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simple and inexpensive stereo amplifier



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This test was conducted in the United States and was originally published in English on the Wirecutter website. You can read it in the original version here.

After reviewing 10 models and doing more than 70 hours of testing, we believe that STR-DH190 from Sony is the best stereo amp for less than 200 euros. This is the best way to find "vinyl sound" and a simple solution for getting great stereo sound. This model has its limits, but with Bluetooth and a built-in phono preamp (and 100 watts per channel), overall it's great.

Our listening panel found a sound STR-DH190 from Sony at least as good as all stereo amps tested. This model also offers features that we think are most important for most users: Bluetooth, phono preamp, and lots of power. However, it has several drawbacks: the speaker cable connector is quite fragile, the brand-specific FM antenna connector is annoying because it forces you to use an inexpensive antenna provided by Sony, and does not have an AM tuner. In our tests, the performance of our two choices is almost identical. If you don't need Bluetooth and prefer a more reliable connector and AM radio, see our second choice.

In terms of performance, TX-8020 from Onkyo play on the same page as the Sony STR-DH190. Two amps are distinguished mainly by its features. Onkyo does not have a Bluetooth wireless connection, but uses a threaded terminal that provides a more reliable connection for speaker cables than Sony's spring terminals. It has a subwoofer output, which makes it possible to connect it a little easier to the subwoofer. Because it is equipped with a standard FM antenna connector, you can connect it to the FM antenna of your choice. It also includes an AM tuner, unlike Sony.

Note: our hearing panel found that the differences that could be heard between the different amps that we tested could be ignored, and the testers failed to point to favorites. Choosing entry-level stereo amps is therefore primarily a matter of price and features.

All that we recommend

Complete test

Why trust us?

Why buy a stereo amp

Our selection method

Our evaluation method

Our favorite stereo amp: Sony STR-DH190

Non-crippling defects

Our second choice: Onkyo's TX-8020 stereo amp

Competition

Coming soon

source

Why trust us?

I have written professional reviews on audio material since 1990. I currently write for the SoundStage website network and have conducted assessments for various magazines and websites, such as Sound & Vision, Home Theater Review, Lifewire and Home Theater. . I certainly do more blind audio component tests than any journalist in the world, and I have a room in my house dedicated specifically for listening (where we do the tests for this guide.) And a complete test bench, as well as hardware that has been I buy or install it specifically for comparative testing like this.

As part of this guide, my hearing panel consists of two experienced sound professionals. Laurel Dragan, a Wirecutter headphone writer, is a graduate of Ithaca College, both in music performance and audio production, and has evaluated top-class audio material for publications such as Home Entertainment, Home Theater and Sound & Vision. Freelance writer for Wirecutter, Geoffrey Morrison has written for CNET, Forbes.com, Home Theater, Home Entertainment and Sound & Vision. Both of them took part in dozens of blind tests I conducted for Wirecutter and other publications.

Why buy a stereo amp

In general, an amp is considered a device that combines power amplifiers (which provide power to turn on your speakers), preamps (to select sources, control volume and often adjust treble balance) and sometimes radio tuners. All of these components are available separately, but most users prefer amps because they are cheaper. And because this is a single component, an all-in-one, it requires less cable / connection and consumes less space.

We envision two types of buyers who are interested in stereo amps: those who want to listen to vinyl recordings and those who want to get sound quality compared to all-in-one wireless speakers.

While soundbars and all-in-one wireless speakers are now more successful than conventional stereo systems, they don't match the quality of a good stereo audio amp with speakers at an equivalent price..

Vinyl notes have again become popular with listeners, young and old. While some of the newer turntables include phono preamps and even Bluetooth wireless connections, most quality models don't have them. It is difficult, if not impossible, to connect it to the wireless speaker. Most stereo amps have a phono preamp, which allows you to connect turntables and get good quality sound, without having to add additional components.

Although all-in-one wireless soundbars and speakers are now more successful than conventional stereo systems, only very expensive models outperform good quality audio amps with stereo speakers like speakers. first choice of our guide The best bookshelf speaker. For around 600 euros all, a true stereo amp and speaker will easily outperform the all-in-one system at an equivalent price. Because we can separate the speakers, we get a real stereo sound and an exhilarating feeling that the next musician plays. Although wireless speakers can produce extraordinary sound, almost no one can play as loud or as clear as amp with conventional high-quality speakers.

All our test choices. The best AV amp (in English) offers more features than a stereo amp, such as the ability to connect to a surround system and route video signals to a TV or projector. However, as we know, AV amps are expensive, difficult to connect and configure. With stereo amps, the process is very simple: connect the speakers, connect the source you want to use (deck, computer, wireless streaming adapter, old CD player or cassette player …), then turn on the amp and turn up the volume. Almost nothing needs to be configured. Those who are looking for a simple, and understandable way to listen to music will be happy to have little control (and no on-screen menus) to handle.

Our selection method

I began my investigation of the best stereo amps by visiting Amazon, Best Buy, and other online sales platforms. I soon realized that most basic stereo amps were sold for less than 200 euros. Of course there are models that are much more expensive for music lovers, but its value for money seems less favorable. They usually offer more power and functionality than most users need, and don't stand out significantly in terms of sound quality to rationally justify the price gap. We did not calculate it.

We also do not evaluate stereo amplifiers with integrated network and streaming technology, such as Apple AirPlay and Yamaha MusicCast. This technology is worth seeing if you want to create a multi-room audio system or stream audio from a network storage device (NAS), but the price is double that of ordinary stereo amps, while locking users into brand-specific ecosystems. We have determined that the discussion is, of course lengthy, and that the evaluation of this system is off topic in the article which should present material that is valued for its simplicity.

Note, all the amps we tested, including our favorites, have speaker outputs for zones A and B, which allow you to play the same source in two different rooms. However, be careful when you start playback in two parts at once because this doubles the load on the amp. Only do this if your speakers have an 8 ohm impedance and don't increase the volume too much.

From top to bottom: Yamaha R-S202, Pioneer SX-10SR and Onkyo TX-8020. From top to bottom, right: NAD C316BEE, Sony STR-DH190 and Onkyo TX-8220.
From top to bottom: Yamaha R-S202, Pioneer SX-10SR and Onkyo TX-8020. From top to bottom, right: NAD C316BEE, Sony STR-DH190 and Onkyo TX-8220. Wirecutter / Brent Butterworth

The only feature that we consider mandatory for the amp being tested? A radio tuner, whatever that is. Of the models tested, all but one have a phono input for turntables and all but one are equipped with Bluetooth. The rest, the functions are similar, although some models have one or two additional entries.

Strength is not an important factor for this test. The less powerful amp we found has 45 watts per channel for 8-ohm speakers, which is enough to push the speaker far beyond 100 decibels – and make your neighbor want to call the police. In this type of device, the difference in power of 10 or 20 watts is not significant. It takes twice as much power to enjoy 3 dB extra, which is a difference that is barely noticeable: it's like turning the volume knob very lightly. An amplifier of 100 watts per channel therefore rarely plays harder than an amplifier of 50 watts per channel.

We ended up with 12 models that met our criteria. I exclude all amps that receive a lot of quality reviews on Amazon, and generally don't look for models that are similar to the others in the same rank, but with one or two less features. In the end, I only had five models left to test.

For a better overview of how this amp works, I also ask for a copy C 316BEE from NAD to compare. C 316BEE is an integrated amp, stereo amp and preamp in the same chassis, but without a radio tuner. For decades music lovers have enjoyed the default NAD amp for audio quality and simple design. Even though the C 316BEE is an entry level model in NAD, it is far from being the best amplifier in NAD, but it is a good quality model, which costs about twice that of most of the amps we tested. We want to hear that spending double will improve sound quality.

Our evaluation method

In a blind test, Geoffrey Morrison auditioned the amp through the Revel Performance 3 F206 speaker.
In a blind test, Geoffrey Morrison auditioned the amp through the Revel Performance 3 F206 speaker. Wirecutter / Brent Butterworth

We compared stereo amplifiers with the only valid way: using switches, identifying amps with numbers, and changing their order randomly for each listener. Listeners have no way of knowing which model they are listening to. To achieve this, I use a specially made switch, which is controlled remotely with only one relay, 5 cm long cable, and several banana plugs and jacks between the amp and speaker.

I also struggled so that the volume level was the same from one amp to another, imposing a high degree of accuracy: less than ± 0.1 dB, a difference too small to be detected by the human ear. This is very important for fair testing, because it is sufficient that the amp is slightly stronger than the others so that it is liked by the listener. I remember that when I tried to equalize the amp level with only the volume buttons they worked in step 1dB; although I can match the level with an accuracy of ± 0.4 dB, this gives a clear advantage over higher volumes. By adding the Behringer DS8000 distribution amp, which allows me to equalize volumes with an accuracy of 0.03 dB, the playing field is fair enough so there is no preferred model.

Listeners can choose their music, broadcast from their cellphone or laptop to the Digital-to-analog Musical Fidelity V90-DAC converter. If all amps don't have the exact same sound, our preference for one or the other is not constant; it depends on who is listening and what type of music is playing. None of the listeners found that one integrated 'or' NAD, which we added for comparison, had a systematic advantage over the others.

After testing, I saw the ergonomics and amp features that use it for many nights listening to digital music, vinyl recordings, and informal Blu-ray discs, which are well connected to my speakers Performancea3. F206 from Revel, or KEF's Q150, the top choice of our guide for the best library speakers (in English).

I concluded by taking measurements in the lab of various integrated models and amps, just to make sure that they did not show technical flaws that passed unnoticed during our listening test. This is the case for both of them: Onkyo's TX-8220 and Pioneer's SX-10AE (which are from the same parent company and therefore may have similar internal circuits) produce enough distortion for me to hear it during the listening test, when I started the test tone at 1 kilohertz it was used to achieve a consistent volume level. My measurement after confirming the problem, I removed it from the race. Even if the listener does not see the distortion when listening to their music, it is a flaw that I have never encountered on the amp, and that may be heard with some recorded music. Onkyo TX-8020, which is much older, does not have this problem.

This graph shows the level of distortion at each amp at different output levels and the maximum power that can be given by each amp with a load of 8 ohms, both channels are set to 1 kilohertz. Pioneer Onkyo's TX-8220 (red line) and SX-10AE (green line) have a relatively high level of distortion even at low volume levels. The TX-8020 (blue line) Onkyo and R-S202 (orange line) Yamaha have a moderate level of distortion, while Sony's STR-DH190 (purple line) produces lower distortion and increases power. out the top. NAD C 316BEE (brown line) shows the lowest level of distortion, but also the lowest power output.
This graph shows the level of distortion at each amp at different output levels and the maximum power that can be given by each amp with a load of 8 ohms, both channels are set to 1 kilohertz. Pioneer Onkyo's TX-8220 (red line) and SX-10AE (green line) have a relatively high level of distortion even at low volume levels. The TX-8020 (blue line) Onkyo and R-S202 (orange line) Yamaha have a moderate level of distortion, while Sony's STR-DH190 (purple line) produces lower distortion and increases power. out the top. NAD C 316BEE (brown line) shows the lowest level of distortion, but also the lowest power output. Wirecutter

Our favorite stereo amp: Sony STR-DH190

According to our tests, the Sony STR-DH190 is the best inexpensive stereo amp.
According to our tests, the Sony STR-DH190 is the best inexpensive stereo amp. Wirecutter / Rozette Rago

For us, that STR-DH190 from Sony is the best stereo amp because it offers the best balance between useful features and sound quality. With Bluetooth and a built-in phono preamp, as well as front entry for portable devices, the STR-DH190 is a good choice whether you are looking for the future or you prefer the retro style. The sound quality is identical to the best models we tested, including the built-in NAD; in our blind test, I chose it as a favorite and no other tester complained about noise. Our measurements confirm that the output power is the highest of choices: 112 watts per channel (wpc) with an impedance of 8 ohms, 150 wpc at 4 ohms (at 1 kHz, total harmonic distortion of 0.5%, with both channels powered). This means that the STR-DH190 has enough power to turn on most speakers at very high volumes.

The Bluetooth function of the STR-DH190 offers significant benefits. It's compatible with AAC, which means that the sound quality can be a little better when used with an Apple iPhone or iPad via Apple Music services (or other streaming services using the AAC format). Additionally, the amp will turn on automatically when you select it in your Bluetooth source menu.

Wirecutter / Rozette Rago
Wirecutter / Rozette Rago

The menu system, controlled through the front panel, provides access to small features such as the ability to change input names, enable or disable Bluetooth automatic launch, and adjust input levels. phono so that it is equivalent to other input levels. There are four additional analog inputs on the back, as well as output to connect a cassette player or other recording device and zone A and B speaker connectors. The front panel has a 1/4 "& # 39; headphone jack. A small but intuitive remote control. .

thate STR-DH190 is a good choice whether you are looking for the future or you prefer the retro style.

I did not find professional reviews about STR-DH190. The last time I checked Amazon, the rating was only 3.8 out of 5, but the complaint was because of the brand-specific FM connector (and we agreed to it), both for the power that should be inadequate, which was wrong according to our tests.

Non-crippling defects

No need to look for a long time to see where Sony saves money to offer STR-DH190 at low prices. The connector for the speaker cable is a small spring terminal, which means that a speaker cable with a maximum diameter of 1.63 mm (14 AWG) must be used. Additionally, you can easily unplug the cable by connecting and disconnecting other devices. In addition, there is no AM radio. I didn't know there were people around me who used conventional stereo systems to listen to AM frequencies; but if it's something that you are thinking of doing, move on to our second choice. There is no subwoofer output, so those who use subwoofers must connect it with an additional set of speaker cables, rather than a level line connection that is less dense and reliable.

What bothers us the most? The FM antenna is a brand-specific connector that only works with a fragile Sony 1.5m wire antenna. It should be enough to capture most urban stations, but people who live in rural areas will probably need a better antenna. It is possible to connect high quality antennas directly to Sony antennas. However, if FM radio is a priority for you and you live in an area that has reception problems, our second choice should be better for you.

Our second choiceStereo amp: Onkyo's TX-8020

Wirecutter / Rozette Rago

that TX-8020 from Onkyo is our favorite. Unlike many expensive amplifiers, it has solid threaded terminals for connecting speaker cables, which, in our experience, provide a much more reliable connection than our favorite spring terminals. This model has a mono line level subwoofer output which makes connecting the amplified subwoofer easier and cleaner. This includes FM and AM tuners and uses a standard connector for both, allowing you to connect the antenna of your choice.

We found that the Onkyo TX-8020 produced a slightly different sound from our first choice, but not at a point that was consistently higher or lower than its competitors. Geoff ranked him first in our blind test. We measure the output power at 80 watts per channel (wpc) for 8 ohm loads, 116 wpc for 4 ohms (at 1 kHz, total harmonic distortion of 0.5%, with both channels powered). This is better than Onkyo's ranking; according to the more stringent Onkyo criteria, we measure 57 watts for 8 ohms.

Wirecutter / Rozette Rago
Wirecutter / Rozette Rago

The only real disadvantage of the TX-8020? Does not have Bluetooth built-in, a feature considered important by the Wirecutter technician team. We can of course add a Bluetooth adapter (around 30 euros), but it's still another accessory to manage. With five analog inputs on the back (and one output for other cassette players or recorders), the TX-8020 has no shortage of inputs to add a Bluetooth adapter, as well as four other devices, and also has a phono input. There is also a headphone jack ¼ "on the front.

Steve Guttenberg from CNET is a fan of the TX-8020 and explains that he is "Offering exceptional quality at very reasonable prices." Despite this criticism and my own evaluation dated a few years ago about Lifewire (which unfortunately my laboratory measurements had been removed), I have not yet managed to find another professional review on the TX-8020. On Amazon, it worked, ranking 4.2 out of 5 to 573 reviews.

Competition

TX Onkyo: This amp looks ideal because it combines the best features of our first two choices, but we can't make it a favorite because of very high (and audible) distortion.

The Pioneer SX-10AE: This amp also has very high (and audible) distortion which prevents it from reaching the podium.

PDA6 BU from Pyle: This original amp has a high power rating and some unusual features, but there are too many complaints about quality in Amazon reviews so we can recommend it with confidence.

PT265BT from Pyle: once again, too many complaints about quality disqualify him from the competition.

The Sherwood RX-4508: This original amp has a high power rating but is subject to too many complaints about its quality on Amazon.

The Sherwood RX-5502: This amp is worth seeing if you are looking for an inexpensive model that can safely push two pairs of speakers at high volume, but we have been hampered by complaints about its quality on Amazon.

STR-DH130 from Sony: This amp does not have a phono or Bluetooth input, but is usually offered at the same price or greater than our first choice.

Yamaha R-S202BL: This amp has Bluetooth but no phono input and does not offer better sound than our favorites (even if one of our testers ranks among the best).

Coming soon

Although stereo sound has a revival type, mainly due to the success of recording tapes, the small number of amps that we can collect shows that its activities are not yet full in this category. If the manufacturer surprises us by immediately releasing a new affordable stereo amp, we will not fail to check it.

source

1. Steve Guttenberg, Is Your Stereo Recipient? CNET, 13 September 2013

2. Brent Butterworth, Review: Onkyo TX-8020 Stereo Receiver, Lifewire, April 2, 2018

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