The Humble Integrated Amplifier – Not so Humble Anymore
Decades ago, when our company was young the integrated amplifier was a cheap beast that made sound but not very good sound. They were generally not well built and would not last. Over the last decade, this situation has changed dramatically. There are now a plethora of well built, very good sounding integrated amplifiers. We have several ranging from the NAD C316BEE V2 at $449 to the stellar Gryphon Diablo 300 at $16,000.
Why are these amplifiers such a good value now? Many makers of audio equipment have discovered that they can put a lot into one box efficiently and cost-effectively if they choose to and many are choosing to do so. Additionally, if you choose to build your system using a separate preamplifier and amplifier you have two boxes to deal with. You must first have the space required and for good performance, you must have two good power cords and a pair of interconnects. If you are using HRS noise reduction isolation, which you should be at the higher end, that is an additional expense for another box as well. Our research so far indicates that to do better than the Diablo 300, you must spend more than $50,000 to get a line stage preamplifier and power amplifier and the required accouterments to get better performance. The Diablo 300 represents stunningly good value.
We have been very impressed by the development that Arcam has made recently with the financial support of the Harmon Luxury Audio Group. The performance for the price of the SA10 at $1,000 and the SA20 at $1,500 is very high – the construction and reliability are very good. Soon there will be an SA30 at $3,000. We have them on order, anxiously awaiting their arrival.
Filling the void between the Arcam SA20 at $1,500 and the Gryphon Diablo 120 at $9,990 is the soon to arrive Arcam SA30 at $3,000. Then there are three McIntosh integrated amps – the MA252 at $4,000 and the MA352 at $6,500. Neither of these amps have DACs or streaming inputs although both have moving magnet phono inputs. They both have tube front ends and solids sate power as well as elegant looks. The third McIntosh integrated amp is the MA5300 at $5,500 which has MM phono and a DAC but does not have streaming built-in.
Naim has strong offerings in this range as well with their Uniti line of integrated amplifiers – the Atom, Star, and Nova priced at $3,290, $4,990, and $5,990, respectively. None of the three in the lineup have a phono preamp built-in but each have DACs, streaming functionality, and are controllable through Naim’s great app. However, the Uniti Star steals the show with the additional functionality of a built-in CD Player that can also rip CDs to a USB-storage device. To our knowledge, this is the only integrated amplifier available with that kind of functionality.
We will be bringing in other integrated amps in this range between $4,000 and $6,000 for evaluation.
Once you get much above this range you need to stretch to the Diablo 120. You can use our Trade Up program to make that stretch easier.
In short, many choices. One will be right for you depending on the rest of your system and what you want to achieve. The combinations of features and inclusions of the various integrated amps is mind-boggling. Our consultants can help you sort it out. That is what we are here for.