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.
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 2019 What Hi-Fi? Award-winner.
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. 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. There's fantastic attention to detail, which is really evident in the sound, which is crisper and more agile than its forebears. It might not be enough of a difference to justify upgrading from its predecessor, but it still makes for an awesome amp nonetheless.
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. But no bother. The sound is 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.
Read the full review: Cambridge Audio CXA61
Now in its sixth generation (the original Brio first launched in 1991), the latest Rega Brio takes audio performance to a whole new level at the money. It's 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 amps amazing sense of musicality. It sounds terrifically fluid with precision and scale in spades.
Read the full review: Rega Brio
The A-9010 has been tuned in the UK and it's a decision that's paid off handsomely. Its feature count might be limited, but the Onkyo produces a captivating and musical performance. It's a nicely balanced sound too, with strong dynamics and superb timing. 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. That's right, the brand that's best known for it's AV receivers has this two-channel musical maestro in its product portfolio.
Read the full review: Onkyo A-9010
The third generation of Naim's top integrated amplifier doesn't break any moulds, but it doesn't have to. Changes over the previous version are limited to the additional of a (good quality) moving magnet phono stage and a tweak in the power amplifier section. These are enough to keep the Supernait at the cutting edge at this level. 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
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.
The AXA35 delivers a bold and composed sound that brims 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. When it comes to rhythmic drive and and dynamics expression few alternatives do better.
Read the full review: Cambridge AXA35
If you want an interesting alternative to the Marantz mentioned above, then might we suggest the NAD D 3020 V. It's 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 including Bluetooth streaming and a USB input for hooking up a computer.
And if this wasn't enough, it's an enjoyable listen too. Dynamics and timing are up there with the best even if the Marantz does pip it for all-round quality. It's definitely one for your shortlist.
Read the full review: NAD D 3020 V2
Arguably the only stereo amplifier at this price capable of troubling the Rega Brio, 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. The Audiolab's open and airy presentation gives music plenty of room to breathe and there's plenty of refinement on offer too. Take it from us, the 6000A doesn't disappoint.
Read the full review: Audiolab 6000A
The CTA408 is a chunky (25kg) integrated valve amplifier with distinctive control dials that have a satisfyingly crisp action.
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, but there aren't any digital inputs nor is there any wireless connectivity.
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
Another amazing (and Award-winning) stereo amplifier from Rega. The Elex-R builds on the strengths of the Brio, doubling down in areas such as detail, dynamics and timing. 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.
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. Combined with its impressive appearance and build quality the Moon gives the impression of a much pricier product. The curvy silver edges and two-tone effect give the amp serious presence, while the OLED screen is crisp and clear. 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
The Blak is 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 with balanced XLRs, single-ended line-level inputs and a moving magnet phono stage for traditionalists and a USB Type B that can cope with all manner of high-res music files. When it comes to audio quality, the Roksan boasts impressive muscularity and enthusiasm, with plenty of scale and a lovely soundstage.
Read the full review: Roksan Blak integrated amplifier
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 – but that means every penny you spend on it goes straight to making a great-sounding amplifier. Its performance is massively refined and pleasantly entertaining, and leaves plenty of scope for upgrades with those aforementioned peripherals.
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.
It's a fine-sounding amp too, with a charming and likeable sonic character aided by excellent timing and a fine sense of weight. 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.
It has an understated presentation it takes a while to appreciate. But, give it time and come to appreciate its neutral and balanced sound. There's a stunning sense of purity and transparency to the sound. And, we’re particularly impressed with the way this amplifier can deliver deep bass with such texture, agility and power.
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
The No.5805’s 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 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. One look around 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. 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. Just about the only niggle is that its controls could be more ergonomic, but the remote control solves that. And you're far more likely to use that anyway. Got the money? Go for it.
Read the full review: Krell K-300i