2022 High-End Audio Buyer’s Guide | Integrated Amplifiers Under $5,000
NAD D 3020 V2
Truly a design for our times, the D 3020 is improbably small and portable—and loaded. The 30Wpc D 3020 offers 24-bit/96kHz-resolution USB input as well as aptX Bluetooth streaming. For all its humble size and appearance it’s pure NAD. Firmly midrange-centric, it never overreaches in the sense of growing shrill in one direction or tubby in another. Yes, its lighter overall balance is due to some bottom-octave attenuation, but the D 3020 retains an essential presence, a midrange integrity, that sculpts the body of a performance and makes it live in the listening space.
NAD C 328
NAD calls its new integrated amplifier a “Hybrid Digital DAC Amplifier,” a moniker that hints at its digital prowess. The C 328 can handle a wide range of digital sources, and indeed, features a topology that keeps signals in the digital domain until the switching output stage. Although the amp is rated at 50Wpc, Paul Seydor found that the C 328 wasn’t lacking for power in real-world situations. The C328 also acquits itself excellently in nuance and resolution. A tremendous bargain and a worthy successor to NAD’s legendary 3020 integrated amplifier.
PS Audio Sprout100
Though the original Sprout’s compact, retro-modern form factor remains the same, the new Sprout100 offers a number of upgrades and improvements, including a redesigned phonostage and headphone amp, a new DAC (up to DSD128 and 384/24PCM), a tiny indicator LED, and a remote control. Oh, and twice the power: 100Wpc. The Sprout100 has the ability to coax even more open spaciousness, lively musicality, detail, and low-end extension from the small loudspeakers (especially with the “bass boost” option on). Expect big sound and even more bang for the buck.
The Yamaha R-N803 is two-channel network receiver with built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a phonostage, multiple line inputs, AM/FM tuning, and many, many other features. It outputs 100Wpc into 8 ohms and 160Wpc into 4 ohms, which means it’s fully capable of driving a wide range of loudspeakers. It sounds good, almost very good, but its real strength lies in the sheer amount of stuff it handles. It’s nearly an entire system in a single box (just add speakers), and is perfect for people getting started in the hi-fi world.
The Marantz PM7000N integrated stereo amplifier is a good-sounding product that can shrink audiophile sprawl down to something more manageable without sacrificing what matters most. It’s an all-in-one solution that comes equipped with built-in DAC, network streaming, Apple AirPlay, multiple line inputs, multiple digital inputs, and a phono section. Despite having a foot firmly in every camp, its presentation is impactful and gracious—an overall solid performer packed with value. Digital is easy to set up, and while the phono section isn’t perfect, it reveals plenty of detail and has a nice, engaging sound.
Sonically and functionally, there’s 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 IDA-8 delivers substance with plenty of gusto—and does so from an astonishingly quiet background. A great-sounding, stone-cold good deal.
QUAD Vena II
$1295 ($1395 with optional case)
The QUAD Vena II is small and gray with a matte finish, though the optional case adds a very nice gloss. The amp is rated 45Wpc into 8 ohms, and includes a phono section, two analog inputs, a preamp-out jack, and a plethora of digital inputs. The Vena II strikes the perfect balance between classic analog inputs and modern digital capabilities. The Vena II is surprisingly engaging with a big, bold, somewhat warm sound, regardless of whether you’re in the digital or the analog domain.
The latest version of Cambridge’s CX Series integrated amplifier is the best yet, featuring higher parts-quality and better sound than the CXA61. The 80Wpc unit offers four unbalanced inputs and one balanced input, as well as a wide range of digital ports, including Bluetooth (aptX HD), that feed the ESS Sabre DAC. The CXA81 can handle digital files up to 384/32 and up to DSD256. Sound quality is good for this price, with fine resolution of detail and wide dynamics. A hint of excessive brightness suggests that the CXA81 is best partnered with speakers that are not themselves bright. The integral DAC is good, but can be bettered by mating the CXA81 with Cambridge’s $1099 CXN-2 network streamer.
Rogue Audio Sphinx V3
$1495 ($1595 with remote control)
Rogue products have, like their moniker, usually gone their own way in design, price, and value. The Sphinx integrated amplifier may be the most roguish of the lot. Tubes? 100Wpc (200W into 4 ohms)? U.S. design and manufacture? For $1495? If that’s not enough, this is the first Class D amplifier (actually a hybrid with a pair of 12AU7 tubes in the preamp section) that offers world-class sonics. Includes a very fine discrete headphone amp and a user adjustable mm/mc phono section that is worth the asking-price all by itself.
NAD M10 V2
Don’t let its diminutive chassis fool you; NAD’s M10 packs a huge amount of technology and performance into a half-width component. The M10 is a wireless, amplified, multi-room streaming-music system. Just connect speakers and a source (which can be a smartphone), and you’ve got a complete hi-fi with 100Wpc, MQA decoding, and Dirac Live DSP room correction. NAD’s BluOS app allows you to control any BluOS or Roon-enabled device to create a multi-room music experience that is simple, intuitive, and easy to operate. Attractive, luxurious, simple to set up and use, small, ridiculously well featured, the M10 is wonderfully enjoyable to listen to when connected to the right speakers for your ears and budget.
Marantz PM-KI Ruby
With its companion SA-KI SACD/CD player, the PM-KI constitutes the late Ken Ishiwata’s valedictory work, representing four decades of electronics that place musical beauty and naturalness over laboratory accuracy. Ecumenical when it comes to tubes versus transistors, the PM-KI exhibits some of the warmth, richness, and dimensionality traditionally associated with tubes together with the precision, definition, transient attack, bottom-end extension, and impact for which solid-state is prized, while its 100Wpc should satisfy all but head-bangers. Its onboard mm/mc phonostage is so good it obviates the need for a separate one. Ishiwata considered the Ruby components his finest work.
Rogers High Fidelity 65V-1
Classic tube power meets modern technology in aerospace engineer Roger Gibboni’s designs—there’s a free iOS app enabling control of volume, source switching, and operating mode (Ultralinear or triode). Although intended as an entry-level offering, this integrated is definitely not a watered-down version of one of Rogers’ big push-pull amps. In fact, it’s something totally different—a single-ended design using one EL34 power pentode per channel (upon request the amp can be shipped with a KT88 beam power tube). Reviewer DO says you really would be hard-pressed to find a more cogent and emotion-packed midrange.
Read Next From ReviewSee all
Fremer reports on NEW D’Agostino Momentum 800 Amplifiers
Fremer had the opportunity to stop by Innovative Audio in […]
- by Michael Fremer
- Sep 22nd, 2023