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MULTIMEDIA

Super Test Stereo Amplifiers - Sonic Boon (Part 5)

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The winner

Arcam FMJ A19 - Rating: 5/5

It was a tough fight, this, but get the partnering kit right and the Arcam A19 emerges as a stunning all-rounder at a bargain price.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Arcam come out on top in a stereo amplifier group test, and it’s great to see this British company back on its A-game in this arena. The Arcam FMJ A19 blew us away with its large, authoritative sound and impressive handling of dynamics, trumping more expensive amps on test when it came to timing and subtlety. Brimming with detail and great clarity from top to bottom, the Arcam A19 is a solid all-round performer, and all at a price that makes it feel like a bit of a bargain.

The A19 wowed us with its clarity, depth and fantastic solidity

The A19 wowed us with its clarity, depth and fantastic solidity

This does mean that our 2012 Award winner at this price point, the Cyrus 6a, has been hoisted from its throne, albeit while keeping its five stars. And so it should. The 6a is still a fantastic amp, with its expert precision and spacious presentation, not to mention its small footprint, bound to make it appealing to many. Unfortunately, it just fell short when it came to the pure size of sound when compared to the large-scale presentation of the Arcam.

The competition's still strong

Naim’s Nait 5i has also kept its five stars, still impressing us with its solid, weighty sound, particularly in the lower frequencies, and its handling of dynamics and rhythm. However, its more forward sound gives it a noticeably smaller soundstage to that of the Arcam, and at $359 more, thats a considerable difference in price.

Naim’s Nait 5i has also kept its five stars, still impressing us with its solid, weighty sound, particularly in the lower frequencies, and its handling of dynamics and rhythm.

Naim’s Nait 5i has also kept its five stars, still impressing us with its solid, weighty sound, particularly in the lower frequencies, and its handling of dynamics and rhythm.

Onix made a respectable return to our pages with its A-25 stereo amp, complete with standout styling, sweeter than sweet high-end and a delicate midrange. Unfortunately its concentration in these areas left the low-end lacking, leaving the overall presentation a little lightweight.

One amp that didn’t suffer with a lack of bass was the Pioneer A-70, which packs an assuredly chunky low-end and a large sound to match its hefty physical appearance. There’s a great clarity here, but it lacks the composure to handle more complex parts of a track with confidence, ultimately losing it a star.

The Arcam FMJ A19 blew us away with its authoritative sound and impressive dynamics, and bettered more expensive amps for subtlety

The remaining two amplifiers also scored a respectable four stars. The Rotel might have left us wanting more in terms of detail and dynamics, but it’s also the cheapest amp on test here, and one of the best featured – a factor definitely not to be overlooked.

Audiolab’s 8200A should have been in its comfort zone paired with the company's Award-winning 8200CD CD player, but it somehow fell a bit short. It packed in more detail than the Rotel but its overall sound puts precision above rhythmic drive, making it sound too clinical and matter of fact.

Audiolab’s 8200A should have been in its comfort zone paired with the company's Award-winning 8200CD CD player, but it somehow fell a bit short

Audiolab’s 8200A should have been in its comfort zone paired with the company's Award-winning 8200CD CD player, but it somehow fell a bit short

It could do with taking a few notes from the Arcam. The A19's warm, inviting sound sits just on the relaxed side of neutral. It won’t break the bank but it will immediately improve a more budget hi-fi setup immeasurably.

Buying advice

How to decide which amp to get Amplifiers don’t tend to have as strong a sonic character as your speakers, but they affect the way the system sounds in a fundamental way. It pays to take care in choosing one.

If possible, always listen to an amplifier with your speakers. If you can’t take yours along to the dealer, try to get them to use alternative speakers that are close as possible to what you have. The source is likely to be less of an issue as long as it’s relatively even handed in the way it performs.

Other than sound, make a list of features you need. If you have a complex system you’ll need an amp with lots of inputs. Got a record player? Take a look at amps with phono stages or consider an outboard phono unit. Similarly, a built-in DAC would be useful for digital based set-ups.

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