For this installment of “Best Right Now,” we sat down with Tarun: A British Audiophile to discuss some of the best budget integrated amplifiers between $350 and $1,000 USD.
Between the two of us, we’ve listened to at least 20 new integrated amplifiers over the past 2 years and think they make sense for a lot of consumers in 2022.
Integrated amplifiers have become very popular again with audiophiles for a few reasons and we think it’s fair to say that expensive separates are becoming less relevant.
Most integrated amplifiers being introduced today combine a power amplifier, pre-amplifier, phono section, headphone amplifier, and in some cases a DAC or internal streaming capabilities.
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.
Best Budget Integrated Amps
Iota VX SA3 ($552)
Learn more: A British Audiophile Review
- Reason to buy: Tonal balance is quite even, fast, transparent, and dynamic sounding
- Reason to pass: Bottom end could have better definition
- Where to buy: $552 | £399 at iotaenterprises.co.uk
NAD C316BEE V2 ($479)
Learn more: See our full review
- Reason to buy: Solid phono stage, more power than ratings would suggest, warm tonal balance, good built quality
- Reason to pass: No wireless capabilities, bottom end could have more impact
- Where to buy: $479 at Amazon
Cambridge Audio AXA35 ($379)
Learn more: See our full review.
- Reason to buy: Solid build quality, above average phono stage, warm tonal balance, excellent choice for 2-way bookshelf loudspeakers under $500
- Reason to pass: Bottom end can be slightly loose sounding, not a lot of detail on top
- Where to buy: $379 at Amazon
Rega IO ($725)
Learn more: See our Rega IO Audiophile System Builder
- Reason to buy: Minimalist design, solid build quality, above average MM phono stage, tonal balance is perfect for more neutral sounding loudspeakers
- Reason to pass: Limited power, no DAC or streaming capabilities
- Where to buy: $725 at Amazon | £420 at Amazon.co.uk
Rotel A11 Tribute ($799)
- Reason to buy: Minimalist design, very solid MM phono stage, above average power for the price point, clean and transparent sounding, Ken Ishiwata magic
- Reason to pass: No DAC, power might not be enough for some larger bookshelf speakers or mid-range floor standing loudspeakers
- Where to buy: $799 at Crutchfield
Audiolab 6000A ($995)
Learn more: See our full review. See Tarun’s video review.
- Reason to buy: Powerful, excellent transparency, detail, pacing, can be used as an integrated amplifier, pre-amplifier, or power amplifier
- Reason to pass: No USB digital input, rather lean tonal balance require careful system matching
- Where to buy: $995 at Amazon | £649 at Amazon.co.uk
Rega Brio ($1100)
- Reason to buy: Powerful presentation, excellent MM phono stage, warm tonal balance, punchy
- Reason to pass: Bottom and top end are rolled off, no DAC or wireless streaming capabilities
- Where to buy: $1,100 at Amazon
Best Budget Streaming Integrated Amps
Learn more about the Powernode.
- Reason to buy: BluOS, Roon-Ready, powerful, very easy to use, excellent Bluetooth and Wi-Fi streaming capabilities
- Reason to pass: No Chromecast, limited connection options
- Where to buy: $925 at Amazon
- Reason to buy: Power, connectivity options, excellent value for the money
- Reason to pass: Discontinued
- Where to buy: $549 at Amazon
February 19, 2022 at 9:41 pm
I have a friend at work that is a tremendous fan (and voice!) for Bluesound. Me? I am a HEOS enthusiast and all because it too is easy, dependable and can be used with or without a Denon/Marantz AVR unit.
Sonos? No thanks.
HEOS is excellent and from my friend whom I have known for years, so too is Bluesound. HEOS also has “Roon” and I tried it for two months (out of a three month trial) and “Roon Ready” is worthless to me. To be clear, I would sooner not listen than use Roon. It truly annoys me but not as much as MQA.
With HEOS I can listen in different rooms to different genres/stations/artists/albums etc. With ease.
If I did not have HEOS I migh give Bluesound a try. “If”. The App is quite good and easy to use. I also do not think Bluesound stuff is visually appealing and to me, looks are important. It is not worth looking at. Plain describes it to a “T”. But that is totally subjective. At this level, so too is music reproduction because I cannot tell the difference in any available codec nor would I try to lie and say as much. I no loner use fApple Music nor iTunes. They pretty much pissed me off and so can take an airborne intercourse until they do something wonderful and much needed to endear themselves to me.
And yeah. I think “Roon Ready” is a stupid ad-copy catchphrase and if that were all that was available for digital music I would just listen to vinyl and be happy.
February 19, 2022 at 9:57 pm
The Roon hate is strong with this one. LOL.
I really like the NAD integrated for what it does, but it’s not the most resolving of the bunch.
The Audiolab (I bought one over 2 years ago) is a really good piece but the tonal balance requires super careful speaker choices. Wharfedale is perfect for it.
It can be really hard on some speakers.
BluOS has come a very long way and I use it daily. None of the apps are really perfect at this point. I wish it had the slick operation of Sonos S2 but it doesn’t.
I don’t use Spotify, Apple Music, or Amazon Music so TIDAL and Qobuz are the only ones that I listen to.
February 19, 2022 at 11:37 pm
For such as I, Roon (and much of the “high-end”is farcical in its subjective properties but then, so too are most things audio. This is why I prefer writers to typists. Anyone can type out “fAd Copy” but you and some of the folks at Soundstage HiFi write. Not type. I loathe thee typists no end. Meh.
Other than looks, I can be quite the objective little toad. With obviously the exception of speakers, my audio equipment sounds as good as most I have listened to in my decades of existence. It is also paid for and for that, I am happy! I have listened to speakers that are known to be “much better” with hundreds of watts driving them and thought they reproduced Sinatra quite well. I recently upgraded to separate amps for my car stereo (after upgrading the speakers and head unit first) and to be honest I can NOT hear any difference between stock amps and the new, more powerful and full of head room separates. None. Zip. Zilch. Nadahting. I feel so…soooo…cheap. So used if you will. So stooopid. 🙂 One of my brothers convinced me there would be an audible difference. There is none.
Okay. I am over it.
But I do enjoy a good read and there is always the chance I may temporarily lose track of my financial responsibilities (again!) and buy a grossly over priced CD player…Nah. But if I could afford to do so, I would simply buy such things for those I love.
I will most likely never use Tidal and I seriously doubt I will ever use Qobuz. The former for good reason including the subjective mantra they chant and the later for the usual subjective silliness mantras of more than a few “high-end” audio companies. Subjectivity is fine until it more than crosses a line by having its acolytes snort the line.
I do not find that here. Here I find writing and honesty sans the pressing desire to be made to toe the line prior to snorting it.
Enough ramblin’. I am saving for the new, frAudiophile seizure inducing Pro-Ject Automat A1. Because I have NEVER been bothered by the “noise” of the auto mechanism in any of my turntables that feature it and because I like Pro-Ject. And I have a slight physical handicap that makes getting up to put the tone arm back a real pain the butt. 🙂
In all ways and for always, be well brother!
February 20, 2022 at 2:42 am
Hi Ian, I forgot to mention that I recently bought a Douk ST-01 Integrated Amp/DAC and it really is a joy to look at and use. I have it hooked to a pair of Pioneer SP-EBS73 Atmos book shelf speakers and a Acoustic 10 inch powered sub. I use the RCA inputs for my TEAC TN-300 turntable (built in pre-amp!) and the optical slot is taken by one of my Echobox Explorers but I may swap that out for a Grace Digital Mondo Elite Classic radio in the future.
This unit is my favorite internet radio and all because Grace makes an excellent product. Having met one of the founders and one of the wonderful folk that work there I am even more proud to have bought several of their fine products over the last decade or so. Great people making an excellent product!
I just bought a small tube T3 Pro MM pre-amp made by Douk and will be swapping out the TEAC for my Dual 1246 as it has been upgraded and returned to me and place this between my Dual and the Douk ST-01. The only thing the Douk ST-01 is “missing” for me is a headphone jack. That little amp is more than merely adequate. It even has a (drum roll please…) a single VU Meter!!
I am still looking for one more integrated that is similarly outfitted for use with another similar set up. I think Integrated Amps are sweeeeet! As such I am really looking forward to more such articles here! Well done, my friend. Well done, indeed! Your site and your writers are excellente’!
February 20, 2022 at 10:11 am
Always a pleasure to read you.
I have not heard any of the amplifiers you list, but I’m sure they must be good.
I have in my bedroom a very simple Marantz pm6006 + streamer na6006 with the previous edition of Dynaudio emit m20 and the sound just soothes my soul!
All to say that, as your text, we do not have to spend wildly to get good sound.
Greetings from Portugal,
February 20, 2022 at 11:36 am
You missed a true Unicorn…Sound Artist SA200ia. Amazing amplifier with sound that challenges my much more expensive power amplifiers and my NAD C320BEE and Cambridge Audio 840 Azur integrated amplifiers…under $500
February 20, 2022 at 11:50 am
I will look that up. We agreed that anything we suggested had to be something that we reviewed or tried over the past year.
February 20, 2022 at 3:41 pm
Thank you for the heads upon the Sound Artist SA200ia! I just gave it quick look-see and I must say that is at once both purposeful and gorgeous. Perhaps one day Ian will review it here.
My thanks to all.
February 20, 2022 at 9:12 pm
Maybe I don’t have golden hearing but having owned so much mid and audiophile grade equipment including Jadis, McIntosh, Odyssey and others, I find very little difference between their sound.
February 20, 2022 at 9:29 pm
You really didn’t hear any difference between Jadis and McIntosh? That’s interesting because they sound almost nothing alike.
I owned the Jadis Defy-7 at one point and it sounded like nothing else that I’ve owned. Had it been more reliable, I would probably still own it.
February 21, 2022 at 2:26 pm
The streaming options are much more expensive.
The NAD c338 is really great at 2*50wpc and Chromecast. @~600€ and soundwise jas better sound then the NAD in the article
February 28, 2022 at 2:30 am
Thanks for the lovely article! What would you think of a Marantz PM7000n driving Wharfedale Denton 80s?
February 28, 2022 at 2:12 pm
Thank you for those kind words.
It would depend on the tonal balance of the PM7000n. I know the sound of the Denon 80s.
Based on my recent experience with Marantz and especially the Model 40n that I just heard — definitely does better with more neutral sounding speakers.
This system could sound too dark which would become very boring over time.