How To Choose a Stereo Amp

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Steve Scott

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There are a lot of ways you can improve your Hi-Fi system. You can get a set of new speakers, or maybe a new sub for that thunderous, roaring bass. 

However, the key ingredient to any system is a stereo amp. And choosing one can be somewhat tricky, as there are so many things to look after if you don't want to make a mistake.

Lucky for you, we've compiled this guide to let you in on some stereo amp tips and tricks. By the end of it, hopefully, you'll know what makes a good choice when it comes to stereo amps. Read on and find out! Also, check out our list of top stereo amps.

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Overview

Integrated Amps or Pre and Power Amps

More often than not, you'll run into terms integrated, power, or preamps when shopping for amplifiers. So, it is only logical to learn more about them, cause it will make your life easier, and help you with your purchase.

It is crucial for you to decide whether you'll go with an integrated amp or a pre and power combo.

In terms of convenience, integrated amps are your go-to option. They come packed with both pre and power amps in a single container. That means that everything has been set for you, saving you time and effort that go into this process. 

The integrated amp is also a fantastic space-saving solution since you don't need to obtain two separate boxes.

Pre/power combo, on the other hand, means dividing pre-amplification that is responsible for inputs and volume control, and power amplification. The main point of such a setup is to preserve and isolate the delicate preamp wiring from the power amp.

In turn, you should (in most cases) get a better sound. That is if your preamp and power amp are meant to coexist together.

Your best course of action would be to go with a single brand when selecting re and power amps. In such a case, those amps will specifically be designed to work well together.

Then again, you might wanna mix things up a bit and try different brand combinations. If that's the case, you should first ask around and do some research on which amps work well together. 

All in all, be prepared for some trial and error.

Placement Options

Now that you've made your choice, there's one thing to deal with in the first place. Where do you place your amp (or amps)? There are a couple of ways of looking at this.

The best and most reasonable option would be to place the amp on a dedicated stand if you can afford and are willing to get one. Bear in mind that depending on which type you get, you'll get a slightly different sound. Therefore, a glass rack won't sound exactly the same as a wooden one. 

So, make sure you don't take your pick based solely on the looks and price. Then again, any rack will do better than just placing it on the floor.

See Related: Best Bookshelf Speakers

Or you can go the old-school way and place the amp directly in the middle between the speakers. Although this is a perfectly sound solution, the truth is you can place the amp(s) wherever you wish, as long as you follow some simple guidelines.

Always have in mind that your amp, as almost any other piece of tech gear, tends to heat while in use, and can easily overheat, for that matter. Thus, you must make sure that the amp has enough room to breathe, and that the air vents are not blocked. 

It is recommended that you keep your amp in a properly ventilated, cool space. Whether you'll place it on a rack or on some shelf or a cupboard is entirely up to you, as long as you don't allow it to get really hot.

Also, for the sake of convenience, ensure that the adjustment controls are easily reachable and that you can use the remote freely. So, don't hide it away in such a way that it can't be seen.

Connectivity Options

Some of the most essential features of any amp are its connectivity ports. Before you make a firm decision, it's always wise to look into what connections it provides. That way you'll be 100% sure what your amp can do now when it comes to different sources and speakers, and what it could do in the future when it comes to some possible upgrades.

To be entirely honest, there are certain ports that almost any amp will have, regardless of the model or its price. For instance, you'll be able to connect the speakers in the back panel or get a power cable, since there aren't any wireless amps out there yet.

RCA input

Most amps also have RCA inputs that allow you to connect various different options, like DACs or streamers. If you want to connect and listen to music through a turntable, then your amp should have a phono input.

Considering the rise and popularity of wireless technology, it's only logical that many stereo amps today come with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth options available. In fact, almost all newer models will be capable of connecting wirelessly.

This means that with Bluetooth, you'll only need your amp, speakers, and smartphone to connect and listen to your music. All without hindering your audio quality too much.

Now, Wi-Fi ready amps are not as easy to come across as those with Bluetooth. But when you do find one, you'll be able to stream content via the internet easily. Keep in mind that such amps come at a price.

Matching A Stereo Amp With Speakers

Knowing how to match your speakers to an amp will save you a lot of trouble in the future. Any pair of, for example, floorstanding speakers will get the power from an amp.

So, it's in your best interest that the amp and the speakers match. If you don't get this right, there are two possibilities, and both of them are equally bad.

Either you will underpower them or overpower them. If you do the former, then you won't get sound loud enough, or if you do the latter, the sound will crack and distort. You could even do some damage to your speakers.

Although it seems it might be hard to determine which amps work with which speakers, in reality, it's pretty straightforward. All you need to do is take a more in-depth look into the product specifications.

First and foremost, when getting an amplifier, check out what its RMS output is. This number represents the power that an amp produces at a reasonable volume level. 

You don't need to know the peak power output since you probably won't be blasting your speakers full volume all the time, if ever.

match speakers to an amp

So, if the amp has an RMS of 70 Watts, you need to find the speakers that have an amplifier wattage somewhere in that range.

RMS output will also be shown through ohms (Ω). This number represents impedance. 

Ideally, if the amp has an impedance of 4 ohms, it would be best if the speakers matched that number. And since most speakers come between 4 and 8 ohms, this is relatively easy to do.

But, even if your amp and speakers are mismatched, honestly, nothing drastic will happen. Matching impedances will result in a slightly better sound, but all in all, it doesn't make such a difference.

Want to Add a Subwoofer?

If you're a bass aficionado, you will probably want to add a subwoofer to your system to be able to get the most out of the low-end.

Before you do that, make sure that the amp model you have or want to get can deal with a subwoofer. Let's be clear, it will be hard to find a model that doesn't handle subs nowadays, but anything can happen. 

Since most subs are self-contained and don't need external amplification to power them, all you'll have to do is connect your sub to an amp with a proper cable. You'll know if your amp can handle a subwoofer if it has a port that says Sub Out, or in some cases Pre Out, in the back.

In Conclusion

Now you know. Getting a stereo boils down to more than just randomly taking your pick. It involves a lot of research, planning, and testing. 

Which stereo amp will suit you best depends on multiple factors, like where you're going to place it, which speakers you'll use, do you plan to upgrade it in the future, and many more. That's why it's crucial to do a bit of self-examination and determine what you need right from the get-go.

My name is Steve Scott. Father of 2 and owner of Outdoor Movie HQ. I’ve been involved in the A/V industry for most of my life and built this blog to help people better understand projector technology. Please leave a comment if you have any questions.

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