It’s that time again! This is when we look back at some of the best gear we’ve come across this year. The mission of HI-FI Trends is “Helping audiophiles to build affordable high-end audio systems,” and to that end, we’ve picked some of the best affordable high-end gear available right now. You can use these pieces to upgrade existing systems or use them as building blocks for a new one.
This go-round, we’re talking about our favorite Amps and Streamers from the Year 2020, and actually, our top Amplifier is a combination of both! So here we go, without further adieu, “Product Of The Year-Best Amplifiers, Music Streamers.”
Product Of The Year-Best Amplifiers: Audiolab 6000A Play Integrated Amplifier with Wireless Audio Streaming ($1299)
Our Amplifier of the year is the Audiolab 6000A Play Integrated Amplifier, a pick that was almost a no-brainer since it’s essentially a combination of two of our favorite components, the Audiolab 6000A Integrated Amp and 6000N Play Network Streamer (A 2019 Product Of The Year selection).
What we love: The 6000A Play retains the sleek, minimalist lines of the 6000A Integrated that we fell in love with during our review, along with the perfectly-sized, smooth-turning operation knobs. The classy oval LED display is back as well. You still get five analog inputs (including a phono input) and four digital inputs, which means tons of connectivity options. AptX Bluetooth is also still on deck for quick streaming sessions from your phone.
Under the hood, the 6000A Play inherits the 6000A’s 2 x 50W into 8 ohms (2 x 75 into 4 ohms) Class AB amplifier section, along with the ESS Sabre 32-bit ES9018K2M Reference DAC chip for hi-res audio decoding. You also get the 6000A’s DAC filters to tailor the sound, along with its three operational modes (Integrated Mode; Pre-Power Mode; Pre Mode). The three settings let you use either just the power amp section, just the pre-amp section, or of course, both of them together.
That’s all great, but the real story is the addition of a built-in streamer with multi-room for an additional $300 bucks versus the original 6000A. That’s $350 less than buying the Audiolab streamer and amp separately, plus it takes up a lot less room. You can connect to your home network via the ethernet connection or Wi-Fi, and from there, you can access music files from a NAS drive or streaming services like Tidal (or Spotify). All wireless features are handled by the DTS Play-Fi app, which also does multi-room audio with Play-Fi compatible speakers (of which there are many).
Watch out for: No subwoofer output, No USB input, Not Roon Ready
50 watts x 2 channels into 8 ohms (20-20,000 Hz) at <1% THD
75 watts x 2 channels into 4 ohms (20-20,000 Hz)
ES9018 Sabre32 32-bit/192kHz digital-to-analog converter for high-performance playback of digital sources
frequency response 20-20,000 Hz (±0.3dB)
signal-to-noise ratio: 110 dB
$1299 (Currently on sale for Black Friday-$1099, limited time offer)
Product Of The Year-Music Streamers: Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) Network Audio Streamer ($1099)
There are a couple of budget Audiophile Music Streamers I usually recommend. The first is the Audiolab 6000N Play, which I consider to be the best sounding streamer in that price range. The second is the Bluesound Node 2i, which I believe to be a notch below the 6000N in sound quality. Still, it offers more functionality, like MQA compatibility, a headphone amp, playback buttons on the unit, the ability to read USB drives, and a slightly better control app.
What we love: If you wish to upgrade from the units mentioned above, the streamer you should look at is the $1099 Cambridge Audio CXN V2 Audiophile Music Streamer. Once you move up to this price point, you get some useful extras. For example, there’s a full-color screen that displays album art and metadata plus a full menu of setup options. Also, complete controls on the front mean you can access your music without depending on a remote, app, or mobile device. However, if you want to use a remote, you can do that as well. You also can use the recently updated Stream Magic app, which makes it a lot more flexible than the streamers mentioned above.
The CXN V2 has two 24-bit DAC chips (Wolfson WM8740) instead of one like the lower-priced options and tons of inputs so you can pull music from just about anywhere, including USB hard drives, a laptop, network drives, online streaming services, etc. The CXN V2 is indeed a jack of all trades. It’s actually more than just a streamer; it’s a digital preamp that lets you switch inputs and control volume using the front knob. It’s also Roon ready, which should make the Roon fanatics happy. All in all, it’s an amazing value.
Watch out for: No MQA decoding
- ADVANCED UNSAMPLING FOR CLEANER AUDIO – Cambridge Audio’s advanced Adapted Time Filter 2 (ATF2) technology upsamples all incoming digital audio sources into a 24-bit/384kHz signal, which helps resolve very fine detail.
- MUSIC ANY WAY YOU WANT IT – With the CXN (V2) network streamer, pick from the sources you use daily – Spotify, Google Play, Pandora, Apple AirPlay 2 other internet radio channels.
- POWER TO TRANSFORM YOUR DIGITAL EXPERIENCE – Dual Wolfson WM8740 DACs (premium digital to analog converters) gives the music more detail and warmth. Hear musical nuances that you’ve never noticed in songs that you’ve listened to a thousand times.
- WIRED OR WIRELESS CONNECTIVITY – Via wired (Ethernet) or wireless (WiFi dongle), connect to your home network for Internet Radio, online music services, AirPlay, and music libraries stored on your computer.
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