Which high-end stereo amplifier is best?
A high-end stereo amplifier is the beating heart of an audiophile-quality hi-fi system. The days of bland black boxes with limited capabilities have made way for some beautifully designed units packed with modern features. Amplifiers also have changed with the way people consume music, and the best are functionally equipped to accommodate various devices and peripherals. The Marantz PM7000N is one such high-end stereo amplifier that ticks all the necessary boxes.
What to know before you buy a high-end stereo amplifier
Digital vs. analog stereo amplifiers
The question as to which sounds better between digital and analog circuitry is often discussed, but the answer is subjective. The main difference lies in the way they distort when driven, with analog circuitry providing a more harmonic-sounding tone when pushed that many find agreeable. The difference is less obvious when played at regular volumes, and a well-tuned high-end system will sound great in either case.
When it comes to the power output of stereo amplifiers, bigger is not necessarily better. The ideal power output should correspond to the size of your speakers and in turn, the environment in which your hi-fi system resides. Rather than buying a more powerful amplifier, it’s often best to select a more sensitive speaker instead, as this will achieve similar results. You should have sufficient headroom available that your amplifier does not start to distort at high volumes, and 50 watts of power is more than powerful enough for most domestic situations.
Integrated stereo amplifiers vs. power amps and receivers
The majority of high-end stereo amplifiers are integrated amplifiers as opposed to power amps. The latter often accompany a separate preamp for delicate control circuits and use high voltage circuitry for amplification, resulting in better performance. Integrated models combine these two systems to produce a compact and functional unit that is more user-friendly. Receivers combine a radio tuner with the integrated amplifier, further expanding its functionality, and headphone amplifiers are popular additions.
What to look for in a quality high-end stereo amplifier
Manufacturers are taking aesthetics more seriously nowadays, and it’s not uncommon to see exotic wood, glass, carbon fiber and brushed aluminum incorporated into the design of hi-fi separates. This is all the more important as the hi-fi system is often a focal point of the living area and dominates space. As a general rule, the better the materials, the better the build quality, and this is an indication of the standard of components used throughout.
Above anything else, a high-end stereo amplifier needs to deliver on sound quality. Check the specifications for an especially high signal-to-noise ratio, a flat frequency response from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, and make sure it’s compatible with your speakers’ impedance. Your ears will be the final deciding factor regarding what sounds best. Remember that tube amplifiers in particular and even solid-state amps require warming up before they start sounding their best.
While many prefer to keep things simple when it comes to stereo amplifiers, there is a growing trend toward modern technology such as wireless connectivity. Now that the latest Bluetooth codecs such as aptX offer lossless sound quality, this is a very convenient and worthy addition to a high-end unit. Vinyl lovers might consider buying an amplifier with a built-in phono preamp, as this will be optimized for the model in question.
How much you can expect to spend on a high-end stereo amplifier
Expect to spend well over $1,000 on any audiophile-quality equipment. This certainly is the case with high-end stereo amplifiers. Specialist models with limited production numbers can run into several thousand dollars per unit.
High-end stereo amplifier FAQ
Do you need a high-end stereo amplifier?
A. There are some truly formidable yet affordable stereo amplifiers available. If you are replacing a unit that is several years old, technology has evolved to such a degree that you may not have to spend an equivalent amount of money to get the same – or even better – results.
Do amplifier class names reflect their performance?
A. Amplifier class names, such as Class A, Class B, Class A/B and Class D, simply describe the different types of circuits they use. They do not refer to differences in quality or performance. Class D has been adopted as standing for “digital” among digital circuit designs, although this was not originally the case.
What’s the best high-end stereo amplifier to buy?
Top high-end stereo amplifier
What you need to know: The expertly-tuned Marantz PM7000N delivers 60 watts per channel of highly detailed sound and boasts a range of modern features that made it an instant hit with audiophiles and technophiles alike.
What you’ll love: Fans of digital music will be happy with its ability to decode high-resolution files, including WAV, FLAC and DSD formats. It has HEOS technology built in, allowing the user to stream music around the home, and responds to voice commands from Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri.
What you should consider: It is fairly uninspiring in its design.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top high-end stereo amplifier for the money
What you need to know: Those who prefer the looks and convenience of wireless streaming will appreciate this 125-watt amplifier that is sonically, functionally and aesthetically impressive.
What you’ll love: The rack-mountable Sonos Amp delivers impressive sound with great clarity, even at higher volumes. It pairs seamlessly with Sonos wireless speakers and the Sonos App for a truly immersive experience, and integrates with the Sonos One home-theater system.
What you should consider: Purists may prefer built-for-purpose systems, but there’s no denying the impressive functionality of the Sonos Amp.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: The beautifully designed and sonically inspiring Denon PMA-1600NE has plenty of tricks up its sleeve, despite its minimalist facade.
What you’ll love: Vinyl aficionados will appreciate the Denon’s Analog Mode that bypasses all its digital circuitry for a warmer tone. It is ideal for home-theater setups with multiple inputs and outputs to accommodate the necessary peripherals, while all music fans will appreciate its crystal-clear and accurate sound reproduction.
What you should consider: Due to its solid construction, this unit is quite heavy.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Luke Mitchell writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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