By Don Lindich
Week 50, 2021
Q. I need a recommendation for an AM/FM receiver to use with my CD player and a pair of speakers. I would like it to cost under $200 and for it to play music from my phone via Bluetooth.
A. I have received quite a few emails recently asking for stereo receiver recommendations in the $200 to $500 price range. I must admit I have been delighted to see this revived interest in stereo components. With so many Bluetooth speakers around, sometimes it seems as if people have forgotten the old fashioned way of using a stereo receiver (or integrated amplifier) connected to a quality pair of speakers for music listening. A stereo receiver, combined with a pair of great-sounding, affordable speakers from companies such as Q Acoustics, Emotiva, and Polk Audio, will provide sound quality few Bluetooth speakers at any price can match. You also get AM/FM radio and multiple inputs to use with components such as CD players and turntables. The three detailed here are my favorites.
The best stereo receiver under $250 is the Onkyo TX-8220, a product with some history behind it. For many years the Onkyo TX-8020 was a staple of the hi-fi world, offering 50 watts/channel of clean power, a good AM/FM tuner, and the ability to drive two pairs of speakers. It was often available for the discount price of $149, and nothing on the market could touch it at that price. I loved it because it made building good systems for readers easy and affordable.
Sadly, the TX-8020 was discontinued several years ago but the Onkyo TX-8220 comes pretty close to filling the hole it left behind. The TX-8220 adds built-in Bluetooth and provides a bit less power at 45 watts per channel, and it costs more at $249. The TX-8220 is hard to find these days but onkyousa.com has new units in stock for $249 and refurbs for $199. I would get the refurb for $199 to stay under your $200 price point. The TX-8220 is also available on Amazon for $249.
Stepping up in price and quality we find the $400 Cambridge Audio AXR85. Cambridge Audio gets mentioned frequently in this column, and for good reason. No other company services the needs of music lovers with such a wide array of quality equipment at multiple tiers of performance and price. For example, the Cambridge Audio AXA25 integrated amplifier is available for only $225, providing beginning audiophiles and those on a budget a beautifully made, high performance product they will be proud to own. On the other extreme, the $6,000 Cambridge Audio Edge A integrated amplifier serves the needs of the most discriminating listener where price is no object.
The Cambridge Audio AXR85 has 85 watts/channel, the ability to drive 4-ohm speakers (a trait shared with the $225 AXA25, a rarity in this segment,) built-in Bluetooth, and a high quality phono input. You also get the exclusivity of a high-end audio brand and the beautiful fit and finish to match. cambridgeaudio.com
At the top of the stereo receiver heap is the Outlaw Audio RR2160 MKII at $999. An update to the universally praised RR2160, the RR2160 MKII provides Art Deco style (RR stands for Retro Receiver) and 110 watts of high current power that can drive most any speaker, even exotics like Magneplanars. Multiple analog and digital inputs, a high-end Burr Brown digital-to-analog converter and integrated WiFi with Satellite Radio round out this engineering tour de force.