Best stereo amplifiers 2020: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best stereo amplifiers you can buy in 2020.
A great stereo amplifier is the engine of any great hi-fi system. All you need to do is find the right one for your particular set-up and we hope this carefully curated list can help. Whether you're building a home stereo from scratch or want to splash out on a system upgrade, you'll find our pick of the best stereo amps in the States below...
There are lots of different types of amplifier to choose from and all have their strengths and weaknesses. To make life simple, all the models on this page are integrated amps. That means they feature two components in one (a power amp to drive the speakers and a preamp to control the volume and your sources).
But as the way we consume music has evolved, you'll also find that many amps boast digital and wireless connections alongside traditional analogue inputs and outputs. Whether it's Bluetooth, optical or wi-fi networking, these features will make it easy to stream high-quality music from your mobile devices or computer to your hi-fi.
Of course, convenience is great but it's sound quality that sets the best stereo amplifiers apart from the crowd. Each of the amps below has been thoroughly tested by our experts, so you can expect spellbinding sonics whatever your decision.
Without further ado, here are the very best integrated amps you can buy in the States right now...
- The best stereo speakers to go with your new amp.
This What Fi-Fi Award-winner is our MVP, and one of the best stereo amps you can buy for around $1000. Its elegant Lunar Grey chassis may bear a passing resemblance to its predecessor, the CXA80, but like a thanksgiving turkey, the CX81 is stuffed with fresh internals.
The signal path has been improved, there's a superior DAC and the USB port now supports hi-res audio up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256 quality. You even get an aptX HD Bluetooth receiver that delivers better-than-CD-quality wireless playback.
The result of these upgrades? Sound that is rich, confident, full-bodied and bursting with detail. Whether it's a hammering out a frenetic mid-range melody or a staccato bass line, the CX81 has the agility and energy to handle whatever comes its way.
Clarity is stunning given the (very reasonable) sticker price. Those sweet sonics, plus the high feature-count, mean the CX81 sets a new benchmark at this price.
Put simply, this is one awesome amp.
Read the full review: Cambridge Audio CXA81
The first ever Marantz audio product was designed and built by Saul Marantz in his home in New York in 1953. Today, Marantz is based in Japan but continues to turn out impressive amplifiers at affordable prices.
For proof, seek out the PM6006, which trumps its predecessor, the PM6005, with a a bunch of upgrades. There's second optical input (useful when using this as part of a home cinema set-up), a more efficient power supply and 'high performance' feet that aim to reduce unwanted vibration.
Sadly there's no Bluetooth or USB port, but those omissions are easily overlooked in favour of the PM6006's outstanding sonics and support 24-bit/192kHz. Sound is crisp, cohesive and shot through emotive detail. There's a wonderful sense of timing, too, and complex rhythms given room to breathe.
Whether you're looking to upgrade or build your first hi-fi separates system, this Award-winning budget amp is fantastic buy.
Read the full review: Marantz PM6006
The CX61 has big boots to fill. It's predecessor, the CX60, scored five-stars in our tests and picked up a coveted What Hi-Fi Product of the Year Award. Thankfully, the CX61 builds on that heritage with a classy design, impressive connections, high-resolution audio support and study remote.
The lower-specced sibling of the CX81 (above), the CX61 makes do with a touch less power (60W vs 80W). But at under $1000, it delivers exceptional sound-per-pound.
Audio is fluid, entertaining and energetic but that's not to say this integrated amp is constantly in party mode. It's serious about detail, dynamics and rhythmic precision, and knows just when to tone down the enthusiasm.
It does lack a USB port – you'll need to splash out on CX81 if that's a deal-breaker – but the CX61 is a fine bit of kit that pairs well with almost any musical genre.
Read the full review: Cambridge Audio CXA61
British outfit Rega has been designing high-end audio components since the early 1970s. The company launched the original Brio amp in back in 1991 but this sixth-generation model continues to pay homage to its illustrious forebears.
Those retro looks may divide opinion but few would dispute that the Rega Brio takes sound to new heights at this price point. This is an analogue-only amplifier, so there's no built-in DAC, but it sounds terrific. From the incredible sense of scale to the punchy dynamics, this is certainly Rega's best-ever Brio.
Build-quality is typically solid and the hefty 5kg aluminium case has a reassuring, tank-like quality to it. In terms of features, Rega hasn't added much since 1991. You do get a phono stage but forget about Bluetooth streaming or digital inputs.
If you can overlook the lack of wireless connections, the back-to-basics Brio delivers stellar sound-per-pound and is worth every penny.
Read the full review: Rega Brio
So if you're looking for the best stereo amplifier at the cheapest price, this Cambridge model's a great option.
At around $350, it's big on value, big on sound and built to last. The sleek, 8cm-high case is equipped with a built-in moving magnet photo stage (worth using if you have a budget turntable), a 6.35mm headphone output and 3.5mm auxiliary input. The lack of Bluetooth and USB port is entirely forgivable give the bargain sticker price.
As for sound, the AXA35 puts on a killer performance for the money. It throws plenty of power and weight behind every track, providing a spacious and spirited sound without any harshness. If you're happy to live with the relatively simple specs, this great budget amp serves up superb sonics.
Read the full review: Cambridge AXA35
You might be struck by this budget amp's quirky design, but things get a whole lot more interesting under the hood. The D 3020 V2 is packed with high-tech features including, Class D amplification, Bluetooth for music streaming and a moving magnet phono stage for connecting a turntable.
Assuming you appreciate the curvature of its neat, upright case, this accomplished NAD amp is easy to love. It combines an impeccable sense of timing with superb dynamics to great effect, making it an enjoyable and engaging listen. Presentation is tonally-even but there's the option of a tasteful 'bass boost' via a button on the remote control.
Detail levels are superb for the money, although the Marantz PM6006 near the top of this list offers a bit more performance for the money. Still, if you want a fully-featured digital amp, the NAD 3020 V2 is a great shout. Be sure to add it to your shortlist.
Read the full review: NAD D 3020 V2
If you're not sold on the Rega Brio's retro looks, or simply want accomplished alternative for the same money, take a look at the five-star Audiolab 6000A. A competitive mid-range amp, the 6000A shares a DAC chip with the Award-winning Audiolab M-DAC, giving it instant appeal.
The solid, high-quality case and volume dial are well-crafted, while connections are plentiful. You get four digital inputs, three analogue inputs, and a pair of moving magnet phono inputs. And unlike the Rega Brio, this amp also has Bluetooth for music streaming.
Sound is wonderfully-crisp, with ample detail and plenty of clarity. Vocals are cut with emotion and subtlety. We find that the best amplifiers breathe new life into well-worn tracks, and this model does just that.
While the Rega Brio offers more texture, the nimble Audiolab 6000A offers a more spacious and refined sound that's hard to beat at this price. A fantastic sub-$1000 amp.
Read the full review: Audiolab 6000A
Here's a great option for those who demand the taste of champagne on a beer budget. It's priced at around $1700, but the Award-winning Rega Elex-R performs more like a $3400 amp.
It produces the kind of sound that transports from your lounge to a live recording session. Timing is impressive and it fills the room with an addictive sense of energy that seems to soak into the walls. In terms of authenticity and scale, few amps can beat the Elex-R – especially at such an appealing price.
As you may have guessed from the typically-solid case, this is very much a traditional amp. It not luxurious but it is well-engineered and reliable – our test unit has been running for over three years without any issues.
There's no digital inputs, no Bluetooth and no headphone output. But if you're all about the music, you'll almost certainly be wowed by the Elex-R's sonics.
Read the full review: Rega Elex-R
The Rega Aethos delivers an fantastic combination of insight, dynamics and rhythmic precision to produce a class-leading sound. It's not the most highly-specced stereo amp we've seen, though. There are no digital inputs, nor is there a phono stage for a turntable, which is surprising at this level. You do get five line-level inputs and a 6.3mm headphone socket, though.
IF you can live with that, the Rega will reward you with a captivating sound, that majors in clarity and dynamic fluidity. Its sense of timing is second to none at that level, which is part of the reason it's a What Hi-Fi? Awards 2020 winner.
Read the full review: Rega Aethos
Just like a Cadillac, the Moon 240i offers power and performance in a classy, understated case. Sound is smooth and defined, layered with texture and refreshingly clear. The 240i partners well with almost any speakers but to show off its true capabilities, you'll want to hook it up to some serious kit.
The superb sonics are matched by impressive specs. You get an asynchronous DAC supporting playback of hi-res files up to 32-bit/384kHz, a USB input and four digital inputs. So, whether you want connect a CD player, laptop, TV or media streamer, the 240i will oblige.
If all that hasn't won you over, take a closer look at the Moon 240i's classy metal casing and crisp OLED display. Although this amp isn't cheap, its build quality is reminiscent of the kind of hi-fi components that cost a lot more than $2500.
If you're working with a healthy budget and want a versatile digital amp, take a trip to the Moon.
Read the full review: Moon 240i
This stripped-back amp is pitched at the hifi purist. With no digital connections, no wireless connectivity, no headphone socket and no phono stage, the M2si is all about going back to basics and focusing on what really matters – sound.
In the M2si, Musical Fidelity has created an brilliant performer capable of delivering large-scale sound without breaking a sweat. Complex rhythms are handled effortlessly; individual instruments are rendered precisely and tonal balance is such that this amplifier is a lot less fussy about partnering with equipment than many of its rivals.
Of course, cheaper alternatives such as the Audiolab 6000A give you far more features for the money. But if a remote control, six line level inputs and a smattering of solid metal controls are really all you need from a stereo amplifier, this simple, clean-cut affair is great bang for your buck. And at around $1500, it's a worthy alternative to the Rega Elex-R (above).
Read the full review: Musical Fidelity M2si
The D 3045 looks a whole lot like its cheaper sibling, the D 3020 V2, and is jam-packed with features. You get Bluetooth aptX for 24-bit hi-res music streaming, two optical connections, a hi-res DAC and an asynchronous USB input for optimised USB audio playback.
But then, you get all that if you buy the cheaper variant – so why pay more for the D 3045? Well, the main reason is that the 3045 provides more power than the D 3020 V2 (80W vs 60W). It also sports a more luxurious design and comes in a case that features some extra premium touches.
The added power makes for a beefier presentation but that's not to say this amp punches like Tyson. It serves up a smooth, balanced performance that is controlled and detailed across the frequency range. On the downside, it lacks the same level of enthusiasm as it's lower-priced sibling.
This amp's technological firepower make it a great buy for the money. But if you don't care for the additional 20W of power, the D 3020 V2 might be the better choice.
Read the full review: NAD D 3045