It’s natural for any music lover to want high fidelity audio at home. But that means getting premium quality speakers, as well as a great amp to provide your stereo experience. While it’s true that the best amplifiers can be rather expensive, you still have excellent options if you’re looking for the best stereo amplifier under $500. The amplifier is the heart of any hi-fi system, and you need to make sure you get the best one for your money. Without it, you just have decorative speakers and lousy sound.
Setting $500 as our ceiling for our best amp recommendations seems reasonable enough for most people. The best budget amp isn’t exactly a toy, so it can’t be that cheap. At the same time, we have other important things to pay for. So unless you’re rather well-off, you need to stick to choosing among budget amplifiers that won’t cost you thousands of dollars.
More specifically, we’re sticking to the best integrated amp. This means we’re sticking to stereo receivers that doesn’t have and AM/FM tuner. Since for most people depending on actual radio for music seems obsolete, it’s not much of a sacrifice. In addition, cutting out this feature lowers the price tag.
So what factors should we look at when we try to pick the best integrated amp under $500? We do have certain categories for which we have recommendations. We have suggestions for the best overall, the best for your money, and the best Class A tube amp.
But you do need to look at certain factors to help you determine the better hi-fi amplifier models for your needs:
It makes sense for you to look for the best integrated amplifier for your needs rather than for you to have a separate preamplifier and power amplifier. Sure, you can more easily swap out a component to customize your audio. But it’s more expensive when you have 2 separate audio gadgets instead of having them integrated into a single amp.
Basically, you need a budget integrated amplifier because if it’s not integrated, you’re going to bust your budget.
In a rather simplistic sense, the wattage indicates how loud you can play a piece of music through your amp and speakers. The peak power wattage isn’t really all that important, since if you get to that volume level, you’ll just damage your ears.
What’s more important is continuous wattage. That will give you a better idea of the amplifier volume over a nice extended period of time.
Analog Audio Inputs
You obviously will want analog audio inputs so that you’re able to connect the various components you already have. The standard is the RCA audio input, though you should look for RCA phono input if you have a turntable that doesn’t have a phono preamp. Some of these phono inputs can even handle moving magnet and moving coil cartridges.
If you have higher-end audio components, you will likely need balanced XLR audio inputs. These are the heavy-duty locking 3-pin connectors designed for those components.
Not every amp has a built-in DAC, and you may need one. The DAC refers to a digital to analog converter. This will convert the ones and zeroes of digital info into electrical signals to power the speakers and give you sound. Lots of computerized music players like your smartphone, laptop, and CD player already have this. But what they have may not be all that good, so you may want to get a separate DAC from your music player.
If you have a DAC, then you will need Optical (Toslink) and Coaxial (RCA) digital audio inputs for connecting many digital music sources. These are also what you need if you want sound for your video sources.
A USB connection is another possible music source for your amplifier. You can just put in a USB thumb drive containing MP3s and FLAC files, and you can enjoy music for the whole day.
An Ethernet port lets you connect your amp to your computer network. You can access music from your network storage devices, the Internet, and various compatible network-connected computers.
One of the major differences between modern amps from the amps of the 1980s is the inclusion of modern wireless features like Bluetooth. When you have Bluetooth capability in your amp, this means that it’s easy enough to stream music from your smartphone through amp and then to your speakers.
That means you don’t have to endure the tiny and tinny speakers common to smartphones, and enjoy the full blast of your stereo speakers instead.
With Wi-Fi, it’s the same thing. You connect to through Wi-Fi to a computer that can stream music to your amplifier. Some amplifiers can even accommodate Apple AirPlay, so that they can stream music from an iPhone or an iPad.
It should be simple enough to do both. Not everyone has the skills of or the money to pay for a professional installer. It should be simple enough to install and setup. Obviously, it will help if it poses no trouble when you do want to use it for music.
There are a lot of details that many audiophiles and stereo nerds love to debate about. These may involve ohms and amplifier class like Class A, A/B, or D. However, there are plenty of good amplifiers in all of these classes.
Basically, it’s about matching your amplifier with your music and then getting the right sound. You can’t really predict with any certainty whether an amplifier will sound terrific with your speakers, just by looking at specs. You have to listen to it yourself, or you can read stereo amplifier reviews from customers and reviewers trying to describe the quality of the sound.
Sound quality is like taste, and everyone’s tastes aren’t the same. In fact, 2 different sound qualities may both be good, just as 2 flavors may both be good in different ways. The sound may be warm or cool, but they’re not in itself “good” or “bad”. You have to check for yourself if the quality of the sound appeals to your taste.
Some people like amplifiers that look “cool”, and perhaps that may matter just a bit. It does help when the look and design of an amplifier on display matches the interior design of the room it’s in.
Yet the physical size of the amplifier may matter more. Often (though not always), a bigger amplifier means having more connections and flexibility.
The size may also matter if you don’t have a lot of space in your small apartment. After all, if you’re unable to spend more than $500 on your amplifier then there’s a very good chance you’re not looking to fill an entire auditorium with music.
Now that we have a clearer understanding of how to pick the best home audio amplifier for our needs, here’s a list of budget audiophile amplifier for certain categories.
You have the $500, so what’s the best budget stereo amplifier you can get? For many (including us), that’s the Yamaha A-S301BL. It’s easy enough understand why Yamaha has earned such a lofty reputation in the audio industry, especially when you find gadgets like this.
This was first introduced in 2014. At the time it was selling for about $800, but of course after a few years you can now expect its price to drop as newer amps have been introduced. Now it’s quite possible the best integrated amp under $500.
The most important feature you need to know about this is that it offers crystal clear audio. You may hear sound and music details that you may not have heard from your previous receiver, even if that receiver offered more watts per channel and cost a lot more.
This is due to Yamaha’s vaunted ToP-ART (Total Purity Audio Reproduction Technology) amplifier design. The left and right channels have been organized in a straight, symmetrical layout to give you the highest signal purity possible. The ART (Anti-Resonance and Tough) Base bottom chassis together with the solid center bar give you the extremely rigid support you need as well as a great way to dampen the vibration.
Yamaha also takes care in using only custom or premium-quality parts to deal well with the demanding conditions of your audio signals. The brand has been in the industry for 125 years, and they’ve made an art form of reproducing music as it really sounds which Yamaha refers to as “Natural Sound”.
This accepts digital audio input with both optical and coaxial terminals. The optical works for your TV and the coaxial is needed for your Blu-ray player. There’s a connection for your YBA-11 Bluetooth Wireless Adapter, which lets you enjoy wireless music streaming.
Other features include having 2 separate speaker systems, and there’s a dial to let you choose between Speakers A and B. There’s also an A+B option so you have both sets of speakers play at the same time. There are terminals for a subwoofer, and you can also connect a turntable with an MM phono cartridge. The sound is fantastic, and that’s exemplified by the Pure Direct mode. Usually when you have a hi-fi stereo, the music signals pass through several layers of controls for bass, treble, balance, and loudness. But in the Pure Direct mode, the music signals go directly from input to output. This virtually eliminates any signal degradation.
Of course, you may want to customize the sound to your liking. For that you have several controls, and they’re all easy to use. The analogue loudness control lets you balance the low and high frequencies, and you can adjust the loudness effect.
The other various buttons are easy to operate as well, and the layout makes a lot of sense. The rotary encoder
The remote is also very easy to use even with just one hand. With the remote, you can easily adjust the song order and the volume, and you can also control a Yamaha CD player if you have one.
Now if you only can afford a truly affordable budget stereo amplifier, you can maximize the value of your dollar with the Cambridge Audio Topaz AM10. It’s an entry-level amp, but you gain entry to the rarified world of audiophile-quality components.
What you need to understand is that it may only cost about half of our price ceiling, but it may sound a lot better than many of its more expensive counterparts. In some ways, it may be a bit more basic compared to pricier models, bit for some folks that this is a good thing. It just means that the tech-averse folks can still use this too.
The sound is fairly terrific, which is amazing in a hi-fi stereo amplifier that’s this cheap. The sound certainly doesn’t seem cheap at all. A closer look at this reveals surprising touches.
One example is the use of toroidal transformers. This is a component that you normally wouldn’t see in an amp in this price range. It’s only typically present in premium amps. That’s because a toroidal transformer can channel extras power more accurately. That may seem like a small thing, but it gives you a much richer sound for your music while you get a much better bass response.
Then there’s the casing. Normally, manufacturers save money by using a plastic case, though covering it up with a metal front simply for aesthetics. But this time you have an all-metal case for the Topaz AM10, with no plastic part. The use of metal for everything maximizes the purity of the sound and music because it’s more effective in reducing vibration.
Input options include 5 rear-panel inputs, so you can connect your TV, Blu-ray or DVD player, CD player, and tuner. There’s a phonostage built in so you can also connect your classic turntable. There’s also an input slot at the very front of the panel is you can connect your mp3 player or smartphone.
The sound quality is great and quite clean. The highs are crisp, the mids are engaging and detailed, while the bass is punch and deep. With the 35 watts per channel for 4 to8-ohm speakers, you won’t have trouble with 88db sensitivity rating.
A lot of amps in this price range often come with rather terrible nasty surprises. There aren’t any here that you may have to tolerate with other cheap amps. The user interface is simple and clean without useless bells and whistles. You can plug in your smartphone with no ugly sound effects. It’s quiet when you’re not using it, without that telltale buzz that’s often the hallmark of cheap amps.
That’s the essence of the Topaz AM10. It’s affordable, and you get that clean sound without the annoying audio flaws. It’s that simple.
The YAQIN MC-84L 6P14 x4 certainly looks impressive, and no one will ever think this thing’s cheap just by looking at it. The good news is that its audio performance doesn’t embarrass its aesthetics. It’s not just popular because of its looks, and it’s always nice to get them at this price range.
The acoustics of this amp is terrific and rich, due to features like the ultra linear push-pull circuit. The frequency response becomes wider and the distortions are minimized also by the SRPP preamp circuit.
Yaqin uses Japanese audio-specific oriented silicon steel. In other words, this steel is customized for audio components. The same goes for the enameled copper wire with tis free-oxygen and high intensity features. Again, this boosts the acoustic quality.
Even the non-polar AC capacitor is audio-grade. It doesn’t make too much noise so you have a nice and quiet music background. It’s very durable too.
This isn’t really for folks who have lots of sound and music data to play. It only has 3 inputs, and then you have volume control. It’s a no-nonsense integrated amp with a very warm sound. So if you just have a basic TV, DVD, player, and CD player, you’re covered.
Some people actually get this as part of their steampunk interior design. That’s the kind of style and design that resembles what Victorian England may have looked like if during those years they invented cars and computers. This seems par for the course, as it looks like an amplifier that won’t look out of place in the home of Arthur Conan Doyle.
But the sound is what matters for many audiophiles, even if the quaint design and the shiny light make it a whopper of a conversation piece. A vacuum tube integrated amplified may seem obsolete for many, and that’s because of the rise of digital audio.
Yet ironically, some audiophiles find the sound of digital audio cold and lifeless. It doesn’t sound natural. After using some transistor amplifiers for digital sound to listen for a whole day to music, the entire experience can seem boring and tedious.
So if that’s your experience, you need to try a vacuum tube integrated amplifier. This leads us to the YAQIN MC-84L 6P14 x4, which comes at an affordable price with a sound quality that some audiophiles will appreciate. Many may be willing to pay good money for this kind of sound, but the good news is that you don’t have too.
Marantz has been in the industry for the last 65 years or so, and the Marantz PM5005 is testament to how they’ve lasted so long. They offer classic design, sweet sound, and tech features that hide the fact that they also come with affordable prices. Say what you want about the Marantz PM5005, it doesn’t look cheap at all.
It doesn’t sound cheap either. The circuitry is all analog from input to output. It can handle 4 and 8-ohm speakers. If you have a preference for vinyl, you will appreciate the moving magnet (MM) phono input for your turntables.
The input and output jacks are notable for their gold plating. This helps ensure optima signal integrity. The various circuitries also offer detailed renditions of sound from DVDs and music from CDs.
The watts-per-channel rating is at 40 watts for 8-ohm speakers. For 4-ohm, you get 55 watts. You have outputs for 2 sets of speakers, and you can just push a button to choose which set you want to use. While you have tone control, you also have the Source Direct Function that bypasses the tonal and loudness control for maximum fidelity to the source.
One of the ways that makes the Marantz PM5005 distinct is its use of current feedback architecture. It’s true that other more expensive amplifiers have this tech, but it’s amazing that it’s now available in this price range. This tech allows for quick and precise signal handling so that the stereo sound seems always perfectly balanced.
Finally, the design incorporates a metal front panel as well as a metal chassis. The use of the metal helps to make this a very solid and rigid base to dampen vibration.
It’s always nice that there’s an option for the headphone output. This does require wired connections though. For possible wireless headphone use, you may want to check out the best AV receivers under 1000 dollars.
Quite a few people like to include the Onkyo A-9150 as a candidate for best stereo amplifier under 500 dollars. It’s right under that price ceiling. In fact, get the receiver with wire and plug package and you exceed our arbitrary limit. Yet there’s a lot to be had with your money here, since it’s not actually over the limit.
For an audiophile, this amp is a dream. The sound is clear and crisp, as well as warm and full. You hear all the instruments in their glorious splendor, and it’s great to simply sit back and relax to appreciate the music.
It helps that it sends out 60 watts per channel. With the Discrete Spectra module, the sound is immersive, lively, and with better separation for the instruments. Other features include the AKM (AK4452) 768 kHz / 32-bit digital-to-analog converter that provides you with the best sound you can get from your CDs and other digital music sources.
What if you’re a vinyl fan like many audiophiles? Your preferences are accommodated as well. You get a premium quality discrete head amp along with a dedicated MM/MC circuit board.
Some of the cheaper amps suffer from distortion, but not so much the Onkyo A-9150. That’s due to the DIDRC filter. This keeps the sound you hear from being affected by any UHF distortion.
The unit allows for 4 gold-plated analog RCA Audio inputs, a couple of coaxial digital inputs, and a couple of optical digital inputs. You also get 2 pairs of gold-plated speaker posts for A+B speaker switching.
At this price range, the amp isn’t really suited for large rooms. That’s especially true for those who like heavy metal music. But for medium-sized rooms, it’s more than enough. It’s for a small apartment living room or den, where you want to sit back and relax with your music.
It’s also extremely durable and well-built, so you can expect it to last for years to come. At this price range you should go with classic proven amps, and the Onkyo A-9150 is one of those. The various parts have been made with exceptional materials and great care, and with the aluminum front panel it’s built to last.
It looks good too. What’s more, it’s not very complicated and a lot of people should be able to use this easily. The front panel controls are laid out neatly with dials for speaker switches; the bass, treble, and balance; the dial for picking the input source; a port for your headphones.
Japanese technology is generally characterized by simple yet elegant designs, advanced tech, and yet affordable prices. With our price ceiling for stereo amplifiers, it makes sense that we have a Japanese brand that exemplifies these typical features. With the DENON PMA-390RE SP, you can appreciate it as the gem that it is. This is so good that just about everyone who has bought it gives it perfect ratings.
If you’re a hard rock fan, you will really appreciate this amp. The sound is gorgeously clear, with a fullness that fills the room with nice clean bass.
There’s no distortion whatsoever, even if you do crank up the volume a bit to appreciate the hard rock. It comes with a remote, so you can just sit back and relax.
At the rear, you have inputs for phono, CD, aux, tuner, and network. You also have options for switching A + B speaker systems. The front panel has a clean and simple look, with a headphone input, dials for bass, treble, and loudness, volume, and input selector.
The remote setup is also simple and easy to use too. The layout is familiar so you shouldn’t have any trouble.
As this is one of the “classical’ models, the advantage here is that it’s a proven design. It hasn’t been available for the US market until recently, but now it can be bought through online sources so that Americans can also enjoy this Japanese import. A lot of people have wanted this, and now they can get it.
The downside to classical designs is that sometimes they don’t have modern 21st century features. That’s evident in this case, when there’s no slot for a USB in the front panel. That would have been nice.
There are also no modern wireless connectivity options. Forget about Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. That’s just not going to happen. This is basically late 20th century tech. It’s good, but decidedly not modern.
The good news is that with the crisp sound of the amp, you really should refrain from playing the muddle sound of mp3s anyway. Try your CD player instead, while the phone input should offer fantastic sound as well. This is for the traditional audiophile who appreciates amps that can provide great detail with the music.
One last thing and it’s about the energy saving feature. When the music stops playing for some time, the amplifier powers down automatically. This keeps the amplifier from wasting energy, and it’s also great for durability.
While the rating may seem comparatively low, it’s actually deceptive. The most helpful customer reviews tend to give it perfect scores, so there’s a lot to be gained by getting the Pioneer Elite A-20.
The first thing you may probably notice is the very low price. Combine this with the nice set of features and this can vie for the honor of best stereo amplifier for your money. But it doesn’t look cheap at all, with the front panel looking truly stylish. The front panel is made from heavy aluminum, and the layout of the dials is disarmingly simple.
Of course the sound is what matters more, and you should have no complaints here. You get 50 watts per channel and you can connect 2 sets of speakers. There’s also the option to play all 4 speakers together, so that you may enjoy front and rear speakers for your music or movies.
The amount of audio detail this amp offers is terrific, especially at this price point. There’s no distortion at all, and the music flows smoothly. It helps that the volume control offers motorized precision adjustment. The treble and bass dials can add greater details and warmth, without leading to inaccurate renditions. Even with heavy bass tones, the amp can take it calmly.
The rear panel reveals several available RCA inputs for your music sources. These include Super Audio CD, tape recorder, and tuner. There’s also an MM phono stage for your turntable. Just turn the input selector dial to pick where your music will come from.
Even the remote is very easy to use, and with lots of convenient features too. It actually controls various input sources, and you have separate power buttons for your CD player and for your network player. The buttons are nicely spaced apart for larger fingers, and the range of the remote is quite good.
It’s a bit on the heavy side, and that’s actually a good thing. That’s because its weight keeps the unit secure so that it doesn’t react to bass vibrations. The weight isn’t really too heavy, and you can easily move it from one spot to another.
All in all, this is a Pioneer. It’s surprisingly good for the price and the sound is terrific. There’s really nothing too it. Just attach your players and your speakers and enjoy your detailed music.
This list proves that you’re not absolutely required to fork over loads of cask for a stereo amplifier. It’s true that some of the more expensive amps offer greater features and sound. But it’s also true that at this price range you can get music quality that even audiophiles will approve of.
Try any of these integrated amps for yourself, and see how it can rock your world. Music will sound better, and the great news is that the amp isn’t expensive. These prices even offer you the chance to get decent speakers.
Just follow the manual when you set up, and you can watch YouTube videos. Take care of these amps, and they can last for a very long time. Their functions may seem simple, but the rewards of great music cannot be overstated. With the best stereo amplifier under $500, you’re all set while you don’t have to bust up your bank account!
Hi guys, If you share the same excitement for literally ANY new music device out there, then I would be honoured to call you brothers!