The 8 best budget amplifiers for vinyl

By in Features, Turntables & Tech

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Whether you’re going new or second-hand, these affordable integrated amplifiers will make your records sing.

It wasn’t that long ago when a quality budget amplifier meant that, if you turned it on and it didn’t smell of burning, you were onto a winner. Then NAD produced the famed 3020 integrated amplifier and the race was on to produce a quality design for ever less money and with ever more features.

These days, budget amplifiers sound pretty darned good and are packed with features that go above and beyond the standard fare, bringing in digital facilities, streaming options and more.

Hence, today, a typical budget amplifier offers a host of facilities, sounds great and is super reliable. So what boxes should you look out for?

When buying an amplifier for use with a turntable, be aware that some include a phono amplifier within – the bit that connects directly to your deck and allows you to hear what’s going on inside those grooves. Other turntables do not include a phono amplifier so be aware that you will need to buy one if you want to use a turntable in a hi-fi set-up.

This is a feature aimed at budget amplifiers so we’ve limited the selection to sub-£400 models. If I miss your favourite speakers then why not tell us about it in the Comments section below?


ROTEL RA-04 SE

Price: £130 [approx]

www.ebay.co.uk

I wanted to try to include a couple of ‘bargains’ in this overview. A couple of amps that are not currently on sale, possibly recently pulled from a product line, but are new enough to be trusted second hand without repair (as long as they’ve been treated well) and sound the business. This is one of those. Maybe a touch edgy on the treble perhaps, but still a bargain.


YAMAHA A-S500

Price: £150

www.ebay.co.uk

This is another one to look out for on the second-hand market. Of course, the prices for these second hand purchases can vary widely, I only offer a rough guide. Don’t partner it with bright hi-fi, it will provide all the life your hi-fi needs. It offers great timing, is certainly dynamic and is packed with features.


PRO-JECT STEREO BOX S

Price: £199

www.henleydesigns.co.uk

Built in a tiny chassis, spanning 40x100x100 that you could easily hold in your hand, the Stereo Box S still manages to pump out 25W of power. It’s not the best sounding amp at high levels, but at a reasonable volume this little amp has a lot to offer with excellent focus. Great for those people with little space to spare.


CAMBRIDGE TOPAZ AM10

Price: £200

www.cambridgeaudio.com

You can buy a Topaz AM5 for just £150 (that is also recommended) but I prefer the AM10 because it provides a good quality phono amplifier built in and offers a bit more oomph at 35W instead of 25W which prevents stress and strain. You also get a headphone amplifier built in, increasing value for money. Excellent sound quality.


ONKYO A-9010

Price: £229

www.uk.onkyo.com

Many people see Onkyo as just another AV manufacturer but I’ve always been surprised, when reviewing them for national hi-fi magazines, at just how good their amplifier stages are. This one is no different. Don’t be fooled by the prosaic looks – all the exciting stuff is inside the chassis. Where it should be.


MARANTZ PM6006

Price: £250

www.marantz.co.uk

Offering a clean and solid sound, the Marantz offers a DAC running up to 24bit/96kHz, a headphone amp and even a tape loop for recording. Even though there’s no USB port, there are a couple of optical ports around the back.


MONITOR AUDIO AIRSTREAM A100

Price: £290

www.ebay.co.uk

Monitor Audio has retired the A100 now but you can still pick one up in pretty decent condition from eBay. Positioned flat or standing on its end, the A100 certainly offers eye-catching styling. No Bluetooth here but there is AirPlay for Apple fans plus DNLA streaming for Android/Windows. Good value and nice quality sound.


NAD C326BEE

Price: £350

www.nadelectronics.com

Offering oodles of connectivity options including sub-woofer ports if you’re into those. It also includes a useful headphone amplifier built-in plus a connection for a music player. In terms of sound, if you like your bass, check out the NAD as there’s plenty of solidity down there. In fact, the general sound quality of the NAD is dominated by the lower frequencies along with an appealing dynamism.

Complete your set-up with our guides to the best budget turntables and speakers.

Comments (10)

  1. Tim E. Bollinger 5 months ago

    Parasound P-ld should be on this list

  2. Andrew McLean 5 months ago

    So this confused me. You spare more time talking about whether the amp has a headphone amp built in than a phono amp built in. Do any of them have a phono amp stages (the Pro-ject does presumably)?

    • AlanM 3 months ago

      If I’m not mistaken, the project amp featured above is an outboard phono amp only. i.e it has no speaker outputs. It’s a pre-amp. So quoting power outputs for it is a bit silly.

  3. Frank Meeser 5 months ago

    I own an Onkyo A-9010 and I can testify that although this amp is very flexible and should serve you well as the heart of your hifi system, alas, the phono section is poor to crap.

    After taking delivery of my Music Hall mmf 5.1se with mojo cartridge, I could not figure out why my vinyl music sounded thin and brittle, without impact. I checked the connections and ground, tried many different types of music but the sound left me bewildered.

    I took a chance on a phono preamp, the Cambride Audio Azur 651, and the results were dramatic. Full bass with power and attack, nicely balanced range and fidelity revealed just how much performance is lacking from the phono input on the Onkyo.

    Good amp, but not if you’re buying this item specifically to play vinyl records through it.

  4. Neil Bolton 5 months ago

    I would highly suggest an old Pioneer A400 or A400x if one can find them (they’re around) . They are magnificent amplifiers, built like a tank and can power any kind of speaker with a healthy 60w at 8 ohms. They also have a good phono stage for MM cartridges.

    Mine only cost $300 NZD (itll roughly be £170)

    • William Chadwick 5 months ago

      I luckily got handed a A400 years back, it’s a performer! especially for the £50 i often see them on ebay. However, I’ve found it has quite some noise on my phono (could be due to my poor player mind you (also handed to me) recently inherited a B&O player which is much warmer but doesn’t wash out the treble. mind you the B&O probably would require an extra 0 onto the price! would recommend a used A400 to anyone really.

  5. George Mahlum 4 months ago

    Any of the tube/get mini amps would be my choice…Dared…Fatman…etc….you may need to buy a phono pre amp as well.

  6. John Matthews 3 months ago

    I recently built record playing budget systems for 3 different friends. Looking for amps I tried the legendary Pioneer A400 , the Marantz PM-40SE but, despite overhauling them both, they were outclassed by a country mile by the Mission Cyrus 1. While the other amps sounded good for what i paid for them ie < £90 the cyrus 1 simply sounded great. I'd certainly upgrade elsewhere before looking for anything more expensive. Fully serviced you'd be looking at 95 quid for one off ebay and 130 for the service. You'd have to pay 600 to better it

    • Jon Stockwell 3 months ago

      Will check this out too! Cheers!

  7. Andrew Johnson 3 months ago

    Another good ‘budget’ amp is the Denon D-M41DAB … has basic facilities covered with the exception of phono/turntable input. I have a slight model currently connected to my PC for audio output with an chromecast audio stick attached for wireless streaming.

    Does what is says on the tin!

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