Integrated Amp Reviews

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Art Dudley  |  May 21, 2019  |  9 comments
Audiophilia is nothing if not nostalgic—in fact, it's doubly so. Listening to recorded music is an act of looking back, often with the hope of re-creating some wistfully recalled wonder. On top of that, the zeal to perfect the playback experience, whether by means of better-quality recordings or better hardware, is far less common than it used to be among middle-class consumers. Although in recent years our pastime has surprised with its resilience, we're surely nearer the immolation scene than the Prelude to Act I.
Ken Micallef  |  May 16, 2019  |  10 comments
In his review in the November 2015 issue, Herb Reichert wrote that Parasound's Halo Integrated amplifier "has a recognizable sonic personality: easy flowing, mostly smooth, and decidedly mellow. . . . But don't worry—it's not milquetoast mellow or unwashed-hippy-stoner mellow. It is, instead, an everything's-under-control, don't-worry-now mellow."
John Atkinson  |  Apr 02, 2019  |  25 comments
In our February 2019 issue, when I reviewed a new integrated amplifier from Colorado-based Ayre Acoustics, I concluded that "the EX-8 Integrated Hub is a high-end contender at a competitive price" (footnote 1). In that review I promised a Follow-Up in which I would compare the EX-8 with Cambridge Audio's Edge A integrated amplifier, which Ken Micallef had positively reviewed in our January 2019 issue (footnote 2). While I'd enjoyed my time with the EX-8, I'd found its balance rather on the light side, and that it projected voices somewhat forward on the soundstage.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 31, 2019  |  39 comments
"The sound was to die for," I wrote shortly before my resurrection. I was taking notes about the sound of CH Precision's D1 SACD and CD Drive (now $38,000) and C1 D/A Controller (base price $32,000), in the demo room of Michael Woods's Elite Audio Systems, at the California Audio Show, just three months after the 2015 edition of the Munich High End show. CH Precision's L1 dual-mono, solid-state preamplifier (now $58,000), M1 dual-mono power amp ($104,000), and X1 external power supply ($17,000) had helped deliver "fantastic sound."
John Atkinson  |  Jan 17, 2019  |  49 comments
It's a high-end audio truism: Successful companies are founded by a creative engineer or entrepreneur with a vision. So what happens when the founder is no longer around? While Mark Levinson is an example of a brand that not only survived the exit of its leader but thrived, speaker manufacturer Thiel dwindled after co-founder Jim Thiel died in 2009, and eventually closed up shop. Colorado company Ayre Acoustics was faced with this problem when founder Charley Hansen passed away in November 2017.
Ken Micallef  |  Dec 20, 2018  |  14 comments
One summer in the mid-2000s I purchased a pair of Cambridge Audio components for my red-headed, tango-dancing Texas girlfriend. She quickly saw through my ruse to install some solid hi-fi in her New Jersey home away from home—but eventually she acquiesced, and soon Michael Martin Murphey (she), the Beatles (me), and Miles Davis (us) filled our weekends with music. Inspired by a Sam Tellig column I read around that time, I paired a Cambridge Azur integrated amplifier and CD player with a pair of Triangle Titus XS minimonitors. The sound produced by this quartet was clean, precise, and altogether pleasurable—for a total of about $1300.
Herb Reichert  |  Dec 13, 2018  |  22 comments
My Russian neighbor's blind grandfather, Vlad, has very discriminating ears—but only when I tell him what to listen for. If I don't, he just bitches about my choice of music. And he refuses to listen to "weak" American orchestras.

Not surprisingly, Vlad worships Mikhail Glinka. "Herb! Play Russlan and Ludmilla!" When he asks for "Pyotr Ilyich," I groan and quietly put the vodka back in the freezer.

Herb Reichert  |  Oct 23, 2018  |  15 comments
The original PS Audio Sprout, which I reviewed in the May 2015 issue, showed newcomers an easier, smaller way to amplify music recordings in the home. At $599, the Sprout100 costs $100 more. It fixes a few of the old Sprout's weirdnesses: no power-on indicator light, no remote control, five-way binding posts that weren't really five-way. It also doubles the Sprout's class-D power output into 4 ohms, from 50 to 100Wpc (or 50Wpc into 8 ohms), and adds a few sonic and mechanical enhancements.
Ken Micallef  |  Sep 27, 2018  |  0 comments
In 2015, the venerable Canadian audio company NAD introduced its soon-to-be-popular D 3020 integrated amplifier ($499), which combined 30Wpc output, streaming capability, and an onboard DAC in a slick, contoured case. NAD's latest D/A integrated also smartly combines trend with functionality, lifestyle convenience with technological advancement. The C 328 Hybrid Digital amplifier ($549) goes its older, smaller sibling a couple steps better in features, while reverting to NAD's traditional look: an unfancy box finished in a dark shade of matte gray with subtle white lettering and logo.
Art Dudley  |  Jul 26, 2018  |  11 comments
The Emitter II Exclusive integrated amplifier, from German manufacturer ASR Audio (footnote 1), challenged my idea of what I could expect from a solid-state amplifier and my thoughts of what might be the best amp for driving a pair of Quad ESL loudspeakers—revelations that were more or less inseparable. After hearing my friend and former neighbor Neal Newman drive his own ESLs with a ca 1975 sample of the Quad 303—a solid-state amplifier rated at 45Wpc into 8 ohms—and after my experiences, in 2016, driving my ESLs with a borrowed sample of the 18Wpc, solid-state Naim Nait 2, I began to think that Quad-friendly transistor amps are easier to find than their tubed counterparts.
Thomas J. Norton  |  Jun 26, 2018  |  9 comments
Stop me if I've said this before (okay, I have): There's much to be said for integrated amplifiers. While separates have long dominated high-end audio, an increasing number of integrated products not only bundle a preamp and power amp, but sometimes add digital inputs of various flavors, phono stages, bass and treble controls (long on life support in audiophile gear), and more.
Herb Reichert  |  May 31, 2018  |  35 comments
"Okay, all you high-rolling audiophile know-it-alls—what is the argument against amplifiers that operate in high-bias, class-A, single-ended mode, with the lowest possible parts count? Is there a better strategy for beauty, rhythm, color, texture, and easy-flowing musical verity? I think not. And please explain: Why has mainstream audio gone to such ridiculous and expensive lengths to avoid building and selling precisely these sorts of amps?"
J. Gordon Holt  |  May 08, 2018  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1969  |  6 comments
The first time we saw an AR amplifier (at a Hi-Fi Show), we were struck by its bland, almost antiseptic appearance. Amidst all those other audio products that looked as though they had been high-styled for Madame's boudoir, the unadorned simplicity of the AR amplifier made it stand out like an Eames chair at Williamsburg.
Ken Micallef  |  May 03, 2018  |  7 comments
We're well past the day when the sound of top-tier tube amplifiers can be described as "syrupy" or "too warm" or producing "soft bass." Equally true, solid-state designs have reached a level of maturity at which "sweetness," "fluidity," and "flow" are similarly applicable descriptors, thus smashing the cliché of "cold transistor sound."
John Atkinson  |  Apr 26, 2018  |  4 comments
When I asked NAD for a sample of their Masters Series M50.2 digital music player, which I reviewed in the December 2017 issue, they also sent me a Masters Series M32 DirectDigital integrated amplifier, which had also been introduced at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show. Costing $3999, the M32 offers a continuous power output of >150W into 8 or 4 ohms. The M32 is the same size as the M50.2, and its smart-looking combination of matte black and gray-anodized aluminum panels make it look identical to the player, except for the black volume-control knob to the right of the front panel's four-color touchscreen, and the ¼" headphone jack at bottom left. It even has the same eight ventilation grilles inset in the black top panel.

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