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Integrated amplifiers buying guide

Lay the foundation for a great home stereo system

F

rom smartphones to wireless powered speakers, there's certainly no shortage of ways to enjoy your tunes these days. But if you're a serious music lover, then a sound system based around an integrated amplifier might be just the ticket.    

What is an integrated amplifier?

An integrated amplifier is actually two components in one:

  1. A power amplifier, which generates the wattage needed to drive your loudspeakers
  2. A preamplifier that accepts the inputs from all of your music source components

The preamp lets you switch among your sources and control the volume. The preamp may also include balance and tone controls.

What to look for

Consider the number and types of connections an integrated amp provides. You'll want to be certain that it can accommodate the components you currently have. And think about the ones you may want to add in the future.

Cambridge Audio Azur 851A integrated amplifier

The Cambridge Audio Azur 851A integrated amplifier includes plenty of analog RCA audio inputs. It includes two pairs of balanced XLR jacks for connecting high-end gear.

Analog audio inputs

  • RCA audio inputs are the standard for connecting audio components.
  • An RCA phono input is for direct connection of a turntable without a phono preamp. Some can even accommodate moving coil cartridges, as well as more common moving magnet ones.
  • Balanced XLR audio inputs are heavy-duty, three-pin connectors designed to connect high-end audio components.
Yamaha A-S801 stereo integrated amplifier

This Yamaha A-S801 provides analog and digital audio inputs, plus a USB connection for your computer.

Digital audio inputs

Some Integrated amplifiers include a built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC). The main types of digital audio inputs are:

  • Optical (Toslink)
  • Coaxial (RCA)
  • USB Type B — usually use to plug in a computer  
  • USB Type A — for plugging in a mobile device or USB thumb drive
  • Ethernet — for connecting to the Internet, a network-connected computers, or a network-connected hard drive   

Wireless connectivity

It's hard to beat the convenience of wireless streaming when it comes to music listening. A number of integrated amplifiers now offer that capability in several different ways:

  • Built-in W-Fi® allows you to connect to your home's wireless network. You'll be able to stream music from online services or from network-connected computers and music servers.
  • Bluetooth® lets you enjoy wireless music streaming from any compatible smartphone, tablet, or computer. Some integrated amplifiers have this feature built in, while others may offer it as an add-on option.
  • Integrated amps with Apple AirPlay® can stream music from your iPhone® or iPad®. If you have a networked computer running iTunes®, you can also use AirPlay to send music from your music library to your integrated amp.

Outputs

  • A headphone jack provides a great way to enjoy your music without disturbing others.
  • A subwoofer output lets you connect an optional powered sub to supplement your system's bass output.
  • Preamp out/Main in connections let you disconnect the amplifier and preamplifier from each other so you can use them independently.
  • Basic preamp output gives you an easy way to add a new power amp to your system. This is handy if you move your system to a larger room or buy new speakers that need more power.
  • A + B speaker connectors offer an easy way to connect two pairs of speakers. This is handy if you want to power a second pair in another room, or even outdoors. These dual outputs can also provide a convenient way to bi-wire a compatible pair of loudspeakers.

Size

Integrated amps come in all shapes and sizes.

If you have plenty of open space or a large equipment rack, then a classic, full-size amp might be the way to go. These traditional components usually offer the greatest number of connections.

NAD-integrated-amp-compact-size

The compact NAD integrated amp Crutchfield Advisor Charles is holding weighs less than 8 lbs and takes up less than 270 cubic inches of space. A comparably-powered full-size amp might weigh twice as much and occupy more than 1,500 cubic inches. 

On the other hand, if space is tight, a compact desk-top style amp could fit the bill nicely. Although these mighty mites provide fewer connections, they can accommodate most systems.

Power: How much and what kind?

Think power output is the first thing to look at when choosing an integrated amp? It makes less difference than you might expect.

Why?

Because wattage ratings and maximum volume are only loosely connected. For example, a 200 watt amplifier will only play a mere 3 dB louder than a 100 watt amplifier — a barely noticeable difference. To play twice as loud as that 100 watt amp, you would need one with 1,000 watts, a ten-fold increase in power!  

Increase in watts Increase in decibels What you hear
Doubled 3 dB Barely perceptible difference
Quadrupled 6 dB 1.5 times as loud
10x 10 dB Twice as loud

So what determines how much amplifier power to get?

It comes down to your speakers' sensitivity (ability to convert power into sound), the size of your listening room, and the volume levels you're likely to want.

For example, you may only need 15 to 20 watts per channel for a system with small bookshelf speakers — particularly if you only need to play your music at moderate volume levels. On the other hand, you may need 200 watts or more for a system with big floor-standing speakers in a large listening room with lots of sound-absorbing surfaces.

Our experience shows that most speakers perform their best when powered by an amplifier that's close to their maximum power rating. But you don't absolutely need that much to enjoy good sound.

8 ohms vs 4 ohms

One last thing to keep in mind when it comes to matching integrated amps with speakers, and that's impedance.

Almost all amp manufacturers list a minimum recommended speaker impedance, such as 8 ohms or 4 ohms. To be on the safe side, it's best to always follow those recommendations.

Keep in mind that using two pairs of speakers simultaneously with an amplifier that has A and B speaker outputs changes the impedance. Always double check the owner's manual to make sure you are operating within the safe limits of the amp.

Yamaha A-S3000 integrated amplifier

The Yamaha A-S3000's large toroidal transformer delivers plenty of clean, low-noise current. The amp's left- and right-channel circuitry has been placed as far apart as possible to reduce cross-channel interference.

Amplifier class and construction

You're likely to come across terms relating to amplifier "class," such as Class D, Class A, and Class A/B.

Much has been made of these class designations and how they relate to sound quality. The distinctions are very technical. Bottom line: there are great-sounding amplifiers within all of these classes. Try not to get too hung up on these designations.

Amplifier classes aside, there are some tangible features to look for that affect an integrated amplifiers performance. One of more important among them is an amp's power supply. That's the internal circuitry that converts AC power from the wall into DC power used by the amp.

Better power supplies include toroidal transformers. These ring-shaped parts efficiently deliver large amounts of current with a minimum of radiated electronic noise.

Another feature to consider is dual-mono construction. This design separates the right and left channels from each other — both physically and electronically. The idea is to maintain maximum stereo separation for a wide, deep musical soundstage.  

Receiver vs amplifier

A stereo receiver is an integrated amp with a built-in radio tuner. If you don't plan on listening to the radio, an integrated amp might make a better choice.

A home theater receiver and a room full of surround sound speakers is dynamite for movies. But if you're building a system primarily for music listening, an integrated amp is a better choice. 

Integrated amps focus only on the components that count most for getting top-notch sound. You're not investing in circuitry and processing unneeded for two-channel audio.

integrated-amp-anthem-interior-close-up

A peek under the hood of an integrated amp shows us premium parts and a circuit design that's optimized for audio only.

denon-home-theater-receiver-interior-close-up

A home theater receiver's chassis is much more crowded with parts, many of which don't have anything to do with audio.

Even without surround sound, though, an integrated amp and stereo speakers can greatly improve TV sound. Many models feature digital audio inputs to connect a TV or Blu-ray player. It's a cost-effective, space-saving way to build an excellent two-channel system for music, movies, and TV.

Integrated amp vs separates

You get more flexibility with a separate stereo amp and preamp. An integrated amp saves space and cost.  

Need help deciding?

Have questions? Call, email, or chat with us today.

Our Advisors know the gear inside and out. Your Advisor can send specific Crutchfield pages to your screen, saving you a lot of browsing time. And they can send you a shopping cart loaded up with everything you need.

Free lifetime tech support is included with your Crutchfield purchase.

Please share your thoughts below.

  • VIRGINIA M ATMORE from Ventura

    Posted on 8/3/2020

    Which integrated amps have Main In connectors as well as preout connectors? Do any 2 channel receivers have both?

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 8/4/2020

    Virginia - These Arcam integrated amplifiers have a Processor Mode that functions the way you're describing. Generally speaking, I don't see that feature called out very often in integrateds or stereo receivers, but if I can find enough of them, I'll see about getting a filter for that option put on the page. Thanks for the question!
  • Dan from Silver City

    Posted on 8/1/2020

    Nice article. I built a Heathkit integrated receiver/amp from parts 40 years ago. It had the best of all features for that time. Alas, it has been dying a slow death in recent years, and it died yesterday. I have been recording my LP collection to .mp3 files via Audacity. I still have LP's waiting in the queue. I need an integrated amp that has both phono inputs and "Line Out" jacks (for a stand-alone external USB sound card). Yes, the Heathkit had jacks for Tape Out, which are electrically Line Out. (also had Tape In and Tape Monitoring, just for the sake of history!). I have high efficiency speakers and a small house, so power not an issue. Your recommendations? Many thanks, Dan

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 8/3/2020

    Dan - I think I have a pretty good choice for you. The Cambridge Audio AXA35 has a phono input and they literally call their line out "record out." On the off chance that one doesn't catch your eye, here's a filtered link that shows all integrated amps with phono input.
  • Tithdary from Tampa

    Posted on 7/22/2020

    Excellent explanations Thank you

  • Hee Kim from Fort Lee

    Posted on 7/16/2020

    Thanks for your technical information. Much helpful!

  • Randall from Concord

    Posted on 7/1/2020

    Could you please explain why you only recommended home theater receivers in response to Addison Marks of Anaheim Hills question? Is there a reason an integrated amp wouldn't be better?

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 7/2/2020

    Hi, Randall. I recommended Home Theater receivers in that case because of the part of the system that feeds Left, Right, and Center channel speakers. To get the center channel information off of a movie, you'd have to have a set of binding posts that serve that specific function. Hope that helps!
  • Randall from Concord

    Posted on 7/1/2020

    Could you please explain why you only recommended home theater receivers in response to Addison Marks of Anaheim Hills question? Is there a reason an integrated amp wouldn't be better?

  • Addison Marks from Anaheim Hills

    Posted on 6/16/2020

    Hi - My Onkyo receiver just broke and I need a new device and need your expertise. My primary use of this device is for music streaming from Spotify. I need 2 zones (outdoor & indoor) with an output port to my channel selector which controls volume to 6 outside speakers. This device also feeds 3 speakers (L, R & Center) inside for Spotify playing and from my TV for movies. Need ease of use so others in the family can switch to zone 2, etc.

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 6/16/2020

    Addison - I've filtered a list of Home Theater receivers to show those with Wi-Fi built in and a preamp output to feed into your channel selector. Without knowing more about your system, I'm reluctant to make a single recommendation, but this should narrow it down quite a bit: Home Theater receivers filtered list Hope that helps!
  • Anil Jannu from Bangalore , India

    Posted on 6/9/2020

    Really good insight into integrated amps !! Well articulated . Just water to check 1. if we use pre amp out to connect to a power amp can we also use the regular speaker A and B outputs to in effect you can fire 3 sets of speakers , am I right Or if you use preamp the amp gets disconnected ?? 2. How do we judge the quality of sound , such as rich, smooth, harsh , soundstage forward or laid back etc.. I know much depends on Speakers but every amp has its own signature . 3. The quality of DAC also matters , mostly we have bur brown, AKM , Olfson, Saber etc Which are the best ones? 4 . Finally I plan to buy one among the 3 integrated amps purely for stereo music for my Acostic Energy Elite 3 floor standers using Rotel 1582 power amp rated at 200 w/ch. Which do you suggest for rich , clear and smooth long hour listening mostly via streaming using tidal or sportify. a. Rotel A14 b . Marantz NR1200 c. CXA 61 d. NAD C 368

  • Anil Jannu from Bangalore , India

    Posted on 6/9/2020

    Really good insight into integrated amps !! Well articulated . Just water to check 1. if we use pre amp out to connect to a power amp can we also use the regular speaker A and B outputs to in effect you can fire 3 sets of speakers , am I right Or if you use preamp the amp gets disconnected ?? 2. How do we judge the quality of sound , such as rich, smooth, harsh , soundstage forward or laid back etc.. I know much depends on Speakers but every amp has its own signature . 3. The quality of DAC also matters , mostly we have bur brown, AKM , Olfson, Saber etc Which are the best ones? 4 . Finally I plan to buy one among the 3 integrated amps purely for stereo music for my Acostic Energy Elite 3 floor standers using Rotel 1582 power amp rated at 200 w/ch. Which do you suggest for rich , clear and smooth long hour listening mostly via streaming using tidal or sportify. a. Rotel A14 b . Marantz NR1200 c. CXA 61 d. NAD C 368

  • Jorge Salas from Monterrey

    Posted on 5/27/2020

    I have a pair of bose virtually invisible 891. I'm about to buy an integrated amp. due to my budget my options are: - Onkyo a9110 - Marantz PM5005 - Cambridge Audio AXA35 Which will you recommend for those speakers? Great article, thanks!

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 5/28/2020

    Jorge - I'm a fan of the Marantz and Cambridge options, which are very similar in the way they perform. The main difference I can see is that the Cambridge has a built-in phono input, so I'd lean that way if you want to play records. If you get one of those from us, we offer lifetime tech support, so I hope you'll take advantage of the benefits of being a Crutchfield customer!
  • Ion from Castellon - España

    Posted on 4/23/2020

    Hola, Muchas gracias por una pagina tan buena donde podemos encontrar un monton de informacion por eso me aprovecho para pedir una informacion: Estoy pensando en comprar un equipo Marantz PM8006 + Marantz ND8006 y no se que altavoces comprar, me gustan mucho los Dali Opticon 2 o Dynaudio Emit M20 pero no se cual tiene mas synergia, porsupuesto me puede proponer otros que serian mejores que estos pero que no suba mas de precio A la espera de una respuesta os mando un caluroso saludo desde España

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 4/24/2020

    Ion - Thanks for the message. I had a Spanish-speaking colleague translate my reply: Soy un gran admirador de las altavoces Dynaudio. Tienen un sonido inmersivo y un rendimiento increíble por el precio. ¡No puedes equivocarte eligiendo los Emit20! Esperamos que te quedes seguro y sano en España.
  • Dana from Pgh.

    Posted on 4/13/2020

    Clear information about audio components and how to use and extra information is always available thanks

  • richard ackerbauer from Cobleskill

    Posted on 4/8/2020

    Great Article. I am quite new to this field but Bought a Marantz receiver a couple weeks ago with some Polk Audio Bookshelf speakers and stands...for my photography studio. With this simple setup...I as blown away. My question is would I benefit at all by running a Marantz Amp in conjunction with my receiver? Thanks in advance

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 4/9/2020

    Richard - If you're happy with the amount of power your receiver is sending to the Polks, you should be good to go. I'd only add an amp if you wanted more power than the receiver can offer. Thanks for the question!
  • Mark from Whitehall,mi.

    Posted on 3/16/2020

    Could you use a denon avrx1300w to get internet radio plugged into a integrated amp?

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 3/18/2020

    Mark - The Denon has built-in Wi-Fi, so you can stream internet radio. There may be a way to make a wired connection to a media streamer component, but using the wireless would be more cost-effective.
  • Dale from Meriden

    Posted on 2/22/2020

    Your opening picture shows an ARCAM product. But I do not see any mention of it in the article

    Jim Richardson from Crutchfield

    on 2/24/2020

    It's the SA10. If you have questions about it, please contact a Crutchfield advisor.
  • Jeffrey C Bischoff from Palmyra

    Posted on 12/17/2019

    Wouldn't a separate stand alone radio tuner plugged into an integrated amplifier sound better than a reciever?

    Jim Richardson from Crutchfield

    on 12/18/2019

    Most likely. Depends on which products you're talking about. For advice about specific items you're considering, please contact a Crutchfield advisor.
  • Wayne from Leslie

    Posted on 7/19/2019

    Is there such a thing as an integrated surround sound amp ?

    Jim Richardson from Crutchfield

    on 7/22/2019

    The only one I'm aware of is the Rotel RAP-1580. Crutchfield doesn't carry it.
  • Tony Harrell from Tulsa

    Posted on 4/22/2019

    I listen to a lot of online music with the bitstream out option on my Xbox one. Can this be incorporated or replace my current setup.... Xbox oneS Onkyo SR444. Klipsch 6" tower and center. Would it be better to run my Xbox through an integrated amp? Dac? Any help is greatly appreciated. BTW. My current setup sounds pretty darn good watching video of a 1977 live performance of Hotel California!!!

    Jim Richardson from Crutchfield

    on 4/23/2019

    Thanks for your inquiry. I have forwarded it to our advisors. Someone will contact you soon to discuss your system options.
  • bob from new albany

    Posted on 4/15/2018

    the sound quality of an integrated amp is going to be better than a receiver. and can serve very well for movies as well as music. while marantz is not featured here it represents one of the best sounding amps you sell. it is also stylish. marantz amp with klipsch speakers sounds excellent.

  • Joseph Dittrich from Philadelphia

    Posted on 11/23/2017

    Great article. Thank you for the insights.