Every stereo system requires an amplifier – it’s what breathes life into the loudspeakers. Even the smallest loudspeakers have an amplification module somewhere in their structure, only it’s usually integrated so well that it can’t be seen. Mobile phones, for instance, have amplifiers for their in-built speakers or attached headphones. In addition, most entry level speakers are what are known as “active” speakers. That means they come with integrated amplification. Studio monitors and portable speakers are also generally active.
Those who are looking to graduate from smaller speakers with integrated amplification to proper hi-fi systems will need to cross one hurdle: The stereo or hi-fi amplifier. This may at first seem intimidating or like an unnecessary expense, but a separate hi-fi amplifier connected to proper stereo speakers offers many advantages. Read on to learn more!
Different types of amplifier technology
As the name implies, the job of an amplifier is to amplify the audio signal from the player so that the loudspeaker can produce a higher level of sound. The exact way in which it performs this task is complex. Still, there are certain fundamentals that everyone interested in hi-fi should know, such as the difference between tube and solid state amplifiers.
- The very first amplifiers, originally used in televisions, radios and other electronic devices
- Are said to provide a very warm and natural sound which makes them very popular with vinyl fans
- Generally provide higher volumes and wattage output
- Pricier than solid state
- Easier to repair
Solid state amplifiers
- Are said to have a sound that is somewhat “cold” or bright compared to that produced by a tube amp
- The sound is more evenly regulated compared to that produced by a tube amplifier
- Less expensive entry models available (although there are costlier, high-end models)
- Harder/more expensive to repair
One thing both tube and solid state amplifiers have in common is that most make use of preamplifiers, which are usually integrated into the enclosures. A preamplifier brings the audio signal to a level that is optimal for processing. This is required when different signals come together. In such cases, a preamplifier will bring each signal to the same level so that the amplifier can process the signal without level differences.
All-in-one receivers versus standalone amplifiers
At the present time, there are two basic types of amplifier on the market:
• Stereo and A/V receivers: The all-rounders
Stereo receivers like Teufel’s Kombo 62 are popular with many hi-fi setups because of the connectivity they offer in addition to amplification. FM radio, DAB+ digital radio, a CD drive, USB slot for attaching external storage devices and Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity are common features. For a speaker system dedicated to music playback stereo receivers are a good choice. For TV sound and home cinema, however, an A/V receiver is the way to go. A/V receivers decode standard signals from televisions and DVD players as well as surround sound formats such as DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Atmos.
• The purists: Stereo and hi-fi amplifiers
While stereo and A/V receivers are true jacks of all trade, classic stereo and hif-fi amplifiers have really only one dedicated purpose: To amplify the incoming audio signal in a way that will not alter its quality, but simply enhance it so that your speakers can play music that is true-to-source. They may not boast as many features as A/V receivers but are without equal in producing high-quality music playback. Some hi-fi amps offer basic controls that consist of little more than an on and off switch whereas others offer a few dials for equalizing the sound. Bear in mind, however, that you won’t need to make many adjustments as the better models deliver exactly what audiophiles are listening for: A clear, natural and well-structured sound that contains all the nuances of the original audio signal. Your personal tonal preferences and budget will be your guide when it comes to choosing between a tube or solid state amplifier.
Coda: Let your listening needs guide you to the perfect amplifier
The most important thing to remember as a newbie in the world of hi-fi is that the entire system is only as good as its weakest link. It therefore makes sense to invest in a better amplifier as this device serves as the all-important connection between audio sources such as iPods, CD- and record players and the loudspeakers.
The many different types of amplifiers and brands to choose from can easily cause fledgling audiophiles to become confused, but as long as one remains mindful of the amplifier’s intended use, the decision becomes much easier. Those interested in a 5.1 home cinema system will be well served by a typical A/V receiver with integrated audio amplifier. This will enable a whole range of entertainment possibilities from a single device. Those who primarily plan to use their loudspeakers to listen to music, can go with either a stereo receiver or dedicated hi-fi amplifier.
All pictures: Property of Teufel Audio