Best stereo amplifiers 2020: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best stereo amplifiers you can buy in 2020.
Stereo amplifiers aren't as simple as they used to be. The days of equipping them with just analogue inputs and outputs, and a pair of speaker terminals, are long gone.
With laptops, smartphones and streaming services becoming ever-more popular music sources, the stereo amp has moved with the times. Many now contain built-in digital-to-analogue converters, phono stages for turntables, USB connections and Bluetooth streaming functionality.
We've rounded up a wide selection of the best amplifiers on the market, offering a wide range of features across a range of prices, so there should be something to suit all budgets and requirements, and get your music system singing.
Despite some minor cosmetic tweaks, the CXA81 might look a lot like its predecessor, the CXA80, but all the improvements are where it counts: on the inside. Cambridge Audio's engineers have upgraded the signal path, as well as the capacitors in both the preamp and power amp sections. Also on board is a new DAC and an improved USB input that supports hi-res audio.
What does this all mean? It means there's a world of difference when it comes to performance. It's punchy as anything, with a bold, powerful sound. Yet detail is never sacrificed, and it's lean and agile enough to handle anything you can throw at it. Add in the addition of aptX Bluetooth for wireless playback, and you've got the best stereo amplifier around at this price and a very worthy 2019 What Hi-Fi? Award-winner. It sets a new standard for amps in this price bracket - one we can't see being surpassed any time soon.
Read the full review: Cambridge Audio CXA81
Marantz has managed to take a standard PM6006 and make some small, but telling improvements. That's not to say the original had any major faults, but this UK Edition brings even more focus and detail to the party.
It sounds noticeably cleaner and crisper than its predecessor, with the improvements in the midrange particularly striking - it's a lot more solid, helping the sound hang together as a more cohesive whole.
Its matches its predecessor’s legacy connections, with four line-level inputs, a phono stage, 6.3mm headphone port and tape loop for recording. Also present and correct are the same 24-bit/192kHz support and its predecessor’s single coaxial input. Bluetooth and USB are, however, conspicuous by their absence. Still, it all helps keep the price down. And you can connect a laptop to its coaxial inputs using an adaptor, if you really need it.
The lack of Bluetooth or a USB input might be important to some, but this amp should slot effortlessly into any decent budget hi-fi set-up.
Read the full review: Marantz PM6006 UK Edition
This is the third-generation instalment of a model first introduced in 2008. The XS 3 adds a moving magnet phono stage and better responsiveness, and that's about it. If that sounds negative, it shouldn't – the XS 3 is a killer stereo amp, earning a well-deserved five stars, and picking up a What Hi-Fi? Award for its trouble.
Why? Attention. To. Detail. Open it up and you'll see what we mean - there's immaculately assembled audio circuitry, with fantastic care shown in reducing the degrading effect of outside interference and unwanted interactions between components.
And it shows. The sound is much crisper and more agile than its forebears, thanks in no small part to this exacting eye for detail (it even goes as far as the shape of the connecting wiring and the exact number and placement of tie clips holding it in place). It might not be enough of a difference to justify upgrading from its predecessor, but it still makes for an awesome amp nonetheless.
So not a massive change, as we say. But if it ain't broke...
Read the full review: Naim Nait XS 3
The CXA61 is the lower-specced stablemate to the CXA81 at the top of this list, and successor to the CXA60, a winner of multiple What Hi-Fi? Awards. So it's in good company.
Thankfully, it doesn't let the side down: it has the same digital inputs and Bluetooth capabilities as the CXA81, but only outputs at 60W per channel instead of 80, giving you less power. But for most listening scenarios, that won't be a deal breaker.
What's more important is the sound quality. And we're happy to report it's a real step on from the CXA60, being more transparent and fun, but always staying composed even when the music gets frantic. It's a presentation style that works well across a wide range of musical genres and speakers, and should please all but the most demanding of listeners. If that's you, you'll have to spend a little more to satisfy your audio taste buds.
Read the full review: Cambridge Audio CXA61
If it's heritage you want, the Rega Brio has it in abundance. The original Brio launched in 1991, when Bryan Adams was topping the charts with (Everything I Do) I Do It For You. And it wears its heritage on its sleeve, with a redesign that harks back to those earlier models.
It's now in its sixth generation, and we had to wait six long years for this model to touch down. Thankfully, it was worth the wait.
It takes audio performance to a whole new level at the money, making it the kind of amplifier we want to leave on and play our entire music collection through. Again and again. Yes, your main inputs are limited to standard RCAs and a moving magnet phono stage, but we're willing to overlook this, given the amp's amazing sense of musicality. It sounds terrifically fluid with precision and scale in spades. In fact, almost anything you play on it will sound amazing. Except Bryan Adams.
Read the full review: Rega Brio
Onkyo is best known for its AV receivers, but this two-channel musical maestro is one of the strongest performers in its product portfolio.
The company chose to tune the A-9010 in the UK, which turned out to be a shrewd move. Because inside its rather plain-looking exterior is a plethora of smart design decisions, chief among them the lack of a DAC. Instead, Onkyo focussed on improving other elements of the innards.
It paid off handsomely. This is a captivating and musical performance, a nicely balanced sound, with strong dynamics and superb timing. Whatever you listen to will sweep you away.
Admittedly the lack of a DAC does limit its feature set somewhat. But it does help keep the price down. Brilliant budget amplifiers are few and far between, but the Onkyo A-9010 really sticks out as one of the best we've heard in recent years. There's a reason it's won three successive What Hi-Fi? Awards since its debut in 2015. Fire it up and you'll see what we mean.
Read the full review: Onkyo A-9010
This is another amp with some serious pedigree. This third-gen model doesn't break any moulds, but then it doesn't have to. A slight improvement on its predecessor would be enough to make it one of the best around in its category.
And that's exactly what we have here. Changes over the previous version are limited to the addition of a (good quality) moving magnet phono stage and a tweak in the power amplifier section. It makes the Supernait a little more useful and a little bit better. But such was the quality of its predecessor that that's enough to keep the Supernait at the cutting edge at this level.
Some may baulk at the lack of digital inputs, but these can harshen the analogue performance. And they never sound as good as a dedicated outboard unit like a Chord Mojo. So we support Naim's decision to keep it strictly analogue.
It certainly shows when it comes to sound quality. In fact, we can't think of a more talented alternative when it comes to punch, dynamics and rhythmic drive.
Read the full review: Naim Supernait 3
Let's be honest, the world of budget stereo amplifiers isn’t exactly brimming with superstar products. So when we come across something as talented as Cambridge’s AXA35 we’re especially pleased.
This is a well-built, cleanly styled product that packs all the essentials. True, we’d like to see Bluetooth as well as a couple of physical digital inputs, but we’re willing to overlook such things when the amplifier is as sonically capable as this. And if you have a budget turntable, you can take advantage of its built-in moving magnet phono stage.
The AXA35 delivers a bold and composed sound that practically overflows with detail. It’s an even handed performer that’s as happy playing a large-scale Mahler symphony as it is Jay Z’s latest, along with everything in between. And when it comes to rhythmic drive and dynamic expression, few alternatives do better. At this price, you really can't ask for more.
Read the full review: Cambridge AXA35
If you want an interesting alternative to the Marantz mentioned above, then we suggest the NAD D 3020 V. It has a smaller design, and the fact it can stand upright means it's more versatile with positioning.
The NAD is also packed with useful features. Such as? There's Bluetooth for offline streaming, a USB input for hooking up a computer and a moving magnet phono stage for connecting a turntable. Which give you far more options when it comes to audio sources. Plus you get optical, coaxial and RCA connections, along with a subwoofer out for adding lashings of bass.
And if this wasn't enough, it's an enjoyable listen too. Dynamics and timing are up there with the best, while detail levels are impressive for this class. Even if the Marantz does pip it for all-round sound quality, this NAD more than makes up for it in terms of features and ease of use. Definitely one for your shortlist.
Read the full review: NAD D 3020 V2
Arguably, this is the only stereo amplifier at this price capable of troubling the Rega Brio. So needless to say the Audiolab 6000A is a very accomplished performer.
It's well-equipped on the connections front - four digital inputs, three analogue inputs, and a pair of moving magnet phono inputs. Add Bluetooth and a headphone output to the equation and you've got a list of options the Rega simply can't match.
So how does it sound? Very good indeed. Though considering it uses technology derived from the top-of-the-range 8300A series, and the same DAC chip as the Award-winning Audiolab M-DAC, its prestige audio quality comes as no surprise. The 6000A's open and airy presentation gives music plenty of room to breathe and there's bags of refinement on offer too. It's clean and articulate, with a gorgeous sense of clarity and an absolute tonne of detail to get your teeth into. Take it from us, the 6000A doesn't disappoint.
Read the full review: Audiolab 6000A
If you're looking for a solid piece of hi-fi kit, you've just found it. The CTA408 is a chunky (25kg) integrated valve amplifier with distinctive control dials that have a satisfyingly crisp action. Everything about it screams quality.
Connectivity includes four pairs of analogue inputs, a choice of speaker outputs (4ohms and 8ohms) and there's even a headphone output, which is unusual to see in a valve amp. The CTA408 can also accommodate moving coil and moving magnet cartridges.
That's not to say it's without its faults. There are no digital inputs to play with, nor is there any wireless connectivity. Which could curtail your sonic ambitions somewhat.
Sonically, the Copland delivers across the board and takes a lovely balanced approach to music. It's a fluid and dynamic listen with instruments and vocals all blessed with texture and detail. You'll need to take some care when it comes to system matching, but this is still one seriously talented stereo amp.
Read the full review: Copland CTA408
This is another amazing (and Award-winning) stereo amplifier from Rega.
The Elex-R builds on the strengths of the excellent Brio (see earlier in this article), doubling down in areas such as detail, dynamics and timing. Think of the Brio on steroids, and you're pretty much there.
The build quality is as solid as we would expect from Rega, and while the casework is functional rather than luxurious, it’s finished neatly and everything feels like it will last for years. In fact, our unit has been beavering away in our test room for three years and counting, and we're yet to encounter any issues.
We'd avoid sources and speakers that err too far towards brightness or harshness, but otherwise this amp can't fail to shine. The power output of 72W isn’t enough to make the floor shake in really large rooms, but most set-ups should benefit from this amp's many abilities. A great addition to almost any system.
Read the full review: Rega Elex-R
If it's smoothness, subtlety and sophistication that you're after in a stereo amp, then the Moon 240i has you covered. It's Moon's entry-level integrated amp, though that certainly doesn't mean it comes cheap (Moon is one of those companies whose cheapest products are still out of the reach of many). But it's a credit to itself that it looks and behaves like something pricier still.
The curvy silver edges and two-tone effect give the amp serious presence, while the OLED screen is crisp and clear. It sounds like a serious piece of kit, too. Bass notes have a level of detail often missed even by pricier amps, but the 240i doesn't feel the need to shout about it. It's an understated, yet terrifically talented, amplifier - one that puts subtlety and dynamism to the fore.
The Moon also boasts an asynchronous DAC, which supports hi-res files up to an impressive 32-bit/384kHz as well as DSD256 files.
Read the full review: Moon 240i
Great product, annoying name. But let's overlook the deliberate misspelling and focus on this amp's positive points. It's a fully-featured all-rounder that works superbly with a wide range of systems and across all types of musical genres.
There's plenty of connectivity, too, with balanced XLRs, single-ended line-level inputs, a moving magnet phono stage for traditionalists and a USB Type B that can cope with all manner of high-res music files. There's even aptX HD Bluetooth on board. That means you can connect it to your computer, smartphone, turntable and headphones, which is certainly a lot more versatile than some amps.
Design-wise, it's a world away from minimalist. But when it comes to audio quality, the Roksan boasts impressive muscularity and enthusiasm, with plenty of scale and a lovely soundstage. It’s a stable presentation, the instruments staying locked in place even as complexity rises. Superbly judged, with a powerful and energetic sound.
Read the full review: Roksan Blak integrated amplifier
Let's start with the negatives. The Musical Fidelity M2si doesn't have the features list of most rivals – there are no digital connections, no phono stage and no wireless connectivity. In fact, it's one of the most stripped-back amplifiers we've ever tested. But that means every penny you spend on it goes straight to making a great-sounding amplifier.
So what do you get for your money? There's a remote control, six line level inputs, including a tape loop and a home cinema bypass option to help integration into a surround system.
It feels better built than many rivals, while the simple, clean cut design will appeal to many. Sound-wise, its performance is massively refined and pleasantly entertaining, and leaves plenty of scope for upgrades. It's a large-scale sound, packed with authority and substance. It images very well, and dynamic expression is another strong point.
In short, a superb all-rounder. Whatever you throw at it, it never disappoints.
Read the full review: Musical Fidelity M2si
If the D 3045 looks a little familiar, it could be due to the fact its sibling, the D3020 V2, features higher up this list. Besides its eye-catching vertical orientation, the 3045 boasts a virtually identical set of features, including the use of NAD's D-series hybrid digital amplifiers, an Asynchronous USB input and Bluetooth aptX.
So what's different? There's double the power of its predecessor (2 x 60W), housed in a slightly more premium package. But other than that, you'll be glad to hear not much has changed.
It's a fine-sounding amp. It has a charming and likeable sonic character aided by excellent timing and a fine sense of weight. The balance is smooth, with plenty of detail across the frequency range, and despite its wealth of connections - both wired and wireless - no compromises are immediately evident.
Admittedly we'd like a little more excitement, but the NAD is still a solid buy for the money.
Read the full review: NAD D 3045
This might be an integrated amplifier, but it really is more like a separate pre- and power amplifier in a single box rather than a compromised electrical design. Build quality is excellent. Thanks to its impressive power amp circuitry, this is an amplifier that will have no trouble driving difficult speakers to high volume levels. In other words, it's right up our alley.
It might take a while to fully appreciate its understated presentation. But give it time, and come to appreciate it you will. This is a neutral, balanced delivery, served up with a stunning sense of purity and transparency. And we’re particularly impressed with the way this amplifier can deliver deep bass with such texture, agility and power. Those difficult speakers we mentioned? They'll shake the room when pushed to high volumes.
If you’re looking for a one-stop amplification solution for a high-end stereo system, this Luxman is an excellent place to start.
Read the full review: Luxman L-509X
Mark Levinson is one of the most prestigious brands in the high-end amplification space. The firm helped establish the era of high-end hi-fi in the 1970s, and is still one of its leading proponents.
So the No.5805 has quite some legacy to live up to. It's the company's entry-level model (not that you'd know it, from the price tag), and is pretty well equipped on both the analogue and digital front: you get three analogue line-level inputs, including a balanced XLR, alongside a quartet of physical digital connections. There’s a choice of USB, coax and a pair of opticals and a nod to wireless modernity in the form of aptX HD Bluetooth.
Its sound doesn’t grab the attention as firmly or as quickly as some rivals in this list, but over time you can't help but fall for its many charms. The amp's presentation is refined, insightful and dynamic, while the feature set is admirably broad and useful. If you’re in the market for a premium integrated amplifier then the No.5805 is definitely one to consider.
Read the full review: Mark Levinson No.5805
Clean, brutal, clinical... one look at this amp and you know it's a Krell.
A peek around the back will also put a smile on your face - there's a huge range of inputs, both digital and analogue, including USB, coaxial, optical and HDMI if you want to use it for your TV's sound. And it supports all major streaming services, such as Spotify and Tidal. So while it might be pricey, we can't think of a similarly-priced rival that's as well equipped.
It's not without its niggles. The tiny button controls could be more ergonomic, and not require a PhD to work out, but the remote control solves that. And you're far more likely to use that anyway.
It's superbly built, and sounds fantastic, able to quickly organise an immense amount of information and present it with class-leading stability and control. Rarely have we come across an integrated amplifier that sounds so composed, regardless of the complexity of the recording.
If you've got the money, you should go for it, no questions asked. Just don't lose the remote.
Read the full review: Krell K-300i