The Audiophiliac picks the best receivers and amplifiers – CNET
Rotel RA-1592 integrated amplifier
Outlaw Audio RR 2160 stereo receiver
Emotiva BasX A-100 integrated amplifier
Decware Zen Torii MKIV integrated tube amplifier
Vista Spark integrated amplifier
Pass Labs HPA-1 preamplifier/headphone amplifier
NAD C 316BEE integrated amplifier
Onkyo TX 8070 stereo receiver
Pass Labs XA25 power amplifier
Schiit Ragnarok integrated amplifier
Sony STR DN1080 AV receiver
Yamaha R-S202 stereo receiver
Rogue Sphinx v2 integrated amplifier
From time to time I collect stand-out products for a gallery, and this time I’m bringing you the best receivers and amplifiers. We’ll start with the Rotel RA-1592 stereo integrated amplifier ($2,499, £1,895, AU$3,499). It’s a velvet brute with 200 watts per channel of Class AB power on tap, ultra-high-resolution 768 kHz and 32-bit digital converters (which also handle DSD files), all packed into a handsome chassis that’s available in silver or black finishes.
The Outlaw Audio RR 2160 stereo receiver is one seriously heavy beast. This bad boy weighs a hefty 28.3 pounds (12.8kg), and can deliver 165 watts per channel to 4-ohm speakers, and 110 watts to 8-ohm speakers.
But forget the numbers: The RR 2160 sounds flat-out better than any receiver or amplifier I’ve heard for its asking price of $799 (about £580 or AU$1,020). The receiver really clicked with my KEF LS50, Zu Druid V, Magnepan MMGi and .7 speakers.
It delivers 50 watts per channel for 8-ohm speakers, and 80 watts per channel for 4-ohm speakers. Let’s stop right there. The fact that the BasX A-100 even has a 4-ohm rating is noteworthy; few AV receivers selling for three or four times the BasX A-100’s modest price can happily drive low-impedance speakers. That says a lot about the BasX A-100’s build quality.
The Zen Torii MKIV twenty-five watts per channel amp is sold direct by Decware for $3,499 (about £2,540 or AU$4,400).
The main thing I appreciated about my Zen Torii MKIV listening sessions was the way recordings take on a more physical presence in my room. It’s almost as if the instruments and voices are more fully formed. Each instrument and vocal is distinct and separated in space. When switching over to other amps, some dimensionality is lost and the soundstage feels flatter. All Decware amplifiers are designed and built in East Peoria, Illinois.
The Vista Spark is exactly what the audiophile world needs: A small, no-frills, no-nonsense high quality affordable integrated amplifier. Spark is super basic in functionality, and that’s what I like about it.
You get two stereo analog inputs, but no digital inputs or remote control, Spark’s prime directive is just about maximizing sound quality. And it does that very well. Build quality is decent enough for a $349 (£251, AU$437) component.
The Pass Labs HPA-1 is a first-class headphone amp, but it also turns out to be a seriously good stereo preamp. It’s $3,499 or £3,500, which converts to about AU$6,180.
The C 316BEE, a 40-watt-per-channel, Class AB stereo integrated amp ($380, £300, AU$599). It looks right and is designed in the no-frills NAD tradition. So it’s short on features, but sounds fantastic, and it handily drives hard-to-handle speakers such as Magnepans.
I’ve long been an advocate of stereo home theater, but there was one stumbling block. Stereo receivers and integrated amplifiers lacked video switching of any kind. For years I’ve asked manufacturers about this and all I got in return was a lot of blank stares.
So I’m especially happy to report that Onkyo’s TX-8270 stereo receiver sports four HDMI inputs. There’s also a boatload of other features that you normally get with multichannel AV receivers. The TX-8270’s street price is $499, £539 or AU$1,199.
Priced at $4,900 or £4,000, the XA25 is the most affordable of Pass Labs’ power amps. (Australian pricing isn’t available but converts to about AU$7,000)
If you’re an audiophile looking for your next amp, you may be wondering whether 25 watts is enough. Sure, it’s easy to err on the side of more watts, but what will you be missing in terms of clarity? In this case, less is more. The XA25 sounds amazing with low-sensitivity speakers such as Harbeths and Magnepans.
The Schiit Ragnarok is a class AB amplifier design, power is rated at 60 watts per channel for 8-ohm speakers, 100 watts per for 4-ohm speakers. The Ragnarok measures 16 by 12 by 3.75 inches (406 by 305 by 95 mm), and weighs 32 pounds (14.5 kg).
This bad boy runs hot, just like most of my favorite high-end amps. Schiit’s five-year warranty is considerably longer than what you get with most mass-market electronics. It’s $1,699, which converts to £1,211 or AU$2,100.
The Sony STR-DN1080 ($498, £460, AU$1,399) offers all of the features you could want in a modern receiver — multiroom music, Chromecast streaming, AirPlay, Dolby Atmos and a slew of 4K-compliant inputs. Sound quality is excellent, especially for movies. The user interface is easy to follow, and it comes coupled with a friendly remote.
Every time I review a stereo receiver I remember how much easier they are to set up than any of today’s AV receivers. Just hook up a pair of speakers (I used ELAC Debut B6s), and a source such as a Blu-ray player or games console, and you’re good to go. Turn on the R-S202, select the input and enjoy the tunes. It costs $149, £199 or AU$479.
The Sphinx v2 is a “hybrid” tube, solid-state design. One noteworthy improvement of the v2 over its predecessor is its revised and quieter moving-magnet/moving-coil phono preamplifier section.
In addition to the phono input there are three more RCA inputs, plus fixed and variable RCA stereo outputs. The latter can be used with a powered subwoofer. The built-in headphone amp has also been improved over the original Sphinx. It sells for $1,295 in the US, £1,495 in the UK or about AU$2,600.