Affordable Integrateds (with phono!)
The Cambridge Audio Topaz AM10 has a phono stage.
Today I’m working on the Integrated Amplifiers section of the Stereophile Buyer’s Guide. Have I ever told you that I love integrated amplifiers? I do. I love integrated amplifiers because they make my life easierthey add convenience, that iswithout necessarily sacrificing quality.
I remember the day I walked into Jonathan Scull’s officeJonathan was our senior editor at the time, and I was Ariel Bitran’s age, just starting out as editorial assistantand I asked Jonathan what an integrated amplifier was.
He explained that stereos require a preamplifier and a power amplifier, and that integrated amplifiers house both in one chassis. This is great because it saves space and gets rid of the need for interconnects between the amp and preamp. I like space, and I like being freed from additional cables. Integrated amplifiers are cool.
Too often, however, integrated amplifiers lack a phono stage. A phono stage is required to play vinyl, and I like vinyl. So, my favorite integrated amplifiers are those that include phono sections: Integrated amps with phono sections are cooler. I’m always on the lookout for them.
Today, while working on the Integrated Amplifiers section of the Stereophile Buyer’s Guide, I noticed that Cambridge Audio has a new integrated amplifier called the Topaz AM10. At just $399, it’s $100 less expensive than Cambridge’s popular Azur 350A (owned by my popular Uncle Omar), and it includes a phono stage, which the Azur 350A lacks. (I can’t wait to tell Omar about this. He will surely cry.) The Topaz AM10 is rated to deliver 35Wpc into 8 ohms, which is more than enough power for a small space and a pair of fairly efficient loudspeakers.
The Music Hall A15.2 has a phono stage.
I also see that Music Hall has a new (to me, at least) integrated amplifier with phono stage, the A15.2. It’s rated to deliver a generous 75Wpc into 8 ohms and costs just $499. Music Hall’s more powerful and more expensive A35.2 does not include a phono stage. What’s up with this? Maybe, with these low-priced options, companies are targeting the growing market of younger people who are enjoying vinyl.
Onkyo's A5VL is pretty thin and has a phono stage.
Onkyo also has a nice new integrated, the sleek A5VL. It pumps out 40Wpc and includes a switchable MM/MC phono stage. While the A5VL retails for $699, my sources (the interwebs) tell me it can be found for as little as $449.
Back in the day, Jonathan Scull also explained the difference between an integrated amplifier and a receiver. Receivers are just like integrated amplifiers, but also include a tuner section. (That’s the radio.) I almost never listen to the radio, except when I want to torture myself with Mets games. I listen to Mets games in the kitchen, through my old Philips portable boombox. Every now and then, though, I think of how much fun it might be to listen to a Mets broadcast through my hi-fi. It’s outta here! And the crowd goes wild.
But, for whatever reason, receivers have lost their place in two-channel audio and have become more a part of home theater. (The audio/video receiver is all the rage.) With that move, they’ve gained about a gazillion other connections for a gazillion other things. They’re also big and ugly. Denon, however, has introduced the DRA-397, an 80Wpc stereo receiver with a phono stage! It costs $399. It’s not especially big or ugly, and it doesn’t have too many useless inputs or outputs! You can use it to play your records or listen to the Mets lose.
Denon's DRA-397: Ain't too big, ain't too ugly, has phono stage.
There aren’t enough truly affordable integrated amps that come equipped with a phono stage (the Marantz PM5004 is one other), so I’m pretty psyched about this. I’ve heard stories about a time when all amplifiers included phono stages. Maybe, with the reemergence of vinyl as a serious (and fun) music format, more affordable options will be on the way.