For millions of music listeners, the smartphone has become their primary source component; digital music streaming services now represent close to 80% of the market with more than 50 million subscribers in the United States alone. Consumers put greater value on convenience vs sound quality and that shift has been a rude wake-up call for the high-end audio industry that has marketed expensive separates, loudspeakers, cables, and accessories for decades.
The reality is that consumers no longer see a need for so many expensive boxes; wireless active loudspeakers and one-box integrated amplifiers which include both wired and wireless digital streaming connectivity have made them unnecessary. The good news for consumers is that while prices at the top end have escalated beyond the cost of a luxury automobile for some audio components, there have never been as many affordable high-end components than what is available right now and that makes it a great time to assemble a system.
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Cambridge Audio AXA35 ($350.00)
The AXA35 may not be the most powerful integrated amplifier on the market, but there is something about its energetic personality, and surprising level of resolution that makes it the perfect entry-level product with an appropriate pair of loudspeakers. 35 watts per channel is more than adequate as long as your room isn’t too large, and with a rear panel with input jacks for five sources; including a phono section that works with well with high output moving magnet cartridges, the AXA35 is a surprisingly affordable over-achieving amplifier with a lot of appeal. BUY NOW
Audiolab 6000A ($900.00)
Audiolab deserves a lot of praise for an integrated amplifier as good as the 6000A for $900. What makes this amplifier so unique is that you can convert it to a pre-amplifier, or power amplifier with the touch of a button. All three combinations sound superb. The 6000A also includes four digital inputs (with a DAC that support up to 24-bit/192kHz playback), and a very high-quality moving magnet phono stage that will never embarrass itself with even $1,000+ phono cartridges. The 6000A will never be mistaken for a tube amplifier; it’s on the neutral side of the spectrum, but what it does with darker sounding loudspeakers is remarkable. Transparent, detailed, and vibrant. BUY NOW
Luxman SQ-N150 ($2,795.00)
Part of LUXMAN’s NeoClassico II Series, the SQ-N150 is a tube-based integrated amplifier that fits rather comfortably on even a desk. With only 10 watts per channel from four EL84 output tubes, the SQ-N150 requires high-sensitivity loudspeakers to really show what it can do – and what it is capable of is quite outstanding. If you’re looking for the classic “lush” sound that tube amplifiers are known for, the Luxman will only deliver that to a point. The SQ-N150 is very transparent sounding; perhaps even a tad forward for this type of amplifier, but the overall experience with the right speakers is very engaging. When you throw in three line inputs and a fantastic phono section that accommodates both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges, this Luxman is a bargain. BUY NOW
Linear Tube Audio MZ3 ($3,700.00)
Tube integrated amplifiers that include a reference level headphone amplifier are becoming more common; but most of them will be playing catch-up with the LTA MZ3 for many years to come. This desktop-sized integrated amplifier, pre-amplifier, and headphone amplifier does not sound like your typical tube amplifier (2 premium hand selected 12AT7 input tubes, and two premium hand selected 12SN7 output tubes), and while its 1-watt power rating will likely raise some eyebrows, this is a very special sounding component for use with headphones and very high-sensitivity loudspeakers. Instruments and the human voice are reproduced with spooky realism. Made in Maryland and built to last forever. BUY NOW
McIntosh MA352 ($6,500.00)
The MA352 Integrated Amplifier is a hybrid that combines the finest of vacuum tube and solid-state audio design and outputs 200 Watts per channel into 8 Ohm speakers or 320 Watts per channel into 4 Ohm speakers. This behemoth of an amplifier can drive almost any loudspeaker in the world with ease, and has the trademark McIntosh midrange, and sense of pace that makes it one of the most engaging products of its kind. Equipped with only a moving magnet phono stage, the MA352 is a purist two-channel product that still requires a digital front-end to complete the system. BUY NOW