Welcome to the Best Integrated Amplifiers section of the Part-Time Audiophile Buyers Guide for 2022.
The Guide is more than “We heartily endorse this [fill in the blank ].” This collection represents our enthusiasm. Every product listed in this guide is beloved by at least one team member. These products have elicited responses such as “I was gobsmacked every minute I spent with this” or “The shipping box was wet with the tears of my lost innocence” or, too often, just “Take my money!” In other words, this isn’t about high-end audio products that we merely like. These are the products we love — and we think you will, too.
No list like this can ever be complete since we’re bound to forget something that has duly impressed the heck out of us. We’ve attempted to capture a moment in time — one year — and collect together, in one place, all of those products that we want to have and hold and use in our own systems right now.
If you’re looking for our list of “the best stuff to check out right now” — the best loudspeakers, CD players, amplifiers, turntables, cartridges, preamplifiers, DACs and more — this is it.
The Best Integrated Amplifiers
These entries represent the best integrated amplifiers we’ve heard. They are organized by price in ascending order. Enjoy!
Sparkler Audio S502 Ether ($1,100 USD)
From the mind of the former designer for 47 Laboratories, the Sparkler Audio minimalist amp is borne from the same principles—simplicity, short signal paths and an impressively small list of internal parts. A mere seven watts per channel may limit your choice of loudspeakers, but the Ether provided a “fast, up-front and very clear sound.”
Audio by Van Alstine SET 120 ($1,199 USD)
“True high-end sound does not have to be a luxury,” we deduced after spending time with an Audio by Van Alstine “hand-built, point-to-point wired, single-ended-transistor voltage amplifier which offers 60 Watts per channel stereo into 8-Ohm loads.” The lack of active preamplification, the reason why it’s a “control amp” and not a typical integrated, can be argued against: does it belong in a list of best integrated amplifiers? The simple design of the SET 120 and it’s operation in Class-A (for the first 10 watts) makes it a natural choice in its price class over the many “trendy” Class-D integrated amps of current day. An Editor’s Choice Award winner and a Best Value winner for 2020.
Heed Audio Elixir ($1,395 USD)
This small yet sonically exquisite little integrated amplifier features a Heed phono stage that would normally cost you $500 as a standalone, a headphone amplifier that would cost you another $500. That means for a mere $400 more you’re getting a full-function 45 wpc integrated that on its own sounds like something much more expensive. We’ve used this little Hungarian amp in many expensive systems and not once did we feel it was the weak link in the chain.
Rotel A14 ($1,500 USD)
Rotel is creating a new presence in the US with a new, energized line, epitomized by this small but feature-packed 80wpc integrated which also has employed a very modern DAC within its diminutive frame. Not the last word in inner detail or midrange purity, but at this price you’re getting a lot for your money. An ideal product for new audiophiles, or for simplifying your existing hi-fi spread.
Parasound Halo Hint6 ($3,000 USD)
You get a lot for your three grand with the Hint6—a DAC, a headphone amp, a phono stage and 160 watts per channel into 8 ohms. Plus you get excellent sound quality, which may not be available with most A/V receivers with comparable features and price. Despite our proclivity for minimalist integrated amps designed for purists, the Parasound makes a compelling argument for having it all.
Naim Uniti Atom ($3,290 USD)
A highly sophisticated and great sounding do-it-all wonder, the Naim Uniti Atom comes to the party dressed to impress. With its jewel-like build quality, cool front-panel visual interface, and that sick big-wheel volume control on top, what’s not to love? OK, so it doesn’t have a phono stage, but it does pretty much everything else. With the Uniti Atom, you get a highly refined class AB integrated amplifier, a great DAC, and an easy-to-use interface that lets the box also serve as a music streamer.
Linear Tube Audio Z10 Integrated ($4,900 USD)
LTA was started just a few years ago with one main purpose—to implement David Berning ZOTL topologies into a range of relatively affordable products. The Z10 integrated might be the most intriguing in the line since it offers rare performance at a relatively low price, and in a relatively modest-looking box. You only get 13 watts per channel at 8 ohms, but my what lovely watts they are, with brilliant clarity and realism. An Editor’s Choice winner.
Audio Hungary Qualiton A20i ($4,995 USD)
A shiny chrome gem of an integrated amp that uses a quad set of 5881s to achieve 28 watts per channel, the A20i is a no-frills (no built-in phono or DAC and minimal controls on the front panel) basic integrated. Its sound was sweet and engaging, and we concluded that the A20i “looks great, has a wonderful power supply, and is a solid performer sonically.”
Luxman L550 AX II ($5,495 USD)
This integrated amplifier has a ton of features, and a killer phono stage and a very competent headphone amplifier. The L550 only has 20 watts per channel of solid-state power, but with the right speakers it will provide plenty of scale, even with orchestral recordings. This Luxman also delivered “room-energizing, deep, tuneful bass response.”
Naim Uniti Nova ($5,990 USD)
We were thoroughly impressed with this all-in-one player and were surprised by the number of features that we found useful. “Eschewing the sacred cow standard of separates, it instead aims to do everything: stream, convert, control volume and amplify.” The Nova is a complete and mature Swiss Army knife product, allowing us “to play whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, using whichever method was closest at hand.” A Reviewer’s Choice winner.
Ayon Audio Spirit V ($5,995 USD)
Ayon’s pure Class A vacuum tube integrated has it all: “a fully balanced design, vacuum tube KT150 stereo integrated power amplifier, 70+70 Watts RMS, Pentode, Triode operation.” A unique minimalist true balanced circuit topology, combined with superb fit, finish and reliability, result in an amplifier that exudes a high level of panache without those kind of luxury prices.
Margules I-240 ($6,000 USD)
This 25wpc tubed integrated is a bit old-fashioned in concept–just three RCA inputs are available–but the sound quality is warm and open and natural. Made in Mexico City, the I-240 uses an active servo circuit, and the design and circuitry have been influenced by research into neuro-acoustic alignment. “Keep this little gem as it is and bask in its natural and utterly realistic glow,” we decided, giving it a Reviewer’s Choice.
Audio Hungary Qualiton X-200 ($6,499 USD)
Powered by KT-120s or KT-150s, this integrated has many interesting features that move beyond the usual minimalist designs from Audio Hungary–a built-in phono stage, tone controls and a nice-sounding headphone amp. “Colossal soundstage, glorious midrange, clean highs, and pounding bass,” we decided before handing the X-200 a Reviewer’s Choice award.
Rotel MICHI X5 ($6,995 USD)
Almost frighteningly powerful (350 wpc into 8 ohms, 600wpc into 4), the MICHI 5 is a massive beast, and one of the biggest and best integrated amplifiers we’ve come across in recent years. It also includes nice features such as a built-in DAC, MM/MC phono stage and a headphone amplifier. The sound isn’t scary at all–spacious, delicate and not at all overbearing. Rotel’s luxury division has produced a lot of amplifier here for an incredibly reasonable amount of money. And it will drive ANYTHING.
LFD NCSE Mk. III ($7,350 USD)
A classic British integrated in every sense of the word–no remote control or other modern features–the LFD wins you over with its superior sound quality. This is the original and simple amplifier design from Malcolm Omar Hawksford and David Bews, in production for decades but now taken to the nth degree with superior parts selection and improved noise suppression. A Reviewer’s Choice, and a darned good reason for getting off the amplifier merry-go-round.
Luxman LX-380 ($7,500 USD)
Old-school in appearance, but decidedly modern in performance, this tubed Luxman only offers 14-20 wpc depending on impedance and yet it was a superb all-arounder that was brilliant with many different types of speakers. The sound is easy, laid-back and transparent, and ultimately so addictive that we didn’t want to send it back. We still miss it.
AVM Ovation A 6.2 Master Edition ($8,295 USD)
The Ovation appears to be yet another powerful, solid and feature-filled integrated for a reasonable amount of money. Spend some time with this German machine and you’ll start to appreciate its beautiful build, intuitive functions and an ability to supply detail that other integrateds in its class often leave behind. In addition, the AVM includes a dedicated pure Class A headphone amplifier that stands out amongst the competitors. A Reviewer’s Choice winner.
ModWright KWH 225i ($8,500 USD)
The KWH 225i was born from years of solid-state and tube component design, and it’s predecessor the KWI 200 Solid-State Integrated. The 225i takes the high-biased solid-state output stage from the Reference KWA 150 SE power amplifier, combines it with the controls and integration from the KWI 200, adds a tube preamplifier stage and then bumps up the power. Features include a handful of RCA inputs, a balanced set of inputs, HT bypass, preamp outputs, and zero global negative feedback.
Bakoon Amp-41 ($9,000 USD)
Unassuming to look at, the Bakoon amp drew us in with its siren song: exceptional clarity coupled with unheard-of speed and pace. These attributes were accompanied by an ever-so-slight sweetness that never left us wanting for more from a tonal perspective. Look past its slightly oddball, pedestrian looks and its cheap-o remote, and you will be rewarded musically many times over. A real swan in an ugly duckling’s exterior.
Circle Labs A-200 ($9,000 USD)
Another powerful and feature-laden hybrid integrated amplifier from Europe, one of a handful that arrived at PTA HQ this year, the A-200 excels due to its exquisite tonal balance and its intuitive controls. Most of all, this Polish company has achieved something rare in the world of “black box, two big knobs” integrated amplifiers–the A-200 is simply gorgeous in a brilliant yet understated way.
Pass Labs INT-60 ($9,000 USD)
As you might expect, Pass Labs’ beautifully built integrated is rated at 60 wpc, but the fun part is that the first 30 are in pure Class A. This isn’t one of those wimpy little integrated amps from the past—it weighs almost 100 pounds, and you’ll be hard-pressed to come up with a reason to buy separates instead of this. You won’t find compromises here—this is one of the best integrated amplifiers in every conceivable way.
Jeff Rowland Design Group Continuum S2 (starting at $10,499 USD)
Compact, heavy, full of features and offering an astonishing 400 watts per channel, the beautiful Continuum S2 never failed to deliver a sound that balanced a wealth of inner detail with a smoothness that was exhilarating. The JRDG Continuum S2 now offers an HP phono card option that is “as close as you can get to the flagship Conductor phono pre without being the Conductor phono pre.” Built-in DAC option adds $500. With the Standard phono the price rises to $10,849 and with the HP phono card the version we had retails for $11,599. An Reviewer’s Choice winner, and another candidate for one of the best integrated amplifiers on the market.
Balanced Audio Technology VK-3500 ($12,000 USD)
This remarkable integrated from BAT is unusual because it’s a hybrid, so you won’t be able to warm yourself with all those protruding tube complements this winter. It’s also unusual due to its old-fashioned inboard phono stage, which offers minimal features and yet sounds far better than a card in an integrated should. The VK-3500 does offer a tube sound at its core, “with extraordinary poise and just a shade of velvet.”
Pass Labs INT-250 ($12,000 USD)
A “heavy-hitter” when it comes to making the best integrated amplifiers, the beefy INT-250 owes a lot of its 105 lb. weight to a massive transformer and a high-quality chassis. Ideal for big rooms or demanding loudspeakers, the Pass Labs is “powerful, easy to set up and use and overbuilt like the proverbial tank.”
Ayon Audio Triton EVO ($12,995 USD)
This powerful tube integrated is a “monumental bump up” over its predecessor, the Ayon Triton III. The EVO produces a fast deep tight bass, wall-to-wall three dimensional performance, superb decay, and transparent and holographic soundstaging–plus it has extraordinary build quality and reliability. Pure Class A Pentode/Triode, with 130 wpc? Yes, please.
Allnic Audio T-2000 30th Anniversary ($13,900 USD)
The T-2000 wasn’t just one of the best integrated amplifiers we’ve heard, it made us realize that our ultimate dream systems, the ones we take with us when we ride off into the sunset, no longer require separates. 120 watts in pentode, 60 gorgeous watts in triode, the Allnic is still more linear and neutral than most tube amplifiers. “If some highly fictitious benefactor gave us roughly $14K to spend on high-end audio to continue our pursuit of musical nirvana, this is what we’d do. In a heartbeat.” A Reviewer’s Choice winner.
VAC Sigma 170i ($14,000 USD)
We found this 85 wpc tube integrated amplifier to offer a lot for the money including an MM/MC phono stage, speaker taps for 4, 8 and 16 ohms, and a lovely tube sound that didn’t skimp on detail. “The bass is rich and can be a little loose, but that’s the price you pay for that liquid midrange.” A great integrated amp, fairly priced, that will give serious tube-lovers everything they desire.
VAC Statement 450i iQ ($150,000 USD)
Should there be such a creature as a six-figure integrated amplifier? Kevin Hayes of VAC makes a compelling argument with this huge, waist-high tube integrated that looks like it’s been tipped on its side. Let’s face it, this is a cost-no-object amp and it looks like it; and while it’s one unit, everything is completely separated. We heard this amp at RMAF 2018 and several other shows since then, and we flipped over its superb performance. Could there be a more compelling piece to demand inclusion in the list of best integrated amplifiers?