Hey folks! Well…we’ve made it through another year! It’s been a tough one with Covid-19 ravaging the planet once again, but that hasn’t stopped us from checking out some of the best affordable high-end audio.
As the year wraps up, this is the time when we look back at the best stuff we’ve come across in 2021, awarding them based on several criteria, including value for money, design/build, innovation, and of course superior sound quality!
In this post, we present our 2021 Product Of The Year Award winners for Best Stereo Amplifiers, Best Streaming Amplifiers, and Best Budget Stereo Amplifiers which includes two great amps from Cambridge Audio, plus an excellent amp from Cyrus Audio.
Each one has tons of clean power, sufficient connections to build a system around, excellent sound quality, and a remarkable group of features that set them apart from the competition. All of them are special units that deserve your attention, so without further ado, here are our Products of the Year…
Best Streaming Amplifier-Cambridge Audio EVO 150 All-in-One Player ($3000)
When Cambridge Audio announced the EVO series, they promised a device that was “simple to use, thrilling to listen to” and one with “rich dynamics, huge scale, and complete control”. Well, there’s no doubt, with the $3000 Cambridge Audio EVO 150 they have hit the nail on the head. We tried so hard to find something wrong with this all-in-one device, and man it was darn near impossible.
If we had to find something, it would be the fact that all settings are in the app, which makes it hard to change things quickly, or the fact that the StreamMagic app makes you use the streaming services’ native apps to play music in most cases, but most streaming devices are moving that way. Hence, we’re not sure if those are really issues at all.
This astounding device has Hypex NCore Class D amplification with 150 watts per channel into 8 ohms (20-20,000 Hz), a built-in ESS Sabre ES9018K2M based DAC section, dual-band Wi-Fi, aptX® HD CD-quality Bluetooth, full-metal casework with a thick, brushed aluminum front panel and acoustically damped chassis, and a large LCD screen which displays source, settings, and album information. It also supports Roon and full MQA decoding.
The coolest feature is the swappable magnetic side panels (wood and dark fiberglass) which let you customize the player’s look at a moment’s notice.
Basically, we feel if you want a beautifully designed streaming amplifier that gives you a substantial degree of transparent high-end audio sound (for what we consider a bargain price considering what you get), then you need to get your hands on the EVO 150! Amazing! (read the full review)
Best Stereo Amp-Cyrus One Cast Smart Integrated Amplifier ($1999)
The $1999 Cyrus Audio ONE Cast is not the first amp to include Google Chromecast technology, both NAD and Onkyo have done it, but it’s the most powerful and sonically accomplished one we have heard so far. It also works with Airplay and Amazon Alexa, which is impressive. Because of the compatibility with Apple, Google, and Amazon ecosystems, you can control the ONE Cast with voice commands via any one of their voice assistants. When we reviewed it, we loved its amazing transparency and detail, which beat the pants off some really capable amps we had on hand.
This Amplifier has a 2 x100w Class-D amp section, 32-bit ESS-based DAC section, USB input, HDMI input, MM Phono Stage, and a Class AB headphone amp.
It will drive a wide variety of speakers and we also liked its ease of use. If you’re looking for an amp with true high-end sound and a no-muss, no-fuss streaming experience, then you should check out the ONE Cast! (read the full review)
Best Budget Stereo Amplifier-Cambridge Audio AXR100 ($600)
A lot of budget amps are either too bright, too weak, or have too little connectivity to live with for long, but the $600 Cambridge Audio AXR100 Stereo Receiver has all the power, connections, and refined sound quality needed to build a quality affordable high-end audio system around.
The capable amplifier has 100 watts x 2 into 8 ohms (20-20,000 Hz), is 4-ohm speaker capable, has three digital inputs (2 optical, 1 coax), a sub output, MM phono stage, two sets of binding-post speaker connectors, plus much more.
In addition, the AXR100’s huge toroidal transformer allows it to provide lots of clean high-current power to the speakers of your choice. We recommend the Wharfedale Diamond 12.2 Bookshelf Speaker as a good match.
We love the AXR100 because we feel it’s the most well-rounded unit at the price point, but if you don’t need the digital inputs, and can deal with a little less power, you can also get its little brother, the AXR85 Stereo Receiver for $400. (Full Review Here)
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