Every complete self-contained stereo, tv, and car audio system is likely to have an integrated amplifier within it, but, let’s delve deeper into exactly what it is so you can make an informed decision when looking to make a purchase for your HiFi setup.

Budget [Under $500]

Yamaha A-S301BL

Yamaha A-S301BL Natural Sound...

RMS power: @8ohms 60w, @4ohms 70w
Max power: 190W
Frequency response: 10 Hz-100kHz
Dimensions (h.w.d): 5.94 x 17.126 x 15.23 inches
Weight: 19.84lb

The A-S301BL (full review) is hard to fault given its sub $500 price. It features a full-bodied sound and a great sonic range of 10Hz to 100KHz.

The build quality is also of a high standard. It feels and looks like it could be a much more expensive unit.

Marantz PM5005

Marantz PM5005 Entry-Level...

RMS power: @8ohms 40w,
Frequency response: 10 Hz-50,000Hz
Dimensions (W.H.D): 17-3/8″ x 4-3/16″ x 14-9/16″
Weight: 14.8lb

Marantz stereo amplifiers (like Marantz PM5005) use a unique module on their amplifiers that they call the Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module which when coupled with quality current feedback architecture provides the tone associated with the brand.

This type of design allows accurate and fast response while creating a wide-open soundstage. This can be maintained while driving speakers hard or at low volumes with minimal disruption to the sound in either case.

Mini / Small

NAD D 3045

NAD - D 3045 HybridDigital...

Watts RMS per Channel (8-ohms): 60
Hi-res: Up to 24-bit/384kHz
Dimensions (hwd): 9.25 x 2.76 x 10.43 inches
Weight: 7.9 lb

The NAD D 3045 is similar in design and sound quality to the rest of the D series of amplifiers from NAD with a more dynamic power stage than the D 3020 V2 while also looking a bit more premium with its small packaging than the less powerful offering from NAD.

This is a high-quality amplifier with built-in DAC that is perfect for use with your computer but with its array of inputs and outputs, you will find yourself using it for many other purposes too.

Sonos Amp AMPG1US1BLK

Sonos Amp - The Versatile...

RMS Power: 2 x 125W
Inputs: HDMI, analogue RCA
Outputs: dedicated subwoofer RCA, Wired speaker L/R terminals
Wireless: Apple AirPlay 2
Dimensions (hwd): 2.36 x 8.66 x 8.66 inches

All Sonos amplifiers come with CD quality as its upper limit of sound quality as the company seems to shunt the idea of providing compatibility for hi-res music.

However, Sonos offers streaming compatibility that is broader than any other amplifier manufacturer. The Sonos app also makes the Sonos Amp (review) a perfect addition to a hi-fi system that could potentially cover every room in your house.

If you are considering purchasing a Sonos Playbase or Playbar for home theatre use already, we would highly recommend purchasing the Sonos Amp and a pair of quality speakers as well. This will provide more capabilities and a higher-quality listening experience.

Under $1000

Rega Brio

Rega - Brio - Integrated Amp -...

RMS Power: 50W @8ohms
Inputs: 4x Line level RCA, 1x MM phono
Outputs: 1×6.3mm headphone,1x record out, 1x speaker terminal set
Dimensions (hwd): 8 x 22 x 35cm
Weight: 5kg

The first Rega Brio launched in 1991 and has a long history of winning awards and the hearts of its customers.

Each new release has made improvements upon the previous model and the newest of these is no exception.

You can expect a solid build, quality sound, and an array of features included which the Rega Brio delivers.

Denon PMA-800NE

Denon PMA-800NE Stereo...

RMS power @8ohms – 50w
Inputs: 3x Line level RCA, 1x MM&MC phono 1x line level record through, 3x optical, 1x coaxial, 1x IR control
Outputs: 1x 6.3mm headphone,1x record out, 2x speaker terminal sets, 1x IR control

If having a brand new matching full set up is important to you then the 800NE series could be perfect for you as the Denon PMA-800NE (review) can be purchased with its matched network audio and CD player.

Conversely, The PMA-800NE is also an excellent choice for upgrading your existing setup as it is not phased by being paired with an incredibly broad range of speakers or other hi-fi gear.

What is an integrated stereo amplifier?

An integrated stereo amplifier can come with many different features, inputs, and outputs and it is important to figure out what would best suit your needs.

An integrated stereo amplifier is a combination of what is known as a preamplifier and a power amplifier and you can think of it as the link between your music sources such as a CD player, DAC, or turntable and your speakers. You will need an integrated amplifier to provide input switching and to boost the signal to your speakers to drive them hard enough to create sound.

Integrated vs. Preamplifier vs. Power amp

As mentioned earlier, an integrated amplifier is simply a combination of a preamplifier and a power amp into one package. Most stereo amplifiers you find now are integrated and you would be unlikely to find a preamp and power amp as separate units in a home setting although it is still possible. The signal from the input source to the speakers would follow the subsequent chain.

Input > Preamplifier > Tone and Volume Controls > Power Amplifier

Preamplifier – You will often see a preamplifier referred to as a preamp or pre. Its job is to convert the weak electrical signal from the input source such as a turntable and make it strong and noise resistant enough to be sent to the power amplifier for further processing. Without the preamp, the signal would be extremely noisy and/or distorted.

You can think of the preamp as the input section of an integrated amp. Sometimes there is also an output to be used with a subwoofer on amplifiers. These bypass the power amp in the integrated amplifier as many subs have their own power amp contained within their speaker boxes.

Power Amplifier – The power amplifier is also known as the power amp or power stage of an integrated amplifier. It is designed to strengthen the signal from the preamp to be able to power the loudspeakers, headphones, transmitters, etc. You can think of the power amp as the output section of an integrated amplifier. The capacity of a power amp is measured in watts.

Stereo Amplifier vs AV Receiver

The terms stereo amp and receiver are used pretty interchangeably when talking about home HiFi and they do share some qualities and in many cases, one particular stereo amp is a receiver and visa versa but this is not always the case and there are important differences to watch out for when making a purchase.

A stereo amplifier is used just to amplify a signal from input to output whereas a receiver contains an amplifier but has more functionality built-in such as a radio. Sometimes a stereo amplifier could be referring to a power amplifier with no preamp functionality as well so be aware while you are shopping around.

AV receivers offer convenience in one package while a stereo amplifier has the ability to be paired with a range of separate components. This allows you to purchase better separates for HiFi systems such as a high-quality DAC or a primo tuner. An AV receiver may not have an amplifier built-in and may need a separate amp.

Connections (analog and digital audio inputs)

When searching for the perfect integrated amplifier, one of the specs that comes up a lot is the inputs. There are two categories of inputs which are analog and digital. These two categories cover a range of different connections such as:

Analog – Line level RCA, Phono RCA, Balanced XLR, 3.5mm Jack
Digital – Coaxial, Optical, USB, Bluetooth

Analog inputs

Analog inputs are used for connecting sources that have an analog signal such as a turntable. You can also connect things like a computer or phone to an analog input but the audio will have already been processed from digital to analog by that device before passing to the amplifier.

Digital inputs

Digital inputs are capable of accepting a digital source directly this is beneficial as the onboard decoding from your amplifier should be of better quality than from whatever device the source is. Integrated amps with digital inputs are generally better for streaming and playing digital sources of music such as FLAKK, DSD, and MP3.

Power: What to look for?

There are a number of considerations to make when looking at the power stage of an integrated amplifier. One thing to look out for is the RMS rating compared to the max output. The RMS rating is the constant output from the amplifier whereas the max rating is only for short bursts. So you should compare using the RMS rating and not the max rating.

There is also a difference between solid-state amplifiers and tube amplifiers. Tube amplifiers will often have a much lower RMS power but are capable of reaching similar volumes as much more powerful solid-state amplifiers. It is also important to consider the sensitivity of your speakers in this regard when choosing appropriate wattage.

Amp classes explained

The most common amplifier classes range from Class A to Class D. In simple terms, Class A is the least energy-efficient and Class D is the most efficient. However, this comes as the cost of distortion but most amplifiers have ways to cancel this out.

Class A

Class A powers the input and output stages to full power constantly while switched on so they offer the least distortion but use a lot of power.

Class B

Class B is similar to Class A but only powers one of the output stages at a time.

Class A/B

Class A/B take is a hybrid of Class A and B and is one of the most common types of amplification as it takes the always-on output stages of Class A but cycles the output between the two of them for similar listening as a Class A amp but with more efficiency.

Class D

Class D uses transistors to limit the current to pulses and uses a number of different methods to smooth the pulses back to an analog signal.

Bi-amping explained

Bi-amping is the practice of using two amplifiers to power different sections of one speaker such as the woofer and the tweeter. It can be done using a single amplifier in some cases if it has cross over controls for its outputs or can be done using two amplifiers. Certain frequencies will be pathed to the appropriate speaker driver ie the high frequencies to the tweeter and mids to the woofer.

Stereo Integrated Amp FAQ

How to Connect an Integrated Amplifier to AV Receiver

When connecting a receiver to an integrated amp you should check that the receiver has pre-outs that bypass the power stage if it has one. If all is easy enough you can use the pre-out RCA plug from your receiver and plug it straight into an RCA plug on your stereo amplifier.

This will hopefully bypass the volume controls from your stereo amp so the receiver is still in control of the volume and tonal character. Some amplifier brands may not have an AV input label and could be labeled something like “main” or “direct” etc.

How to Bridge a Stereo Amplifier to Mono?

A bridged amplifier uses its two stereo outputs to power a single speaker. This allows a higher output into that single speaker by using the power from both channels into one.

Make sure your amplifier is compatible with bridging and is switched off and that your speaker is capable of accepting the bridged load as the impedance will double( ie 4ohms will become 8ohms).

Connect the speaker wire to the + terminal of one of the channels and connect the other end to the + terminal on the second channel.

Connect the speaker wire to – terminal on one channel and connect the other end to the – terminal on the second channel

Power on the amplifier and check if there is sound. If not immediately turn the amplifier back off and check the wiring.

How to Connect iPhone to a Stereo Amplifier?

There is a huge number of ways to do this depending on the connections that your amplifier has. Some amplifiers with digital music features use Bluetooth and you could just pair your iPhone with the amplifier. You could also use a USB C to USB A or B cable to plug directly into the amplifier in some cases. Some amps without digital features may need a standalone DAC with these inputs to achieve this.

For analog amplifiers, you could also use the USB C to 3.5mm adaptor into a 3.5mm to RCA cable to plug into the amplifier or if you’re using an older iPhone and an amplifier with a 3.5mm input you could just use a classic AUX cable.

Last update on 2020-10-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API