The journey of the hi-fi enthusiast never ends. Passion for great sound is what drives the modern day enthusiast to continuously search for that ‘Holy Grail’ that would complete their hi-fi setup. Thanks to modern day advancements, the gears available in the market today have the capacity to integrate itself with the any vintage audio equipment of the past era, enabling the modern audiophile to enjoy various music collections in any form. But within an audio enthusiast’s arsenal, the amplifier holds one of the integral parts that ultimately dictate their setup’s sound equilibrium. This is why expert audiophiles place great importance in choosing which amplifier to add to their hi-fi setup.
But what are the key points in choosing which amplifier would suit your musical taste?
Source: What sound sources are you planning on using your amplifier with? Would you need an analog RCA input for your dad’s vintage turn table or a USB compatible amplifier for direct connection to your Macbook? Are you planning on having only a single input, or multiple sources that needs to be amplified at the same time?
Amplification power: Are you planning to install your setup in a room with a quiet ambiance like the bedroom or family living room, or are you planning to use your setup o provide the background music in a coffee shop? The amplification power required is greatly based on the venue where you would use your setup.
Size: Where are you planning to put your amplifier? Are you planning to use it beside your PC in which case you’d be looking for a smaller sized desktop type amplifier, or as a part of you hi-fi rack?
Of course the final decisio n would rely entirely on the ears of the beholder. To help you in your quest for audio nirvana, here are our recommendations for the best integrated amplifiers under $500 in the market today.
Yamaha A-S700BL Integrated Amplifier
Clarity – this word captures the total listening pleasure provided by Yamaha A-S700BL Integrated Amplifier. Yamaha being a music company for more than 100 years have grasped the basic essence of sound – the best listening experience is achieved when the listener hears the orchestra playing right in front of them, not just that expensive hi-fi setup. The A-S700 achieves that effect by delivering a neutral yet musical sound representation. It recreates the natural harmonic frequencies produced by the violin, the thick and rich qualities of the human voice and the solid vibrato of guitar strings and other instruments in the mid-range frequency, and delivers the low rumble of bass drums without overpowering or distorting the entirety of sound. The secret lies with this amplifier’s intended output – it is a 2.1 system which means that the entire sound spectrum is reproduced by only two speakers which is good because the receiver of that sound (the human ear) only come in pairs. All in all, if you want faithful sound reproduction then the A-S700 is the perfect fit for you.
Pro-Ject MaiA – My Audio Integrated Amplifier
Pro-Ject is an audio company that acknowledges the exponential progress of technology and is determined to keep up with the times without sacrificing its musical roots. The MaiA is their statement to this fact. To be able to attend to the needs of classic hi-fi audiophiles and modern music enthusiasts the MaiA have provided extensive input provisions such as: 3 RCA inputs for analog sources, a 3.5 mm jack input, an RCA coaxial input, 2 TOSLINK sockets, a USB connection and Bluetooth connectivity – 9 available inputs all in all! For sound output, there’s an available 3.55 mm socket for headphones and a provision for a single pair of speakers. Equipped with the power of 2 x 25W / 37W at 8 / 4 Ohms consecutively, it is enough to accommodate a bedroom or a small function room. The MaiA provides more of a laid back sound. Expect no coloration when playing directly from analog sources without equalization like turntables which is good because this entails its ability of faithful sound reproduction. For a modern music enthusiast who wants the capability to have access to various analog and digital sources, the MaiA may just be the amplifier for you.
Marantz PM5004 Integrated Stereo Amplifier
The Marantz PM5004 Integrated Stereo Amplifier intended for the listening pleasure of the vinyl lover. The frequency response of 10 to 50K HZ is very impressive coming from a reasonably priced amplifier. At 35 watts per channel, the PM5004 delivers sweet sound quality even from mono sources. It has 5 selectable analog inputs, 2.5 mm stereo output for headphones, and 2 channel output for speakers. Bass and tone controls are also available for further refinement of sound. Listening to old Clapton records, one can hear a superb sound separation and distinctive up front timbre of guitar strings even though the record is on mono. The bass is big without being over boomy, the mid is lush and very sweet and the highs are crystal clear and not harsh even on loud volumes. The only downside is it tends to lose its sweetness at very high volumes. So if you are planning to use this in a very loud room over a lot of talking, this might not be the amplifier for you. The best listening experience is achieved at mid volumes. Even though a bit on the bright side, the Marantz PM5004 delivers excellent uncompromised sound quality that vinyl fanatics and modern iPod lovers are sure to enjoy.
Dayton Audio MA1240a Multi-Zone 12 Channel Amplifier
The MA1240a Multi-Zone 12 Channel Amplifier from Dayton Audio is your solution if you are in need of multi-channel amplification in different areas. Think of it as six different amplifiers pooled into one chassis. Each channel have 40 watts at 8 ohms, 60 watts at 4 ohms, or should you need more power in any channel this can bridged to create 80 watts at 8 ohms. The great feature about this amplifier is, you can listen to your turntable at your living room, while your wife is listening to her laptop at the kitchen, and your son is rocking out with his iPod I his bedroom. This is because the MA1240a has the capability to divide your house into a maximum of 6 zones, so you have the option to either have six totally different sound sources or just have a one feeding the signal to all 6 zones. It also has an auto detect feature for each zone – this will tell you whether that zone is being used, or if is having some problems. A very good amplifier to go for if you are planning on setting up multiple speaker outputs.
CAMBRIDGE – AZUR 651A
Music takes many forms. In this day and age, when social media had been the medium of constant communication and interaction for many, it is no wonder that music also transformed into a format where you’ can just order a whole album online. With this in mind, Cambridge audio came up with the AZUR 651A. The build quality of this amp is just top notch. It has 75 watts of amplification per channel and 6 viable inputs, including a USB option for direct computer connection. The clear sounding highs with a very expressive midrange will entice you into listening more classical music and other genres that will give you a full spectrum of sound. The only gripe is that the bass sounds a bit held back in some areas. The nicest thing about the 651A is its USB connection, enabling you to bypass the onboard soundcard of your laptop or PC and get clean unprocessed sound. If you have a vast collection of audio files and feels that your soundcard isn’t really living up to your expectations, then the AZUR 651A from Cambridge is for you.
Onkyo A-9010 Integrated Stereo Amplifier
The Onkyo A-9010 Integrated Stereo Amplifier is a great amp to consider for someone who is just starting on their musical journey. The built in Wolfson DAC decodes digital signals up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution. It’s 44 watts of amplification power is enough for most small to mid-sized speakers. Warm sounding lows and a detailed mid is Onkyo A-9010 strong point, though it tend to sound a bit shrill on some high frequencies. There are four available analog and 2 digital line inputs. A great bang for the buck amplifier with decent transparent sound.