Music Lovers Guide to Integrated Amplifiers

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Music Lover's Guide to Integrated Amplifiers

Integrated amplifiers are simply those amplifiers which also house preamplifiers. Many manufacturers found that integrating the two different components in this arrangement served to save space and money, which was attractive to shoppers. These days, the majority of amplifiers available on the market are integrated. However, high-quality integrated amplifiers are still quite costly. Those individuals interested in the opportunity to catch audiophile-quality amplifiers at bargain prices may want to consider shopping online at websites such as eBay. Websites like eBay may also offer a substantially greater selection of amplifiers to shoppers than many brick and mortar retail stores.

Modern integrated amplifiers are an investment, as they typically cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand pounds, and they are generally available in a multitude of options and materials. Shoppers should select integrated amplifiers based on power output, sound control refinement, as well as types of audio input and output ports.

Integrated Amplifier Power Output

Integrated amplifiers are available in a wide range of wattages intended to meet different usage needs. People should purchase integrated amplifiers with a power output ideal to their uses, rather than purchasing whatever amplifiers have the highest power output, as they are substantially more expensive and can cause a sharp uptick in the usage of electrical utilities.

Integrated Amplifier Wattage Explained

Integrated amplifiers are purchased with wattages which vary from 30 watts to several thousand watts. But just because buyers purchase 500-watt amplifiers over 50-watt amplifiers, that does not mean 500-watt amplifiers are 10 times louder. Because sonics do not operate on a linear scale, it takes considerably more than twice the amount of power applied, or watts, to double how loud something appears to be. In most cases, integrated amplifiers are rated or recommended at the wattage level at which they begin 'clipping' or creating noise distortions. Therefore, integrated amplifiers rated at 300 watts should sound loud and clear up to that wattage. However, not all integrated amplifiers handle wattage the same way.

Tube Integrated Amplifiers

Most audiophiles lean toward purchasing tube integrated amplifiers because the tubes project a rounded waveform when they begin to 'clip', meaning the distortions produced at wattages higher than recommended for their use are minimal. This means that users can conceivably push integrated amplifiers beyond their recommended limits with relative safety.

Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers

Solid-state integrated amplifiers, unlike tube amplifiers, produce a waveform with sharp peaks and valleys when they begin to 'clip', meaning the rate of audio distortion at wattages higher than the recommended use of the amplifier, if very pronounced. Most solid-state integrated amplifiers are factory fitted with various safeties and controls to prevent these units from exceeding their recommended wattage.

Selecting the Correct Power Output

The power output of integrated amplifiers should be matched to the power handling capabilities of other audio equipment. In particular, they should be matched to the power handling of the speakers, which can overload or blow when connected to too strong a power output. Users can double-check the power handling capabilities of their speakers by consulting the user manual.

Low-Wattage Amplifiers

Low-wattage amplifiers are generally fairly inexpensive, and are usually paired with low-end, low-wattage speakers. These units allow users more control over the sounds they are listening to than having no amplifiers at all, and they provide minimal sound adjustment.

Mid-Wattage Amplifiers

Mid range wattage amplifiers are generally recommended to the dedicated hobbyist audiophiles and music lovers, as they significantly magnify sound and offer precise control over general sound options. These pair well with mid range and high-range speakers.

High-Wattage Amplifiers

Primarily by music professionals, these units usually cost several thousand pounds and feature advanced audio control options. They are also generally suitable only for use with ultra high-end speakers capable of handling and projecting that range of power.

Integrated Amplifier Sound Control Options

The majority of integrated amplifiers have user interfaces with knobs and buttons which allow individuals to control sound mode and other audio options. Most also come with remote controls, so that each of these settings can be applied from the distance of a couch or other room.

Sound Mode Options

Many integrated amplifiers allow users to switch between the various sound modes available through the speakers. This includes mono, left, right, and stereo options.

Bass, Treble, and Tilt Controls

The majority of integrated amplifiers allow users to control the sound quality produced by the amplifiers and speakers. The most common adjustments include knobs or sliders which allow users to control the bass, treble, or tilt audible through the attached speakers. Some integrated amplifiers may even offer additional fine-tuning instruments.

Integrated Amplifier Port Options

Integrated amplifiers come with a wide range of input and output port options. Many amplifiers even feature multiple ports of a given type. Shoppers should be sure to select amplifiers which have plenty of ports in the varieties they are most likely to use. For a quick list and description of the common port types, consider the chart below.

Port Type

Port Description

USB port

Allows the amplifier to access audio on a computer, thumb drive, or remote hard drive

Speaker port

Allows the amplifier to project its sound to the speaker assembly

Auxiliary port

Allows the amplifier to access audio with the use of an AUX cable

iPod dock

Allows the amplifier to access audio from an iPod while simultaneously charging it

Power amplifier port

Allows the amplifier to be coupled with a secondary power amplifier

Phono port

Allows the amplifier to access audio through phono cables

HDMI port

Allows the amplifier to be connected to computers, gaming systems, or televisions

Shoppers should assess which types of ports their existing audio equipment feature and take stock of how many. Purchasing integrated amplifiers with well-distributed amounts of ports reduces the hassle associated with frequent rewiring.

Common Integrated Amplifier Problems

Though having a combined power amplifier and preamplifier on one chassis is cheaper and less space consuming than having separate pieces, integrated amplifiers are prone to problems which are addressed by purchasing the pieces separately. These include quicker degradation of performance, reduced control, and ease of replacement.

Degradation of Performance

Integrated amplifiers generally degrade in performance faster than separate power amplifiers and preamplifiers for two key reasons. The first is that the electrical components are closer together, meaning they generate more heat. This excess heat tends to warp the sensitive electronic components, resulting in subtle distortions of sound quality and efficiency. The second is that the chassis combines elements which generate high amplitude signal with elements which handle only low amplitude signals. Carefully designed circuitry, top-notch shielding, and other safeguards may prevent this in particularly high-end integrated amplifiers.

Reduced Control

Owning power amplifiers and preamplifiers separated by different chassis may be more expensive, but for the discriminating audiophiles, this also generally offers greater control. This control is delivered in the form of more inputs as well as more refined user interfaces.

Ease of Replacement and Upgrading

Another problem with integrated amplifiers is their ease of replacement and upgrading. If only one aspect of an integrated amplifier (the power amplifier or preamplifier) is damaged or should be upgraded to accommodate its user's changing needs, the entire unit must be replaced, rather than the individual components. In some cases, this can turn out to be more expensive than if separate units were purchased

Buying Integrated Amplifiers on eBay

Integrated amplifiers are easy to find and purchase on eBay. First, go to the eBay homepage or any other eBay page, and find the search bar. Click on the search bar and type in the words or terms which describe the amplifier best suited to your needs, then press enter. One example is "integrated amplifier". Creating a relatively simple search ensures that you get the most results back. Once you have the list of items which match your search, you can choose to organise or refine them based on qualities such as price, brand, and types of audio inputs and outputs available.

In the event you find an item you like, but you need more information about its specifications, eBay provides a function which allows you to communicate directly with the seller of an item. Simple look through the item's eBay listing and click on the "Ask a question" link.

Conclusion

Integrated amplifiers are essentially preamplifiers and power amplifiers combinations housed in the same chassis, and as such, buyers should consider the potential dilemmas which sometimes arise from this shared housing. Integrated amplifiers are more prone to overheating and general wear down than individual units. Because of this, replacing or upgrading integrated amplifiers is oftentimes more expensive in the long run.

However, for those who prefer the solo unit, they should ensure that they purchase integrated units with wattages in mind. Shoppers should purchase integrated amplifiers with wattages suited to the speakers intended to be used with them, as pairing high-wattage amplifiers with low-wattage speakers can result in speaker damage. High-wattage integrated amplifiers are also more expensive and can be a significant utility drain.

Whatever type of integrated amplifiers buyers ultimately decide to purchase, they should take into consideration that most brick and mortar retailers may not have a large selection of options. Websites like eBay typically have many integrated amplifiers available to shoppers, and some may even find them at discount prices.

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