By Don Lindich
Week 53, 2020
Q. I read your column about $300 bookshelf speakers and want to build a stereo system to play CDs and listen to music from my phone. I already have the CD player. What would be a good but affordable receiver or integrated amplifier to use with them?
-G.F., Carrick, PA
A. The speakers I discussed in the column have undemanding power requirements. That makes it easy to build the basis of a good system without spending a large portion of your budget on a receiver or integrated amplifier.
Sometimes when readers contact me for recommendations they use the words receiver and integrated amplifier as if they are interchangeable. While both a stereo receiver and a stereo integrated amplifier do the same job of powering your speakers, a receiver includes a tuner for listening to the radio and an integrated amplifier does not. Keep this in mind when making your choice. Despite the usefulness of the tuner, stereo receivers are no longer common and there are many more integrated amplifier models on the market. Multichannel surround sound receivers are still very popular for building home theater systems.
A good choice (and perhaps the only good choice under $200) is the Yamaha R-S202 stereo receiver. It will pair well with any of the $300 bookshelf speakers I mentioned (the Polk Signature S20, Q Acoustics 3020i and Emotiva Airmotiv B1+.) The R-S202 has built-in Bluetooth but no phono preamp, so if you want to add a turntable in the future you will need an external phono preamp or a turntable that has the preamp built-in. At only $149 it is an excellent value and is easy to find either online or at stores like Best Buy. usa.yamaha.com
One of the reasons I frequently recommend Cambridge Audio is they have not abandoned the premium, yet affordable hi-fi market. If you are looking for something a bit more exclusive check out the $225 Cambridge Audio AXA25 integrated amplifier. There is no Bluetooth so you will have to add a $20 Bluetooth receiver device to listen to music from your phone. For $399 the Cambridge Audio AXR85 receiver has a very strong and exceptionally clean-sounding amplifier, as well as Bluetooth and a phono preamp for connecting a turntable. Of course, since it is a receiver it also has a radio tuner. cambridgeaudio.com
The $399 Denon PMA-600NE integrated amplifier belongs on your shopping list as well. It includes a high quality digital-to-analog converter for outstanding CD playback (use your player’s digital connection) along with a phono preamp and built-in Bluetooth. It looks fantastic, too! usa.denon.com
Given the cost of the speakers and how easy it is to drive them, I do not think it makes sense to go above $500 for your receiver or amplifier. Enjoy your new system!
Q. I enjoyed your article answering the question about transistor radio recommendations. I have to disagree on one small point. You make mention of integrated circuits vs. transistors. I should remind you that integrated circuits are composed of transistors, albeit smaller ones than discrete transistors.
-B.O., Minneapolis, MN
A. I received several emails from electrical engineers making this very point. What you say is true and I probably should have mentioned that integrated circuits include transistors and other components, but larger discrete transistors and their associated circuitry have lower noise and have higher current handling ability. It leads to higher performance capabilities and better sound, the reasons audiophiles prefer them.