How to Choose a High End Integrated Amplifier?

Today’s High End Integrated Amplifier are far more versatile, capable, and efficient than they were previously. Even the low-cost ones.

Most integrated amplifiers had only line-level analog inputs and possibly phono inputs 20 years ago. They now have digital inputs, AM/FM tuners, and wireless streaming capabilities (Bluetooth and wi-fi). Improved versatility is unquestionably beneficial, but it can also be perplexing, and it may lead to a trade-off in quality for features.

How to Choose a High End Integrated Amplifier?
How to Choose a High End Integrated Amplifier?

We’re here to walk you through the process of selecting the best high-end integrated amplifier for your specific audio setup, explain the significance of various features, and make some recommendations. Let’s start with the fundamentals.

What is an Integrated Amplifier?

An integrated amplifier is a type of audio equipment that combines two units – a preamplifier and a power amplifier – into a single unit. It’s usually a combination of three components: a preamp, a Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC), and a power amplifier.

So, an integrated amplifier is a two-in-one or three-in-one unit that performs the functions of all of the preceding units. It functions similarly to a preamp in that you can connect various analog and digital audio sources to it, select the input you want to use, and adjust the volume. It, like a DAC, converts digital signals into analog signals and, like a power amp, amplifies and sends those analog signals to your speakers. In a nutshell, that is the function of an integrated amplifier.

Are Separate Units a Better Option Than an Integrated Amplifier?

In general, using separates (preamplifier, DAC, power amplifier) will result in a higher-quality sound. Every audiophile and audio enthusiast will argue that this is the superior choice. A system made up of separate units gives you more flexibility and allows you to select which units you want to pair together. Furthermore, if you want to upgrade, you can do so by replacing just one unit and getting a completely different sound signature (more customization options). It also allows for better stereo separation and a cleaner, less-interfering signal path.

However, there are some advantages to using integrated amplifiers. For starters, they have a significantly smaller footprint, which can be important when dealing with space constraints. They are also simpler – there are fewer interconnects, and the user interface is usually much more intuitive because you aren’t switching between three different units.

Furthermore, as the price of a system made up of separates and an integrated amplifier rises, the difference in the final product (sound quality) between the two becomes less and less noticeable. Some high-end integrated amplifiers from reputable manufacturers (Marantz, Peachtree, HEGEL, Rega, NAD, Nu Prime, GOLDMUND, and so on) deliver performance comparable to similarly priced systems comprised of separate units.

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High End Integrated Amplifier

Class-A VS Class-AB VS Class-D Integrated Amplifiers

Amplifier classes and their advantages are one of the most perplexing topics when it comes to both power amplifiers and integrated amplifiers. Amplifiers are classified based on their circuit topologies (the way their output stages are configured). An amplifier’s most important characteristics are signal gain, linearity, efficiency, and power output. There are advantages and disadvantages to different types of amplifiers, and there is no such thing as an ideal amplifier.

Class-A

Class-A amplifiers are frequently referred to as the most musical. Because of its signal linearity and clean power output, many audiophiles consider Class-A amplification to be the best type of amplification. Also, because of the extremely low distortion, particularly in push-pull Class-A amplifiers.

The most significant disadvantage of Class-A amplifiers is their inefficiency. Class-A amplifiers, you see, have their output devices conducting all the time, even when there is no audio signal, resulting in a lot of wasted power that converts to heat. The efficiency of Class A amplifiers is almost never greater than 30%. (only 30 percent or less of the consumed power is converted into the power of the output). Because of their low efficiency and the amount of power that is converted into heat, Class-A amplifiers are typically very large and heavy, with massive heatsinks. Although Class-A amplifiers are the gold standard, they are not recommended for high-power applications.

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Class-B

Class-B amplifiers are intended to address the inefficiencies of Class-A amplifiers while maintaining the same level of performance. Is that what they really do? NO! The manufacturers improved efficiency by arranging the output devices in a push-pull scheme and preventing all of the output devices from operating at the same time. Instead, only half of them work at the same time. As a result, efficiency is significantly increased (often above 70 percent ).

However, there is one major issue with Class-B amplifiers, and it is known as crossover distortion. Without getting into specifics, this distortion is quite noticeable (audible). As a result, while Class-B amplification solves the efficiency problem, it introduces a new one.

Class-AB

Class-AB amplifiers combine the linearity and distortion-free output of Class-A amplifiers with the efficiency of Class-B amplifiers. In theory, this would eliminate all of the drawbacks of Class-A and Class-B amplifiers.

Class-AB amplifiers operate on the same principles as Class-B amplifiers with a push-pull output device arrangement, but with a different “division of labor.” This “simple” solution significantly reduces crossover distortion and renders it inaudible.

Many high-end integrated amplifiers are Class-AB or a Class-AB variant.

Class-G and Class-H

These two classes are essentially reworked versions of Class-AB. These amplifiers make use of low and high voltage rails, which allow them to reduce power consumption and increase efficiency. The system employs low or high-voltage rails depending on the demands (low-amplitude or high-amplitude transients).

The most significant issue with these amplifiers is their cost. They are simply more difficult and expensive to construct. MOSFETs and the use of MOSFET transistors instead of bipolar transistors reduced the price and complexity, but they are still quite expensive. Class-G or Class-H amplification is also used in high-end integrated amplifiers.

Class-D

Class-D amplifiers are frequently referred to as digital amplifiers, which is incorrect. They are far more efficient than any other type of amp (the efficiency is higher than 90 percent ). The distinction between Class-D and the other types of amplification is that Class-A and Class-AB amps always have at least one output device active. Even if there isn’t a signal. Class-D amplifiers use pulse-width modulation to control the output devices and quickly switch them on and off.

Closely related to Class-D amps’ high efficiency is their low power waste, which means they never get hot (at least not as hot as Class-A or Class-AB amps). Using Class-D amplification in conjunction with an SMPS (switched-mode power supply) improves efficiency even further.

Contrary to popular belief, Class-D amplifiers are not subpar. Poorer treble reproduction, inconsistencies in sound quality depending on speaker impedance, and low headroom are some of the common issues with Class-D amps when compared to Class-A amps. Manufacturers, on the other hand, are working hard to improve Class-D designs and mitigate the drawbacks. Every year, Class-D amplifiers get better and better. Some high-end Class-D amplifiers sound nearly as good as Class-A amplifiers.

Tube Amplifiers VS Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers

Another point of contention in the world of amplifiers is the distinction between tubes and solid-state. The main distinction between the two is how they amplify the audio signal. Tube amplifiers make use of tubes/valves, whereas solid-state amplifiers make use of electronics.

The most significant distinction between the two types is in the audio reproduction and signatures. The sound produced by tube amplifiers is most commonly described as “warm.” But what exactly is warm? It essentially means that the sound is spacious, with good bass and midrange reproduction. What’s also important for tube amps, and why people love them, is the heartwarming distortion they produce when overloaded.

Solid-state amplifiers, on the other hand, do not have a distinct sound signature or anything in common with all solid-state amplifiers. Their sound output is heavily influenced by the quality and type of electronics used. However, solid-state amplifiers are not a bad option – they are simply not tube amplifiers.

The main advantages of solid-state amplifiers are their durability (much greater than tube amplifiers), lower cost, and customizable sound output (you can take advantage of the fact that they have circuitries that you can play with).

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In some ways, the difference between tube and solid-state amplifiers is analogous to the distinction between LPs and CDs.

Best High-End Integrated Amp Under $1,000 – Marantz PM7000N

Marantz PM7000N review | What Hi-Fi?
High End Integrated Amplifier

The Marantz PM7000N is the most versatile, powerful, and musical high-end integrated amplifier available for less than $1000.

It has a modern and slim design, as well as a small footprint. It’s also relatively light. The build isn’t exactly top-notch (given the price), but it’s adequate.

The user interface is extremely simple to use. A nice LCD display takes up the majority of the front panel. All of the controls (playback, volume, and input selection) are also on the front panel. There are treble, bass, and balance dials below the display. You can improve the sound quality by pressing the direct monitor button (it bypasses tone adjustment circuitry).

All of the inputs are located on the back panel. There are four physical digital inputs (optical x2, coax x1, and USB Type-A x1). The phono input has been upgraded with HDAM technology and a FET input stage. There are also three RCA audio inputs, one RCA OUT, and one subwoofer pre-output (for adding a powered subwoofer).

This unit has Bluetooth connectivity (V4.1), wi-fi connectivity (2.4/5 GHz), and HEOS built-in, making it multiroom-capable (compatible with all HEOS wireless soundbars and speakers).

The unit includes an AKM DAC module (AK4490EQ) that supports 24bit/192kHz conversion and the playback of lossless files such as ALAC, FLAC, WAV, and DSD (up to 5.6 MHz).

The device supports Airplay2 and can stream music from Spotify, Amazon Music HD, Tidal, Deezer, and other services.

The speaker terminals on the Marantz PM7000N have been upgraded from the Marantz SPKT-1+ (5-way binding posts). The power output is advertised as 60 W/ch into 8 loads or 80 W into 6 loads. The unit has a frequency range of 5Hz-100kHz with less than 3dB deviation. THD is less than 0.02 percent.

The PM7000N produces sound that is clear, detailed, and spacious. It has a class-leading soundstage and stereo separation, as well as class-leading transparency, accuracy, and musicality.

Best High-End Integrated Amplifier Under $2,000 – Rega Elex-R

When it comes to versatility, the Rega Elex-R is nothing like the previous Marantz unit. This amp is solely dedicated to music. It comes with a remote, which isn’t really worth the money (it looks cheap and not very user-friendly).

Elex-R has a strong and slim aluminum chassis with a nice matte black finish. For cooler performance, the chassis has improved heat dissipation.

The design of the unit is very clean and simple. The power button, input selector, 5 LED input indicators, and a volume dial are the only controls on the front panel. The rear panel contains four RCA inputs, one phono input, one recording RCA OUT, and four RCA preamp outputs. In addition, two sets of gold-plated 5-way binding posts are included for connecting speakers.

This unit lacks digital inputs, does not support wireless streaming, and lacks any other fancy features found on other units in this price range. There are no tone controls or headphone outputs.

The unit can push 72W per channel into 8 loads or even 90W into 6 loads due to improved heat dissipation and a large transformer inside. It is not the most powerful unit in its class, and it is not the best choice for very large rooms or demanding speakers, but it is excellent for everything else.

The musicality of the Rega Elex-R is its most notable feature. Its MM phono section is probably the best in the class, so if you’re looking for the best amp to connect your turntable to, the Elex-R is a great choice.

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The sound output is quick, accurate, dynamic, and engrossing. When it comes to sound quality, there is nothing to complain about. It’s the most refined-sounding integrated amplifier available.

Best High-End Integrated Amplifier Under $3,500 – Peachtree Audio nova500

Amplifier with DAC - nova500 Integrated Amplifier | Peachtree Audio
High End Integrated Amplifier

The Peachtree Audio nova500 is probably one of the most sophisticated units in its class in terms of design. It has an elegant and eye-catching housing that is available in gloss ebony or piano black. It comes with a simple and easy-to-use remote.

The front panel is made of brushed aluminum and features a button and LED indicator for each input. The power button, volume dial, and a headphone output with dedicated headphone amp circuitry capable of driving even the most demanding headphones (170mW RMS into 600 headphones) are also located on this panel.

There are a slew of different inputs on the back. There are two TOSLINK inputs, one coax input, one USB Type-B input for connecting your PC, one USB Type-A input (the so-called DyNEC input) for iOS devices, one AUX/RCA input, one MM phono input (that can also be used as a regular line-level input), preamp output, and a set of LOOP IN/OUT ports for connecting an external EQ.

The unit includes a high-end DAC (ESS 9028 PRO) capable of decoding high-resolution files up to 32bit/384kHz. It can play all types of lossless files (FLAC, ALAC, WAV, and DSD).

Nova500 has a home theater bypass feature, so it can be easily integrated into your home theater system.

This integrated amplifier produces a lot of power. You can get 500 W/ch into 8 loads or even 700 W into 4 loads. THD is less than 0.003% (four speakers at 1kHz). Despite its small size, this amplifier is capable of driving even the most demanding speakers.

The audio output is dynamic and engaging. The bass frequencies are handled with authority and ease. The delivery is unobtrusive but not anemic. You can always add a tube buffer to sweeten the output if you need more warmth.

The unit has a wi-fi button for wireless streaming, but this feature is not yet available and will be in future firmware updates.

FAQs High End Integrated Amplifier

What amplifier brand is the best?

It is impossible to single out a single brand or model. We all have favorites, but the truth is that there are so many excellent high-end integrated amplifiers and power amplifiers available from a variety of reputable manufacturers.

Try brands like Allnic, LUXMAN, EleKit, Audio Research Reference, Balanced Audio Technology, VTL, Manley Labs, McIntosh Laboratories, Jadis, and others if you’re looking for tube amplifiers.

If you’re looking for a solid-state amplifier, your options are even more diverse. You could try Marantz, Peachtree, Arcam, Audiolab, Hegel, Rega, Anthem, NAD, Cambridge Audio, Yamaha, Krell, Mark Levinson, Parasound, Bel Canto, Naim, Outlaw Audio, GamuT, Vinnie Rossi, Linn Majik, NuForce, SimAudio Moon, Bryston, Musical Fidelity, and other well-known brands.

Why are integrated amplifiers so expensive?

We do not believe they are. I mean, high-end integrated amplifiers can cost well over $10,000, but you can also find a slew of reasonably priced integrated amplifiers (typically solid-state Class-D or Class-AB) for less than $1,000. In general, integrated amplifiers are less expensive than separate units with comparable audio quality and features.

How long do integrated amplifiers last?

On average, integrated amplifiers can last 10 years or more, but there is no hard and fast rule. If you take care of your integrated amplifier, it can last for more than 20 years. In general, solid-state amplifiers will last longer than tube amplifiers and will not necessitate any additional investments.

Trina Oralde

I'm a tech writer and contributor who covers the latest in gadgets and technology. I keep my finger on the pulse of the tech world, so you don't have to. Stay up-to-date on the latest with me!

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