It’s probably more accurate to refer to amplifiers that include network connectivity; either via Wi-Fi or Ethernet as Streaming Amplifiers or Network Amplifiers. If you scroll through the features of most of these amplifiers, you’ll notice that many offer support for TIDAL Connect, Spotify Connect, Roon, Qobuz, Chromecast, Apple AirPlay 2, and different Bluetooth codecs.
What features should you look for when selecting a new integrated amplifier or network amplifier?
A subwoofer output to conveniently connect a powered subwoofer. This output may or may not include a low-pass crossover or bass management settings.
Digital Inputs such as USB, Optical Toslink or Coaxial enable enable connectivity to external music sources such as CD players or digital music streamers. Such inputs mean the amplifier has an internal DAC.
A USB input to access digital music locally from USB stick, hard drive, laptop, tablet or computer.
A headphone output generally means the amp includes a special amplifier just for headphones, mainly audiophile headphones with high impedance requirements. Ideally it makes headphone listening sound better.
A remote control is usually included, but not always.
Build quality matters. Circuit design does too. And most importantly, equipment matching to speakers and other devices matters more than one would think.
Do not be seduced or turned off by power ratings. Some loudspeakers only require a few watts into an 8 ohm load, while others require an amplifier that can double its output into 4 ohms and is stable at that impedance. You are more likely to damage a loudspeaker with less power than more.
Should you go with a tube or solid-state integrated amplifier? Tube amplifiers certainly require more hands-on maintenance and it is incorrect to state that all tube amplifiers have a “warm” or “rich” sound. Not all solid-state amplifiers are neutral sounding; we can think of more than a few that are darker or warmer sounding than some tube amplifiers.
Remember to budget accordingly when building your stereo system. This guide should provide a great starting point for building your first stereo system or upgrading an existing one.
Whether you’re looking for a purist integrated stereo amplifier or one packed with features, we think these are some of the best to buy right now for the money.