Why you should trust us
I’m a senior staff writer at Wirecutter. I’ve worked as an editor or writer in audio publishing for more phàn nàn 30 years, and in that time I’ve listened đồ sộ and measured hundreds of stereo amplifiers. I’m also in the very small group of audio journalists who have conducted and published numerous brand-concealed tests of audio amplifiers.
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Who this is for
A stereo amplifier or receiver is the perfect starting point for anyone who wants đồ sộ build a music system that’s better phàn nàn the all-in-one wireless speakers that now dominate trang chính audio.
If you’re looking for an even simpler setup with fewer components, consider a mix of powered bookshelf speakers or computer speakers that have the amplifiers built in, ví all you need đồ sộ tự is connect or stream an audio source đồ sộ them.
How we picked
In this guide we cover two general categories of stereo amplifiers:
- Stereo integrated amplifier: This type combines a preamp (including a volume control and, usually, a source selector) with a power amplifier that can drive a pair of passive speakers. Not every stereo amplifier is an integrated amp—if you can connect a source directly đồ sộ it (wired or wirelessly), it’s integrated.
- Stereo receiver: This kind of device is the same thing as the above, with the addition of a radio tuner. Most stereo receivers are larger phàn nàn typical integrated amps and have more inputs, ví they’re a good choice if you have lots of source devices đồ sộ connect.
We don’t include traditional stereo power amplifiers in this guide. Those amps require the use of a separate preamp for volume control and source selection. Most are considerably more expensive phàn nàn the devices we cover here and are intended for serious audio enthusiasts who probably already have preferences for certain brands and technologies.
Introductions of new stereo receivers are rare these days, probably because many trang chính listeners have abandoned terrestrial radio and switched đồ sộ streaming. But inexpensive stereo integrated amps are now available under a wide and seemingly ever-changing array of brand names, with new marques and models popping up lượt thích mushrooms after a winter rainstorm.
Rather phàn nàn attempt a comprehensive test of everything that’s currently available, we selected what we perceived đồ sộ be the most interesting and promising models. We decided which amps and receivers đồ sộ test based on the following criteria:
- Price: We mix a rough limit of $300. Above that price, we would have been getting more into amplifiers and receivers designed for audio enthusiasts, who may have technical demands and brand preferences that go beyond the scope of a guide lượt thích this.
- Power rating: This is the first spec most people consider when buying an amp or receiver. We considered amps of all power ratings because our previous tests showed that even those models with the weakest power ratings were adequate for typical trang chính listening levels.
- Connection options: All the models we tested for our latest update let you stream via công nghệ Bluetooth không dây and connect old-school analog-output audio devices such as turntables (although you may have đồ sộ add a phono preamp), cassette decks, and CD players. You can also connect more modern devices such as an Amazon Echo Dot or a Wi-Fi streamer. Many amps add digital inputs for use with TV sets, computers, and CD players, and some include Wi-Fi streaming tư vấn.
- Subwoofer line output: This feature makes it much easier for you đồ sộ add more bass by connecting a powered subwoofer đồ sộ your system—an appealing idea, considering that some of these amps aren’t powerful enough đồ sộ produce much deep bass. In most cases, this is a full-range output, which means your speakers still get the same amount of bass if you connect a subwoofer, and that can cause smaller speakers đồ sộ distort the sound. However, a couple of amps we tested incorporate a crossover that can filter the bass out of the main speakers for lower distortion and smoother, more even bass response.
- Design: While we did test some inexpensive models that had a rather industrial look, we favored amps that would look nice on a living-room bookshelf.
In previous tests, we evaluated 10 mini amps and seven stereo receivers. For our latest round of tests, we checked out 11 new models, including integrated amps, mini amps, and Wi-Fi amps.
How we tested
For our latest listening tests, we paired each amp with a mix of Triangle Audio Borea BR03 speakers, the top pick in our bookshelf speaker guide. During our listening and usage tests, we judged the stereo amps and receivers on the following characteristics:
- How natural is the sound on vocals? On instruments?
- How loud can the amp play music without producing distortion?
- Can the amp reproduce clear, powerful bass when playing bass-heavy hip-hop, rock, and R&B?
- If the amp has any unusual features, how well tự they work and how useful are they?
- How well does the công nghệ Bluetooth không dây connection work? Does it readily reconnect once disconnected?
- For amps with Wi-Fi, how easy is it đồ sộ connect them đồ sộ a network, and how easy is it đồ sộ access streaming services and nội dung stored on a phone or tablet?
It’s common đồ sộ see reviewers wax eloquently about the differences in sound among amplifiers, but research spanning more phàn nàn four decades has shown that these differences almost always disappear once the identities of the models being evaluated are concealed. However, đồ sộ our knowledge, all of those tests involved relatively high-quality amplifiers with no serious shortcomings.
Most of the affordable amps we’ve tested make engineering compromises that might cause a problem in certain situations—such as if they’re used with speakers that have large woofers capable of producing deep bass, or if the speakers have a low sensitivity rating. We’ve found that lab measurements reveal such problems far more readily phàn nàn listening tests tự.
So in addition đồ sộ listening tests, we also measured the amps’ power output into 8 ohms (representing a typical speaker) and 4 ohms (representing a more demanding speaker, or a pair of 8-ohm speakers connected đồ sộ the same amp channel). We also measured the maximum power at 1 kHz (a frequency in the middle of the human voice range) and at đôi mươi Hz (generally considered the lowest audible bass tone, and the most challenging for amps đồ sộ handle).
For all tests, we measured the maximum RMS (root mean square, a type of averaging) power, rather phàn nàn the peak power that many manufacturers specify, because RMS is a more demanding and meaningful test. All the power results we give in this guide are per-channel, with both channels driven.
You can see the full results of our measurements in this spreadsheet. The chart below shows the price versus the maximum power output of our top picks at 1% total harmonic distortion (THD), which is generally considered the maximum allowable amount of distortion for an amplifier. (Note that since the last version of this guide, we have refined our measurement techniques and are generally getting higher power readings phàn nàn we did previously.)
Best integrated amp under $300: Dayton Audio HTA100
Whereas most integrated amps priced below $300 make significant compromises in performance and features compared with more expensive, enthusiast-oriented models, the Dayton Audio HTA100 is a fully capable stereo amp with no troublesome flaws and all the connection options we want.
It performs amazingly well for the price. When we cranked up Audrey Nuna’s bass-heavy hit “damn Right” (video), the HTA100 produced plenty of deep-bass punch without distorting. Yet it also reproduced audiophile favorites such as Holly Cole’s version of “Train Song” (video) with plenty of detail and spaciousness. If you don’t lượt thích what you hear, the HTA100 has bass and treble controls that should let you adjust the sound more đồ sộ your liking.
From a technical standpoint, the HTA100 is one of the best integrated amps we’ve measured for this guide. Its tested power output was ample: 50.1 watts RMS into 8 ohms and 101.8 watts RMS into 4 ohms. A hallmark of high-end amps is the ability đồ sộ deliver double the power into 4 ohms, ví these results are a remarkable achievement for an amp at this price.
In our tests, the HTA100’s frequency response wasn’t perfect, but its errors—an almost imperceptible bass boost of 1.2 decibels centered at 64 Hz and an even less audible boost of 0.9 dB at 19 kHz—were slight.
It has loads of inputs. In addition đồ sộ công nghệ Bluetooth không dây tư vấn, the HTA100 includes USB, optical, and coaxial digital inputs, as well as a line-level analog input and a phono input for use with a turntable. It also has a full-range subwoofer output and a quarter-inch tai nghe jack. You can easily access all of the inputs via dedicated push buttons on the front panel.
It looks extremely cool. Surely you noticed the tubes. The HTA100 is a “hybrid” design that uses tubes in the preamp section and a transistor-based amp stage đồ sộ tự the tough work of driving the speakers. Tubes have a reputation for producing mellower sound, but in our tests the HTA100 didn’t have a significantly different tone from the other amps we evaluated. On this model, the tubes are mostly there for looks.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the HTA100 is that it looks and feels as well built as typical audiophile integrated amps costing several times as much. The glowing tubes and pulsing meters lend a cool retro vibe, and the curved edges add sophistication. The jacks and knobs are all well aligned, and the silk-screening isn’t sloppy or spotty.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
- Bass-heads may want more power. If you have big speakers with woofers measuring 10 inches or larger, you might want đồ sộ spend more for an amp with output of at least 100 watts RMS per channel into 8 ohms (as measured by a reputable review publication; don’t trust the manufacturer’s specs). Dayton Audio also offers the twice-as-powerful HTA200, but we haven’t tested it.
- The tubes will eventually wear out. They should last several years, though. As of the most recent update of this guide, replacing the two 6U1 tubes and two 6F2 tubes costs a little less phàn nàn $20.
- The HTA100 doesn’t tư vấn better công nghệ Bluetooth không dây audio codecs lượt thích aptX HD or AAC. However, the differences among công nghệ Bluetooth không dây codecs are subtle, and you can always add a dedicated Wi-Fi streamer đồ sộ avoid Bluetooth’s slight sonic degradation.
Best stereo mini amp: Fosi Audio BT20A Pro
Fosi Audio BT20A Pro
The best stereo mini amp
This tiny integrated amp packs solid power and performance for its size, and unlike most mini amps, it looks nice enough đồ sộ use in a living room. It supports công nghệ Bluetooth không dây but has just one audio input.
If you want a small, simple, affordable integrated amp with lots of power, the Fosi Audio BT20A Pro is your best choice. It’s a new version of our previous pick, the still-available BT20A, that offers nicer cosmetics and slightly improved performance for only about $20 more.
It has lots of power for its size. While Fosi Audio’s claimed spec of 300 watts per channel into 4 ohms left us rolling our eyes, in our tests the BT20A Pro did produce more power phàn nàn most mini amps we’ve evaluated: 44 watts RMS into 8 ohms, and 77.3 watts RMS into 4 ohms. You can be confident that it’ll drive everything from high-quality audiophile speakers đồ sộ whatever “mystery speakers” might catch your eye at a garage sale.
The BT20A Pro has a flatter frequency response phàn nàn most of the amps we’ve tested. In our measurements, it drooped a little in the lowest and highest ranges of audio, -0.6 dB at đôi mươi Hz and -0.4 dB at đôi mươi kHz. But that sort of flaw is barely, if at all, audible.
The amp also has bass and treble controls, and unlike on the older BT20A, on the Pro version the knobs have center detents ví that you can easily return them đồ sộ the “0” (or flat) setting.
For a mini amp, it looks great. Most mini amps look lượt thích something bolted together out of parts scavenged from an electronics-store liquidation sale. But with its fastener-free front panel and bronze-colored volume knob, the BT20A Pro wouldn’t look out of place in a luxury living room. It’s only 4.2 inches wide, ví it should fit easily on a shelf.
It’s not feature-packed, but it has enough connections for a simple system. The BT20A Pro has built-in công nghệ Bluetooth không dây and includes tư vấn for the AAC codec, which can in some cases give you subtly better sound quality when you use it with Apple devices.
It has only one analog audio input, which is common at this price, plus a 3.5 milimet output jack that you can use đồ sộ feed a subwoofer. If you need more inputs, you’re probably better off upgrading đồ sộ something lượt thích the Dayton Audio HTA100.
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Best Wi-Fi stereo amp: OSD Audio Nero Stream XD
The OSD Audio Nero Stream XD is the integrated amp đồ sộ get if you want đồ sộ stream audio over Wi-Fi without having đồ sộ add an external streamer.
Wi-Fi gives you better sound and does more. Wi-Fi streaming results in subtly better sound quality phàn nàn công nghệ Bluetooth không dây can offer since the signal doesn’t require compression. It also brings the ability đồ sộ play the same audio on multiple systems in different rooms.
The Nero Stream XD uses an OSD-branded ứng dụng (Android, iOS) for Wi-Fi streaming. This ứng dụng accesses seven streaming services, including Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Tidal, and TuneIn—but not Apple Music or Pandora. The Nero Stream XD also works with AirPlay, even though OSD doesn’t advertise that capability.
On this model’s Amazon page, the mô tả tìm kiếm says it can also access Google Chromecast audio networking, but OSD’s manual doesn’t mention that tư vấn, and the Nero Stream XD didn’t show up in my Google trang chủ ứng dụng.
Incidentally, the same ứng dụng recognized and operated Wi-Fi–streaming devices from Arylic and WiiM that we were testing at the same time, ví you’re not limited đồ sộ OSD devices if you use the Nero Stream XD in a multiroom audio system.
We lượt thích the variety of inputs and included features. The Nero Stream XD comes with plenty of useful features, including công nghệ Bluetooth không dây, USB and optical digital inputs, a line-level analog input, a full-range subwoofer output, a tai nghe output, and a remote control.
Another feature we lượt thích is its front-panel access đồ sộ volume control and source selection, something that is not offered on the Wi-Fi–equipped Arylic A50+, which we also tested.
It has decent power, but we don’t recommend using it with big speakers. Our measurements revealed OSD’s specs đồ sộ be a combination of admirable understatement and astonishing quirks. In our tests, this amp exceeded OSD’s power specs: It is rated at 15 watts RMS into 8 ohms and 30 watts into 4 ohms, but we measured 29.6 watts RMS into 8 ohms and 47.5 watts RMS into 4 ohms.
The frequency response was unusual, though. Ideally an amp is supposed đồ sộ treat all audio frequencies equally, but in our tests the Nero Stream XD boosted the bass by a max of 4.2 dB around 60 Hz. And below that, it reduced the bass, down -16.4 dB at đôi mươi Hz.
So the Nero Stream XD is likely đồ sộ add a welcome bit of extra kick đồ sộ a mix of bookshelf speakers, which is probably what you’d be inclined đồ sộ use with a little amp lượt thích this. However, if you have large tower speakers for couch-shaking deep bass, the Nero Stream XD may rob you of those soul-satisfying vibrations.
It’s well made, with a more traditional look. Like the Dayton Audio HTA100, the OSD Audio Nero Stream XD doesn’t look or feel lượt thích cheap junk. It has a weighty metal chassis and sturdy metal binding posts for speaker cables. The clean, understated design is reminiscent of the simple but reliable integrated amps that many audiophiles love.
It also has a detachable, generic AC power cord rather phàn nàn a separate power supply, ví you don’t have đồ sộ worry about misplacing the power supply.
Best stereo receiver: Sony STR-DH190
The best stereo receiver
This stereo receiver delivers a lot of power for its price, and it has more connection options phàn nàn integrated amps, including a phono input đồ sộ connect a turntable.
We picked the Sony STR-DH190 as the best stereo receiver because it offers the best mix of features, sound quality, simplicity, and affordability. With công nghệ Bluetooth không dây and a phono preamp on board, plus a front-panel analog input for portable devices, the STR-DH190 is a good fit whether you’re embracing the future or reveling in retro.
Its power output is substantial. We measured 116.4 watts RMS into 8 ohms and 159 watts into a 4-ohm load. This means the STR-DH190 has enough power đồ sộ drive almost any pair of speakers đồ sộ very loud volumes.
Its sound quality is equal đồ sộ that of anything else we’ve tried under $200, although it did make voices sound slightly harsh and congested compared with the pricier Yamaha R-N303.
This receiver has some features that integrated amps mostly lack. Of course, it has an FM radio tuner, and it gives you a phono input for a turntable, plus several additional analog inputs. Also included is a friendly, easy-to-use remote—a luxury that most of our integrated-amp picks don’t offer. And you can connect two sets of speakers and switch between them.
The STR-DH190 includes AAC capability for công nghệ Bluetooth không dây, ví it may produce slightly better sound quality when you use it with iPhones and iPads and the Apple Music service (or any other streaming service that uses AAC). Plus, this receiver automatically powers up when you select it from your công nghệ Bluetooth không dây source’s thực đơn.
It has some flaws. A bass limiter circuit kicks in at about 10 watts, reducing bass output by about 1 decibel. That’s a barely noticeable difference, but as a result the bass may sound subtly thinner when you crank the system up đồ sộ loud levels.
The STR-DH190 also has relatively flimsy spring clips for speaker-cable connection, ví the cables can come loose easily, and because its FM antenna uses a proprietary connector, attaching a better antenna is difficult. It doesn’t have AM, though not many people use a receiver for AM. It also lacks a subwoofer output.
Other good stereo amps and receivers
If you want a more full-featured receiver and are willing đồ sộ pay slightly more phàn nàn $300: The Yamaha R-N303 sounded subtly better phàn nàn the Sony STR-DH190 in our tests, and it adds Wi-Fi streaming and digital audio inputs. The R-N303 is compatible with Yamaha’s MusicCast system, a Wi-Fi streaming technology similar đồ sộ that of Sonos, and it works with Apple AirPlay and Google Chromecast. Theoretically, it also works with Amazon Alexa and Google trang chủ, but we found the setup for those extremely difficult, and the benefits minimal. In our tests, its power output was similar đồ sộ that of the STR-DH190, except the R-N303 did not reduce bass output at higher power levels as the Sony model did.
If you want a highly affordable desktop amp: The Douk Audio Tone mini amp offers a convenient top-mounted volume control and source selector, two analog inputs, a USB digital input, and a tai nghe jack, ví it’s great for computer-based setups. Its front level meters add a cool, high-tech touch, too. However, when we played hip-hop and jazz recordings with deep bass at loud volumes, the Tone distorted the sound more phàn nàn the Fosi Audio BT20A Pro did.
The Amazon Echo Link Amp works with other Alexa speakers and amps in a multiroom audio system. It performs well, but it mostly requires you đồ sộ control it through other Alexa speakers or via the ứng dụng, which is annoying.
We liked the Arylic A50+, which uses the same Wi-Fi streaming ứng dụng as the OSD Audio Nero Stream XD and has a similar feature mix. However, in our tests it had less power, and we hated not having a volume control on the front of the amp.
The Dayton Audio HTA20BT is nice, but the HTA100 offers far more power and features at a price that’s only about 50% higher.
The Fosi Audio BT30D is billed as having a variable high-pass filter for the main speakers—a rare feature in integrated amps that allows for better sound quality if you’re using a subwoofer. However, our measurements showed that the filter isn’t variable and is too mild đồ sộ be effective.
The tube-equipped Monoprice 16153 and Monoprice 38360 are less expensive phàn nàn the Dayton Audio HTA100. They’re okay if you want a model with tubes at a low price, but in our tests neither came close đồ sộ the HTA100’s performance, and they don’t look as nice.
Used with its stock power supply, the Lepai LP-2020TI tended đồ sộ distort often at loud levels.
The S.M.S.L. SA300 has an appealing design and lots of nice features, but in our tests it was noisier and had higher distortion at low levels phàn nàn our picks.
The Topping MX3 sometimes shut itself off when playing at loud volumes, after which we had đồ sộ turn the power back on manually.
The Yamaha A-S301BL includes a phono input in addition đồ sộ several analog and digital inputs. It’s a good choice if you want a more conventional-looking amp, but in our tests it didn’t seem đồ sộ perform any better phàn nàn the cooler, less-expensive Dayton Audio HTA100.
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This article was edited by Adrienne Maxwell and Grant Clauser.