October 18, 2017
The amplifier is the one part of the hi-fi chain that can be (and often is) packed with technology. Nowadays, some manufacturers will absolutely stuff their boxes with gadgetry. It’s almost as if the amplifier – the main bit of the box – is an after thought. So you’ll get a built-in phono amp, a built-in headphone amp, a built-in DAC, subwoofer support, sometimes you’ll get spaces for plug-in modules, there’ll be Wi-Fi support, Bluetooth, and possibly a space to cook a barbecue.
Now, all of this is nice and I won’t necessarily ignore these sort of add-ons below, but I do not see high-end amplifiers as a laundry list of technology. I look at high-end amplifiers in terms of sound quality. Sometimes, in fact, technology can actually hamper sound quality, adding to the noise level, for example. So, bear that in mind when viewing the following choice.
As with other guides in this hi-fi series, we’ve decided to pitch the high-end label at any design over the £800 figure. Of course, high-end amplifiers can soar in price to 10k and far more. Hence, if I’ve missed out your favourite design, because of space issues, then please shout at me in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.
The build budget hasn’t been spent on fripperies or fancies – both the chassis and remote are only ‘functional’ but you do get a phono amp. However, this the amplifier is solid, and mixes components from the cheaper Brio-R and more expensive Elicit-R to produce a great sounding unit.
Ming Da Piccolo B902
Featuring two KT90 pentode power valves in ‘single-ended’ mode, two 12AU7 input valves, and a 5U4G(274B) rectifier valve, the amplifier pumps out 18W of Class A sound. You also get an in-built headphone amplifier built-in and an infra-red remote. Paired with sensitive speakers, the amp is both graceful and elegant.
Including a phono amplifier, headphone amplifier and Bluetooth plus some AV facilities, this clean-lined amplifier could be accused of over-crowding in terms of facilities, but fortunately it sounds excellent too. The 150W sound with a big soundstage will keep you awake at night.
Naim Nait 5si
Including a headphone amp, four input buttons and a volume knob on the left of the fascia, there’s 60W of power available, but its feels far more during use. The Naim packs muscle, but balances that with a sense of fragility when outlining fine detail.
All the way from Norway, this amp includes a built-in DAC, and a solid chassis. Sound quality offers a low noise output with plenty of bass control and a midrange that is inherently neutral. The DAC, meanwhile, sounds remarkable fluid for a digital unit.
Unison Research Simply Italy
An update of the Simply Two, the all-valve Simply Italy was designed by Professor Gianni Sacchetti, offering small ECC82s at the front for pre-amplification and larger EL34s for its full 12W of power. A fluid amplifier where music flows easily.
A slim yet good looking amplifier that is pretty heavy for its size, due to the large transformer inside, and the built-in phono amplifier, which is an optional extra. A beautifully balanced amplifier that might sound a little too relaxed for some, but does offer tremendous detail.
The Primare offers space for a media streaming board as an optional extra. An update to the admirable I30, the I32 gives you several digital outputs and a SD slot. Offers detail and dynamics in terms of sound quality, with excellent timing.