It was said that the best amplifiers in the World would be a pieces of wire with gain. The role of the amplifier is to make the signal louder and to deliver it with accuracy to the loudspeaker; it shouldn’t change the sound, lose any of the signal or distort it in any way.
The best amplifiers are usually the simplest. In their most basic form all you need is an on/off switch, a volume control and a switch to select what you are listening to.
In the past it was thought that the best amplifiers were the most powerful. This typical “more is better” approach couldn’t be further from the truth unless you are trying to fill a stadium or concert venue. Domestically low distortion is far more important than power and very few people will ever need more than 40 watts per channel.
Most good quality amps follow the “short signal path” philosophy. This means that they try to keep the signal path as short as possible so it isn’t lost or corrupted.
There are three types of amplifiers.
These are by far the most popular and numerous amplifiers. Basically this is a one-box design that does everything. It handles the delicate input signals and has the power to drive and control the loudspeakers that are connected to it. From affordable but excellent budget designs like the Rega Brio R to state-of-the-art behemoths like the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 800, integrated amps offer a very wide range of performance and prices.
Amplifiers used to have tone controls and graphic equalizers built into them. Thankfully those features have disappeared as they almost always made things sound worse.
When you want to offer the very best performance in an amplifier it makes sense to split the amp into its two parts; the pre-amp, which handles the signals coming in and the power-amp, which handles the power that drives the loudspeakers. There are advantages to keeping these two jobs separate and isolated from each other and also giving them independent power supply.
These types of amplifiers generally offer the best performance available but there are exceptions.
Since almost all sources are digital (with the exception of record players) many manufacturers are combining high quality DACs (digital to analogue decoders) into their amplifiers. These enable you to plug the digital output of your equipment (CD, Streamer, Sky Box, TV etc) directly into the amplifier without the need for a separate DAC. For some customers the advantages are substantial and for other less so.
Talk to us about your requirements and we’ll suggest the best alternatives for you to consider. The one thing we’ve learned is that simpler amplifiers generally sound better.