2015 Recommended Components Integrated Amps & Receivers

Integrated Amplifiers & Receivers

A

Audio Research VSi60: $5000 ✩
In the 50Wpc VSi60, a passive line stage is combined with a JFET input stage driving one 6H30 driver tube per channel. Each channel's output stage has a matched pair of Svetlana 6550C push-pull tubes with a combination of pentode operation and ARC's "partially cathode-coupled topology." Convenient to use, the VSi60 provides output taps at 4 and 8 ohms, as well as four pairs of voltmeter test points. Though it lacked the ultimate control of more powerful amplifiers, the VSi60 combined a glorious midrange with clean, detailed high frequencies and outstanding low-level dynamic articulation. "In the VSi60, Audio Research has produced an integrated amplifier of staggering quality, versatility, and value," said BJR. Add $300 for tube cage. (Vol.33 No.9 WWW)

Ayre Acoustics AX-5: $9950
Ayre's statement integrated amplifier measures 17.25" W by 5" H by 18.75" D, weighs 46 lbs, and has a brushed-aluminum chassis with four balanced and two single-ended inputs. It uses a variable-gain transconductance circuit trickled down from Ayre's top-of-the-line KX-R preamp, a class-A/B diamond-circuit output section, and delivers 125Wpc into 8 ohms. The AX-5 offered a combination of incisive detail, perfect musical timing and momentum, and naturally warm timbral colors, said AD. "It's one of the three best, most musical, most human-sounding solid-state amps I've ever heard," he concluded. "Its wide bandwidth and low distortion are a testament to the intrinsic linearity of the diamond circuit," added JA. In his Follow-Up, Jim Austin expressed admiration for the Ayre's minimalist aesthetic, but had no love for its user interface or loudspeaker connectors—and, as did AD in his full review, criticized the noise made by its volume control. Yet he thought the AX-5 "sounded superb: immediate and full, with much (but not all) of the richness, texture, and corporeality I associate with a good tube amp." About to be replaced by 20th Anniversary edition. (Vol.36 No.8, Vol.37 No.10 WWW)

Ayre Acoustics AX-7e: $3500 ✩
The success of this 60Wpc, solid-state, two-channel, fully balanced, integrated amplifier depended on the associated sources. Used from balanced output to balanced input, "It was brilliant. Amazing. Stirring, even," said AD. However, used as an unbalanced amp, "The AX-7 still sounded good, but its musical performance lacked momentum and, ultimately, excitement." Overall, the Ayre was "colorful, clear, well-textured, and spatially convincing." It seemed sensitive to the type and length of speaker cable AD used, and seemed more sensitive to AC power quality than average. "I strongly recommend the Ayre AX-7 for use [only] in an all-balanced system." The '7e's power supply now includes greater filtering of the AC mains, increased peak current delivery, and filtering of the rectifier switching noise. In addition, the AX-7e's gain stages now use two-stage voltage regulators in place of the earlier version's single-stage regulators. The sound now combined classic Brit-style pacing and tunefulness with near-SET levels of presence and a fine sense of musical flow, a combination that allowed AD to become emotionally involved in the music. "The AX-7e is the best integrated I've ever heard," endorsed WP. "One heck of an involving amplifier," he summed up. Compared to the Luxman MQ-88 power amplifier, the Ayre offered greater bass extension and soundstage control but lacked the Luxman's beguiling midrange, said JM. Original AX-7s can be fully upgraded for $250–$350, depending on the age of the unit. (Vol.26 No.10 AX-7; Vol.29 No.1, Vol.31 No.3, AX-7e WWW; see also "The Fifth Element" in Vol.34 No.2 and Vol.35 No.4 WWW)

Bel Canto C7R: $2595 $$$
Made in the US, the versatile C7R is a 60Wpc solid-state FM receiver with four S/PDIF digital inputs (two coaxial, two TosLink), two pairs of analog inputs (one phono, one line), one pair of line-level analog outputs, a front-panel headphone jack, and a built-in DAC with USB input capable of handling resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz. Though it lacked some midrange clarity and high-frequency smoothness, the C7R sounded clear, immediate, and powerful, with excellent dynamics and tight, tuneful bass, said EL. "I loved the Bel Canto C7R. I recommend it to anyone who wants simplicity and great sound," he concluded. "Overall, the C7R is a well-designed piece of hardware," said JA. (Vol.36 No.3 WWW)

Jadis I-35: $7995
Made in France, the beautiful I-35 is a tubed, integrated amplifier with five line-level inputs. Though rated to deliver 35Wpc into 1–16 ohms, the I-35 produced just 17W into 8 ohms at 1% THD. It uses five small-signal tubes (three 12AU7s and a pair of 12AX7s) and two pairs of KT120 output tubes run in autobias mode in an Ultralinear circuit, with plates and screen grids for each channel tied to the split-coil primaries of transformers expertly designed and made in-house. Build quality and cosmetics were outstanding, inside and out. Though it lacked the fullness and richness of Art's Shindo separates, the Jadis produced a natural and engaging overall sound, with an excellent sense of momentum and a very good sense of the spatial relationships between different sounds in a stereo recording, said AD. "This is a damn good amp for getting to the essence of music," he concluded. (Vol.37 No.1 WWW)

Kondo Overture: $33,900
Made in Japan, the 32Wpc Overture uses a class-A, Ultralinear output circuit with minimal (3dB) global feedback, executed with split-primary output transformers custom-wound by Tango. It uses two Electro-Harmonix EL34 output pentodes, one 6072, and one 12BH7 per channel. Build quality was exceptional and marked by silver wiring, handmade capacitors, bespoke resistors, a solid-copper ground plane, and a tuned chassis made from a combination of steel, brass, and aluminum. The Overture has no balance control, remote control, mono switch, headphone amplifier, or phono stage, but does provide four pairs of line-level inputs and a choice of 4- or 8-ohm output sockets. Though it was slightly lean and not quite as colorful as AD's Shindo separates, the Overture produced a natural, compelling overall sound with a well-extended treble and exceptional senses of drive and scale. (Vol.36 No.11 WWW)

Leben CS300: $3395 ✩
With its wood side panels, gold-toned faceplate, and large balance and bass-boost knobs, the line-only CS300 has a decidedly old-fashioned look and feel. It uses two pairs of EL84 power pentode tubes running in class-A/B mode to deliver 12Wpc. A rear-panel output control allows the user to switch between transformer secondaries that are optimized for use with speakers with impedances of 4, 6, or 8 ohms. Construction quality was superb throughout. Though it lacked the color, presence, internote silence, and sense of flow of AD's Shindo separates, the Leben distinguished itself as a punchy and realistically textured amp with an especially deep, tight bottom end. It measured "about as well as can be expected from its retro design," commented JA. (Vol.34 No.11 WWW)

LFD NCSE: $6795
A bigger and more powerful version of LFD's excellent Mk.IV LE, the NCSE Mk.II measures 17.2" W by 3.25" H by 15.7" D, and is rated to deliver 70Wpc. The basic circuit remains the same, with a pair of MOSFET output transformers for each channel. The NCSE Mk.II retained the smaller model's speed, transparency, harmonic accuracy, and illuminated-from-within quality, but added improved bass and dynamics, said ST. "If you like the Mk.IV LE but feel you're running out of power, the NCSE Mk.II would be the better choice, particularly if you're driving bigger speakers in a bigger room," he advised. (Vol.36 No.11)

LFD LE V: $4495
Dr. Richard Bews, proprietor of England's LFD electronics, has once again upgraded his and Dr. Malcolm O. Hawksford's original integrated amplifier, the 65Wpc LE (née Mistral): a perennial ST favorite, owing to its complete lack of convenience or "luxury" features that degrade sound and add expense. To those ends, all iterations of LFD's solid-state amp have lacked balance and tone controls, headphone jacks, extra sets of speaker outputs, digital displays, and, especially, remote controls. The LE, which Dr. Bews builds in small batches, provides five line-level inputs (but no phono section), and is made with only the highest-quality parts, some vintage (NOS), some custom-made. According to ST, the new LE V—whose improvements all seem to arise from a combination of sturdier casework and more refined parts—"is a showstopper. I mean that literally. I didn't want to write; I wanted to listen." Compared to the LE IV, which ST owns and loves, the LE V represents "a substantial improvement. Everything just fit into place: harmonics, timing, resolution." Quoth he: "Buy your LFD LE V today." (Vol.37 No.7)

Pass Labs INT-150: $7150 ✩
The push-pull, class-A/B INT-150 is rated to deliver 150Wpc (191Wpc at clipping), and has a high-quality volume control and five inputs: two XLR/RCA and three RCA-only. It uses Pass's Super-Symmetry Circuit, previously featured in all X-series models, to naturally eliminate distortions from the audio signal. Though it produced a slightly forward midrange and top end, the INT-150 combined wide dynamic range with great rhythmic drive, a broad soundstage, and tight, tuneful bass, said EL, who recommended high Class B. Measured performance was excellent in most respects, said JA, who feels low Class A is the appropriate rating. (Vol.34 No.1 WWW)

PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP: $4399
PrimaLuna's DiaLogue Premium HP employs a total of eight power tubes—EL34s are standard, although the user can substitute a variety of other power pentodes—to produce 40Wpc in triode mode or 70Wpc in Ultralinear mode. (On-the-fly switching between modes can be performed with the DiaLogue Premium HP's remote handset.) Additional features include a newly designed, six-tube front end; the "highest-end" implementation yet of PrimaLuna's Adaptive AutoBias circuit; and an all-tube headphone amp. RD, a fan of the company's earlier ProLogue Premium, found that the new amp provided higher power with no loss of finesse, and declared, "PrimaLuna had taken a major step forward in amplifier performance." JA's measurements indicated that "PrimaLuna's output transformers are of excellent quality." Distortion wasn't the lowest JA has seen, but, "fortunately, the distortion is heavily second-harmonic in nature in both modes, even at low frequencies." He concluded that, "overall, the PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP measures well for a design using push-pull pairs of EL34 tubes." RD summed up: "$4199 for an integrated amp of the DiaLogue Premium HP's level of performance represents excellent value." (Vol.37 No.12 WWW)

PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium: $3399
PrimaLuna's top-of-the-line integrated amplifier is rated to deliver 36Wpc with its stock EL34 output tubes or 43Wpc with optional KT120s. It uses PrimaLuna's Adaptive AutoBias feature for easy swapping of output tubes, and has a bad-tube indicator, power-transformer protection, and output-transformer protection circuitry. The DiaLogue Premium was extremely quiet and sounded bigger than its power rating suggested, with a rich midrange and an excellent sense of timing, said ST. "The DiaLogue Premium will be a dream come true for anyone who has a closetful of output tubes," he concluded. (Vol.36 No.6)

PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium: $3399
Designed in Holland and made in China, the solidly built ProLogue Premium is rated to deliver 35Wpc with EL34 tubes or 40Wpc with KT88s. It has a heavy-gauge, ventilated case with a lustrous five-coat finish, features point-to-point wiring, and offers five pairs of RCA input jacks, a Home Theater bypass, and connections for speaker loads of 4 and 8 ohms. Though it lacked the three-dimensional imaging, detailed highs, and extended bass of more expensive amplifiers, the ProLogue Premium produced a natural, inviting midrange and performed well with a wide variety of speakers. "The PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium offers outstanding sound quality at a very reasonable price," said RD. JA noted respectable measured performance for a classic tube design. (Vol.35 No.6 WWW)

Simaudio Moon Evolution 700i: $14,000 ✩
Robustly built of thick, ultrarigid aluminum, the 700i is a fully differential dual-mono design rated to deliver 175Wpc (190Wpc at actual clipping), running in class-A up to 5W and in class-A/B thereafter. Its output stages are powered by six bipolar transistors per channel for a wide bandwidth and low noise floor, while its "zero global feedback" design works to boost the speed of the signal response and eliminate intermodulation distortion. Though it couldn't match the Krell FBI's transient speed or deep-bass extension, the 700i had a full-blooded, dynamic, seamless sound marked by vivid tonal colors, harmonic integrity, and a strong sense of rhythm. With the 700i, "I found myself drawn deeper into the music," said FK. (Vol.34 No.3 WWW)

T+A Power Plant Balanced: $3300 ✩
The 140Wpc Power Plant looks almost identical to T+A's Music Player, and the two comprise a fully functional audio system in a single stack. Connection via a supplied RJ-12 cable coordinates the functions of the MP and PP, and allows the pair to be operated by a single remote. The PP's switch-mode output stages were developed in-house, and combine MOSFET transistors with high-energy driver modules. JI noted a "dynamic-sounding amplifier section that exhibited ample and well-controlled bass along with a smooth, detailed top end." Surprisingly robust and detailed sounding amp for such a small cool-running package, he concludes. (Vol.32 No.8, Vol.35 No.9 WWW)

Unison Research S6: $5395
Each channel of the Italian-made S6 uses three EL34 power pentode tubes in a class-A, single-ended, triple-parallel configuration to deliver 35Wpc into 8 ohms. Its distinctive chassis is longitudinally divided into three portions: a central raised center that houses the iron-core transformers is flanked by identical lower sections that hold the tube sockets, bias meters, and bias-adjustment controls. Compared with the Ars-Sonum Filarmon°a SE, the S6 was more forceful but gave up nothing in finesse; when partnered with the Opera Callas loudspeakers, the S6 was fatigue-free, with surprising dynamics and bass, said JM. (Vol.36 No.8 WWW)

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Cambridge Audio Azur 851A: $1900
First cousin to the Cambridge Azur 851D DAC, the Azur 851A integrated amplifier provides 120Wpc into 8 ohms, two balanced inputs (XLR), eight unbalanced line-level inputs (RCA), and the rare luxury of bass and treble tone controls. HR wrote that he could best describe the sound of the Azur 851A as "relaxed and enjoyably colorful, in a class-A triode sort of way. It sounded more naturally toned and weighty than my Creek 3330 or my Line Magnetic LM-518IA, and showed none of that off-putting grayness or brittleness often heard in low-priced, high-powered amps." In his measurements, JA discovered that the amp's right-channel performance was not in keeping with that of the left channel—although he suggested that the right channel's relative shortcomings were inaudible. His conclusion: "Assuming that the less-good performance of its right channel was a sample-specific fault, Cambridge Audio's Azur 851A is a well-built amplifier that offers a lot of power with very low distortion at an affordable price." HR's last word: "a versatile and extraordinarily musical cornerstone on which to build a truly enjoyable high-end system that can play all types of music with righteous aplomb for little cost." (Vol.38 No.2 WWW)

Cayin SP-10A: $2195 ✩
With its brushed aluminum faceplate and cabinet of gorgeous cherrywood (walnut and piano lacquer are also available), the 38Wpc SP-10A has a decidedly old-fashioned appearance. It uses four 6L6GC output tubes, two 12AU7 driver tubes, and one 12AX7 input tube; has four line-level inputs; and offers both 4 and 8 ohm output transformer taps. Though it lacked top-end sparkle and ran out of gas at high volumes, the Cayin offered a lush, natural midrange with outstanding resolution of inner detail and ambience, said BJR. JA's measurements uncovered a "curious instability" and lack of distortion-free power from the amp's 4 ohm tap. (Vol.35 No.4 WWW)

Creek Evolution 50A: $1195 $$$
Creek's new entry-level model is a class-A/B design claimed to deliver 55Wpc into 8 ohms. It offers four single-ended and one balanced input, one of which can accommodate one of three MM or MC plug-in phono boards. The clean front panel has input-selector and Volume knobs, Balance and Tone controls, and a large display. The Creek produced an uncolored midrange, impressive bass impact, and excellent resolution of high-frequency detail, delicacy, and air, said BJR. "An involving, flexible, and good-sounding piece of electronics," he concluded, adding that it "sounds more powerful than its rating would imply." "Considering its affordable price, Creek's Evolution 50A measures fundamentally well," said JA, though he points out that its output stage is underbiased. (Vol.36 No.8 WWW)

Croft Phono Integrated: $1895 $$$
Croft's 45Wpc Phono Integrated combines in a single package the company's Micro 25 preamplifier and Series 7 power amplifier to create a hybrid integrated in which line- and moving-magnet–compatible phono-stage gain is provided by ECC83 vacuum tubes, output power by transistors. In addition to its phono input, the Croft has three analog line inputs, but offers no remote control, digital inputs, headphone jack, or upgrade paths for USB connectivity. Apart from a small circuit board containing the bipolar timer and relays, the Phono Integrated is hand-wired, point to point, with neatly made solder joins and Bakelite terminal strips. AD liked the Croft's dual-mono volume controls, SM not so much. They agreed, however, that the Croft's sound was extraordinary: smooth, coherent, open, naturally detailed, forceful, physical, and dynamic, with a great sense of space and an expert ability to drive a beat forward. "If I were a designer or builder, this is how I would do the thing. If I were buying in this price range, this is the one I'd choose," raved AD. On JA's test bench, however, the Croft exhibited a nonflat RIAA response and high levels of harmonic and intermodulation distortion. According to ST, "the sound of the Phono Integrated was musical in a way that very few hi-fi components are." Apart from noting this model's 1970s-style cosmetics ("A pox on cosmetics!"), minimalist conveniences ("A pox on convenience!"), and slightly plump bass, ST declared the Croft "one of the best integrated amplifiers I have ever heard." (Vol.36 No.10, Vol.37 No.5 WWW)

Harman/Kardon HK 990: $2599
The gorgeous, versatile, 150Wpc HK 990 is a two-channel integrated amplifier with analog and digital inputs, tone controls, bass management, and system equalization. Line-level analog inputs include six pairs single-ended, one pair balanced, a processor HT bypass, and two subwoofer; digital inputs include two optical and two coaxial. In addition, there are moving-magnet and moving-coil phono inputs, two subwoofer outputs, two coaxial outputs, and a front-panel headphone jack. Its Analog Devices AD1955 DAC chip handles resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz. Though it was less transparent than the Parasound Halo JC 2 preamp, the HK 990 offered impressive performance with both analog and digital sources, exhibiting taut bass, clean mids, and outstanding power and control. "The HK 990 should be on every audiophile's shopping list," said KR, adding that it's "a harbinger of the future of integrated amplifiers." JA noted that the H/K's measured performance was not compromised by its wealth of versatile features. "I am impressed," he said. (Vol.34 No.12 WWW)

Manley Labs Stingray iTube: $6000 ✩
Manley Labs Stingray II: $5650 ✩

Direct descendent of the acclaimed Stingray (reviewed by CS in December 1999), the rugged-looking, gorgeously constructed Stingray iTube is built around eight EL84 output tubes, rated to deliver 32Wpc in ultralinear mode and 18Wpc in triode mode. It offers three single-ended inputs, a certified iPod dock, a subwoofer output, and a 1/4" headphone jack. An IR/RF remote control provides full control of the amp, as well as the track functions of a docked iPod. After about 250 hours of break-in, the iTube exhibited a sound marked by "elegance, subtlety, and charm." Though it lacked some body and color, and sometimes struggled at high volumes, the iTube had a grainless, extended treble and an overall sound that was "engaging and relaxing," said EL. Though it lacked the balanced overall sound of the Simaudio Moon i3.3, the iTube "had a midrange to die for, and it effortlessly hung images in the air," summed up EL. The Stingray II is identical to the Stingray iTube, but without the iPod dock. Though it lacked some bass control and low-level resolution, the Stingray II offered a surprisingly dynamic and expansive sound with a relaxed, romantic color, said ST. (Vol.22 No.12, original version, WWW; Vol.33 Nos.3, 9, & 11, Stingray II WWW)

Naim NAIT 5si: $1895
Introduced 30 years after Naim Audio's original Nait, the new Nait 5si is a 60Wpc (into 8 ohms) integrated amp with a built-in headphone amp, and with inputs for four line-level sources—but no phono preamp. Inputs are selected with soft-touch buttons, and all are addressed with RCA plugs, while two of those are also equipped with DIN inputs: Naim's traditional preference. HR enjoyed the Nait 5si for tracking complex rhythms with perfection, and for keeping even the most microscopic pitch intervals "in good focus." The Nait 5si lacked color and spaciousness compared to HR's more expensive tubed integrated, but "made it easy to hear—watch—[the music's] rhythms. Forward momentum was spellbinding: The Nait directed my attention toward how the players attacked their instruments." Apart from inverted signal polarity on the headphone output, JA found nothing untoward in his measurements—noting, in fact, that the Nait developed more output power than specified. HR summed up: "The Nait 5si is a world-class integrated amplifier that delivers more audio precision and musical enjoyment than any self-respecting anti-imperialist should ever need." (Vol.37 No.10 WWW)

Octave Audio V 40 SE: $5300
The entry-level V40 SE Line, from Germany's Octave Audio, is an integrated amplifier with an active line-only preamp section and—despite its model designation—a push-pull output section, using two KT88 pentode tubes per side to produce 40Wpc. (A wide variety of similar pentodes can be used instead, but not all will produce the same amount of power.) The output tubes are operated as true pentodes, and the design entails 10dB of global feedback; output-tube bias is user-adjustable via system of which AD remarked, "I have never encountered a surer, safer, less ambiguous, or altogether better means of checking and adjusting tube bias." He was similarly impressed by the Octave's musical performance, describing its ability to portray musical timing and momentum as "superb." AD also enjoyed the V40 SE's "up-front" sound and "better-than-average sense of scale," also noting that while it didn't sound bright, it had sufficiently extended trebles that "reasonable care should be taken in the setup and adjusting of partnering gear." An easy-to-install power-supply enhancement, the Octave Black Box ($1200), made an audible improvement, but shouldn't be considered mandatory. JA noted that the V40 SE "measured as I would expect from a traditional design that uses a pair of KT88 output tubes for each channel," and praised the amp's "impressively high standard" of construction. (Vol.37 No.8 WWW)

Peachtree Audio nova125SE: $1499
The handsome, remote-controlled nova125 combines a 125Wpc amplifier, preamplifier with tubed buffer stage, headphone amp, and asynchronous USB DAC capable of handling resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz. It offers three S/PDIF inputs, one analog input, and a preamp output. Though it lacked some resolution, the Peachtree had a slightly warm and soft overall sound, with excellent tonality, well-defined bass, and smooth highs, said ST. "Peachtree Audio has delivered a plum," he concluded. Add $100 for Cherry or Rosewood finish. (Vol.36 No.1 WWW)

Rogers High Fidelity EHF-100: $7000
Made in the US by former NASA engineer Roger Gibboni, the EHF-100 is rated to deliver 65Wpc (JA measured 35Wpc) into 8 ohms; offers four pairs of line-level inputs; and uses two EF86 miniature pentode, two 12AX7 triode, and four KT88 power tubes. Fit and finish were excellent. Though not as nuanced, colorful, or dramatic as AD's reference Shindo separates, the EHF-100 distinguished itself as a tight, punchy-sounding amplifier with loads of natural detail, a very good sense of momentum, and an excellent sense of space. Despite differences in the noise floor between its two channels, the EHF-100 measured well "for a classic design," said JA. (Vol.35 No.11 WWW)

Rogue Sphinx: $1295
The Sphinx is that rarity in contemporary audio: a US-made integrated amplifier with a tubed (12AU7) line stage, a MM-appropriate phono stage, and a headphone jack, all for less than the price of a round-trip ticket to Paris—and Rogue Audio doesn't even make you buy their remote handset ($100). Using Bruno Putzeys's Hypex class-D power modules in tandem with a nonswitching power supply, this hybrid integrated delivers 100Wpc into 8 ohms or 200Wpc into 4 ohms. HR enjoyed his time with the Sphinx, noting its "greater scale and bass force" than his Creek 4330 integrated, and praising its line stage as perhaps "the best of [its] many good features: Everything I played was enjoyably detailed, transparent, and spacious." HR's verdict: "Judging by my experiences with the Sphinx, Rogue's owner and designer, Mark O'Brien, has taken this stigmatized, lower-class mode of operation to a new, more refined level." According to JA, apart from a bit of ultrasonic noise in its output, the Sphinx's amplifier section avoided most of the usual class-D pitfalls, and he particularly praised the MM phono section. (Vol.37 No.8 WWW)

Roksan Kandy K2 BT: $1900
This solid-state integrated amp, descended from the original Roksan Kandy K2, is notable for offering both an MM phono stage and a Bluetooth input alongside its three line-level inputs. The Kandy K2 BT, which also provides a pair of preamp-out jacks and a bypass input for AV fans, delivers 140Wpc into 8 ohms and 250Wpc into 4 ohms. In HR's system, "The K2 BT showed consistently good tone and scale, but music often felt a tad soft and round—especially at the edges of string plucks and keystrokes." That said, HR declared that "[the Roksan's] phono stage was the best I've heard in a moderately priced integrated—it played LPs in living color." As for Bluetooth, HR was underwhelmed, noting that "the detail, life and naturalness exceeded my expectations but I was disappointed by the amount of low-level fuzz and blur I was noticing." He found that Bluetooth music sounded best when playback levels were kept in check. In his measurements, JA echoed that last sentiment—"if you use the Roksan's BT input, keep your source's volume control down"—and commented that the K2 BT's frequency response "depends to a larger extent than usual on its volume-control setting." (Vol.37 No.11 WWW)

Swissonor V.S.O.P.: $5475
The elegant, 8Wpc V.S.O.P. is a push-pull design with three line-level inputs. It uses a pair of ECC81 tubes for the preamp stage, and two pairs of 6V6 power tubes. The V.S.O.P. lacked some of the speed and articulation of the Unison Research Simply Italy, but nevertheless offered a smooth, coherent overall sound, said ST. "The V.S.O.P. is an amplifier to hear if you get the chance, especially with high-sensitivity speakers in a small listening space," he concluded. Options: moving-magnet phono stage, add $500; high-output moving-coil phono stage, add $750. (Vol.36 No.2)

Unison Research Simply Italy: $2695 ✩
The solidly built Simply Italy uses an ECC82 driver tube and an EL34B output tube to deliver 12Wpc. It measures just 10" W by 7.5" H by 15.5" D and offers four line-level inputs, a tape loop, and a single set of outputs optimized for 4–8 ohm speakers. Solid-wood inlays around the hefty, stainless-steel volume and selector knobs help damp vibrations. Fit and finish were outstanding. Though it lacked the dimensionality and expansiveness of larger Unison Research amplifiers, the Simply Italy had a confident, solid sound with surprisingly tight bass, said ST. "My little bambino." He sums up. "Clear, crisp sound, tight bass for all of its 12 watts." ST thinks there may be no better amp for small-group jazz. The Simply Italy was an especially good partner for DeVore Fidelity's Orangutan O/93 loudspeakers, said ST. Replacing the amp's stock EL34Bs with Genelex KT77 output tubes resulted in an airier sound with less robust bass and improved top-end extension. (Vol.35 No.8; Vol.37 No.1)

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Arcam FMJ A19: $999 $$$
Rated to deliver 50Wpc into 8 ohms, the FMJ A19 is Arcam's most affordable integrated amplifier. It provides six line-level inputs, tape and preamplifier outputs, a moving-magnet phono stage, and two front-panel mini-jacks: one for driving headphones, the other for connecting an iPod. While the A19 gets its power from a hefty toroidal transformer, a second internal power supply can deliver a direct, isolated, and regulated 6V to two of Arcam's r-series products, such as the rBlink Bluetooth DAC that ST enjoyed. Build quality was excellent, setup simple, operation flawless. Though it lacked some smoothness and drama, the A19 combined a sweet treble, a clean midrange, and well-defined bass for a sound that was fun, involving, and never fatiguing, said SM. JA noted excellent measured performance, but warned that the A19 shouldn't be used to drive at high levels loads much below 6 ohms. Borderline Class B. (Vol.37 No.1 WWW)

AVM Inspiration C8: $4190
Made in Germany, the handsome AVM Inspiration C8 is a solid-state CD receiver with a 150Wpc class-D output stage, a phono stage, and digital inputs and outputs, including a USB input limited to 16-bit/48kHz resolution. Partnered with the Canalis Anima speakers, the C8 produced a neutral, powerful overall sound, said JM. However, with the speakers placed too low, JM noted an overabundance of high-frequency detail. Expensive for the sound quality on offer. (Vol.36 No.2 WWW)

Music Hall a15.3: $549
Rated at 50Wpc into 8 ohms or 75Wpc into 4 ohms, the Music Hall a15.3 is a full-size (16.9" W by 3.1" H by 13.2" D) integrated amplifier that includes a MM phono input, mini-jack and RCA line-level inputs, and a front-panel headphone jack. SM admired the a15.3's "high level of fit and finish," adding that the amp performed without flaw in his system. Using the a15.3 with Music Hall's companion c15.3 CD player–DAC and comparing it with NAD's C 515BEE CD player and C 316BEE integrated amplifier, SM found that the a15.3 sounded "more open and airy, and produced a wider, deeper soundstage with beautifully focused images," although it "lacked the NADs' intangible smoothness and musical flow." Among the inputs offered, none impressed SM more than the a15.3's phono stage, which "sounded superb—quiet, dynamic, and emotionally compelling." (Vol.37 No.6 WWW)

NAD D 3020: $499 $$$
Launched to celebrate NAD's 40th anniversary, the 30Wpc D 3020 takes only its name from the company's iconic 3020 integrated amplifier; every other aspect of the design has been thoroughly modernized. It uses a switch-mode power supply, lacks a phono stage, and has only a single analog input, but includes a front-panel headphone minijack; an optional 6dB bass boost; a subwoofer output; coaxial, optical, and 24-bit/96kHz-capable asynchronous USB inputs; and uses an audio-optimized aptX codec for Bluetooth streaming. Weighing just 3 lbs and measuring an unusual 7 3/8" H by 2 5/16" W by 8 5/8" D, the D 3020 can be placed horizontally, like a traditional component, or stood upright, like a modem or hard drive. Uncommonly sensual for a hi-fi product, it has a large, textured volume knob; soft, smooth side panels; and a touchscreen that occupies its entire front panel and extends through one entire side panel. The sound from every input was warm, present, and naturally detailed; even low-quality MP3s streamed wirelessly via Bluetooth were engaging, said SM. "Right now, NAD's D 3020 is the best bargain in all of hi-fi," added ST. Borderline Class B. (Vol.36 Nos. 11 & 12 WWW)

NAD C 316BEE: $379 $$$ ✩
Descendant of NAD's famed 3020 integrated amplifier, the 40Wpc C 316BEE uses a new variant of the PowerDrive technology found in NAD's Master Series components, said to maximize the short-term dynamic power sent to loudspeakers. It has five inputs, a single set of user-friendly binding posts for easy connections, defeatable tone controls, a headphone jack, and an iPod minijack. The NAD matched power with grace, providing a rich, forceful overall presentation and an impressive ability to follow complex musical passages and make clear, truthful distinctions among musical instruments. Compared to the JoLida FX 10, the NAD produced a far more compelling listening experience, with faster attacks, longer decays, and a wider soundstage, said SM. (Vol.34 No.7 WWW)

Outlaw Audio RR2150: $699 $$$ ✩
This 100Wpc, two-channel receiver showcases stylish, deco-like looks and a full range of features that include line, iPod, phono, and USB digital inputs, tape and processor loops, tone controls, headphone output, speaker equalization, bass management, and a mono line-level subwoofer output. JA was "astonished" to discover what the bargain-basement-priced RR2150 offered, both on the test bench and in the listening room. The RR2150's self-explanatory setup, versatility and convenience, and open, focused, and well-organized overall sound (though somewhat opaque and not fully fleshed out) make it "a great intro to hi-fi for a younger generation," said MF. Problems with production led to delivery delays through July 2006, but the situation is now resolved. Current production samples (made in a different factory) offer the same excellent measured performance as the original, but the RR2150's USB digital input, marred by limited resolution and high jitter, should be regarded as being for convenience only, advised JA. (Vol.29 No.3, Vol.31 No.1 WWW)

Rega Brio-R: $995 ✩
Minimalist in design and appearance, the 50Wpc Brio-R measures just 8.5" W by 3.25" H by 13" D and, like the Rega DAC, is housed in an attractive aluminum-and-steel case with a reflective front panel. It offers five line-level RCA inputs and one phono input. Though it lacked the definition, detail, focus, and frequency extension of the much more expensive LFD LE IV, the Brio-R delivered a relaxed, nonfatiguing sound with tight, full bass, said ST. "The Brio-R showed the excellence that's possible when a manufacturer aspires to deliver less," he said, adding that it includes "a very good moving-magnet phono stage, enough to satisfy the less fremerous among us. Yes, it's 'umble eye-fye, but very well done," ST sums up. (Vol.34 No.12)

D

Lepai LP7498E: $99.90
Rated to deliver 100Wpc via its TriPath class-D output stage, the Lepai is a small (4.5" W by 1.25" H by 7" D) integrated amplifier with one pair of RCA inputs, two pairs of speaker binding posts, and a dedicated 36V DC power supply. It uses STMicroelectronics' TDA7498 class-D module and supports Bluetooth streaming but not aptX. CDs played through the Lepai's RCA input sounded big, bold, and emotionally compelling, with a natural midrange, sweet highs, good bass weight, and well-focused images, but digital files streamed via Bluetooth sounded gritty, compressed, and murky, said SM. Sold by Parts Express with a 45-day money-back guarantee and lifetime service warranty. (Vol.37 No.2 WWW)

K

Hegel H160, PS Audio Sprout, Onkyo TX-8020.

Deletions

Allnic T-1500 300B, Audio Note Jinro, not auditioned in too long a time to be sure of rating; Devialet D-Premier discontinued.

COMMENTS
dalethorn's picture

Interesting that Digital Processors and Signal Processors are separate categories, given that I encounter the term 'DSP' (Digital Signal Processor) so often. Maybe it's a hardware-software thing.

corrective_unconscious's picture

The digital processors are DACs or things to route digital sound somewhere. There is some overlap if there's a CD player with inputs to its DAC, and some overlap with preamp/DACs, some of which of those might have some additional, secondary digital EQ functions.

The signal processors are mostly about varieties of digital EQ, with again a few hybrid products having some secondary functions.

The separation seems clear enough to me. It is the whole universe of modern audio which seems complex, i.e., the products themselves.

John Atkinson's picture
dalethorn wrote:
Interesting that Digital Processors and Signal Processors are separate categories, given that I encounter the term 'DSP' (Digital Signal Processor) so often.

The Digital Processors category is almost exclusively digital/analog converters. The Signal Processors category is reserved for things that do something to the signal and includes analog-domain processors, such as the BSG Q0L.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

dalethorn's picture

I'm going to profess a bit of ignorance here, so .... one of the places where DSP or some variant shows up in my world is related to music players such as built into the Pono device, or in computer software such as Foobar2000 etc. The great thing about EQ included in these players (or as plug-in software) is that the digital data gets EQ'd before it hits the DAC, so that whatever DAC or amp is used, the EQ remains constant in playback. Ignoring any negative impact on the EQ due to which peripherals are used, I've always assumed that EQ pre-applied to the digital data as described will reduce the resolution of the playback. If that's true, are there common analog EQ solutions that would provide better sound?

tdixon's picture

Does this mean there are no plans for an app being released like there were in previous years?

John Atkinson's picture
tdixon wrote:
Does this mean there are no plans for an app being released like there were in previous years?

Unfortunately, that's correct. No plans. However, this website reprint replaces the standalone free app.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Dushyant's picture

From your comments prefacing the Recommended Loudspeakers 2015, I understand that category A (Full Range) has LF extension down to 20Hz. What about B (Full Range) and C (Full Range)? Do they also need to have LF extension down to 20Hz? If not, what is the LF extension for inclusion? For the restricted LF I assume that LF extension is to 40Hz for all categories. Clarification will be helpful and appreciated.

Thanks
Dushyant

leesure's picture

Despite there being 25 Class A preamps, there are only 2 Class B preamplifiers (both from the same company) and NO class C Preamps? There are 18 Class A Power Amps and Zero Class C or D Power Amps? I thought, "Perhaps there are just no products that fit those categories any more. No more Adcom's. No more B&K's." But then I looked around and found that there ARE musically satisfying budget electronics.

So I am left to wonder...do they no longer submit their products for review or is Stereophile no longer interested in reviewing them?

I began reading Stereophile in my 20's when there was no way I could even consider a $10,000 amplifier. I aspired to a system like that, but also loved reading about gear that I could stretch to afford. I loved building a musically satisfying SYSTEM for well under $10,000. Had I only been able to read about the gear that was so far out of reach, I would likely have dropped the hobby altogether. Without the bridge, I would never have been able to get across to the ultimate destination. That bridge is being taken away from the next generation of Audiophiles.

I think that's a real shame.

Christopher Mankiewicz's picture

Kal, Please let me know. Thanks, Chris