Table of Contents
- The Purpose of a Stereo Amplifier
- Power Amplifiers VS Integrated Amplifiers
- Best Budget Stereo Amplifiers – Comparison Table
- What is Considered Affordable When It Comes to Stereo Amplifiers?
- 6 Best Budget Stereo Amplifiers in 2021
- 1. Best Stereo Amplifier Under $150 – Sony STR-DH190
- 2. Best Stereo Amp Under $200 – Yamaha R-S202BL
- 3. Best Cheap Stereo Amplifier – Fosi Audio BT10A
- 4. Best Stereo Amplifier Under $500 – Marantz PM5005
- 5. Best Desktop Stereo Amplifier Under $200 – Audioengine N22
- 6. Best Desktop Stereo Amplifier Under $500 – NAD D 3020 v2
A great pair of speakers without proper amplification is like Bonnie without Clyde or Dr. Jekyll without Mr. Hide. Having a great stereo amplifier is just as important as having great speakers, and that’s a fact. But you can’t connect just any amplifier to any pair of speakers. It has to be the right kind of amp – it should be powerful enough to drive the speakers and should be capable of supplying clean power without introducing noise and artificial sounds.
So, what to look for, what to pay attention to, what kind of amplifier should you buy, how much should you spend? You can find all the answers and some great suggestions in our article about the 6 best budget stereo amplifiers in 2021. Let’s find out more about stereo amps.
The Purpose of a Stereo Amplifier
The main purpose of a stereo amplifier is fairly simple – it receives the audio signal coming from the preamp (power amplifiers) or from a source device (integrated amplifiers), amplifies that signal, and sends the amplified signal to the speakers.
What’s not so simple is making an amp that does its job efficiently and effortlessly. What’s even harder is making a budget stereo amplifier that provides superior performance at an affordable price. These amplifiers will be the main topic of this article and we will try to explain all the advantages and disadvantages of budget stereo amplifiers, discuss the prices, and present to you our selection of 6 best budget stereo amplifiers in 2021.
Power Amplifiers VS Integrated Amplifiers
There are two different kinds of stereo amplifiers – power amps and integrated amps.
Power amplifiers have to perform only one task – they receive the incoming audio signal from the preamp or DAC/Preamp, and send an amplified signal to the speakers.
Integrated amps are a bit busier – they are basically an amp and preamp in one box. In some cases, there’s even a DAC built inside. They also amplify the audio signal and drive the speakers, but they also receive the signals coming from all kinds of audio sources (CD players, music streamers, turntables, etc.), process those signals and, in some cases, convert all digital signals to analog.
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So, what amp type is better – power amps or integrated amps? Well, most audiophiles will argue that having a separate amp, preamp, and DAC is a better option and enables better signal processing and cleaner output. Generally, this is a valid point. However, a well-executed integrated amp will also provide you with an amazing experience and it will usually cost less than three separate units. So, if you’re looking for a cheaper option, buying an integrated amp is the way to go. But what is considered affordable when it comes to stereo amplifiers?
Best Budget Stereo Amplifiers – Comparison Table
|Budget Stereo Amplifiers||Rating||Price||Review|
|Sony STR-DH190||4.5||Check Amazon|
|Yamaha R-S202BL||4.5||Check Amazon|
|Fosi Audio BT10A||4.5||Check Amazon||Read Review|
|Marantz PM5005||4.3||Check Amazon|
|Audioengine N22||4.1||Check Amazon|
|NAD D 3020 v2||4.1||Check Amazon||Read Review|
What is Considered Affordable When It Comes to Stereo Amplifiers?
The price of power amplifiers and stereo amplifiers varies a lot. Some high-end amps are priced well over $10,000 (Goldmund Telos 7 NextGen, for example, is priced around $12,000). A significant number of high-end amplifiers are priced over $100,000 (Goldmund Telos 3500+, Dynaudio Arbiter, Naim Statement) but those are usually monoblocks (one amplifier is responsible for one speaker only).
Luckily, a huge number of stereo amplifiers is priced under $1000 or under $500, or even under $100. So, the good news is that you don’t have to sell your house to buy a stereo amplifier.
So, what is considered budget-friendly when it comes to stereo amplifiers? For the purposes of this article, we decided to set our limit at $500 but the limit for an entry-level audiophile-grade amp could also be $1,000.
After covering the most important topics, we can now move onto our selection of the 6 best budget stereo amplifiers in 2021. Since one of the main criteria is budget, the following devices are categorized by their prices. That should make it easier for you to find a perfect amplifier – you just have to go through our selection, find the price range that suits you, and read our review.
6 Best Budget Stereo Amplifiers in 2021
1. Best Stereo Amplifier Under $150 – Sony STR-DH190
Sony STRDH190 is our top recommendation under $150. It’s a fairly powerful stereo amp with multiple analog inputs and support for up to 4 speakers (only two can be powered at the same time).
Things we like
The unit comes with all the necessary cables (speaker wire, stereo RCA cable, phono cable with grounding wire, 3.5mm audio cable) so you don’t have to buy anything. It also comes with a nice-looking remote, detachable FM antenna, and with an easy-to-follow user manual.
STR-DH190 features the same design as some Sony AV receivers, only with fewer control buttons and fewer connections. It’s quite slim (5.25in) and should fit any TV cabinet.
Like always, all the controls are on the front and all the inputs are on the back. The front panel houses some basic controls (volume dial, input selector, tuning buttons, Bluetooth button, etc.) One 6.35mm headphone output and one 3.5mm input are located on the front, too.
On the rear panel, you have a phono input, 4 RCA stereo inputs, one pair of RCA outputs, an FM antenna connector, a USB port (for service purposes), and four spring-clip speaker terminals.
The amplifier supports 6-16Ω speakers. It can output 100W per channel (when driving two 8Ω loads, at 1kHz). You can connect up to 4 speakers (two pairs) but you can’t power all 4 at once (only one pair can be powered at once). To switch between two pairs, just press the speaker button on the front panel or the same button on the remote.
Aside from analog connections, STR-DH190 also has a built-in FM tuner and supports Bluetooth connectivity (Bluetooth 4.2). The Bluetooth connection works flawlessly and provides stable performance within the advertised 30ft range.
The included remote allows you some advanced settings – you can adjust the bass and treble levels, select the PURE DIRECT feature (bypasses the volume control and provides you with unprocessed high-fidelity sound), etc.
Things we don’t like
The USB port on the back can’t be used for music playback.
Spring-clip speaker terminals are of poor quality and don’t accept banana plugs.
Lacks AM tuner.
2. Best Stereo Amp Under $200 – Yamaha R-S202BL
Yamaha R-S202BL is similar to the previous Sony stereo amplifier. They share many features including Bluetooth connectivity and the same power output. The advantage of the Yamaha amp is the built-in AM tuner, while the advantage of the previously reviewed Sony amp is the existence of phono inputs.
Things we like
Like the Yamaha AV receivers, Yamaha R-S202BL is compact and elegant. It has a very attractive brushed aluminum housing. The unit is fairly slim (5.5in) and should fit most TV cabinets.
The unit comes with FM and AM antennas, remote (with batteries), and a user manual. Unlike the previous Sony amp, this one doesn’t come with any audio cables or speaker wire – you have to buy everything separately.
On the front panel, there’s a slim LCD display (shows frequency, mode, and settings). Below the display, there’s a series of control buttons (power, speaker selector A/B, bass/treble adjusters, input selector, tuning buttons, etc.). This control panel also houses a headphone output (6.35mm) and a large volume dial.
On the back, you have AM and FM connectors, 4 pairs of RCA inputs, one pair of RCA outputs, and 4 spring-clip speaker terminals.
R-S202BL works with 2-8Ω speakers. It can push 100W per channel (with two 8Ω channels driven, 40Hz-20kHz, 0.2% THD). You can connect up to 4 speakers (2 pairs) but you can listen to only one pair at a time.
Aside from analog connections, this unit features Bluetooth connectivity (Bluetooth 4.1 with EDR) and has built-in AM and FM tuners. The Bluetooth connection offers satisfying performance.
The included remote allows you to controls the bass and treble levels, adjust speaker balance (L/R), memorize up to 40 radio presets, and control the playback in Bluetooth mode.
Things we don’t like
Lacks digital inputs.
Lacks phono inputs.
The unit has spring-clip speaker terminals. The terminals are plasticky and don’t feel very durable. Also, they are not compatible with banana plugs.
3. Best Cheap Stereo Amplifier – Fosi Audio BT10A
Fosi Audio is a generic brand. It’s not as reputable and reliable as Sony or Yamaha, but it still makes good-quality cheap amps. TB10A is one of the most compact and cheapest desktop stereo amplifiers. It’s easy to set up and is a perfect choice for a pair of small desktop/bookshelf passive speakers.
Things we like
The unit is super compact (much smaller than the previous two amps) and has a strong aluminum chassis. It comes with a detachable power cable and user manual. Audio cables are not included.
The front panel houses the power switch with a tiny power/source indicator, and three dials (treble, bass, volume).
The rear panel houses one 3.5mm audio input, a detachable Bluetooth antenna, two pairs of 5-way binding posts (compatible with banana plugs), and a DC input.
The unit is compatible with 2-8Ω speakers. The advertised max power output is 50W x2 (probably at 8Ω but we didn’t find any info about that in the manual). This thing is only good for cheap and tiny passive desktop speakers. If you have a pair of large bookshelf speakers, Fosi BT10A is not going to be enough.
Except for the 3.5mm audio input, this unit has a built-in Bluetooth receiver and features Bluetooth 5.0 with up to 50ft range.
Things we don’t like
Only one AUX connection – there are no RCA connections or any other audio input.
Not powerful enough to drive larger bookshelf speakers.
Lacks aptX/aptX HD support.
4. Best Stereo Amplifier Under $500 – Marantz PM5005
Marantz PM5005 is our top suggestion under $500. This unit is also one of the best entry-level audiophile stereo amplifiers. It’s not extremely powerful (40W x2 into 8Ω), but all the circuits are fully analog and the quality of the sound is just magnificent. This is probably the best-sounding amp on our list of 6 best budget stereo amplifiers in 2021.
Things we like
Marantz PM5005 comes with a detachable power cable, remote (with batteries), and user manual.
It has a solid and attractive housing with an intuitive control panel on the front side and all the inputs on the back. The unit is super-slim (4.1in) so finding the right spot for it shouldn’t be a problem.
The control panel has two large dials – input selector on the left end and volume dial on the right end. In the middle, you have the rest of the control buttons and dials, as well as a nice-looking LCD status/source indicator. You have three small dials for bass, treble, and balance adjustments. Also, you have the SOURCE DIRECT button, and speaker selector (A-B).
On the rear panel, you have dedicated phono inputs and three additional RCA inputs. Plus, you have dual recording RCA inputs and outputs (for Recorder 1 and 2). PM5005 features two sets of 5-way binding terminals compatible with banana plugs. You can connect up to 4 speakers (2 pairs) but only one pair can be powered at once (or you can bi-wire one pair).
The amplifier is compatible with 4-8Ω speakers. It can push up to 40W per channel (with two 8Ω channels driven, 40Hz-20kHz, 0.01% THD). The amplification circuits are fully analog.
PM5005 features the so-called SOURCE DIRECT feature. When engaged, this feature will do the same thing as PURE DIRECT on Sony amps. It will bypass the volume and tone control circuitries and provide you with a much clearer, unfiltered sound.
As far as additional features are concerned, you can play with the bass and treble levels and adjust the sound signature to your preference. Also, you can adjust the balance (L-R).
Things we don’t like
Unlike cheaper stereo amplifiers, Marantz PM5005 has no additional features – it lacks AM/FM tuners and Bluetooth connectivity.
5. Best Desktop Stereo Amplifier Under $200 – Audioengine N22
If your budget is set at $200, Audioengine N22 is a perfect amplifier for your desktop setup. It’s fairly compact, slim, with a simple control scheme, and versatile connectivity. It also doubles as a headphone amp.
Things we like
Audioengine N22 comes with all the necessary equipment – stand, speaker wire (16 AWG), RCA cable, AUX cable, and power adapter. This unit doesn’t come with a remote since it’s supposed to sit on your desktop, within your reach.
The amp is supposed to be placed vertically and that’s why it comes with a stand. It looks simple, yet quite attractive.
The front panel has a very clean design. There’s a volume dial in the middle, a power indicator at the top, and a headphone output at the bottom.
On the back, you have two inputs – RCA and 3.5mm. Then, there’s one RCA line out, power input, USB port (for charging phones/tablets only), and a set of gold-plated 5-way binding posts.
The amplifier is compatible with 4-8Ω speakers. The continuous power output is 22W per channel (both channels driven, 20Hz-20kHz, THD – 0.1%). The peak power output is 40W. Audioengine recommends using this amp with its P4 speakers.
N22 has a built-in Bur-Brown OPA2134-based headphone amplifier and can work with a variety of headphones, even more demanding ones.
Things we don’t like
The unit is not powerful enough for larger and more demanding bookshelf speakers.
Audioengine N22 is not Bluetooth-enabled. Audioengine makes some pretty high-quality Bluetooth receivers, but they are sold separately.
6. Best Desktop Stereo Amplifier Under $500 – NAD D 3020 v2
NAD D 3020 v2 is even better than the previously reviewed Audioengine N22. This is also a desktop stereo amp, but it’s much more versatile, it features Bluetooth connectivity, and it’s more powerful. NAD D 3020 v2 is one of our favorite hybrid digital integrated desktop stereo amps. Like the N22, this one also doubles as a headphone amp.
Things we like
NAD D 3020 v2 comes with a detachable power cable, a tiny remote, AUX-to-RCA cable (for connecting a powered subwoofer), and a user manual. All the other cables are sold separately.
The amplifier features a very sleek and elegant design. It’s supposed to be placed vertically so it won’t take up too much space.
On the front side, there’s a volume dial (at the top), a series of 6 LED lights (they indicate the source, volume level, and BASS boost feature), a separate Bluetooth connection indicator, and a headphone output.
On the top, you have two touch-sensitive buttons – the power/standby button and the S (source) button.
All the connections are on the rear panel and this panel is quite crowded. The amplifier houses an MM phono preamp so you can connect your turntable directly to it. The unit also has a subwoofer output, 3.5mm pre-out port, coaxial input, optical input, RCA input, USB port (for service purposes), and a set of gold-plated binding posts (compatible with banana plugs).
The amplifier is compatible with 4-8Ω speakers. It can push 40W per channel continuously (two 8Ω loads driven, 0.1 THD, 20Hz-20kHz).
NAD D 3020 v2 also features Bluetooth connectivity with aptX support. It has a built-in 24bit/96kHz DAC, which guarantees high-quality sound, even in Bluetooth mode.
The included remote is super-simple. It allows you to adjust all the basic settings (volume, source selection, playback controls in Bluetooth mode). The only special feature that you can enable with the remote is the BASS BOOST. There are no dedicated bass/treble level controls.
This budget stereo amplifier doubles as a headphone amp and can even work with some very demanding 600Ω headphones.
Things we don’t like
At this price point, there’s literally nothing to complain about. NAD D 3020 v2 is the most versatile and best-performing desktop integrated amp in its class.
This was our selection of the 6 best budget stereo amplifiers in 2021. We hope it helped you find a perfect stereo amp for your budget, or at least understand what to look for. For more info, scroll down to our FAQ section. If you have additional questions or want to tell us about your experience with speakers and amps, leave a comment below.
Q: What is the best budget stereo amplifier?
A: We can’t give you just one answer because of many reasons – the prices vary a lot, the power outputs also vary, different integrated stereo amps have different inputs, etc. So, what’s perfect for me or you, doesn’t have to be perfect for everyone. The best advice we can give you is to scroll up, check out our list of 6 best budget stereo amplifiers in 2021, and find something you like.
Q: Which stereo amplifier brand is the best?
A: It’s impossible to single out just one manufacturer since there are so many great brands. Some of our favorites when it comes to affordable amps are Marantz, Sony, Yamaha, Cambridge Audio, NAD, etc. There’s a bunch of amazing expensive amps made by high-end manufacturers like Naim, Goldmund, Gryphon Audio, Dynaudio, Etheraudio, Ultrasound, Allnic Audio, and many others.
Q: Can amplifiers improve sound quality?
A: The difference in sound quality between a good and a bad amplifier is huge. A good amp will deliver a much cleaner, undistorted signal, without introducing any artificial noise. A bad amp will supply power but it will also introduce some modifications to the signal, it may cause some additional noise, and completely ruin the whole listening experience. So, yeah – a good stereo amplifier can improve the sound quality.
Q: How do I choose an amp for my speakers?
A: The are a few important factors. Since this article is dedicated to the best budget stereo amplifiers, the first thing to consider is the price. Then, you have to figure out do you need an integrated amp or just a power amp. An integrated unit is a better choice if you have certain space limitations or if you simply don’t want to deal with a bunch of separate units and all kinds of cables. The third factor is the power output – the amplifier must meet the requirements of the speakers and must supply enough power at all times.
Q: Are tube amplifiers better than solid-state amps?
A: Well, better is not the best word to describe tube amps. They are different. But you can hardly say that one type is better than the other. It’s just a matter of preference. Tube amps usually sound warmer and some people love that kind of sound. But that doesn’t mean that solid-state amps are too analytical or without a character. Again – it’s just a matter of taste.
Hello, my name is James Longman.
I’m a writer and editor at AudioReputation. I disassembled my first portable AM/FM radio when I was only 8. At the age of 11, I burned the circuit board on my old boombox cassette player. I’m not going to explain how but it was reckless and stupid.
Since then, I have become much more careful around radios, boomboxes, and other audio devices (at least, I like to think so) but I have never lost the passion for audio equipment. Throughout 20 years of my professional career, I’ve been working for various audio equipment manufacturers and even started building speakers on my own in my little workshop.
I love the work we do here at AudioReputation. Testing, comparing, and evaluating all kinds of audio devices (speakers, soundbars, headphones, home theater systems, etc.) is something I truly enjoy. I try to be unbiased and give you my honest opinion on every piece of equipment I test. Still, you should take my reviews with a pinch of salt and always be just a little bit skeptical. The fact that I liked some speaker or soundbar doesn’t mean that you are going to love it. If you have the opportunity, you should test it/hear it before buying it.