There are a few actions which move the needle a lot. This is also called the 80/20 principle which we’ve harped on before. For example, there are only the top 5 channel amps that get bought the most in a world full of them. For speakers, there are a few components which improve the sound quality a lot. One of those components is the amplifier.
Deciding which amplifier to buy (if you’re in the market) is a big decision for your speaker. Here are the top qualities you need to look for when looking for the best stereo tube amplifier for your money:
1. Power Output
Power output is also known as wattage. Looking at wattage of a speaker will give you a great indication of the type of power output the speaker produces. What you need to keep in mind when deciding how much power output you need depends on the size of the area you’re going to place the speaker in. The bigger the area, the more wattage you need to deliver the sound throughout the area.
But wattage can be a little tricky. Sometimes you don’t need as much power, but sometimes you do depending on other factors which we explain further below.
2. Signal/Noise Ratio
The signal to noise ratio is another phrase commonly used today similar to the 80/20 rule. The term signal in this case needs to be the music, and the term noise is every other sound the amplifier produces while playing music. Having a great signal/noise ratio is all about hearing the music and hearing nothing else.
We’re living in the age of the internet of things. It seems like devices are popping up everywhere and it’s only proliferating. With more inputs on your amplifier you’ll be able to connect to all these devices. Having the ability to connect to all these devices means you’re able to play more music in more places.
A vital feature, but not as much as the other ones is crosstalk. Crosstalk is important because you don’t want your speakers mixing up sounds. What we mean by this is, you want music to come out in the way it’s intended. If an artist places their vocals in the right speaker, and the piano on the left speaker, having the vocals in the left speaker will distort sound. Look for amplifiers which can separate sound by individual speakers.
This is also similar to the signal/noise ratio. THD+N means total harmonic distortion plus noise. Basically, this is a measurement seeing how close the amplifier output is to the original recording. If the THD+N has a high number when you measure it, then you need to look at a different amplifier. But if it’s a lower number, then continue vetting the amplifier.
YAQIN MS23B Stereo Tube Phono Stage
The Yaqin MS23B is meant for connection for either a pre or an integrated amplifier. This particular amplifier is in the phono stage. It provides the connection between the record player and amplifier.
For users who have turntables, a phono stage amplifier is right for you. To connect a turntable with an amplifier, you need an amplifier which is in the phono stage to make the signal strong enough from the turntable to connect with the main amplifier.
The design offers rigid aluminum enclosure and a pair of tubes which audiophiles can replace if they want to upgrade to something else.
It also comes with a warm quality sound. The sound is transparent and covers the whole spectrum of the frequency range. This means its calm when it’s on lower sound levels and it’s diverse when it comes to the higher sound ranges. We include some of the mids as part of the higher sound ranges also.
Another secret to its sound quality is the DC filament power supply. This bad boy is responsible for noise and hum reduction. And for those who don’t know, “DC” stands for direct current.
Besides its sound quality, it’s also great for durability. We already mentioned the rigid aluminum enclosure, but that’s only half of it. High-quality metallic resistors are packed into a small frame with durable front panels.
All of the materials which make up the Yaqin MS23B are of the highest quality. Other examples of this statement are the Japanese Nippon Chemi-Con capacitor and the enamel-isolated pure OFC copper wiring. The purpose of the Chemi-Con capacitor and enamel-isolated copper wiring is for durability. But don’t be fooled by enamel-isolated wiring.
Although it’s labeled as “enamel”, the truth is, enameled wiring typically uses 1-4 layers of polymer film insulation. Nonetheless, it still provides a tough insulating layer.
A cool feature of this stereo tube amplifier is tube rolling. Now, we know what you’re thinking, but, what is tube rolling? It’s simple. Tube rolling is when you have a spot on an amplifier where can put different tubes in. It’s an interchangeable spot for tubes made for finding the optimal sound for the user.
GemTune BL-02 Class A Integrated Tube Amplifier
There are different amplifiers for different connections. The first amplifier we reviewed was all about turntables and helping bridge the connection between turntables and the main amplifier.
But every amplifier’s general purpose is improving sound and this one is no exception. This tube amplifier is meant for hi-fi integration. A hi-fi integrating amplifier brings refined and colorful music. Its class A single ended amplifier is meant to reduce distortion. Normally, distortion in amplifiers is due to an amplifier needing more voltage than it can supply, or something to do with the internal circuit.
A class A tube amplifier defined by the RCA Tube Manual is a “grid bias and alternating grid voltages are such that plate current in atube flows at all times.” Simply put, a class A amplifier means the valve won’t fully shut off. There’s always a little bit left open.
This particular amp provides 5 tube slots which features 3 different tubes for use. What makes this a beginner-friendly speaker is it’s a plug and go amplifier. All you have to do is plug it in a speaker and leave it alone. Once plugged in, the sound quality speaks for itself unless you’re an audiophile who’s particular to the type of sound they want.
A downfall of the GemTune BL-02 is it won’t make the sound quality extraordinary by itself. It needs other equipment beside it to do that. Another downfall more glaring then that is its delicacy. If you happen to break one of the amps, then it’s over.
Enough of the downfalls now. Let’s talk about where this amp shines. One of the distinct features of this stereo tube amp is it adjusts the power going through the tubes on its own. This process is call auto biasing.
In addition to auto biasing is tube rolling. You can modify the tubes it has as long as it’s the same size as the one on the amplifier’s design.
Overall, this is a great product, especially for beginners. Being able to insert it and not having to modify anything is what makes it beginner-friendly. But having the option to modify it also makes it great for anyone, especially beginners. Being able to customize lets the user experiment with what type of sound mix they like. It’s not too complicated where the user can get overwhelmed with everything.
Nobsound NS-08E Vacuum Tube
This is the cheapest stereo tube amp on this list by far. What makes this special is even though it’s cheap, it’s still quality, or else why would we put it on this list? To prove it’s quality, let’s start off with the sound quality.
Adding this amplifier will increase every single part of your sound frequency. Some noticeable effects once added are a warm sound with more treble and bass. All of this increases without added distortion. The most noticeable addition is what it does to the mids. Once this amplifier is added, your mids become more colorful.
The sound can become more colorful through tube rolling. Although tuning the amps for this isn’t necessary because for casual listeners, it’s great as it already is.
Once you purchase this amplifier, know you’re purchasing a hybrid amplifier. Hybrid means one section of the amplifier is tube driven. This section could either be the pre or power section.
A majority of the stereo amp is made of aluminum. In front of the amp are the 3.5 mm line in and headphone out jacks. Next to those headphone jacks is the volume knob. It’s hard to get the exact volume because the knob moves in tactile steps. On top of that (literally), are 2 tube sockets. Both sockets are adjustable and in the back of the stereo amp is the power button and power input.
This stereo amp is also another beginner-friendly stereo amp. It has a simple layout and customizable tubes, but nothing that will overwhelm the user. On top of that is its cheap price which makes it even more beginner-friendly.
SMSL AD18 HiFi Audio Stereo Amplifier
SMSL stands for Shenszhen ShuangMuSanlin Electronics Co. LTD. They’re a Chinese company created in 2009 which specializes in audio DAC, power amplifiers, and stereo headphone amplifiers.
Most of their products are consumer electronics and how they separate themselves from the rest of the competition is through affordability.
The SMSL AD18 is a digital amplifier. This means the signal from input to output is digital.
Both Nobsound and SMSL are very similar. They are similar in price point and size. Another similarity is their enclosure (aluminum). The difference between Nobsound and SMSL to start off is their size. The SMSL’s frame is more vertically-built while the Nobsound is more horizontally-built.
The front layout of this amplifer has a much cleaner look compared to the Nobsound. Instead of 2 headphone jacks, you get 1 along with a volume knob which isn’t clogged around other headphone jacks. You also get a LCD screen for display whici is surprising considering how small this is. But what point is there having a screen without a remote? But don’t worry, because once you purchase this, you also get a remote as part of the package.
With this amplifier you also get more connectivity options. The back panel provides a Bluetooth antenna to connect your smartphone, a micro-usb port for a computer, subwoofer output, and a 3.5mm jack input to connect a line from DAC to DAP.
DAC means digital to analog converter and DAP means digital audio player. Having a digital amplifier gives you the ability to listen to music everywhere. For example, if you have music on your computer but can’t bring it with you, you can convert it into an audio signal by putting it into an MP3 format on a USB.
In this case, once the amp converts the signal to analog all you have to do is put your headphones in the headphone output.
YAQIN MC-13S Push-Pull Integrated Stereo Tube Amplifier
Yaqin is another Chinese manufacturer who exports to different countries. The list of countries include North America, Japan, and Europe. As you can tell, these are quality markets to be in. Not any manufacturer would be in these markets unless they’re selling quality products.
The Yaqin MC-13S is an example of the quality products they sell. Weighing in at 48.5 pounds, this is the heaviest stereo amp on the list. Its dimensions are 47 x 31.5 x 17.5 which make it a boatload to handle. As you can tell by the dimensions, this isn’t an amp you can carry around whenever you want.
Internal components of this amp are curated from the best. The circuit is said to have components from Philips, Siemens, and more. Some components they curate from these brands are capacitors.
Usually, the bigger the amplifier, the bigger the output, and this amp isn’t different. The Yaqin MC-13S has an output power of 40 watts. 10 watts is already good. But 40 in a household might cause ears to ring.
Its signal to noise ratio is also great at >85 decibels. If you haven’t noticed, this amplifier seems like a skeleton. There aren’t any flashy designs, or worse, it looks unfinished. But that’s not the intended purpose.
Unlike the other amplifiers on this list, this one uses iron instead of aluminum which is the reason it looks dull. Both the resistors and volume controls work well with iron also. Similar to the other Yaqin product on this list, it also has free enameled copper for the windings in the transformer cores.
The Yaqin MC-13S is a class A amplifier. But the difference for this class A amplifier is it’s a push-pull amplifier also. A push-pull amplifier can change the direction of current in any way it wants. This helps the amp become distortion free, deliver more alternating current output power, and more. We’ve actually written about the advantages of push-pull amplifiers before.
One component worth mentioning is the synthesizer. It doesn’t produce the same frequencies as other amplifiers, but compared to other amps on this list, it’s the best. This same amplifier can produce higher frequencies at an efficient rate also. Being efficient at producing higher frequencies prevents distortion and irritated people.
For those looking for a dynamic amplifier which covers the whole frequency range without exaggerating effects, this is your amplifier. Whatever it lacks in aesthetics it makes up for with sound quality.