You don’t have to spend a million bucks to get a sweet sounding stereo setup. You need patience. This article will give you an idea about choosing budget stereo amplifiers that pair well with budget bookshelf speakers.
Brands to Consider
It’s always easy to find and stick to brands such as Marantz and Cambridge — there’s a great deal of used and new amplifiers from these brands at entry level prices. Other brands that you should consider include NAD and Onkyo. You should start your listening experience with these models:
- NAD 316BEE V2 (dark, muscular sound)
- Cambridge Audio AXA35 (warm mid-range, great for classical and vocals)
- Cambridge Audio Topaz SR10 (warm, rich sound)
- Marantz PM5005 (punchy and slightly bright)
- Onkyo A9010 (slightly bright, but superb mid-range)
Specifications That Matter
Don’t be fooled by the paltry 35 Watts/channel ratings on some of the amplifiers mentioned above. They pack a lot of punch to drive some floor standers (tower speakers) rated at 89dB and above. So, the specifications to keep in mind include:
- Continuous output power into 8 ohms: > 35 watts/channel, both channels driven
- Continuous output power into 4 ohms: >40 watts/channel, both channels driven
- THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) for 20Hz-20kHz, at 80% volume: should be <0.1% (Tip: don’t fall for the 1kHz test tone trap!)
- Damping factor: >50
Most of the entry-level amplifiers don’t have a subwoofer out. However, if you want a sub pre-out in the entry level, the Cambridge Audio SR10 is the one to go. Adding a subwoofer adds more body to your music. Having said that, you can still enjoy music without a sub if you go for some good bookshelf speakers to start with.
Budget Bookshelf Speakers
There are a variety of budget bookshelf speakers, but I’d first start with the used market to see if I can get some expensive ones for the price of budget bookshelf speakers. Speakers, in most cases, are a one-time investment. Choose wisely! If you still want to go for new speakers, you can consider these:
- JBL Control One: Works well with Marantz PM5005 and Cambridge Audio SR10. Lacks bass!
- Micca OOO: Goes well with NAD 316BEE. But, the sensitivity is 83dB (not all amplifiers will like this)
- Jamo S 801 or Jamo S 803: Pairs well with most entry-level amplifiers
- Mission LX-1: Again, goes well with most, and has a warm sound signature
- JBL Stage A120 or JBL Stage A130: Goes well with Marantz PM5005 and Cambridge Audio AXA35. Rich, punchy JBL sound. You can’t go wrong here.
Speakers are a one-time investment. Choose the best that you can buy, so that you can upgrade the amplifier and get better sound out of the speakers, instead of repeating the whole stereo amplifier + speaker process every time. Or, simply go for used mid-range bookshelf speakers or high-end ones.
With these amplifiers and speakers in mind, you should really spend time auditioning the various combinations. You may like bright sounding amplifiers or warm and neutral sounding ones — a very subjective experience, but you should choose what sounds the best to your ears. Happy listening!