September 6, 2017
Upgrade your amplifier without breaking the bank.
When you enter mid-range territory on an amplifier, there is room to breathe. I’m referring to the build budget, not necessarily the size of the chassis.
What this means is that the quality of the power supply improves. This one feature alone is so important in amplifiers, as it is in all hi-fi equipment. When an amplifier holds a top quality power supply, the mid-range is smoother, the bass meatier, the noise lower and the amplifier coughs and wheezes less.
Other amplifier enhancements include better quality capacitors and resistors, more attention to noise isolation and the like. Amplifiers benefit from design engineering, sure, but component quality is paramount here. You’ll notice the sonic effects of that in this category.
Having explored budget models in our last feature, and aware that ‘mid-range’ means different things to different people, I’ve limited the selection to £400-£800 designs. To some, this is still budget. Others see it as high-end. If I miss your favourite amp then why not tell us about it in the Comments section below?
Price: £400 or less
For bargain hunters, the now discontinued 1520 was initially for sale for around £700. It looks the part, has five line-level inputs, a moving-magnet phono stage and 3.5mm fascia input. Not the most elegant sounding amp, but sounds assured, targets detail, and has added bass authority.
Featuring Bluetooth support, a 24bit/192kHz DAC, music player socket, headphone amplifier built in but no USB. Full of energy in terms of its presentation, the Cambridge is also happy to present delicate music in a considered and subtle fashion.
It might lack digital connections, but the Brio makes up for that in so many other ways. Firstly, it has a compact design and is therefore ideal for those short on space. The latest iteration includes a headphone amplifier, while the internals and external design has been improved and freshened. Oh, and it sounds wonderful.
Arcam FMJ A19
A 50W amplifier with phono amplifier and headphone socket. It offers a solid chassis and decent interface, it provides a good return on sound quality. For the price, the Arcam has no strong vices or issues, and provides a firm and strong bass, with enough mid-range transparency to satisfy anyone.
Updating the once staid Cyrus design, the ONE offers a small footprint chassi, and 100W of power. No DAC, but it does feature Bluetooth, and a headphone amplifier. The low noise focus that the amplifier bestows upon the musical output is very impressive, making it a hard challenger for amplifiers double the price.
Icon Audio Stereo 20 PP
This compact 15W design from Icon Audio might look familiar. In fact, it should because it’s based on a classic design: the Leak Stereo 20. This amp is not a copy of that design, but uses the basis of it to produce a modern equivalent. The Class A amp is driven by ECC83/ECC82 double triode valves, EL84 output valves and is hand-wired, ‘point to point’.
The Elixir is a compact five-input integrated amplifier with built-in MM phono stage and dedicated, built-in headphone amplifier. It’s a Class A amp that utilises the capacitor coupling principle borrowed from the Heed Audio TransCap amplifiers. Sound quality is excellent, the sense of clarity was a joy to behold.
The guts of the thing sees a customised version of the Hypex UcD output stage, which has the amplifier pumping out a healthy 80W. It includes an 8-channel DAC, Bluetooth, phono amplifier and two upgrade slots to plug in external modules to add further features such as digital outputs. A sweet sounding and easy going amplifier.