Best Amplifiers

Here’s a short list of our favourite Best Amplifiers. Amplifiers are usually the “mystery component” in a home theater or stereo system. We all know they’re important, we all know that their general purpose is to boost power, and we all know that we need one (whether it’s included in an A/V receiver or a separate unit).

But it’s relatively easy to understand the features and specifications of surround-sound speaker systems or HDTVs, because we hear most of them (like 7.1 or 4K) regularly. The jargon you see when looking at amps, however, can look like a foreign language: class AB, class A and class D, monoblocks and heatsinks, solid-state and tubes.

Don’t panic if shopping for amplifiers seems out of your league. Most of the jargon won’t matter unless you’re an audiophile who spends his spare time poring over equipment reviews; we’re not even going to deal with all of those scary phrases. We’ll just give you a few quick guidelines on selecting the right amp for your system, and then suggest the five best amplifiers for your home theater.

One of the most important considerations is power, but the numbers can be confusing. Power ratings are usually specified per channel, so you have to add them together to find an amp’s total power output. And you can’t just match an amp’s power output rating (which often has “RMS” next to it) to the program power rating (sometimes called IEC or continuous power rating) of your speakers.

In general terms, your amplifier should be able to deliver twice your speakers’ program power requirements. That allows for plenty of “headroom” – the difference between normal and peak power outputs. The best amplifiers have limiters to prevent distortion and LED indicators that tell you when you’re exceeding available headroom and the signal is going to be “clipped.” Too much power going to the speakers can damage them.

Just be sure that when you’re shopping for an amp you’re comparing apples to apples (or ohms to ohms, in this case). Amplifiers are rated at different power levels depending on the load they’re driving, so you’ll need to know your speakers’ impedance (measured in ohms) before looking at the amp’s power output to see if it’s sufficient.

Other features to look for in high-end amplifiers are filters and crossovers that let you separate out the bass and high-end signals and send them to different speakers, and the ability to operate in both stereo and bridged modes (allowing you to hook up a subwoofer).

This should all seem less complicated as we go through our list of the best amplifiers, so let’s get to it.

1. Marantz MM7055 5-Channel Power Amplifier

This is the big boy of our lineup. It’s the heaviest, largest and most expensive (over $1000) amp we’re reviewing, but it delivers truly fabulous sound. Its modern, brushed-metal appearance with blue LED light is also impressive.

The MM7055 is rated at 140 watts (at eight ohms) for each of its five channels, more than enough power to drive any speakers in a high-end home theater, even low-impedance ones. We won’t go into all of the custom components inside the amp, but most were developed for top-of-the-line Marantz amps that cost a lot more. Heat dissipation is outstanding, there’s excellent shielding against interference and almost no low-level hum or noise, and the music you’ll hear is rich and crisp with no distortion, even at high volumes.

The five channels can be used to power a 5.1 surround-sound home theater or in an alternate configuration, for two stereo signals and a mono one. For 7.1 or 9.1 systems, this amp can be paired with MM7025 amps to handle the extra channels; it’s not designed for bridging, so you’ll need to run a subwoofer off a separate pre-amp like the AV7701. The MM7055 supports balanced and XLR and RCA inputs.

Marantz has been making outstanding audio components for years. This is another in that long line and one of the best amplifiers you can buy.

Facts and figures for the Marantz MM7055 5-Channel Power Amplifier:

  • Channels: 5
  • Power Output: 140W per channel (into 8 ohms)
  • Frequency response: 8 Hz to 100 kHz
  • Signal to noise: 105dB
  • Dimensions: 17 x 7 x 16 inches
  • Weight: 35 pounds
  • Warranty: 3 years

Check Marantz MM7055 5-Channel Power Amplifier price on Amazon

2. Yamaha A-S801BL Natural Sound Integrated Stereo Amplifier

This Yamaha amp isn’t a traditional stereo amplifier. We’re not talking about performance, because the A-S801BL delivers terrific stereo sound that’s warm and powerful (and has a bridged subwoofer output jack). We’re referring to the fact that this amp includes a separate 32-bit digital-to-analog converter with USB, coax and optical inputs, allowing you to stream high-resolution audio from any of your digital components or devices or your PC with near-audiophile quality. You won’t find that capability on most amps, and in the late 2010s it’s more useful than some of the bells and whistles that other manufacturers cram into their amps.

There’s plenty of power in the A-S801BL, pushing a true 100 watts per channel with almost no distortion. One drawback if you’re using the amp to drive a subwoofer is that there’s no independent volume control, so you’ll have to play with the internal crossover to set the system up just the way you want it. On the plus side, though, there’s a remote control for lazier listeners, CD direct amplification to eliminate signal degradation and noise, a separate moving magnet input terminal for vinyl, and a separate control to adjust tonal balance from flat to -30dB.

At a little under $1000, this is a lot of amp for the money – especially for those who want to stream digital audio through their amplifier.

More details on the Yamaha A-S801BL Natural Sound Integrated Stereo Amplifier:

  • Channels: 2
  • Power Output: 100W per channel (into 8 ohms)
  • Frequency response: 10 Hz to 100 kHz
  • Signal to noise: 99dB
  • Dimensions: 17 x 6 x 15 inches
  • Weight: 26 pounds
  • Warranty: 2 years

Check Yamaha A-S801BL Natural Sound Integrated Amplifier Price on Amazon

3. Onkyo A-9010 Integrated Stereo Amplifier

If there’s one thing you can depend on Onkyo for, it’s strong but ordinary-looking components at great prices. As an example we present the A-9010 amp, not the most powerful amplifier on our list at only 44 watts per channel at 8 ohms. But as long as you’re using efficient speakers and not trying to fill a huge ballroom with sound, the resulting audio is smooth, detailed and impressive. Distortion is minimal at high volumes, and heat dissipation is quite good.

The Yamaha we’ve just reviewed is one amp with a separate DAC for digital audio; this Onkyo is another, capable of accepting high-resolution, compressed or lossless streaming media or PC audio through coax and optical inputs. There’s also a separate MM turntable input and equalizer, an independent headphone amp and a remote control.

The A-9010 looks like something straight out of a 1970s stereo setup with its minimalist design and throwback good looks. Its performance is quite modern, however, and at around one-third the price of the first two amps on our list, this Onkyo is a real bargain.

Digging deeper into the Onkyo A-9010 Integrated Stereo Amplifier:

  • Channels: 2
  • Power Output: 44W per channel (into 8 ohms)
  • Frequency response: 10 Hz to 100 kHz
  • Signal to noise: 92dB
  • Dimensions: 17 x 5 x 13 inches
  • Weight: 14 pounds
  • Warranty: 2 years

Check Onkyo A-9010 Integrated Stereo Amplifier Price on Amazon

4. PS Audio Sprout Home DAC Amp

Here’s an American company that doesn’t have the long heritage of Marantz, Yamaha or Onkyo but has still made noise (of the positive type) in the audio world. PS Audio’s Sprout amp is light and small (about the size of a hardcover book), attractive (with a machined front and walnut-covered top) and easy to use; you just plug in your components and then just worry about the two controls on the front: source and volume. There’s an interesting selection of input possibilities, too. There’s a phono pre-amp and a Bluetooth receiver for audio streamed from portable devices, as well as coax digital, USB and 3.5mm stereo analog jacks. For a subwoofer or powered speakers there’s a 3.5mm analog out.

You won’t get audiophile-level sound from the 32 watts per channel (into 8 ohms) Sprout, but it’s enjoyable to listen to. The audio can be rich and big with the right music, particularly in the mids and highs, although the bass can also sound bloated or even distorted at times. Nevertheless, at a price well below our top-ranked models this is a versatile and more-than-satisfactory amp, which can fit anywhere while looking great.

More info on the PS Audio Sprout Home DAC Amp:

  • Channels: 2
  • Power Output: 32W per channel (into 8 ohms)
  • Frequency response: Not specified
  • Signal to noise: 94dB
  • Dimensions: 8 x 2 x 6 inches
  • Weight: 3 pounds
  • Warranty: 2 years

Check PS Audio Sprout Home DAC Amp Price on Amazon

5. Dayton Audio DTA-120 Class T Digital Mini Amplifier

Don’t buy this one for its appearance; quite frankly, it’s rather ugly. But The DTA-120 is a great bare-bones amp with a small footprint and a surprisingly-low price in the $100 range. It’s rated at 50 watts per channel (into 8 ohms), it’s solidly built, and it cranks out detailed and clean sound with good power and bigger imaging than it has any right to produce for its size and price. There’s a little hiss on the high end, but nothing overly objectionable.

Sadly, there’s just a single front-mounted 3.5mm input and rear-mounted RCA inputs, a subwoofer output and a headphone jack, and only a single volume control on the front – so this isn’t a full-featured amplifier. It’ll just do what it promises. One note worth mentioning: the power supply is separate and around the same size as the amp, so the entire package is actually bigger than its specs.

You’ll get decent performance driving big speakers with the DTA-120, but where it really shines is with desktop speaker systems. It’s definitely our best budget-level amplifier.

Specifications for the Dayton Audio DTA-120 Class T Digital Mini Amplifier:

  • Channels: 2
  • Power Output: 50W per channel (into 8 ohms)
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz
  • Signal to noise: 103dB
  • Dimensions: 3.5 x 2 x 5.5 inches
  • Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Warranty: 5 years

Check Dayton Audio DTA-120 Class T Digital Mini Amplifier Price on Amazon

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