Best budget stereo amplifier

Audio & Video Accessories

Stereo speakers were created in the 1930s by Alan Blumlein after going to the movies with his wife and becoming frustrated at the disconnect between the video and audio performances.

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Which budget stereo amplifiers are best?

Whether you are looking to improve your existing high fidelity or hi-fi stereo system or even build your own from scratch, having a stereo amplifier of sufficient quality is crucial for achieving your ideal audio experience. Unfortunately, given that stereo amplifiers can be expensive, a cheaper one that can still deliver great audio quality can be difficult to acquire. However, with a reliable and powerful unit like the Onkyo A-9150 Refined Power Stereo Integrated Amplifier as part of your hi-fi stereo setup, you can enjoy incredible sound quality at a fraction of the typical price.

What to know before you buy a budget stereo amplifier

Stereo amplifiers allow you to enjoy music

While most of us have either dealt with nearby neighbors or roommates blasting music at extreme volumes or been guilty of doing so ourselves, did you know that your favorite tunes would essentially be inaudible without the aid of a stereo amplifier? As their name suggests, stereo amplifiers greatly magnify the base audio signal through the use of electrical current from the unit’s energy source.

In addition, your stereo amplifier will contain a minimum of two audio channels, which give your much greater control over where your tunes are “pushed” to as well as significantly improving and enhancing the overall quality. Finally, your stereo amplifier is what converts the raw digital data of your music into intelligible sounds through the use of its internal circuitry. 

Wattage is important for determining maximum volume, but it’s not perfect

As with many forms of electronic equipment, the general rule of thumb is that the more powerful something is, the more expensive it is to purchase. However, it should be noted that unless you have a particularly discerning ear for detecting audio fluctuations, you are unlikely to need a stereo amplifier with a rating beyond 100 watts for each channel to enjoy your favorite music. In fact, after a certain point you will be simply playing for both the brand’s prestige pricing as well as simple increases in wattage, so don’t get suckered into paying more than you need to.

What to look for in a quality budget stereo amplifier

Are there separate preamplifiers and amplifiers or is it an integrated unit?

For those who are unfamiliar with the construction of stereo amplifiers, they comprise two separate units known as the preamp stage and the power stage and these units work in concert to magnify the signal to an audible level. These components can either be referred to as a preamplifier unit and amplifier unit when separate or as an integrated amplifier when housed in a single unit. Depending on your desired setup, there can be significant advantages to using both arrangements to incorporate your stereo amplifier into a new or existing system

In essence, while integrated units are less expensive and take less effort to install, preamplifier unit and amplifier unit setups can be customized and switched out with other components. Since integrated unit stereo amplifiers are notably cheaper than their more separated counterparts, the selected models have been chosen for their affordability and ease of installation.

Does your stereo amplifier have a built-in DAC or not?

Much like the binary code that powers the internet that we enjoy today, your music downloads, CDs or vinyl records exist as mathematical data that must be translated into audio signals that our brains can interpret and enjoy. To accomplish this, your stereo amplifier needs to be connected or integrated with a Digital Audio Converter or DAC to turn your data into actual music.

After being processed through the DAC, your audio data is transformed into electrical signals which are then used to operate your stereo system and create a sound that you can listen to. Given that not every stereo amplifier comes with a DAC already installed, you should always check the product details to avoid being disappointed or having to purchase a separate unit.

Easy to install and offers compatibility with a wide variety of audio inputs

If you are going to the trouble of upgrading your stereo system or even building one from the ground up, the last thing you want is to end up purchasing a stereo amplifier that is not only difficult to install but also can’t connect to your existing cable setup. As such, the selected models have been chosen for their compatibility with a range of audio inputs, including gold-plated speaker posts for cables with banana plugs, gold-plated analog RCA Audio inputs, mm/MC phono inputs, optical digital inputs, and coaxial digital inputs. Furthermore, these units are also easy to install and swap out with existing components to help ensure your user experience is as pleasant as possible.

How much you can expect to spend on a budget stereo amplifier 

Depending on your desired features as well as any budgetary considerations, a quality stereo amplifier can cost anywhere from $150-$550, and sometimes much more.

Best budget stereo amplifier FAQ

How many channels should my budget stereo amplifier include?

A. A good standard to go by is that for each speaker you are interested in amplifying, your budget stereo amplifier should have one channel per speaker. 

Is it possible to buy a budget stereo amplifier that is too powerful for my stereo speakers?

A. Since a given speaker has hard limits on the amount of power that can be channeled through it to create an audio signal, you can buy a stereo amplifier that is too powerful. Furthermore, the mismatch in capabilities can also lead to issues with your audio quality such as clipping and distortion, so be aware of your equipment’s limitations before finalizing your purchase.

What’s the best budget stereo amplifier to buy?

Top budget stereo amplifier

Onkyo A-9150 Refined Power Stereo Integrated Amplifier

Onkyo A-9150 Refined Power Stereo Integrated Amplifier

What you need to know: A robust stereo amplifier that works well in a variety of home and business setups.

What you’ll love: This unit offers two high-grade customized capacitors, a high-current power supply transformer, two driven channels at 60W per channel, a discrete Spectra module to create a lively transient response, high instantaneous voltage for mesmerizing sound staging, improved instrument separation, a DIDRC Filter to prevent ultra high-frequency audio distortions and a full complement of audio input ports.

What you should consider: Users have reported issues with intermittent audio dropouts as well as issues with the Onkyo customer phone helpline.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top budget stereo amplifier for the money

S.M.S.L AD18 HiFi Audio Stereo Amplifier with Bluetooth 4.2

S.M.S.L AD18 HiFi Audio Stereo Amplifier with Bluetooth 4.2

What you need to know: A discrete and affordable stereo amplifier that is ideal for small houses and apartments.

What you’ll love: This unit offers support for two optical inputs as well as USB coaxial analog Bluetooth 4.2, easy Bluetooth connection via NFC, 1.44-Inch color screen display with adjustable brightness, amplifier output port, and subwoofer outputs, 80W*2 output power and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

What you should consider: Users have reported issues with input ports suddenly failing as well as failing to detect speakers connected via USB cable.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

TOPPING PA3 Desktop HiFi Digital Amplifier

TOPPING PA3 Desktop HiFi Digital Amplifier

What you need to know: A great solo amplifier for those who already own a separate DAC.

What you’ll love: This unit offers two-way analog inputs with protection for over-voltage, low voltage, overload and overheat as well as an output power capable of reaching up to 80W *2, is rated to operate at 100/240 VAC 50/60 Hertz, an Omron relay, EPCOS capacitance standards and an ALPS potentiometer.

What you should consider: This unit lacks a DAC and users have reported issues with

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Daniel Martin writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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