2016 Editors’ Choice Awards: Integrated Amplifiers Under $1,000
NAD C 316/C 326 BEE
The entry-level C 316 is still the go-to amp for audiophile newbies who crave sonic neutrality, good power output, nice tactile feel, and NAD’s characteristic quality control. Looking for a little more oomph? The 50Wpc C 326 will make BEElievers of even the most jaded audiophiles.
NAD D 3020
Truly a design for our times, the D 3020 is improbably small and portable and loaded. This 30Wpc integrated offers a 96kHz/24-bit USB input and aptX Bluetooth music-streaming. With a smooth top end, its speed and openness can be truly enthralling. Although there’s a little bit of a veil over the sound, the D 3020 need make no apologies. At $499 it is a small miracle of packaging and portability, and a delight to use and listen to.
PS Audio Sprout
Simply put, JM adored this integrated amp/DAC from PS Audio straight out of the box. Whether you’re into digital or analog, you’ll discover big-buck sonics and incredible versatility in a neat little package. In addition to a 50Wpc Class D amplifier, the Sprout comes equipped with a 192/24 DAC and an analog input-selector for all inputs (including Bluetooth, asynchronous USB, analog, and coaxial). The Sprout also serves as an analog preamp with built-in, passive eq, moving-magnet phonostage, and as a low-output-impedance headphone amplifier. Hats off to PS Audio for producing a latter-day receiver that any music lover or audiophile would surely enjoy—and that is small enough to tote in a handbag.
A compact, stylish combination of a headphone amplifier, a DAC capable of playing PCM files up to 384/24 and DSD128, and an amplifier rated at 50Wpc into 4 ohms, 25Wpc into 8 ohms. It has both analog and digital inputs, including Bluetooth to connect your smart phone. And an analog output jack lets you connect a subwoofer. The remote control lets you access some of the less frequently used adjustments, including tone controls. The PMA-50 makes an excellent choice for a beginner’s system, a bedroom system, or an office system.
MyAmp is a complete digital hub, with wireless streaming, analog and digital source- switching, and a headphone amplifier. Sonically, it has a full-throated midrange, good dynamics, and solid imaging. There is minor veiling on top and just a little speed-bumping of transients and deeper bass pulses. Soundstaging, however, is very good. MyAmp stands as confirmation that serious sound comes in all sizes.
The DDA-120 was made for audiophiles who need a moderately priced, single-box amp/preamp to connect any conventional digital source to a pair of loudspeakers. If your speakers are at least 88dB sensitive and you can work around the DDA-120’s ergonomic limitations, you may find that it is simply the best-integrated amplifier you’ve heard. (Now includes an analog input.)
NAD C 356 BEE
The 80Wpc C 356 BEE borrows technologies from NAD’s Master Series M3 dual-mono integrated. Its tonal balance leans slightly to the darker side, bringing a bit of extra wood to strings and burnish to brass. The soundstage is large, with a good sense of air around instruments, and a nice sense of depth.
Cambridge really stepped up its game with its suavely restyled and affordable CX Series. A rung above its lower-cost sibling, the CXA60, the dual-mono, Class AB, 80Wpc CXA80 is battle-ready for the digital world. Thanks to the CXA80’s Wolfson 24-bit/192kHz WM8740 DAC chip, computer audio is as close at hand as the USB input, or use the front-panel jack for MP3 players. Although it mysteriously lacks a display, you’ll get over it given the CXA80’s smooth, relaxed sonics, and abundant headroom for demanding loudspeakers. Includes a full-function remote and headphone jack.
There’s a lot to be said for an amplifier that doesn’t sound conspicuously solid-state or tube, but suggests the strengths of both. The Brio-R impressed with its lifelike combination of body, timbre, and authority. Particularly well suited for smaller floorstanders and compact speakers of medium-to-high sensitivity.
Sonically and functionally, JM found plenty to love about the IDA-8. Essentially, it’s a sleek-looking, small-footprint hybrid Class A/Class D integrated amplifier/DAC—that combines Class A warmth and resolution with Class D speed, power, and efficiency. Its DAC supports USB 384kHz/32-bit and DSD256, and is also capable of decoding DoP (DSD over PCM) via coaxial and optical inputs. The well-conceived IDA-8 delivers substance with plenty of gusto—and does so from an astonishingly quiet background. A great-sounding stone-cold bargain.
Whether you are looking to purchase your first hi-fi component or need an affordable option for a second system, the Arcam FMJ A19 integrated amplifier sounds like a real high-end product—without the high-end price. Your $999 buys you a musical, involving presentation with above-price-point performance in imaging and very low noise. At 50W into 8 ohms and 90W into 4 ohms, the Arcam also has plenty of power to rock out with most dynamic speakers. Plus its build-quality is solid.