Help me replace my music-player!
March 28, 2006 10:51 PM   Subscribe

I need help figuring out which audio amplifier I should buy.

I'm not even sure that what I'm looking for is actually called an audio amplifier - what I mean is the thing that you plug your record player and CD player into and there are buttons to switch between the various things you have plugged into it, and then it will make it play through the speakers that you have attached to it, and usually there's a remote control. Yes, I am completely ignorant about audio equipment.

Anyway, my old one of these things blew up in sparks and smoke a few weeks ago, and I'd really like to replace it. The problem is, the one I had was purchased by my parents when I was very young, so I have no idea what I should be looking for or where I should be looking.

I'd like to buy a good but bare-bones one, hopefully costing less than $200. I'll be plugging two speakers into it (no surround sound system or anything), along with a record player and a cable that connects to the headphone output in my computer.

I'm looking for recommendations for specific pieces of equipment, and also general suggestions for websites to look at (with reviews and specifications and such).
posted by bubukaba to Technology (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is called an amplifier or reciever. You'd probably be happy with something like this.
posted by aubilenon at 11:11 PM on March 28, 2006

The receiver that aubilenon linked to looks reasonable. Remote control, four stereo audio inputs, AM/FM tuner and a phono input (turntables output their sound differently than everything else). I think you'll be happy.

If you go to an AV store, don't get obsessed with the # of Watts it has. Cheap brands tend to have very high numbers, and really crap sound.
posted by I Love Tacos at 11:29 PM on March 28, 2006 is a good place to check out user reviews. Hi-Fi choice is a UK magazine with fairly good archive of reviews (though the reviews seem to be down at the moment for some reason).

As for recommendations, Nad and Cambridge Audio are popular budget amps in the UK, but I don't know if they are available state-side.

I imagine for your needs a bit of review-surfing, and perhaps pick up a hi-fi magazine with a buyers guide reference would tell you pretty much all you need to know.
posted by MetaMonkey at 11:38 PM on March 28, 2006

Best answer: I bought the Onkyo TX-8011 about a month ago. I really love it: has a good full sound with a fuller midrange than a lot of its brethren in the 200$ range, and it sounds as good at a very low volume as it does very loud. I paid $140.
posted by dong_resin at 12:11 AM on March 29, 2006

Best answer: I would also reccomend Onkyo over other low-cost recievers such as a Sony, Aiwa, Kenwood, etc. Onkyo makes great stuff, and I have never been dissapointed with any of their porducts.

The main thing you are going to want to consider is how many components you want to plug in. Is this a music reciever or a Home Entertainment system? If you are just plugging in the CD Player, Record Player, etc, get one that is geared toward such (usually with just 2 normal sets of red/black speaker outs), if you are looking to also plug in your TV and run that through then you want one that is rated for 5.1 Dolby and has outs for front/back etc.
posted by sophist at 1:56 AM on March 29, 2006

Best answer: According to one random amplifier page at, not all current receivers and amplifiers have a phonograph input. It's essential if you want to play records, since the output of a turntable requires a special preamp. The Onkyo aubilenon linked to above has phono input, but many of Amazon's "similar products" didn't. Also, for what it's worth, receivers have radio tuners, amplifiers don't.
posted by dmo at 5:30 AM on March 29, 2006

Best answer: What you want is an "integrated amplifier."

It's called integrated because for a high-end audio setup, there's a "preamp" which handles many incoming sources, switches among them, and provides volume adjustment, and then monoblock amplifiers (which have no volume control but just do the amplification.)

At your price range, you can't go wrong with NAD integrateds. If you've a saavy audiophile friend, Audiogon is a nice place to check as well for all sorts of used stuff.

BTW, a receiver would give you more functionality, but the sound will be far poorer in this price bracket.
posted by NucleophilicAttack at 7:25 AM on March 29, 2006

Second-hand is definitely an option, whether it's via eBay (heavy, so shipping might be an issue) or a local shop. I've got an old Pioneer amp with five inputs, and it does the job fine. The advantage of older kit is the built-in phono stage.

Alternatively, you could always go for the T-Amp and T-Preamp combo if your speakers are sufficiently efficient. There's a phono stage (with ground), and with a couple of 3.5mm to phono cables, you're sorted for about $150 in a relatively small form-factor.

If you want radio, then an older receiver (AM/FM + amp) might be a better bet, but if you want vinyl and line-in and two speakers, the T-Amp/Preamp combo is pretty sweet.
posted by holgate at 11:34 AM on March 29, 2006

Best answer: There are a lot of terms out there and it can be confusing. Here are a few definitions. An amplifier just takes a low level signal and makes it louder. A pre-amplifier (preamp) switches between low level (line level) sources and adjusts the signal, things like volume, tone controls. An integrated amplifier combines the amp and preamp into one box. A tuner just receives radio signals and converts them into audio signals. A receiver is an amp, preamp, and tuner in one box.

Having everything in one box (integrated) is usually cheaper and saves space. Having each device in its own box (components) is more expensive, but it lets you pick out the best individual unit. It also means that if one part dies you don't have to throw everything else out.

Turntable signals are lower than line level and so need an extra device, another type of amplifier, to boost them. Often this will be built into the preamp or receiver, but not always. Check for that if it is important. You can buy a separate device to boost the signal if that becomes important later.

For $200 or so you will likely want a receiver.

As for recommendations about specific models, well those change so fast it is difficult to keep up. At that price, you won't see much difference in audio performance if you stay with main brands. I value good customer service and reliability. I have had good luck with Yamaha and Onkyo products. I maintain a theatre and have to purchase a/v equipment pretty regularly, and I have had good luck with those two brands.

As for specific sites, I use Consumer Reports and Amazon for a sense of how a particular model does, but if you wait five minutes, the particular model will no longer be available, having been replaced with a "new and improved" version.

Think about what you will be using it for, music or movies, and what bells and whistles are important to you, easy to mute, quiet mode, fancy remote, and evaluate accordingly.

If you go into a stereo store, be prepared for techno babble and subtle, or not, sales pressure. Trust your ears and your instincts. The sales people will recommend the brands the store has deals with, not necessarily the best value for you.
posted by tbird at 11:56 AM on March 29, 2006

One problem these days, especially in the US, is that the low end of the market has gone over to home theatre, while the straightforward audio integrated amp / receiver market is more high-end. (Americans don't have a Richer Sounds selling cheap separates.) So buying new, mainstream and cheap isn't always an option, especially in the Best Buy kind of place.

Fortunately, many people are ditching perfectly good stereo amps for home theatre setups or home media boxes, and since you're in a big city, there's craigslist or freecycle or junk/pawn shops at your disposal. You'll likely get a much better deal than buying new.
posted by holgate at 2:47 PM on March 29, 2006

One more vote for not buying Sony. I bought one of their surround-sound receivers about 6 years ago and the turntable amp was terrible. The output was at an odd level and the sound itself was 'off.'

Harmon Kardon have been my favorite receivers for turntable amplification. NAD in particular tends to ship their boxes with proper RIAA equalization and to me sound quite nice.

Buy used :)
posted by starscream at 4:59 PM on March 29, 2006

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