit the minimalist feel of the whole thing.
There’s also a MM phono stage for turntables, as well as headphone amp if you’d rather go that route.
Overall, the complete PCB redesign and outer design of the Rega Brio is really excellent, making it more compact, and with better performance.
It also manages to come in at quite a nice price for what you’re getting, and easily beats out similar amps at this price point, at least in terms of consistent performance. If you’re looking for an amp that lies somewhere between budget and middle of the road, this is a great choice.
3. Best Budget - Onkyo A-9110
Weight: 15.4 lbs
Power: 50W/4Ω (RMS)
WRAT (Wide Range Amplification Technology)
MM phono input
Onkyo A-9110 Review
You don’t often hear ‘Class AB’ in the same sentence as ‘budget’ but somehow Onkyo have managed a really great little budget amp. Actually, the A-9110 is a derivative from it’s little brother, the A-9010, which has managed to win a few awards in the budget audiophile category.
Much like the Brio, the A-9110 is an analogue-only integrated amp, so if you’re looking for a quality DAC, you ain't gettin’ one here, although you can find it in the A-9130. Sound quality is robust for such a cheap amp. In particular, the phase matching bass boost is a neat little trick that matches mid and low frequencies to help with clarity.
Coupled with that is their ‘Optimum Gain Volume Circuitry’, which essentially is a fancy way of saying that the amp is designed to prevent or avoid noise interference.
Of course, if you don’t want to deal with the bass boosting or any tone control, you have the option of setting it to Direct Mode. This lets you listen to the sound as it comes directly from the source, which is great for the purists out there.
In terms of input, you get quite a bunch; a MM Phono input and then 4 line-inputs. You also get a line out, both L/R outs for speakers and, interestingly enough, a pre out subwoofer, which is a nice little addition.
Finally, you get an output for your headphones at the front. So as you can see, this little amp is decked out in terms of I/O.
Remote Interactive Tech Option
The A-9110 also comes with a remote, and the Remote Interactive tech allows you to control other Onkyo products, with a connection on the back panel. So if you have an Onkyo CD player or network streamer, this is a great device to pair it with.
What’s great about the Onkyo A-9110 is that you’re not only getting a great integrated amp, you’re also getting it for a very cheap price.
Sure, it’s not as powerful an amp as something in a price range, but then again . . . the price isn’t in a higher range either. Check out this post if you want to find out if an integrated amp is a better alternative to a receiver.
If you’re looking for a good mid-end integrated amp to dip your toes in with, this is a great choice.
4. Best High-End - Anthem STR
Power: 200W/8Ω (RMS)
Anthem STR Review
The whole fight between integrated and separate amps has been going on for ages now, with quite a lot of people leaning towards separate amps. As such, when looking at the high-end integrated amps, you might shy-away from the several thousand dollar price tag you tend to see.
Don’t let that scare you off though, because the actual quality and just bonkers amount of features you get is well worth the price.
Large TFT Screen
It’s actually a bit hard to know where to start with the STR, although the front panel is as good as any. The standout feature here is clearly the large TFT screen at the front, which is going to be the window into all the different calibrations and settings you can pick from.
What’s nice is that you can also set a sleep or standby mode for the whole device, something we can certainly appreciate.
What really make the STR standout is the amount of equalization you can throw on any source, and while I know some purists don’t really appreciate that, it’s actually really awesome. What it’s really useful for in particular is its ability to adjust the sound quality based on room size and even composition.
Anthem Room Correction to Adjust the Audio
To that end the STR comes with Anthem Room Correction (ARC), which helps with adjusting your audio to really fit the space you have.
You can even choose from up to 30 different virtual inputs, which is handy if you have large curtains, furniture, or anything that you move often and can have an effect on the audio.
For those of you who are worried about the whole digital/analogue argument, the STR features, MM Phono and six pre-RIAA curves for use with older devices, a feature which is really innovative. Of course, you can also choose to bypass the amps and what not, much like other integrated amps.
What’s particularly nice though, is that you can pass-through the STR even when it’s switched off, and it’s the same as if you’re just running a cable, the pass-through is that good.
Another nice thing is that you get some bass management here, not just for one subwoofer, but two, either in stereo or mono. Power output is truly impressive, with 800W / 600W / 400W into 2 / 4 / 8 Ω, so you have lots to pick from.
You also get 16 bipolar output devices per channel, as well as two massive toroidal transformers, so just all around it’s pretty awesome.
Honestly, there’s lots to talk about with the Anthem STR, so you should definitely check the tech specs on Anthem’s site. There’s very few things here that really knock down the STR, beyond maybe the price and the weight.
If you want a top-end integrated amp, the Anthem STR is the one to go for.
5. Best Stereo Amp for Small Rooms - PS Audio Sprout100
Weight: 2.9 lbs
Power: 50W/8Ω (RMS)
ESS Sabre 9016 DAC chip
Redesigned RIAA phono stage
PS Audio Sprout100 Review
When you first see the Sprout 100, you might think that it doesn’t give you a great and robust sound, but that’s surprisingly not the case.
A pretty considerable upgrade from its predecessor, the Sprout 100 ditched the old chip and went with a Sabre chip instead, DSD128 and 24-bit/384kHz PCM, which is impressive for an amp at this price point.
Interestingly enough, it actually managed to give quite a bit of depth to any sound, something which similar integrated amps don’t. Of course, it also has a subwoofer out, which is just plain awesome as it’s also something you don’t necessarily see often.
Four Connection Modes Available
The amp also has four different modes you can use to connect: Vinyl, Analogue, Digital and Bluetooth, so you have a variety of sources you can push through it. We know that some of you might worry about having both analogue and digital on the same integrated amp, but don’t, you rarely see any interference or issues.
One thing that can be a little frustrating though is that the Sprout 100 comes with the Bass Boost switched on at default, a vexing decision to say the least.
In terms of I/O you have a nice selection. L/R speaker outputs, of course, the previously mentioned sub out, RCA Vinyl line ins, analogue line-ins, USB and optical. As you can see, you can pretty much connect any device that you’d like to the Sprout 100, something we really appreciate (Even if it uses banana cables for the speaker outputs).
There’s also the convenient fuse cap for you to change fuses if you’d like.
Oh, and one nice addition is the inclusion of a remote with a magnetic back, so you can stick to metal surfaces if you’re so inclined.
Really, what’s awesome about the Sprout 100 is how it manages to produce a robust, clean and lean sound compared to its size and price. It can easily match some amps with even double the price, and so it’s a great mid-level integrated amp if you aren’t willing to put in more than a few hundred bucks into one.
It can fill up a whole room quite easily, and it’s small enough to carry around if you’re often on the go (or you just can’t decide how you want to set your gear up)
Best of the Rest
6. NAD D3045
Weight: 5.7 lbs
Power: 60W/8Ω (RMS)
Two-Way Bluetooth powered by Qualcomm aptX HD audio
HDMI Audio Return Channel
NAD D3045 Review
If you’re an audiophile, then you’re probably familiar with NAD, a pretty old-school manufacturer who positioned themselves as ‘budget high-end’.
Probably the first thing that jumps out at you with the D 3045 is the form factor, with NAD opting for an upright configuration. It’s actually quite brilliant and not something you see often, especially with a device at this price point and size.
Speaking of, don’t let the small unit fool you, there’s a ton of hardware packed into this little case (which also happens to be a fingerprint magnet).
Smaller in Size, Great in Power
You can thank NAD’s double 60watt Hybrid Digital Amplifiers for the smaller size, and as you can tell from the power output, you can actually power some great speakers with this, even ones with lower resistance.
Of course, you are going to have to compromise in terms of heat generation, but it’s slight enough that you probably won’t notice it anyway. You also get a pre-sub out with this, which is a nice little addition, even though it’s expected with this manufacturer and price point.
What really makes the D 3045 great though, is the balanced and clean sound you get from it, with very little deviation from the actual source. As such, it tends to be paired well with slightly more musical or livelier speakers.
It does lack a bit of oomph, so to speak, but it’s not the end of the world, especially if your speakers can pick up the slack.
If you have issue with space and are looking for a nice, clean and small form factor, the NAD D 3045 should be your go to. It has excellent sound, great connectivity, even though it might be a bit hit and miss with the dynamics.
At the very least, when you go with NAD, you know you’re getting a quality product.
7. Bryston B60R
Power: 60W/8Ω (RMS)
Bryston B60R Review
It’s very hard to decide where to place the Bryston, as it’s cost don’t always relate to the ‘wow!’ factor that many integrated amps have at this price range.
That’s not to say that the B60R isn’t a good integrated amp, especially since Bryston are known for the build quality. No, the issue is more to do with lacking power. at 2 60watt channels (even though it can go to 100watts at 4 ohms) it’s a little bit piddling for an integrated amp that cost a few thousand bucks.
Thankfully, that’s really the biggest issue, and overall it’s a well rounded amp. The sound is pretty neutral, and you're going to be hearing your source really well, especially if you pair the B60R with some good speakers.
The amp doesn’t play around with the signals, which is actually pretty great if you’re a purist.
A Flexible, Well-Rounded Amp
In a sense, you can approach the B60R as your workhorse, rather than something that’s going to impress. It’s true I’m not painting it in a really great light, especially compared to other amps on this list, but that’s only because . . . well this amp’s not showy.
It is reasonably flexible though, since you can purchase a standalone MM phono stage, as well as get the upgraded version with a reasonably good onboard DAC, unfortunately the base model doesn’t include either.
As I said, it’s hard to know where to place the B60R, as its price doesn’t really jive with other products in the price range, at least on the surface level. Once you get beneath though, you’ll find a daily driver that is more than happy to chug along unassumingly and that’s ok.
8. Schiit Ragnarok
Weight: 32 lbs
Power: 60W/8Ω (RMS)
Headphone amp delivers 24 watts at 32 Ohms
Variety of RCA and XLR I/O
Schiit Ragnarok Review
In stark contrast to the Bryston, the Schiit (sigh) Ragnarok is alive, pumping and awesome. Actually, I should probably call it the Ragnarok 2, since it’s the second iteration, even though they’ve kept the same name.
The first thing you’ll probably notice about the Ragnarok is the impressive size, with it’s exposed fins on either side for that extra heat dissipation. That’s not surprising considering the dizzying array of I/O that you get with two XLR ins and three RCA ins, as well as both an XLR and RCA pre-out which can fit a sub or another amp.
The upgraded model ($1,799) has a DAC and comes with two XLR ins, two RCA ins, as well as a MM phono input and a USB. So it’s pretty packed.
This high-end engineering carries over to everything else as well, such as the volume knob which uses 128 attenuator, with little clicks as you dial the knob. It also comes with a remote which is a nice touch, with the ability to mute, control volume, input and gain.
Modern and Sleek Design
That’s nothing to say of the sleek aluminium cases, which is both pleasing to the eye and acts as a great heatsking.
Speaking of which, the Ragnarok manages 60 watts into 8 ohms, and while I did give Bryston a bit of gruff for being that low, the Ragnarok is less than half the price (or at least, the base model is).
Of course, given its size, the aluminium casing, the fins on the size and the hardware it’s driving, this thing tends to get warm, so we wouldn’t suggest putting into a closed case. This baby really want to breath.
As for the best part, the sound, it’s real, alive and well. There’s a certain depth and robustness to the sound, although it’s not really going to make a bad recording better. It’s kind of like your body; when you feed the Ragnarok good food, it’s going to do really well, and when you don’t, well then why even spend the money in the first place?
Overall, the Ragnarok is an awesome piece of engineering with a somewhat funny name. You get a lot of bang for your buck here, both in terms of hardware and in terms of sound. If you’re looking for a mid to high end integrated amp, this is the one.
9. Sonos Amp
Weight: 4.6 lbs
Sonos Amp Review
The Sonos Amp, or we should say, the new Sonos Amp is surprisingly powerful for a small little box, and is pretty well engineered to boot.
Probably the biggest standout feature with the Sonos Amp is the massive increase in power over the old version, which only had 55 Watts per channel. The new 125 Watts over 8 ohms is pretty awesome, and allows you to drive a variety of different speakers.
Wireless Connectivity Option
Actually, you do get a subwoofer out if you want to use a 3rd party subwoofer, or you can wireless connect a Sonos sub.
Wireless connectivity doesn’t end there though, and you can totally go with a 4.1 setup if you truly wished to. Along with the two left/right speaker outputs, you can also wirelessly connect a pair of speakers, which makes the Sonos pretty great in terms of multi-room setups.
That being said, Sonos still feels that hi-fi isn’t worth it, so you’re still stuck with CD quality being the highest you’ll get (although that’s still not too bad).
While unfortunately you don’t get a true center channel, you do get an HDMI Audio Return Channel, which is a step up from RCA if you have the option. Sonos even sell an optical to HDMI converter if that’s the only thing your TV can handle.
I’d probably also add here that there’s a couple of networking ports for you, so again, another positive for multi-room setups and streaming in general.
In terms of performance, the Sonos Amp is pretty excellent, and with the power it provides it can even power a massive $5k speaker if you want to. Unfortunately it does lack the depth to actually do anything with speakers that fancy, so it probably makes more financial/audio sense to get speakers in the $200 - $300 range.
You should also be aware of the Sonos Amp’s Loudness setting, as it can make a notable difference in the sonic quality.
10. Rotel A11
Weight: 15.1 lbs
Rotel A11 Review
The Rotel A11 is a pretty powerful amp that sells at a reasonable price, at least if your setup is already quite expensive.
Probably the biggest thing we like about the A11 is the MM phono stage that’s included inside the amp. You don’t often see a MM phono stages, and even when you do, the amp isn’t always built with it in mind.
Awesome Power Output (Considering the Price)
Rotel on the other hand has dedicated time and effort towards their MM phono, so you’re going to get some top notch quality out of your turntable.
Aside from that, it has some great power output of 50 watts over 8 ohms. It might not seem impressive compared to the other amps on this list, but for the price and everything else you get, it’s pretty awesome.
Accessing the Internal DAC Only Via Bluetooth
One thing that is somewhat annoying is that the only way to access the internal DAC is through bluetooth, as the amp doesn’t actually have a USB port. Why in the world they decided on that we will never know, especially since previous Rotel amps had them.
Of course, it’s not a dealbreaker by any means, but it’s a frustrating omission.
As for the sound quality, it’s pretty robust and powerful, at least when you use it with speakers at around the same price range as the amp. While it can power bigger speakers, you aren’t going to get the same volume and depth as you would on smaller speakers.
The Rotel A11 is really targeted as a starter integrated amp, and for what it is and what it costs, I’d say they did an excellent job of it.
11. Marantz HD-AMP1
Power: 35W/8Ω (RMS)
Marantz HD-AMP1 Review
This stereo amp model manufactured by Marantz is one of our favorites out there – and for good reason. Besides the fact that it looks cute as all get out, this amp is also not too expensive, and falls under the affordable range when it comes to stereo amps.
The bonus here is that this amplifier can do the same things that way more expensive amps do.
An Outstanding Home Décor Option
The value for money here is really high, so if you’re looking at bang for your buck, then this is it. It will also make for great décor in your apartment or studio, with a cute little design that has a circular LED display and faux wooden paneling on either side of the device.
For something that costs a little more than $1,000, the stereo amp emits fantastic sound. Rock? You’ll get the punch. Jazz? You’ll hear the crisp. The sounds flow smoothly out of the speakers and you won’t be disappointed.
But at just 35 watts at 8-ohms, we’ll have to admit that this device isn’t so powerful, and it doesn’t have Bluetooth. That shouldn’t really hinder your decision at all though, or be a dealbreaker.
As you know, the lower the power, the easier it is to deal with and the higher it is, the more time needs to be spent adjusting the sound to avoid messines.
12. Naim NAIT XS3
Weight: 18.75 lbs
Power: 70W/8Ω (RMS)
Naim NAIT XS3 Review
If you’re looking for solid quality, then you shouldn’t look far beyond Naim’s range of NAIT products, and what better place to begin than their NAIT XS3 stereo amplifier? This latest model went through an upgrade, improving and streamlining the power and circuitry, which helps make the sound come out firmer.
As for the amp’s phono stage, the manufacturers improved the Moving Magnet (MM) design, with the performance being full of energy compared to other amps.
The design, on the other hand, didn’t go through so much of an upgrade. It still has its same basic design, which is great if you’re going for more of a minimal feel to things.
Compared to their other range of designs, like the Uniti Atom streamer, we’d say that the manufacturers could’ve worked a little harder. But, as they say, beauty is skin deep, and this phrase rings especially true with this product
While the sound is much crisper, it’s not actually a considerable upgrade from the previous generation, so it might not actually be worth the upgrade. That being said, the dynamics are actually a joy to hear, so we can’t blame people for trading up.
Amazing Headphone Performance
Headphone performance is also pretty excellent, something which can sometimes be lacking in with other manufacturers.
At the end of the day, if you’re a fan of vinyl and are looking for an integrated amplifier designed with a phono stage, then this one’s for you. You will certainly be hearing how deep the sound levels can go on the NAIT XS3.
If you’re looking for an amplifier with strong, deep frequencies, this is for you.
13. PrimaLuna Evo 300
Weight: 68.2 lbs
Power: 42W/8Ω (RMS)
PrimaLuna Evo 300 Review
PrimaLuna is usually known for their killer, and sweet looking, sound amps. Their new Evo range, with a variety of choices, such as the Evo 100, 200 and 400, all have strong, almost theatrical noise quality.
It would probably be safe to say that the Evo 300 is one of the best tube stereo amps out there. Unfortunately that doesn’t come cheap and you better have a bunch of cash burning a hole in your wallet.
Retro Look With Crystal Clear Sound
At $3,999, you’ll be getting a stereo amp that not only looks retro, but also emits crystal clear sound quality, and has some sick features that other models might not have, such as signals for dead tubes.
Actually, the PrimaLuna Evo 300 is an update of the DiaLogue Premium and it doesn’t really amount to much, at least not in terms of price increase. You do get a headphone amp, and of course some other upgrades, but weather it’s worth the cost is going to be incredibly individual.
This one was a tough pick; while it really does make it to the neat stereo amps to have list, the value for money here is quite high and isn’t exactly suitable for everyone.
There are models out there like the Schiit Ragnarok which offer much more affordable prices if you’d be willing to sacrifice the valves.
14. Parasound Halo Hint-6
Weight: 33 lbs
Power: 160W/8Ω (RMS)
Parasound Halo Hint-6 Review
The latest model of the Parasound Halo Hint series will fit well in your setup if you’re looking for an amplifier with powerfully gripping sound. It’s probably one of the best stereo amps out there, at least in our opinion, with 160 watts available to put out.
The gadget is relatively lightweight, despite its power and looks and while the design is good enough, it could do with improvement.
Dimmable Display Available
The manufacturers of the original Halo Integrated upgraded this model by putting a focus on the insides of the stereo amp. The Halo Hint-6 has a better DAC than the older model, a fixed phono stage, a new optical input – and you also have a dimmable display option!
Considering what’s inside the amp box, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the sound is really detailed, even on a variety of different speakers. Given the watts you can pump out this thing, performances are powerful and loud, which is especially nice if you’re listening to something very bombastic.
Thankfully, it’s also relatively well balanced in terms of tonality, and all the frequencies really sound excellent.
There’s a catch though. The new and improved model is $500 more expensive than its predecessor, which some may consider a bit of an overkill. The original Halo is still in the market, it’s cheaper, and still has high-end audio output.
As such, it might be more economical to buy the predecessor, if you are ok with missing out on a couple of the upgrades.
15. Cambridge Audio CXA80
Weight: 19.3 lbs
Power: 80W/8Ω (RMS)
Cambridge Audio CXA80 Review
You’ve probably heard of Cambridge Audio, and for good reason too, since their products are top shelf on average, and the CXA80 follows that trend. While it doesn’t have the same details in amplification as the NAD D3045, it compensates for it its loud and booming sound quality.
Cambridge has since released newer models – the CXA35 and the CXA25 – but we still think that the CXA80 makes best choice.
Now it might sound like we’re contradicting ourselves here, but the CXA80’s sound is not as sharp as we’d like it to be. It doesn’t have the same level of delicacy as other stereo amps such as the PS Audio Sprout 100.
You can however control individual channels, reducing crosstalk to each channel and creating clear and distinct sounds.
A High-Quality DAC and More Sound Power
This model is a Class A/B, meaning less distortion and more powerful sound, and there’s more about that in our ‘buying advice’ section. The CXA80 uses a high-quality DAC, the 24-bit Wolfson WM8740, so you won’t have to go looking for spare accessories to replace your old ones.
Like we said, the sound isn’t as delicate as other stereos, but other than that, Cambridge Audio got away once more with another amazing product with the right amount of boom.
16. Wyred4Sound STI-500 V2
Weight: 18 lbs
Power: 250W/8Ω (RMS)
Wyred4Sound STI-500 V2 Review
If what you’re looking for is high and mighty, powerful sound, then this Wyred4Sound STI-500 V2 is exactly what you need.
We’re talking about loud, booming noise that will take over your senses, and all at a great cost too. For a stereo amp that has an output of 250 watts at 8ohms, we’d say you’re getting your bargain’s worth at only $2,499.
Not many amps have that amount of power, with the all-star Peachtree Audio nova300 in the same top list. Given the right set of speakers, the sound the STI-500 can emit will be an overpowering experience, with the audio illuminating your surroundings with nothing but sound.
The Overpowering Sound
If you think that that’s crazy, wait ‘til you hear about the upgraded version – the STI-1000. This baby can put out a whopping 460 watts of power!
While power can be a great aspect to stereo amps, this model also happens to be . . . well, not very nice to look at, to put it mildly. That being said, for something small and boring, it can sure produce quite a powerful sound.
If anything, it proves that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
We’re hoping that the manufacturers plan on upgrading this version with a better design. If you do happen to select this model, be sure to carefully sift through the website because the purchase options can get a little confusing.
When you get your hands on it though, you can pat yourself on the back for getting a pretty killer deal.
17. Pro-Ject Audio MaiA S2
Weight: 2 lbs
Power: 25W/8Ω (RMS)
Pro-Ject Audio MaiA S2 Review
The most distinctive thing about the Pro-Ject Audio MaiA S2, is that it’s super lightweight, and emits surprisingly great sound.
Usually, small stereo amps don’t really have the power that a ‘worthy’ stereo amp might. However, this model has a wide range of features, from the on-point Cirrus DAC, to the MM (Moving Magnet) phono stage, three RCA inputs, aptX Bluetooth, and optical connections.
So yes, this model doesn’t have the heavy components that makes a powerful sound amp, but at least it doesn’t weight as much.
Unfortunately in terms of audio performance, it’s not stellar. While the sound will never sound too thin, it is a little bit lacking in depth, and it seems moody/gloomy music tends to work the best here.
Easy to Carry Around, Not Too Powerful
That being said, it actually has some really great phono performance, so if you’re primarily going to rely on a turntable, then that’s perfect.
We don’t really want to pain this in a bad light, but it’s at the bottom of the list for a reason; and that’s because the performance isn’t as good as some other amps on this list.
The MaiA S2 is a great choice for those looking for something easy to carry around, or for something to power some really great bookshelf speakers.
Unfortunately, if you’re looking for something to shake the ground, this isn’t it, and you might want to consider the heavier (although still portable) PS Audio Sprout 100, which has 50watts over 8 ohms.
18. And One Stereo Amp to Avoid - Amazon Echo Link Amp
Weight: 5 lbs
Power: 60W/8Ω (RMS)
Amazon Echo Link Amp Review
The Amazon Echo Link is not all something as awesome as you’d expect from its parent company. For a multinational industry with a net income of more than $3 billion, they sure don’t have the knack for manufacturing stereo amps.
The Amazon Echo Link Amp is quite the disappointing product to get your hands on. We think that this was just a mechanism to boost some sales, but the product will eventually fall out of the market when people see its lack of worth.
If you’re setting up a hi-fi system in your home or studio, then you’ll find that this model will not match the power that your speakers, subwoofers or gadgets capable of.
Lack of Dynamics and Depth in the Sound
The Echo Link Amp emits sound that is completely still. It sounds dead. There’s no depth at all, no dynamic-ness to the quality of the sound, and zero energy.
Although on the cheaper end of stereo amps, you’ll be left feeling dissatisfied with spending $300 when you could have mustered up an extra $200 for something as worthwhile as the Pro-Ject Audio MaiA S2.
To make matters worse for the Echo Link Amp, the amp is not exactly compatible with Amazon on Alexa. Meaning you’ll probably need to pay more than $300 to get this baby working.
You’ll have to get an Echo Dot add-on or an Echo Link smart speaker to complete the setup for the Echo Link Amp.
Alternatively, you can get an Onkyo A-9110 for the same price with a much better sound experience.
Stereo Amp Buying Advice
What Is A Stereo Amp?
If you’re an event organizer, or, more likely, if you simply feel like your house is missing a booming element, then a stereo amp is probably what you’re looking for.
A small black box device that connects both to your phone, your set of speakers and subwoofer.
It helps generate and push sounds out of your speakers, louder and clearer than any speaker would alone.
Whatever sound you’d usually hear from a pair of speakers, imagine that doubled, maybe even more than that. The sound becomes dynamic with more depth to it, otherwise known as amplified. The sound becomes louder, stronger and more coherent.
If you’re watching a movie, you’ll hear every detail. That's why stereo amps go wonderfully together with projectors. Learn more about the best home theater projectors from our guide.
If you’re throwing a party, you’ll find every person dancing to the boosted beat.
How Does Amplification Work?
This amplification is done through the actual electrical current formed by your ‘source’ (where the sound comes from), thus boosting the volume and even depth of the speakers.
The stereo amp can also convert the sound from your phone or TV to sound from a digital signal to an analogue one, which is what all speakers need to actually run (more on this bit later).
With stereo amps, you can also control which speakers emit what sounds. Amps usually come with a minimum of two channels through which you can push sound.
As are all things in life, the more you pay for a stereo amp, the crispier and more intricate the sounds will become. Be aware though, that if you get a high-cost stereo amplifier, you’ll probably need an equally expensive pair of speakers to take advantage of it.
Some people are willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a stereo amp, which almost certainly scares off most hobbyists, especially in the past where amps were even harder to get. That being said, if you’re an audiophile, or would like to get more seriously into that territory, that’s the kind of investment you’re likely to make.
Not to mention that if you love throwing big parties and cinematic events, you’ll need that kind of an investment in speakers.
What to Consider When Getting an Amp?
For the most part though, you’ll probably want to aim for something at the $5,000 stereo amp, as anything above that starts to see diminishing returns. If you’re dipping your toes, $2,500 is actually not too bad and if you want something completely starter, you can absolutely find stuff in the $750-$500.
So yeah, it’s an expensive thing to get into, especially if you keep in mind that we’re only talking about stereo amps.
Another thing you have to consider is power, or wattage. A good average to aim for is an amp that generates 60-100 watts or more per channel.
This becomes even more important when you consider using larger and larger speakers, so always plan ahead.
Just keep in mind that you generally want to match your speakers and stereo amp in price. No point getting a cheap amp and pairing it with expensive speakers, or getting an expensive amp and pairing with cheapo speakers.
At the end of the day, you decide your budget and your priorities, then see what’s best for you.
A little word of advice though: don’t settle for cheap, you’ll regret it later.
How We Chose our List of Stereo Amps
It’s not easy making a big-budget decision, and you’ll find yourself endlessly browsing stereo amps until you’re sick in your stomach. Honestly, there are those who are willing to spend tens of thousands on a stereo amp, but you really don’t need to spend that kind of money for a good quality stereo amp.
As such, price per performance and practical cost played a large part in our choices. The stereo amps we’ve selected are based on sound quality, distinctive features, and usability of the product.
You should certainly set a high budget, but you don’t have to go too crazy. If you have a pair of high quality speakers, then you can get away with paying only a couple of thousand of dollars, or maybe even less, for a stereo amp.
Incidentally, we’re aware that some of the products listed don’t specify the dynamic or peak power, but this isn’t a detail that you should worry about too much anyway. For the sake of good trivia knowledge though, it’s good to know that the general RMS/Continuous Power of these products are high enough to match an amp with a pair of speakers.
Integrated vs. Pre/Power Amps
While looking up stereo amps to buy, you’ll come across a term, possibly for the first time too. Integrated amplifiers, one of the two types of stereo amps. There are integrated amplifiers, and there are pre/power amplifiers.
All you need to know is that an integrated amplifier basically integrates two jobs that any individual amp would do – the preamp stage and the power stage. These two combined assist in amplifying the signal received from the sound amp so that the sounds we hear are clearer.
Otherwise, you can get either a preamplifier or an amplifier. You would need to get both and stack one over the other to get the same results of an integrated amp. As a related topic, check out whether you should get an amplifier or AV receiver.
All the stereo amps we listed in this article are integrated amplifiers. As a related topic, check out our post on the best AV receivers.
Having separate pre and power amps can be advantageous, especially since you can swap out components or parts and mix-and match stuff as you please. The downside, of course, is that now you’re purchasing two pieces of equipment, and that can be more expensive (like, much much more).
RMS vs. Peak Wattage
RMS and Peak Wattage are two important elements when it comes to the quality of sound. RMS (short for root mean square) is basically how much continuous power your amp can produce. Peak Wattage, on the other hand, is the maximum power level that your amp is capable of producing in short bursts.
These terms are not exactly the same thing as volume. While you can turn up and down volume with any set of speakers, the RMS and peak wattage give an extra boost to all that sound.
Peak power shouldn’t be the most important aspect when it comes to searching for stereo amplifiers. The peak, literally meaning the highest point, will probably be too loud for your ears to even handle without bleeding.
However, knowing about these two factors can be useful. When buying your speakers, you should carefully select the amp that has the right power for your speakers.
Your audio is binary – meaning its language is in 1’s and 0’s. Digital to Analog Converters, also known as DACs, help translate these codes into electric signals that then power your speakers and create sound.
Your audio device will probably already have one of these. Hell, your laptop has it, your phone, even a CD player has a DAC. That doesn’t make it a good DAC, though.
DACs will come in different qualities, depending on how much you’re willing to spend. Some of our favorites include the Parasound Halo Hint-6, which costs $2,995. While it looks like a bit cumbersome, the conversion it offers is quite outstanding.
Some of the stereo amps we’ve listed above don’t have built-in DACs. Make sure to re-read the specs to find out if the amp you like best has one or not.
Stereo Amp Classes Explained
Stereo amps come in different classes, meaning there are a number of differences in the models listed. However, we personally don’t think you should get too caught up in the details.
It’s useful to tell the differences apart between the different classes, but your buying decision shouldn’t be based on that. Check out this guide if you want to learn more about amplifier classes.
The type of amp you choose should depend on the setup that you have, the physical space you have for it, as well as the amount of channels you want to output.
Below you’ll find a rough summary of the common keywords when it comes to stereo amp classes.
Class A is one of the more common types of sound amps. In this class, both output stages are always on, resulting in very low sound distortion. The amps, however, aren’t the most effective.
In the Class B sound amp, only one output stage can be on. Unlike Class A, this type can’t have both on at the same time.
This results in a boost of power of sound, but can sometimes get distorted between changes in sound frequencies.
Class A/B is a combination of, you guessed it, the Class A and Class B types. This kind of sound amp has all the good stuff of A and B, and none of the disadvantages, meaning low distortion and a higher boost of sound.
Amps that have this circuit, such as the Cambridge Audio CXA 80, have limited sound distortion and will prove beneficial in the long run.
This type of circuit is different than the above ones in that it utilizes active transistor switches. The details don’t really matter, though; all you need to know is that this type doesn’t get as hot as the others, and that they’re usually more compact than other types.
Class T is a subsidiary of this class, but is close to nonexistent in this day.
Monoblock sound amps are different in that they have a separate mono amplifier for the channels. This means that the sound channeled will have stronger and better sound.
Just as a heads up, we haven’t listed any monoblock sound amps above.
Imagine a sound amp with short cylindrical tubes sticking out of it. This is exactly what this class of sound amps looks like. Tube – or valve, as some people call it – gives the quality of sound a soft, encompassing quality.
If you’re trying to imagine it, it’s similar to the sound of headphone amps. While this class is common in headphones, some models like the PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium stand out for this feature.
Simply put, a channel is a single source of sound. This could be your smartphone, for example, or your laptop. In this list, we’re talking about stereo amps, which means that this kind has two (or more) channels.
You can find certain models which give you room to add more speakers or subwoofers (more on that later). The more you get into stereo amps, the more you’ll find yourself adding on to your set, creating a diverse collection of sonic profiles.
The more channels you add to your system, the more detailed and vast the sounds your amp will make. To utilize these functions without any glitches, you’ll need high quality DACs, possibly specific tubes, and a whole bunch more, but the results are outstanding.
The audio will be clearer and will caress your ears with gorgeous sound. You can even detail it down to customizing the source that you’re channeling, so that you have different settings for different environments.
THD vs. SNR vs. Crosstalk
THD, SNR and Crosstalk are some of the more technical terms you’ll be coming across when searching for the perfect set of stereo amps. We’re going to break this down to you as simply as possible so that you can mentally process the differences.
Again, we suggest not getting too bogged down by the details, but if you feel it necessary, then go for it. That being said, it’s not a major differentiating factor when it comes to deciding which stereo amp to buy.
More important factors could include wattage.
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)
Total Harmonic Distortion – sometimes known as THD+N, ‘N’ being noise, is what measures what the amplifier does to the sound it processes. It analyzes how much the power changed from when it enters the amplifier to when it exits.
You should want this number to be as low as possible, unless you have tube amps and you want it for visual effect. Most THDs in modern sound amps are already low in number, so low that it’s almost nothing.
For instance, the Anthem STR has a THD+N of only 0.02%! So, no, THD is not a good threshold to base your buying decision on. Learn more about Total Harmonic Distortion from this Lifewire's guide.
Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR)
A Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) is a measure of just how loud the noise the sound amp makes is. It measures how many decibels that the amp can produce.
The larger the number, the better the SNR. A sound amp with a low SNR probably wouldn’t have good enough sound quality to ever make it to market.
Crosstalk is a measure of how well an amplifier distributes the sounds through its channels. If you can’t distinguish the sounds in different stereos, then the crosstalk is not performing well.
The sounds will be muddled and indistinctive. Crosstalk is measured in decibels: the larger the number, the better the stereo separation.
This factor matters just a little more than SNR and THD+N. Check out this post for more about Crosstalk.
Adding Subwoofers To A Stereo Amp
In the previous section, we’ve mentioned subwoofers, subs for short. We said that if you get a stereo amp that can sustain more than two channels, that you can perhaps add a sub to your pair of speakers.
Subwoofers are designed to produce very low bass sound frequencies. A good one, like the Peachtree Audio nova300, will produce sound from the rear so discreet that it will instantly upgrade your amp to the next level.
Technically, you don’t need a subwoofer, but you might want one. Truth is, not every sound setup will need such a level of bass, besides the space required for one of these bulky gadgets.
However, if you can afford the price and space, then we’d definitely give you the thumbs up for it.
Adding a good subwoofer to your stereo amp will give you better quality music, but will need an amplifier strong enough to sustain the power.
Most of the time, the subwoofer will use its own power sources, and with an RCA cable, you can create an audio signal route to connect the devices. Do you really need a subwoofer? See in this guide.
Stereo Amp Weight Explained
Imagine finding your dream set of stereo amps, only to discover it weighs more than you can handle. Well, no stereo amp will ever be that heavy (sort of), but it’s certainly useful to know this piece of information.
Since good amplifiers need hefty components to give them better power, a lot of the equipment will more often than not be heavy. In other words, the heavier the stereo amp, the better the quality, at least for the most part.
The Peachtree Audio nova300 we mentioned earlier, for example, weighs 17lbs, and this is because of its better power management. This kind of specific judgment is better left for power amplifiers, however.
Manufacturers are aiming at making their newer models lighter in weight. We can already see this in integrated amplifiers, for example, which come in a 2-in-1 component thus cutting off some weight compared to having one of each.
As you can see, there are so many twists and turns to consider when getting a stereo amp. And it can all be quite baffling if you are not tech savvy.
But, it's much easier searching for something if you already know what you're looking for. So, decide what you expect from an amp, and go from there. Our guide is here just to nudge you in the right direction.