It's the heart of your hi-fi system; the engine that drives your music from source to speakers, and amplifies the signal so it sounds loud and proud.
Hi-fi stereo amplifiers were unchanged for decades, their analogue connections favouring music played on CD players and turntables. But with laptops, smartphones and streaming services gaining ground as music sources, the stereo amp has had to evolve, with built-in DACs (digital-to-analogue converters), USB connections and wireless streaming capability now becoming increasingly important.
Don't become obsessed by power figures when buying an amplifier – more power doesn't necessarily mean better sound. A relatively low-powered amp can still sound sweet with the right speakers, and unless you intend to play your system at party levels all the time, it's important to pay just as much attention to attributes such as timing, dynamics, precision, control and the amp's ability to handle music well across the entire frequency range.
Best buy up to £500, Awards 2014, the £300 Marantz sets the bar even higher than its illustrious PM6004 predecessor, and it's equipped for the digital age too.
Best stereo amp £1500+, Awards 2014. Full of revealing detail and superb rhythms, this is a truly fantastic amplifier. Great build and finish complete the package.