If you’re looking to build an affordable high-performance hi-fi system, then you should be looking at a quality integrated amp to be the heart of it.
The Integrated Amplifier, a combination of pre-amp and amplifier, will play traffic cop for your sources (Streamer, CD Player, Turntable, etc.), boost the signal from those same sources, and then play it through your speakers.
It’s of utmost importance that you get the best sounding one you can afford, and you also need to pick one that will support the sources you want to listen to.
I’ve listened to a lot of Integrated Amplifiers. I’ve chosen to highlight the best around $1000 because I’ve found the ones at that price point offer the best price to performance ratio.
That’s not to say the ones below a grand are not enjoyable, but the ones on this list will have smoother, more refined treble, more headroom for demanding speakers, and a good mix of features that will allow you to live with them for a long time.
At this price range expect to get: About 50-100 watts of power per channel, a built-in USB DAC to play music directly from a laptop and possibly a built-in music streamer of some sort. Two of the amp we recommend have Bluetooth transmitters so you can play music right out the box with a cell-phone or tablet.
Here are the Best Integrated Amplifiers we’ve found around $1000:
The Affordable Workhorse: Audiolab 6000A 2-Channel Integrated Amplifier ($999)
What we love: The more we listen to the 6000A, the more we love it. The spacious sound, sweet highs, and deep, controlled bass make inexpensive speakers sound better than they have any business sounding, and when you scale up to better speakers, you end up with a system that many audiophiles could live with for many years to come. It has bulletproof build quality, and they implement features in an elegant, no-nonsense way.
It’s Class AB and does 2 x 50w into 8 ohms, then almost double that into 4 ohms. It also has a built-in apt-X Bluetooth receiver for quick casual listening sessions and a Moving Magnet phono input. (Read our full review)
Watch Out For: No USB DAC input.
Feature Highlights: A substantial 200VA toroidal transformer, ES9018 Sabre32 Reference DAC chip w/ user-selectable filters.
Match It With These:
A Step Up With USB DAC: Parasound NewClassic 200 Integrated Amplifier ($1145)
What we love: Parasound has finally brought their brawny, transparent sound to a lower price point, using a masterful implementation of Class D amp modules, no less. If you want an integrated around the same price as the Audiolab, but with a built-in USB-DAC (or more power), then the NewClassic is an excellent option.
The NewClassic 200 Integrated Amplifier is a superb preamp with a sweet amplifier section built-in, so it has a ton of inputs/outputs and gives you a lot of control over how you want to set up your system. It has a neutral and transparent sound that will make any speaker you hook up to it sound phenomenal!
This powerful amp is rated for 110 Watts @ 8 or 4 Ohms, has the same Burr-Brown 192kHz-24 bit DAC chip as their high-end Halo P 5 preamp, plus phono input works for Moving Magnet and Moving coil cartridges. (Check out our full review)
Watch out for: There’s no Bluetooth streaming built-in, and it’s a little wider/deeper than most audio components, so you need to check your space. (only 1U tall, however, so that helps height-wise.)
Feature Highlights: Excellent Burr-Brown DAC, Tons of adjustments for sound. Powerful…has lots of gusto.
Match It With These:
The Best Around $1000: Cambridge Audio CXA81 Integrated Amplifier ($1299)
What we love: The CXA81, with its Class AB amp section, drives speakers down to 4 Ohms with 120W per channel RMS, and 80W per channel RMS into 8 Ohms. That means it has the juice needed to drive inefficient speakers like the Kef LS50 to their full potential.
We can’t get enough of the CXA81’s tuning, and that’s why we made it our 2019 Product Of The Year. The warm, open character (w/ massive soundstage) works no matter what music you play. It also has the best sounding Bluetooth section we’ve ever heard on an integrated amp.
When we listened to aptX HD on the CXA81, it was the first time we were able to listen to Bluetooth on an amp without missing the wires right away. It also has a USB Audio Input, which accepts up to 32bit/384kHz PCM & DSD 256 digital files from a Mac or PC. (Read our full review)
Watch out for: This amp is probably the opposite of the Parasound when it comes to customization settings. There are no screens, no menus, no tone controls, no adjustments whatsoever. To me, it’s like the iPhone of integrated amps. You can’t customize a lot, but you accept it because it just does what it’s supposed to do (sound great) with mind-blowing efficiency. There’s also no phono input, but Cambridge Audio makes some great phono pre-amps to use along with the CXA81.
Feature Highlights: 80-watts per channel with Class AB amplification, Balanced XLR inputs, USB Audio Input that supports PCM up to 32bit/384kHz & DSD up to 256
Match It With These:
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My thirst for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.