What is an integrated amplifier?
Put simply, an integrated amplifier is two amps in one. Integrated amplifiers combine preamplifiers and power amplifiers into a single chassis.
The preamp section:
- processes the signal from source components like turntables, CD players, TVs, etc.
- lets you to line switch between those source inputs
- and provides a range of controls like bass, treble, and volume adjustment, left and right speaker balance, frequency attenuation, A/B speaker selection, etc.
The power amp section
- takes the preamp signal and amplifies it, powering your speakers and giving you volume.
These days, integrated amplifiers also come with additional features, like:
- digital-to analog converters (DACs)
- headphone amplifiers
- phono preamplifiers (for turntables)
- radio tuners
- bluetooth receivers
Why choose an integrated amplifier?
Integrated amplifiers outsell separates by a landslide. They're often the most popular choice for everyday listeners or those taking their first tentative steps into the world of serious home audio.
There are a range of integrated benefits:
- they're more cost effective
- they take up less living/listening room realestate
- you don't need additional, costly interconnects
- and they're super easy to use.
If they're so good, why sell separates?
Audio, like most interests in life, is a sliding scale of passion. At one end of that scale is someone who likes a little background music. At the other, some dude with an acoustically treated, temperature controlled, dedicated listening room equiped with thousands of records and thousands of dollars of HiFi gear.
Separate components are further along the passion scale for several reasons:
- they give you greater audio quality
- they provide greater flexibility for customisation
- they give you the freedom to mix and match brands/models
- and they make it easier for future upgrades
Note. none of this matters if you're just starting out or are at the medium to lower end of the passion scale.
Everyday integrated use cases
For most people, and in most cases, an integrated amplifier is going to live in your "living" room. Small, medium, or large living rooms, it matters not. Integrated amplifiers come in a range of shapes, sizes, and power outputs to accomodate them all.
The size of your room will determine the level of sound it can accomodate. You might have big eyes for a big amp and loudspeakers, but you'll overcook your sound quality if you're room is too small. Everything will sound (and probably look) crowded and messy. Conversely, you're listening experience will be somewhat lacklustre and thin if you're running a modest amplifier into small bookshelf speakers within a sizeable listening space.
It's really horses for courses, so let's line you up some thoroughbreds.
For small rooms:
Compact integrated amplifiers matched to bookshelf loudspeakers are perfectly suited to small listening environments.
- A compact integrated amplifier, like the Mission 778X, matched to a pair of bookshelf speakers like Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 is a killer combination for small listening environments.
- On the slightly more sizeable end, an integrated amplifier like the Audiolab 6000A has a mighty 50W of power that'll run A LOT of loudspeakers. So you can pair it with pretty much any bookshelf model you prefer.
- And for that vintage flare, The LEAK Stereo 130 integrated amplifier is utterly enthralling when matched with the Wharfedale Denton 85.
For medium rooms:
Slightly bigger amplifiers matched to larger 3-way bookshelf or smaller floorstanding models will match a medium-sized listening room to a tee.
- A serious integrated amplifier like the Audiolab 7000A, with a thumping 70W of power at its heart, matched to a pair of Wharfedale EVO4.2 3-way bookshelf loudspeakers is a tidy two-way setup.
- The Quad Artera Solus Play, with its 75W of power, paired to the Mission QX-3 Mk II will not only fill a sizeable listening/living room with sound, it's also all the equipment you'll need. Solus has inbuilt wireless streaming functionality, a CD player, and Bluetooth aptX. So, plug and play.
- And for the retro audio enthusiast, the Leak Stereo 230 integrated amplifier combined with Mission 700 standmount loudspeakers will work a treat in medium to large listening spaces.
For large rooms:
Large listening spaces demand sizeable speakers and sizeable speakers often demand power. But that doesn't mean you need separates. A powerful integrated amplifier will handle the demands of even the thirstiest loudspeakers.
- The flagship Audiolab 9000A, with its mighty 100W of class A/B power, will pair beautifully with the award-winning Wharfedale EVO4.4 floorstanding loudspeakers, creating a large listening room tour de force.
- Or again for the Heritage minded, a set of awarding-winning Mission 770 paired with a Quad II Classic integrated valve amp will blow the socks off every person parked in front of them. Seriously, this is a salacious setup.
Integrated Purchase Considerations
Beyond room size, there are a range of other considerations to factor in before purchasing your next (or first) integrated amplifier. These range from what you're running (speakers) to what you're playing (music/movies), its features, functions, sound signatures, and more.
Let's break them down.
Power Output: You'll need to match the power output of the integrated amplifier with the recommended amplification range of your loudspeakers. This will be listed within the specifications table of your loudspeaker manual; though, you're likely to find it via the manufacturers website as well. Ensure that your integrated amplifier provides enough power to drive your speakers effectively without distortion or strain.
Connectivity Options: Consider the input and output options that your integrated amplifier offers. Do you want to play records? Then an inbuilt phono input might be handy. Are you connecting it to your TV? It'll need either optical or HDMI (ARC). Got an old CD collection you wanna dust off? CD players and transports require specific inputs too, not to mention DACs, which leads us to features.
Features and Functionality: Consider additional features and functionality that can enhance your listening experience. This might be an inbuilt headphone amp, built-in DACs for serious digital music listening, bluetooth and the like. These days, many integrated amps come with many features, so do your research and consider them wisely.
Future Proofing: Are you likely to upgrade your loudspeakers in the future? I know you're about to purchase an amp. But will that improved sound quality make you want to upgrade your speakers in the not so distant future, too? If you're on the fence, it might be worth increasing its power output now to accomodate a bigger, badder set of loudspeakers down the line.
Speaker Matching: All audio products have distinct sound signatures; though, they're often grouped into forward or bright, contrasted by layback or warm. And matching forward amps with forward speakers, as well as warm amps with warm speakers, is in most cases too much of a good thing. So bright and snappy loudspeakers are often best matched with a warmer integrated amp, and vice versa.
Note. Understanding the root sound signature of an audio component these days is super easy. You don't even need to leave your home. Simply type the product title into YouTube and watch the reviews stack. While each reviewer will offer their own interpretation, there's almost always a universal consensus for whether a component is forward, layback, or neutral. And if there are conflicts then it's time to call into your local dealer.
In the end, integrated amps are somewhat self explanatory: they "integrate" preamplifiers and power amplifiers into the one unit. They're often a more cost effective, easy-to-use solution for the everyday listener. And with a huge range of power outputs and feature sets to choose from, the mighty integrated amplifier can service almost any loudspeaker or listening preference.
In fact, those feature sets are so robust these days that most integrated amplifiers are "Just-Add-Speakers" solutions. Because integrated amps are more often used in living room spaces, plugged into TVs, they're already wired for sound. Most Smart TVs these days'll run a range of music apps like Spotify or Apple Music, not to mention Netflix, Amazon and so on. So, one integrated amplifier with speakers = an entire entertainment system!
Ready to be entertained?
Tap the link below to check out our entire range of Audiolab, Quad, and Mission integrated amplifiers.