Q&A: How Much Should I Spend On An Integrated Amp?

Q: I have a question. I am new to home audio but I’m trying to learn as much as possible. I currently have a Yamaha receiver. Do you think a Cambridge Audio integrated amp is the right choice to replace it? I want the CXA 81. It has all of the features I want. It’s also $1300. Or do you think I should get the CXA 60 and upgrade as times goes by? I like the pre-out and sub features. The Yamaha also offers that at $129. I didn’t know it at the time. But I could add a tube amp and a sub with an upgrade. It’s hard to decide on a $500 amp and a $1300 amp. It’s almost triple the price but it seems like it would last me and I can build on it. Looking forward to your response!
-Jason

A: Well, Jason, you’ve said a lot here. From what I can gather, you currently have a $129 Yamaha receiver, and you’re looking to upgrade to an integrated amp. I think this is an excellent idea for someone looking to build a budget-friendly high-end Hi-Fi system. The right integrated will give you many years of musical enjoyment. Also, as you noted, many provide room to grow with the inclusion of pre-outs and sub-outputs.

I understand you’re looking at two Cambridge Audio amps and contemplating whether the CXA81 Integrated Amplifier ($1299) is worth the additional cost over the CXA60 Integrated Amplifier (currently available for $500). Well, having spent a lot of time with both, I can say each has the fantastic warm, lively sound Cambridge Audio is known for. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with each of them.

In general, I consider the CXA81 worth the extra money when comparing it to the CXA60. The CXA81 has more power, is more refined (read: transparent) across the treble and midrange, and has better control on the low end, meaning it should provide more taut bass. It also has built-in apt-X HD‌ Bluetooth for CD-quality streaming and a built-in USB‌ DAC for playback from your laptop.

That being said, the CXA60, even though it’s an older model, also sounds excellent. You may be happy with its sound. That’s ultimately the issue with comparisons like this, at the end of the day, it comes down to your room, your speakers, and, most importantly, your ears.

By the way, the CXA60 has tone controls, while the CXA81 does not. For some, that’s a dealbreaker.

Ideally, you should spend some time with each one and see which one sounds the best to your ears. If you don’t have a local Hi-Fi dealer that will let you take the gear home for an audition, then you may need to buy a CXA60 from an online dealer (like Amazon) that takes returns and try it for a few weeks. If it sounds good in your system, then you’re done. Enjoy!

If not, then return the CXA60, and try the CXA81. Hopefully, you’ll be pleased with it.

You can also follow some advice I‌ got a long time ago when I was thinking about upgrading my amp. It was from an old-timer who owned an audio shop. He said, “Buy the best electronics you can afford.” At the time, I‌ thought he was just trying to upsell me, but after years of testing audio gear, I understand what he meant.

No matter how inexpensive your speakers are, quality electronics will bring the best out of them. However, if you have excellent speakers, paired with a sub-par amp or source, then you will feel like you’re missing something. It’s like having a super clean and transparent window and looking out at a garbage dump. Not the best situation.

So I‌ said all that to say this. If you can afford the more expensive amp (in this case, the CXA81), then get it. It will give you the best results with the speakers you have, and then it should be able to shine with speakers several times its price if you upgrade down the road. I hope that helps!‌

BTW, if you have a question about 2-Channel audio, whether it be about the gear itself, or setup, drop us a line at info@hifitrends.com! You may see your inquiry published on the site!

Where to buy:

CXA60: Click here to buy: Amazon-Cambridge Audio CXA60 Stereo Two-Channel Amplifier with Built-in DAC – 60 Watts Per Channel

CXA81: Click here to buy: Amazon-Cambridge Audio CXA81 Stereo Two-Channel Amplifier with Bluetooth and Built-in DAC – 80 Watts Per Channel (Lunar Grey)

As an Amazon Associate, Hifitrends.com may earn from qualifying purchases via links placed throughout the site…this helps us keep the website going! Thanks in advance for your help

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