On this site I have looked at record players, pre-amps, speakers, and more, but none of that matters if you can’t make any audible sound come from your speaker cabinets.
In order to take the signal from a record and make it loud enough for everyone to hear, you need a proper amplifier. You want an amplifier that adds little noise to the signal it receives and sends it stronger to the speaker units.
Amplifiers can come in many different shapes and sizes. Not to mention many different price points.
I’m not a super technical guy, but I believe in matching an amp with the level of the audio gear it’s paired with. If you have to choose, spend the money on upstream gear first. Amps can be upgraded later if needed.
On this page I’ve picked some of the most promising amps I could find online. The ones that I think are best I’ve put first, and the rest aren’t ranked.
Top Pick: Marantz PM6005
In certain circles Marantz is a pretty well-known name. They were founded in the 1950s, and since the 1990s the company moved almost exclusively into the high end of the market. This PM6005 is a prime example.
The kind of money they are asking for is not outside the realm of audiophile equipment, but it’s still a hefty chunk of change. For that money you get an amp that is completely focused on clean and powerful sound.
One feature I really like is that inside this amp there’s an entirely separate amp for the headphones, so you don’t need to buy a headphone amp too. Even better, it has a built-in phono stage. No preamp needed – it’s already there.
This amp has way more going on than I actually have space to discuss here, so I’ll try to bottom line it for you. This is the dividing line between an audiophile amp and the very high-end of consumer audio. It’s on the right side of sanity, but only just.
As far as I’m concerned this is the amp I would buy if I had the money. Take into account that you don’t need to buy several other components and the price suddenly doesn’t seem so crazy.
Top Mid-range Pick:
Yamaha A-S301BL Natural Sound Integrated Stereo Amplifier
This is Yamaha’s bread and butter. These guys have been making audio gear since 1922 when they released their first hand-cranked phonograph. They’ve always been a good choice at the mid range as well, usually offering you more for your money than the competition.
This A-S301BL amplifier is very much mid-range based on its price, but what is Yamaha offering?
You get two 60W output channels and several digital systems dedicated to coloring your input signal as little as possible.
You can also hook up two separate sets of speakers for multi-room listening. There’s a dedicated subwoofer output, and in addition to all the digital inputs it has a phono input for MM cartridge turntables, which means you don’t need to bother with a preamp.
Owners of this beautiful amp are unanimous in how clear and strong the sound is. There is no detectable distortion to be found.
It’s not an “audiophile” amplifier, but it’s more than good enough for 99% of us; for the semi-serious vinyl fan this amp comes highly recommended.
Best Mini Amp: SMSL Q5 Pro
I really like the look of the Q5. Instead of a million buttons, lights, and knobs we have a simple box with a single dial on the front.
This outputs a more than adequate 50W of power but, more importantly, it does so with a wide frequency response and a great signal-to-noise ratio.
The price of the Q5 is very attractive and people who have bought this find it to be a great partner for the sorts of bookshelf speakers you’d typically use with a turntable.
The inputs and outputs are adequate for our purposes and the sound is, by all accounts, strong and clean. The Q5 is just a no-nonsense choice that will get the job done and save you a heap of space at the same time.
Orb Audio Booster 50 Watt Mini Integrated Amplifier
Sometimes good things come in small packages. Is that the case with the Orb? Let’s see.
If you have a set of passive bookshelf speakers the Orb mini promises to provide exactly the sort of solution that you may be looking for. This tiny guy promises 25 watts of power per channel – that may not sound like a lot, but poor marketing practices have inflated what the public thinks is a good amount of wattage. The fact is that most home listening rooms will be perfectly served with 50W on tap.
For such a small amp they’ve certainly not skimped on the inputs. Dual stereo TRS, RCA and optical covers most bases. There’s also a sub-woofer pre-out. The marketing material says that the sound is clean and accurate, and customer experience aligns with this claim. At least until about 75%, after which it apparently distorts.
Still, if you think about it, this is going to be used in places that are low on space. So that does not mean big speakers or high volumes. The only other negative is that the display can be hard to figure out, but otherwise this is a neat little amp if put into the right context.
The price is a little on the high side, but if you need this specific size of amplifier that’s what you’ll have to pay.
Pyle’s a brand I hear of every now and then but I was surprised, looking at the amp market again for the first time in a while, that they rank so high in popularity. Personally, I feel this unit looks a little cheesy. At first glance I thought it was a head unit for a car stereo. You know – those cheap and nasty ones you get in wannabe street-racer cars.
There are way too many knobs, lights, and dials for my taste. That’s a personal preference though, so the ball’s in your court on that count. Even the remote looks like a cheap piece of junk and, honestly, I’m very put off by it all.
The price is right down there, which may explain why not much attention is given to non-core aspects of the product.
So what do you get that’s more than skin deep? There are all the input options you could want, specifically the RCA connectors you’d most likely use for a turntable. Still, you can hook up USB or SD cards with MP3s as well as a quarter-inch TRS and the smaller headphone version too. There’s FM radio too, in case you run out of records.
The frequency response is decent for the price, but there are quite a few problems people have reported with this model. One issue is the short range of the Bluetooth radio, which sort of defeats the point. The remote is not remote at all, which is ironic. It too has poor range.
Many people report build-quality issues – a badly designed interface and other problems make this a big no-no. Just skip it and spend a little more.
Vinyl Vintage Audio System Reviews
If you’re completely new to the world of vinyl and vintage audio, I’d recommend to start with the reviews on Turntables, Phone Preamps, Record Cleaners and Speakers. Once you’ve got this covered, make sure to check the menu for more of my reviews.