To be integrated or not to be, that is the question?
One of the age old audiophile dilemma’s is whether to go for an integrated amplifier or separate components, i.e. a separate preamplifier and power amplifier. In the age of DACs with preamps this can become even more confusing. I’m not going to answer that question for you, but what I am going to do is talk about some outstanding integrated amps that are priced under $5000 which we consider ‘real world’ priced. So if you have decided an integrated is the way to go for you then keep reading. There’s always been high end integrated amps (like the Jeff Rowland and VTL we sell) that outperform many separates, but until recently we haven’t seen integrated amps of a high level be available at affordable prices.
We genuinely believe we have 5 of the best integrated’s on the market under $5000 available in NZ.
The unassuming Micromega can easily be overlooked as on the outside its virtually identical to its smaller brothers. Combine this with a refined slim line design and one could be forgiven for thinking this is a lightweight amp. However, you would be very wrong. Pick this amp and you’ll feel a click in your back, its a solid build with a huge toroidal transformer. This is the only Class D based design on our list here and we are firm believers that amplifier class matters less then the way it has been implemented. The Micromega gives a very fast sound, with full mids and a delicacy in the upper registers that betters the other amps here. Combine that with home theatre bypass, a very good phono stage, and pre-outs with subwoofer management you have a potent amplifier that is functional as well.
- Superb grain free treble
- Fast sound
- Very neutral sound character
- Neutral sound means it can sound a bit clinical with the wrong speaker
- The exquisite design doesn’t extend to the remote control
The ‘budget amp’ of this bunch comes in at 1/3 the price of the most expensive here. So that’s not a fair comparison, or is it? the Myryad Z142 is our go to amp for systems under 3K (including speakers). This amp delivers a dynamic sound with scale and drives any of our speakers with ease regardless of what the specs say. We’ve run this amp on entry level monitors to demanding Maggie 1.7′s and the sound is spectacular for the money. Plus you can add-on the matching power amp to enhance the performance even further. Our biggest problem with this amp is that it makes it very hard to sell more expensive gear!
- Excellent value
- Dynamic fun sounding amp
- Great tightness and slam in the bass
- Volume control design could be improved
- Lacks a little treble finesse and top end openness
Cambridge Audio 851A
The Cambridge Audio 851A is nothing like the 840A, so don’t base your opinion of this amp on the old model. While Cambridge Audio of the past has traded on excellent CD players they have now release a no-compromise integrated amp delivers scale and authority in spades. If you like a large muscular sound and like to listen loud then the 851A should be on your audition list as it has bags of power. The 8 series from Cambridge Audio is a massive jump from the 6 series components, so if you’re looking to upgrade an old model this will be just the ticket.
- Big, muscular sound
- Heaps of power for demanding speaker loads
- Lacks some of the finesse of the others here
TEAC Distinction AI-2000
TEAC is relatively unknown in NZ for quality audio. Many people don’t realise the ultra high end brand Esoteric is in fact TEAC, and the reliable and respected pro audio brand Tascam is also TEAC. Not to mention that Wadia (and many other audio brands) use Teac drive components in their CD players. The distinction range will not be sold in Japan, as TEAC don’t want to risk effecting sales of Esoteric, that is how good this range is. Luckily for us the Distinction range is affordable priced, but that doesn’t mean that shortcuts have been taken on the inside. Designed by the Esoteric engineers this is a full dual mono design with twin toroidal transformers and XLR balanced inputs. feature packed with home theatre bypass and a high quality phono stage this is the music lovers amp. The AI-2000 has bags of power and a very large dynamic sound, the beautiful TEAC effortlessly reproduces your favourite musical performances.
- Dual mono design
- Excellent build quality
- Wonderfull bass
- A little lean in the midrange
The only tube/valve amplifier to make this list, however the ECKO isn’t your typically tube amplifier. While it has the wonderful bloom and warmth typical of tube designs, the ECKO also exhibits tremendous grip and control in the bass, something solid state usually has the upper hand on. The ECKO is the amp for the enthusiast that wants hassle free audio. Make sure you you have a very strong rack shelf to put this one on, it’s a back breaker!
- Beautiful tone, midrange bloom
- Bags of power
- Easy speaker matching
- It’s very deep, check your cabinet dimensions