Top Picks Processors and Power Amps

Amp/DACs (digital-to-analog converters)
AudioQuest DragonFly Black and DragonFly Red Amp/DACs: $99 (Black), $199 (Red)
The newest entries in AudioQuest’s proven DragonFly series are designed to enhance the sound from any PC and are the first models that work with smartphones and tablets. Which one is right for you? “If your headphones are tough to drive and you need more output, the Red is the logical choice,” explained audio maven Mark Fleischmann. “If they’re fairly efficient, you’re buying your first DAC, and you don’t want to spend much, the Black is the better value.” Either way, you can’t go wrong.” (December 2016, Read Full Review)
AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2 USB DAC: $149
Audio editor Mark Fleischmann revisited this new lower-priced version of the original DragonFly—which made its debut in Top Picks in 2012—and found its sound even more open than its predecessor. (July/August 2015, Read Full Review)
iFi nano iDSD Black Label Amp/DAC, $199
iFi’s pocked-sized nano iDSD Black Label is a full-featured amp/DAC that will coax the best possible performance out of almost any set of headphones. It handles PCM files up to 384-kHz/32-bit in various formats and decodes exotic file types such as DSD (up to 11.2 megahertz) and MQA (Master Quality Authenticated). (April 2018, Read Full Review)
Oppo HA-2 Headphone Amp/DAC: $299
Reviewed as one of five several portable amp/DACs, the Oppo stood out with its elegant leather case, slim form factor, versatile inputs/outputs, and excellent Class A/B sound quality. (July/August 2015, Read Full Review)
Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital Headphone Amp/DAC: $399
Pro-Ject is best known for its impressive turntables and related phono gear but the 27-year-old Austrian company is quite accomplished at building a variety of other audio components. The versatile Pre Box S2 Digital delivers a step up in performance with low- to medium-priced headphones, especially those with a treble emphasis, but it’s more than a headphone amp/digital-to-analog converter (DAC) — it doubles as a stereo preamp that differentiates itself with dual DACs, separate left/right signal paths, and support for MQA and DSD playback. (Posted 9/9/18, Read Full Review)
TEAC AI-301DA Integrated Amplifier/DAC: $549
This smartly conceived amp/asynchronous DAC combo is loaded with versatile inputs and outputs and, when mated with good speakers or headphones, is a perfect low-cost way to get into High-Res Audio. (May 2015, Read Full Review)
TEAC AI-503 Integrated Amplifier/DAC, $1,000
The AI-503 sounds as good as it looks. Whether you’re powering a full-size system or playing hi-res music on a desktop rig, you can expect a clean, refined presentation, courtesy of the 503’s high-performance Verita DACs and high-efficiency Class D amp. The amp/DAC also boasts an asynchronous USB input, dedicated headphone amp, and supports Sony’s LDAC technology for streaming 96-kHz/24-bit files via Bluetooth. (April 2018, Read Full Review)
< $999
NAD D 3020 Hybrid Digital Integrated Amplifier: $499
An update of a classic amplifier known for its conservative power rating and impressive performance, NAD’s D 3020 is ready to handle anything you can throw at it—analog or digital. Most notably, it has digital inputs that feed a high performance digital-to-analog converter and a USB connector, and it supports high-quality aptX streaming from Bluetooth-enabled devices. How’s it sound? “Great! In a desktop configuration…the NAD delivered all the output anyone might wish, with never a hint of strain,” wrote reviewer Mark Fleischmann. (October 2013, Read Full Review)
Yamaha MusicCast WXA-50 Integrated Amplifier and WX-010 Speaker: $500 (amp); $200 (speaker)
The newest members of Yamaha’s ever-expanding family of wireless multiroom products are versatile building blocks for a new or existing MusicCast system. The WX-010 is a good sounding minispeaker that can be pressed into action just about anywhere, while the WXA-50 amplifier bestows wireless powers to any pair of speakers. “Yamaha’s MusicCast deserves a spot on your short list, especially if you’ve already invested in Yamaha products with MusicCast capabilities,” wrote reviewer Mark Fleischmann. “It sounds lovely, and it works.” (June 2017, Read Full Review)
Outlaw Audio Model 975 Surround Processor: $549
In a category where most manufacturers add bells and whistles, Outlaw has gone in the opposite direction with a streamlined, simple-to-use processor that’s tailor-made for budget-minded enthusiasts. For $549 you get high-performance 192-kilohertz/24-bit DACs, excellent video processing with 1080p upconversion as well as DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD playback. Referring to the opening scene of Iron Man 2 on Blu-ray, reviewer David Vaughn wrote: “My jaw literally dropped... Directional cues were seamless between the speakers with phenomenal imaging and deep bass.” (May 2013, Read Full Review)
V-Moda Vamp Verza Headphone Amp: $598 (Metallo case, $101)
For most of us, the smartphone is a constant companion and a sort of electronic swiss army knife that puts almost any form of entertainment and communication at our fingertips. Problem is, it can’t excel at everything and audio quality usually gets short shrift. Verza is certainly not cheap but it will upgrade your phone’s audio so you can enjoy high-resolution music without having to reach for an iPod or other dedicated player. (, Read Full Review)
Emotiva UMC-200 Preamp/Processor: $599
If you’re looking for a workman-like pre/pro that trades frills for a heavy dose of audio performance, open another browser and grab your credit card—your search is over. In the words of reviewer David Vaughn, the entry-level UMC-200 “serves up an astounding value.” True, it is devoid of video processing, analog video inputs and networking amenities but it supports virtually every surround format and puts four HDMI 1.4 inputs and an 11-band parametric EQ at your fingertips. Most important, its audio prowess will blow you away—especially when you consider how little you have to pay to get it. (, Read Full Review)
Woo Audio WA6 Headphone Amplifier: $699 ($899 as reviewed)
There’s no denying the allure of the WA6’s glowing tubes but this one-of-a-kind component is more than a conversation piece. The impeccably designed Class A amp, reviewed with upgraded tubes, delivered warm sound, featuring a smooth, mellow midrange and top end that could be a tad too reticent with some ’phones. Calling its sound sweet and euphonic, reviewer Mark Fleischmann concluded: “With the right playmates, the WA6 delivers a creamy, grit-free tone that’s not likely to be heard with any solid-state amp.” (November 2014, Read Full Review)
Elac Element EA101EQ-G Integrated Amplifier/DAC: $699
Elac, the German brand whose latest Andrew Jones-designed speaker systems have won accolades from Sound & Vision and others, has come up with an integrated amplifier that is both compact and multi-talented: The mini power block doubles as a USB DAC, a sophisticated room/subwoofer equalizer, a headphone amp, and an app-enabled Bluetooth receiver. All that in a chassis that’s only 8.4 x 2.1 x 11.6 inches. (April 2017, Read Full Review)
Arcam irDAC USB DAC: $699
About the size of a thick paperback, the irDAC is a PC-friendly digital-to-analog converter designed to ensure that music files, whether lossless or compressed, sound as good as they can. The box is equipped with coaxial, optical, and Type A and Type B USB inputs plus stereo analog and coaxial outputs, meaning you can connect it to a computer or any digital-output source component in need of a sonic upgrade. Reviewer Mark Fleischmann concluded that the irDAC “made nearly everything sound great.” (April 2015, Read Full Review)
Meridian Director USB DAC: $699
Can a digital-to-analog converter deliver a music experience that is transformative? Reviewer Mark Fleischmann thinks so: “I hooked the Director up to my desktop system, started playing The Next Day, David Bowie’s comeback album, and then had to hunt around the room for the top of my head because it had just been blown off. It was the voice that did it. The Director made the elusive Bowie stand out like a flesh-and-blood human against the skeletal backdrop of guitar, bass, and drums.” (December 2013, Read Full Review)
AudioControl Rialto 400 Amplifier/DAC: $799
AudioControl saw the need for a compact yet high-performance amplifier/digital-to-analog converter that could boost the performance delivered by many of today’s wireless music systems. The solution? Combine a robust power amp and topnotch DAC in one stylish box. AC engineers even threw in an AccuBass control that adds depth and richness to compressed audio files. As reviewer John Sciacca put it, “The Rialto 400 definitely succeeds at what it was designed to do; it provides a terrific amplifier and DAC solution in a small package.” (, Read Full Review)
< $1,000 to $1,999
Sony PHA-3 Headphone Amp: $1,000
The PHA-3 is a rare-bird-of-a-headphone-amplifier that offers the choice of standard or pro-style balanced outputs. The diminutive amp is adept at handing ultra-high-resolution files, including 384-kHz/32-bit PCM and 2.8- and 5.6-MHz DSD. It sounds terrific with any headphones but really pushes the sonic envelope when mated via a balanced connection with Sony’s new flagship headphone, the MDR-Z7. (, posted 3/23/15, Read Full Review)
NuForce AVP-18 Surround Processor: $1,095
The AVP-18 is an all-digital surround processor that can turn your living room into a concert venue with just the right amount of reverb. It’s simple to operate and boasts a proprietary calibration system that lets great recordings really strut their stuff. Reviewer Fred Manteghian was blown away: “The AVP-18 is sleek, simple, and from my view, stupendous. Sound quality is completely first rate and far and above what could be accomplished at this price point had NuForce decided to play the features game.” (February/March 2014, Read Full Review)
Integra DHC-40.2 Surround Processor: $1,200
The 7.2-channel DHC-40.2 offers THX Ultra2 certification and a bevy of modern features that includes Internet audio and home network streaming, along with most of the modern amenities of top-end AVRs such as Audyssey room correction. Reviewer David Vaughn noted that “If you’re looking to enter the world of separates on a budget, be sure to put this Integra at the top of your list. It’s one of the best values I’ve come across in years.” (February 2011, Read Full Review)
Wadia 121 Decoding Computer: $1,299
Tired of hearing music that’s been mangled by MP3? Want to squeeze every last drop of resolution from lossless files? The Wadia 121 is a DAC to be reckoned with—not to mention an awesome headphone amplifier. Signaling a new chapter in audio history, it will reveal new layers of detail with compressed music files and wow you with high-resolution files. Reviewer Mark Fleischmann reveled in the “unexpected detail, variety, and pinpoint imaging” he heard while listening to the Deep Purple classic Machine Head. In a word: Fabulous. (, Read Full Review)
Moon by Simaudio Neo 230HAD Amp/DAC: $1,500
The Neo 230HAD is, simply put, a state-of-the-art headphone amplifier/DAC that makes good headphones sound great and great headphones sound extraordinary. Veteran audio reviewer Mark Fleischmann heaped rare praise on the little box: “The Neo 230HAD is the best-sounding headphone amp/DAC I’ve ever heard…It was, to my ears, tonally neutral, with tight, unexaggerated bass, a fully realized midrange, and plenty of top-end nuance and air…There was nothing about the sound that I would change.” (May 2016, Read Full Review)
Marantz AV7005 Surround Processor: $1,599
Scheduled to be replaced in late 2012 by the AV7701 ($1,699). Reviewer Michael Fremer liked the highly-loaded 7.2-channel AV7005 so much he purchased it as has reference surround processor following his evaluation. “The Marantz AV7005 offers preemptive state-of-the-art features, impressive ergonomics, inviting sonic performance, and even good looks,” he wrote, calling it “flat out brilliant.” (April 2011, Read Full Review)
$2,000 to $4,999
Parasound Halo P 7 Preamp: $2,000
An unusual home theater component, in that the P7 has no digital audio processing and is merely a high quality 7-channel analog preamp designed to be mated with a separate standalone surround processor or A/V receiver with full 7.1-channel preamp outputs. The idea is that it provides future-proof high-end analog amplification and allows the use of a relatively inexpensive (and more readily replaced) AVR to provide the latest surround sound modes and features. It’s pass-through feature may also be attractive to those who wish to retain an existing high-end 2-channel system while switching their two front speakers for surround-sound use. (June 2012, Read Full Review)
Onkyo PR-RZ5100 Surround Processor: $2,399
The PR-RZ5100 is more or less an updated version of Onkyo’s flagship TX-RZ3100 ($3,299) receiver that trades the power section for 11.2 channels worth of pro-style XLR balanced outputs so you can bring your own amplifier to the party. It brings Dolby Atmos and DTS:X processing into the fold along with 4K/HDR passthrough and is an all-around stellar performer. Commenting on the DTS:X soundtrack for Yuma, reviewer Daniel Kumin said he was “rewarded with a big, sweeping sound field that powerfully supported this finely drawn Western.” (October 2017, Read Full Review)
Emotiva XMC-1 Surround Processor: $2,499
The XMC-1 is an intelligently engineered AV preamp/processor with a number of clever extras, almost all of which contribute genuine value in enhancing the audio or user experience. Among them are high-resolution audio compatibility, an 11-band parametric EQ, and the fascinating Dirac Live room-correction system. There’s even an AM/FM tuner. Reviewer Dan Kumin called the XMC-1 a “high performer and an honest high-end value.” (July/August 2015, Read Full Review)
Integra DHC-80.3 Surround Processor: $2,600
Integra’s best prepro is a bargain by high end standards, and comes bloated with all the latest surround modes and Internet-streaming features, as well as Audyssey’s most sophisticated room correction scheme, MultEQ XT32, which worked extremely well, according to reviewer Kris Deering. “At the end of the day, this is the reason to own this processor,” he said. “I love the other bells and whistles the DHC-80.3 brings to the table, but this is one feature that stands to noticeably improve the sound of your system.” (February 2012, Read Full Review)
Cary Audio AiOS Integrated Amplifier/DAC/Streamer: $2,995
Cary’s All-in-One System, or AiOS for short, provides a cutting-edge solution for enthusiasts who want to cut down on audio clutter by combining a streamer, digital-to-analog converter (DAC), and integrated amp in one super slim component. It has everything an audiophile could want including MQA decoding, PCM and DSD upsampling, and PCM-to-DSD conversion, and is a breeze to use thanks to a well-designed control app. Reviewer Mark Fleischmann's take: “The sound is neutral in the best sense of the word, and build quality is everything you’d expect from a company with a high-end pedigree.” (December 2017, Read Full Review)
Anthem AVM 60 A/V Processor: $2,999
One of only two separates on our 2016 Top Picks of the Year list, the AVM 60 gives you up to 13 channels to work with and skips features you don’t need in favor of focusing on stuff that counts, including an intuitive interface, Anthem’s awesome ARC room-correction system, 4K/60 HDMI 2.0a/HDCP 2.2 video switching, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X decoding, and pristine sound. Anthem even throws in multiroom wireless streaming courtesy of DTS PlayFi. (January 2016, Read Full Review)
Yamaha Aventage CX-A5100 Surround Processor: $3,000
The CX-A5100 is an incredible value in the sub-$5,000 pre/pro market, offering audiophile sound quality, best-in-class control for iOS and Android devices, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support, and many other features that will keep an AV enthusiast happy until the next upgrade cycle comes around. Reviewer Mark Fleischmann concluded: “I’ve really enjoyed my time with the Yamaha CX-A5100, and frankly, I could live with this pre/pro in a heartbeat if I hadn’t recently upgraded.” (January 2016, Read Full Review)
Yamaha CX-A5000 Surround Processor: $3,000
The top dog in Yamaha’s vaunted Aventage line, the 11.2-channel CX-A5000 offers all the amenities an audiophile could want—no-expense-spared build quality, sophisticated room correction (via the proprietary YPAO-R.S.C. system), Ultra HD video scaling, a full array of connections—including seven HDMI inputs and balanced inputs and outputs—and, of course, impeccable sound quality. “Surefire winner” was how reviewer Mark Fleischmann put it. “Whether it was two-channel stereo, streamed FLAC files from my home server, or multichannel tracks from Blu-ray concert discs, I was never left wanting…” (January 2014, Read Full Review)
Marantz AV8801 Surround Processor: $3,599
The AV8801 is one serious surround processor. This baby is packed with state-of-the-art goodies, including support for an 11.2-channel system with Audyssey DSX or DTS Neo:X processing, 4K video capability, six HDMI 1.4a inputs, a bevy of streaming services, and Apple’s AirPlay. It’s also the first Marantz product to use Audyssey’s acclaimed MultEQ XT32 room correction system, which left reviewer David Vaughn stunned: “I didn’t realize how much better the piece could sound until I took the 30 minutes to run the program. Wowza, what an experience!” (May 2013, Read Full Review)
Rotel RAP-1580 Surround Amplified Processor: $3,800
Forget Rotel’s awkward moniker and focus on what matters: The RAP-1580 kicks ass in almost every way, starting with a brawny 7 x 150-watt Class A/B amp, support for 192/24 hi-res audio, and copious connections, including 8 HDMI inputs and a phono jack. “The RAP-1580 delivers sterling sound with especially satisfying dynamics and rich timbre,” wrote reviewer Mark Fleischmann. “Is it worth $3,800? On the basis of sound quality, unquestionably.” But there is a potential fly in the ointment: Dolby Atmos and DTS:X configurations are limited to 5.1.2 channels without external amplification. (November 2017, Read Full Review)
Marantz AV8802 Surround Processor: $3,999
An update of the Top Pick-rated AV8801, the 8802 comes highly recommended by reviewer David Vaughn who praised it for delivering superb multichannel and two-channel performance. The processor not only holds the line with five-star ratings across the board—except in Value, where it nets a still honorable 4.5—but brings something very special to this high-end audio party: Dolby Atmos surround-sound processing. Prefer Auro-3D or DTS:X? No problem, thanks to firmware upgrades—the Auro-3D update is available now for $199 and the DTS:X update is due out by the end of 2015. (June 2015, Read Full Review)
Cary Audio Design Cinema 12 Surround Processor: $4995
It wasn’t without some ergonomic quirks, and its stripped-down, purist audio means it offers video switching of your HDMI sources, but no video processing or upscaling. But, as with most of Cary’s audio gear we’ve tested in the past, the Cinema 12 knocks it out of the park on sound quality. Reviewed with its matching power amp, “the Cinema 12 was superbly musical, and the Model 7.125 [power amplifier] has the ability to re-create music with the startling dynamics of a live event…Yes, goose-bumping good,” noted reviewer Fred Manteghian. (March 2012, Read Full Review)
$5,000 >
McIntosh MX121 Surround Processor: $6,000
It’s not cheap, but McIntosh’s newest surround processor is it’s least expensive by far and performed brilliantly well when mated with the company’s new MM7055 7-channel amplifier. It’s based loosely on AV7005 prepro from sister brand Marantz and has a somewhat similar (though more truncated) feature set, combined with both cosmetic and performance enhancements. (June 2012, Read Full Review)
Krell Foundation Surround Processor: $6,500
Drawing on technology developed for Krell’s $30,000 flagship Evolution 707 pre/pro, the aptly named Foundation celebrates sonic realism in favor of extraneous features. There is no onboard Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/AirPlay connectivity, no Netflix or Pandora apps, and no video processing. What you do get is an unwavering focus on sound. As reviewer Michael Fremer put it: “The 3D edition of Life of Pi sounded as it looked: truly three-dimensional…“The result was a giant, floating, shimmering, non-mechanical ether in the room approached but once before in my room...The Foundation made me want to sit and listen. And that’s what it’s all about.” (April 2014, Read Full Review)
Wadia Digital Intuition 01 Integrated Amplifier-DAC: $7,500
The Intuition 01 is a welcome step toward the Audiophile System of the Future, combining 2x190-watt amplification, sophisticated digital-to-analog conversion facilities, input-selection, and volume control in a unique, swooping chassis that screams cutting-edge. Setup is a simple matter of plugging in an audio source—be it Mac/PC or SACD player—and kicking back to experience treasured recordings in all of their high-rez glory. Listening to a DSD recording of a Mozart violin concerto, reviewer Daniel Kumin wrote: “I heard a purity of violin tone, particularly of the highest notes, that I’d rarely if ever encountered from my system.” (, Read Full Review)
Denon AVP-A1HDCI Surround Processor: $7,500
We reviewed the 12-channel, THX Ultra2-certified AVP-AHDCI back in 2009, and Denon has kept it in the line and continued to upgrade it to where it now offers Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction, all the latest Dolby surround modes (including PLIIz for height channels), and the Denon’s current spate of Internet music services. A truly unique component that, according to reviewer Kris Deering, had “the lowest noise floor I’ve heard in my system. Even when I put my ear right up against my loudspeakers with the system on, I couldn’t detect any noise at all. It’s this kind of noise floor that makes music playback a transporting experience.” (September 2009, Read Full Review)
Bryston SP3 Surround Processor: $9,500
The old “straight-wire-with-gain” adage applies to Bryston’s flagship processor, which forgoes legacy video connections in favor of eight HDMI inputs and provides an Ethernet jack for firmware updates so you won’t have to worry about obsolescence. Whether you’re listening to a vinyl LP or watching a movie on Blu-ray, prepare to be amazed. Reviewer Fred Manteghian singled out Zombieland’s pristine DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack for “excellent dialogue intelligibility” and called the gunshots in Safe House “extremely realistic.” (January 2013, Read Full Review)
Classe CT-SSP Surround Processor: $9,500
Another example of the bare-bones hardcore audiophile approach taken by a handful of high end audio companies, the Classe CT-SSP is both expensive and stripped down compared with most of today’s Japanese-designed modern receivers and preamp/processors, though it offers HDMI video switching and has been updated since our review to HDMI 1.4 to accommodate 3D video and Audio Return Channel. Bells and whistles are not why you buy it, said reviewer Fred Manteghian, who called it’s sonics “smooth and highly detailed.” (Oct 2012, Read Full Review)
Power Amplifiers
< $1,799
Marantz MM7055: $1,200
Tested as the mate for the Marantz AV7005 surround processor, reviewer Michael Fremer found the MM7005 a competent performer that lived up to its modest price tag. Rated at 140 watts per channel into 8 ohms with two channels driven, it achieved 108 watts with all 5 channels driven at our low .1% distortion figure. While it made some surgical compromises compared with Fremer’s much more expensive reference amp, “its musical heart was in the right place and at a price that can’t be beat.” (April 2011, Read Full Review)
Outlaw Audio Model 7500: $1,599
Internet-only Outlaw Audio is a favorite among our staffers for its high value quotient, and the 5-channel Model 7500 is a perfect example. Reviewer Gary Altunian cited its “excellent dynamics and headroom” and “multidimensional soundstage reproduction.” It’s rated 200 watts rms per channel with all channels driven into 8 ohms with low .03% distortion but easily exceeded this number in our bench tests. Throw in audiophile features like balanced audio inputs and a remote trigger input and you’ve got a big brute that sounds great at a ridiculously low price. (September 2008, Read Full Review)
Legacy Audio Powerbloc2 and Powerbloc4 Amplifiers: $1,800, $2,950
Yet another example of audiophile-quality Class D amplification has arrived, this time in the form of two amplifiers from Legacy Audio—the two-channel Powerbloc2 and four-channel Powerbloc4. Both are conservatively rated to deliver 325 watts per channel into 8 ohms (or 650 watts into 4 ohms) and impressed veteran audio reviewer Dan Kumin with their ability to deliver “pristine, crystal-clear” sound at cinema levels. If you’re looking for serious power at a fair price, make this your first stop. (July/August 2017, Read Full Review)
Parasound Halo A 52+ Amplifier: $2,995
Parasound engaged noted designer John Curl to create the Halo A 52+ amplifier, a less expensive follow-up to the company’s popular but expensive A 51. And it shows. The five-channel amplifier is an all-around versatile performer with input and driver stages that operate in pure Class A mode and a Class A/AB output stage capable of delivering clean power with ample headroom for movies and music alike. “Parasound’s new five-channel amp delivers clear, dynamic sound and has plenty of headroom to handle the explosive effects in movie soundtracks,” concluded reviewer Al Griffin. (May 2018, Read Full Review)
Cary Audio Design Model 7.125: $3,995
We’ve actually tested this 7-channel behemoth twice with different Cary prepros and were equally impressed both times. It’s rated for 125 watts per channel with all channels driven into 8 ohms with .1% distortion, and nicely achieved those numbers. Reviewer Fred Manteghian found that “the Model 7.125 has the ability to re-create music with the startling dynamics of a live event. Yes, goose-bumping good. The folks at Cary are blessed with good ears and great taste.” (March 2012, Read Full Review)
Parasound Halo A 51: $4,500
The 5-channel Halo A 51, the work of respected designer John Curl, is not only gorgeous to look at, but delivers the goods with aplomb. Reviewer Kris Deering found it bettered his excellent reference amp, an Outlaw Audio Model 7900, saying “the A51 definitely had a more musical nature with it’s detailed top end,” a John Mayer track “was less fatiguing than with the Model 7900, and the instruments had a richer sound with better definition.” It’s THX Ultra2-certified, and rated at 250 watts per channel into 8 ohms with all channels driven—a spec it handily reached in our bench tests. (June 2012, Read Full Review)
Parasound Halo JC 1: $4,500
With a price tag that’s not for the weak of heart, this $4,500 monoblock amp rated at 400 watts into an 8 ohm load, will likely be used only for the front two channels in any theater set up. In that configuration, mated with the 5-channel A-51 to fill out seven channels, it took reviewer Kris Deering’s system to such new heights that he cashed in his retirement fund and bought his review samples, noting simply that “The JC 1s left my jaw on the floor.” (June 2012, Read Full Review)
$5000 >
McIntosh MC8207: $6,000
Classically beautiful, the MC8207 is a 7-channel amp based on the company’s highly regarded, $8,500 model MC207, but with the fancy analog VU meters replaced with LED meters instead, for $2,500 less. Dress it any way you want, this 200 watts per channel amplifier (with all channels driven) proved itself the real star of the $34,000 all-McIntosh system reviewed by Michael Fremer, who noted that, “it’s a rock-solid-sounding, high-power/high-performance, impeccably American-made amplifier that adds pride of ownership and bling factors that can’t be quantified.” (June 2012, Read Full Review)
ATI AT6005: $6,395
Founded in the early ’90s by Morris Kessler of SAE fame, ATI has spent much of its time working quietly behind the scenes building amplifiers for the likes of Adcom and Theta Digital. Comparing this 116-pound, 5 x 300-watt behemoth with his John Curl-designed reference amp, reviewer David Vaughn concluded, “If I were in the market for a new amp, the ATI would be at the top of my list, due to its low noise and seemingly endless power output.” Making the AT6005 even more recommendable is its confidence inspiring seven-year transferable warranty. (October 2014, Read Full Review)
Micromega M-150 Integrated Amplifier: $7,499
Orange Crush would be an appropriate nick name for the Micromega M-150 integrated amplifier/DAC, which packs 2 x 150 watts of Class AB power and a 32-bit digital-to-analog converter (DAC) into a chassis that’s only 2 inches tall. Its vibrant exterior screams excess but the M-150 is actually a basic component that does one job and does it well, though at a price: deliver reference-grade sound, whether you’re spinning virgin vinyl or streaming a hi-res file. For better or worse, it eschews extras such as Wi-Fi, onboard access to streaming services, and even an onscreen interface. (Posted 9/19/18, Read Full Review)
Denon POA-A1HDCI: $7,500
This truly massive 10-channel (!) amplifier delivers 150 watts per channel and weighs 130 pounts; it has four power transformers with individual windings associated with each amplifier channel. With 7 of 10 channels driven in our bench tests (the most we could do), it handily achieved 169 watts. Kris Deering wrote, “On the upper end, the amp had a great sense of transparency... It provided crisp, detailed highs…If you’re looking for plenty of power and great low-end performance from a full-range speaker, you should consider the POA-A1HDCI.” (September 2009, Read Full Review)
Bryston 9B SST²: $8,095
As reviewer Fred Manteghian put it, the 9B SST² is a “nothing-held-back” old-school, five-channel Class A/B amplifier that’s easy to recommend for its ability to “absolutely astound you and connect you with your music.” Backed by an incomparable 20-year transferable warranty, this war horse delivers 120 watts per channel (200 into 4 ohms), each of which has a dedicated toroidal transformer and heatsinks “large enough to cool off a Google server.” (January 2013, Read Full Review)
Classe CD-5300: $9,000
The CD-5300 was our mate for Classe’s CT-SSP surround processor, with a power rating of 300 watts per channel into 8 ohms with all channels driven. Reviewer Fred Manteghian noted that his power-hungry Revel Salon speakers were delighted by its presence, and that “the CT-5300 exhibits that jump factor that’s all too hard to come by and makes scenes come alive.” (October 2010, Read Full Review)
Krell Chorus 7200 Amplifier: $9,500
It’s rare when a product comes along that truly advances the state of the art. Such is the case with the Chorus 7200, a new kind of Class A amplifier that delivers clean power without paying huge penalties in heat build-up and efficiency (the traditional Achilles heel of Class A). Krell’s iBias technology allows the amps to run in full Class A mode as needed, while minimizing heat generation. If cost is little or no object, the 7200 promises audio bliss with its ability to deliver 200 watts of bold power into seven channels— or 7 x 360 into 4 ohms. (April 2015, Read Full Review)