What a year for stereo amplification! We think we’ve seen the future as far as budget amplification is concerned and it looks a lot like the brilliant NAD D 3020.
What makes it special? The D 3020's tiny dimensions and unusual shape make it equally at home next to a computer, under a TV or sat on a traditional hi-fi rack. It’s an inclusive design that has digital inputs alongside the traditional analogue variety. This NAD can also receive apt X Bluetooth signals, which means you can play back tunes from your phone or tablet.
Features, even when they’re as useful as these, can only take a product so far. It’s got to perform well, and the NAD does. It would be one of our favourites even if it were judged solely on sound quality. If analogue inputs are enough we would strongly suggest giving the Rotel RA-10 (£350) a go. It’s an impressively punchy performer that delivers a stonking level of insight for the money. There’s no remote control, though.
Spend more and you can have the brilliant Arcam A19. It’s very much a traditional stereo amplifier, though Arcam also makes small outboard units that can add Bluetooth and digital-to-analogue capabilities to this, or any conventional amp.
We rate the A19 so highly because it has a beautifully-judged sonic presentation. It’s a full-bodied, slightly smooth balance that works brilliantly with less than perfect recordings.
There’s more than enough transparency to show up flaws, but it never overstates things as some rivals can. There’s also authority, plenty of scale to classical works and a surefooted handling of rhythms that we haven’t heard in Arcam’s products for many years.
Add impressive build, and this amplifier’s ability to work superbly in ambitious systems and you have our Product of the Year winner.
Move up another price bracket and the Naim Nait5si comes into reach. At £925 it represents the minimalist approach to amplifier design. This is a hot rod of an amplifier that focuses solely on sound quality. And boy does it succeed.
The Nait 5si has a hard-charging attitude that majors on dynamics, punch and rhythmic precision. In these areas it’s unchallenged at the money. It also adds a layer of finesse that past entry-level Naim products haven’t always had.
Put it altogether an you have a riveting listen that works well with all kinds of music. Other products worth considering include the Cyrus 8a and Heed Obelisk si. These are slightly pricier, but deliver excellent performances that deserve a thorough audition.
Our most expensive award-winner is the only contender to hold onto its crown from last year. Roksan’s Caspain M2 has dominated this higher price point for four years now, and for good reason.
It has a huge, powerful sound that is as dramatic as any rival, yet also exhibits the kind of full-bodied refinement that makes it unusually kind to below par recordings.
Just give it a good source - the matching Caspian M2 CD player is the obvious choice – and speakers like PMC’s Twenty 23s and you’ll have a sound that rivals far, far pricier alternatives.