low cost integrated amp for newbie

I'd like some advice on a low-cost integrated amp for a starter system. Under $300 would be my preference. Used is fine. I wouldn't call myself an audiophile (yet?) but I appreciate good design & quality sound. So far the only audiophile piece I've got is a NAD 4300 tuner, purchased at the advice of a co-worker who was determined to woo me into the realm of high-quality audio gear.

I was running the tuner through my old Sansui RZ-5000 receiver which is gradually losing its functionality (thus the tuner purchase in the first place). It was limping along until my most recent move. Now it cannot transmit to either left speaker channel, so I'm on a mono system at the moment. The receiver has always been a nuisance to use, even when it worked properly. The design and quality of NAD feels like a breath of fresh air after dealing with such cumbersome equipment. I want more like it.

I listen to lots of talk radio, folk, blues, and electronica. Sometimes from the internet, usually the airwaves. Of course I play CDs too, but maybe only 1/4 of the time. I seldom play anything terribly loud as I have a small house with oak floors. I'd rather have speakers in every room than blast the volume from one spot.

My current speakers are JBL ("JBL82," they say on the inside plate), circa mid-1980s. I have no idea how they compare to anything else quality-wise, I inherited them from a friend. They sound okay. Not amazing, not bad, but okay. Eventually they'll probably go, too.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts, or feel free to point me to existing threads.
Welcome aboard! For an entry level integrated I would suggest looking into Rotel, Creek, and NAD they are regarded by many as the leaders in there respected price brackets. I am sorry I can't offer exact model numbers but search those brands here and see what people have listed for sale- I am sure something will catch your eye. Happy hunting :o)
Stretch your budget a tiny bit, and get the new $400 NAD 320BEE (or whatever the exact model is). A true giant killer !

You might be able to find it a bit cheaper....

This will handle low impedence loads, will run higher than its power ratings suggest, and will sound very nice.

Best of luck !

Todd / chams_uk
I have three points I'd like to make to you.

I must completely disagree with Chams_uk, "NEW" shouldn't be in your vocabulary at your price range.

It is MY opinion that for under 500$ used you will not hear an audible difference between an integrated amp and an avg receiver. Based on that I'd recommend you stay with whatever you currently use or CONSIDER opting for a 200$ ish receiver that you can at least get the radio on! because you wont be getting radio on any integrated amps! (since you want talk radio!)

slightly above your budget suggestions (since I see none in your price range):
Linn Majik, can be had for 450-550$
Audio Analogue Puccini SE 525-650$
Anthem Integrated 2 525-650$
Sim Audio i5080 700-800$
Classe CAP150 750-900$

based on the speakers you are using, your budget, and your music tastes I would recommend spending ALL of your money on getting new speakers and using whatever it is you use to power them currently.

I am STRONGLY convinced that in this price range speakers have the biggest influence on sound.

I would consider:
Linn Tukan 250-400$
Dynaudio Audience 350-500$
Totem Rokk 450-550$
Jean Marie-Reynaud MarkII 450-550
Vienna Acoustics Haydn 550-650$

These are my opinions based upon my experiences in this hobby.
Ann, I personally would consider either a new NAD int. amp (NAD C-320 BEE/C-350) or would look for a used Nad 312 int. amp (has a decent phono stage) or perhaps a Marantz PM-57 int. amp.(tons of features but doesn't have the power/headroom of the NAD.) Arcam Alpha 1, or 7/7R would also merit consideration. Used around $150-250. New Nad int. amp around $350. Since you have a Nad 4300 tuner, which is remote-controllable?, a remote-controlled Nad int. amp might be able to operate both pieces. Finally, consider replacing those JBL's (L-82T?)as soon as funds permit. The titanium tweeter they use is very bright sounding, but who knows w/ that new int. amp they may sound fantastic. Good Luck! Bill
Thanks for all your responses and opinions. This is a great site.

To clarify: I've got a lovely NAD tuner sitting here (it's Monitor series, no remote) and a sickly receiver. Basically I need to either a) get an integrated amp, or b) replace the receiver with another one. But I just love the design of the tuner and like the idea of getting something that will last and be enjoyable to use. Maybe I'm more of a design snob than an audiophile :)

My assumption is that anything from NAD etc. would be better than the typical Sony receiver. If so, maybe I'll just watch the Audiogon bargain bin for something priced right and with the features I want, and just assume the sound quality will be reasonable. Is this fair?

Great point about the speakers. Once I get a decent amp or receiver to power my system I'll start dreaming about speakers and I'm sure it will make a difference. One thing at a time on my budget.
Ann: I'm with Geoff on one point--in your price range, you're unlikely to hear much difference among amps/receivers. So, I would not assume, as you do, that a NAD would be better than a Sony. (And based on my own experience, I'd bet the Sony would give you more trouble-free years.)
I find it hard to think any knowledgeable Agoner would suggest anything under $400 in a integrated amp will sound like most recievers! Ann wants to grow in the hobby and will hear a difference. The NAD C340 or C350 sound more musical than any Sony reciever at double, even triple the price new. I have never heard anything Sony (non ES) to be more musical than a NAD product near the same money. The NAD will also allow a better match to speakers choosen in the future since good budget speaker units tend to offer lots of detail, the cheap Sony amps would sound horrible on them. The NAD units are a bit rolled off in the highs (C340 and C350, not the 320BEE). This would suit your JBLs well also. The soundstaging of the NAD units will do vocals very well indeed as the NADs do have a "fuller sounding" soundstage than many thin sounding receivers. You can get a used C340 or C350 for under $300, maybe even $225 or a demo C320BEE at QAudio for $319. You don't need a reciever obviously since you have a nice tuner. Stick with the NAD.
I'll try to get a used or refurbished NAD C370 integrated. That is definitely better than your usual Sony, Harman, etc., receiver.
A used Acurus DIA-100 is hard to beat. I saw one on the site here for $325. (new was $1000+) One of the audio magazines said it was the best $1000 you could spend on audio.
I had one and it served its purpose well during it's time.
Yes, there are other good choices too, but this is definitly one.
Good luck!
I've already seen the NAD C320BEE used for $300 on Audiogon. This is a no-brainer. Simple, easy to find and cheap. If you upgrade later will be easy to sell. Go man!!
I have hear the Audio Analogue Puccini SE as well as the NAD C-370, I feel the Puccini has the edge over the NAD even though the difference in power is there. If I was considering one I would have no hesitation going for the Puccini SE. Puccini is much more musical and staisfying.
Although I don't have a specific recommendation (no recent experience with the catagory), I completely agree with your plan of action: You need an integrated right now - you already have a better tuner on hand, and your speakers can wait 'til the next step since they are functioning as intended. It is simply not true that you will not be able to hear differences - even at your price point and with your old speakers - between various receivers or more audiophile-oriented integrated amps. Low-priced gear exhibits just as wide a range of sonic variation as does high-priced gear, maybe even more, though it is of course generally more flawed overall; the only impediment to hearing this fully will be your less-revealing wires and speakers, but they won't render the differences meaningless by any stretch. When I was in the audio retail business, many inexperienced listeners could easily pick up on differences between lower-end amplification options even when powering modest-but-decent small speakers - often to their great surprise (they just hadn't ever really listened before - hadn't thought they could or needed to). Welcome to the site (and to the hobby?), I hope you enjoy whatever you get out of it, including your new amp.
You have a very nice tuner indeed. I'm a little surprised the 4300 is not remote-controllable. (I owned the Nad 1700 pre-amp/tuner a few years back and it had a wonderful and simple to operate remote.) Check out this web-site; www.ccrane.com They have an FM Antenna called the "Reflex" which is a great! I believe it's under $25 (shipped) and comes w/30 money-back guarantee. I own two of them and they are the best in-door antenna I've ever used. If you decide on an new Nad int. amp, may I recommend you check out this dealer. www.kiefsav.com I've dealt w/them for many years and their prices and service has been exceptional. They may even have something used. Hope this helps. Bill
Great suggestions above (except for receivers over integrated amps and the reliability of Sony gear), but let me add one comment:

If you buy an integrated amp first, then you must match your future speakers to the specifications of the amp you have already chosen (unless you want to purchase another amplifier). This could severely limit your future speaker choices.

Each speaker presents different loads for your amplifier. The most common speaker problems are low efficiency, low characteristic impedance (<4 ohm), and difficult load characteristics (such as the capacitive load of electrostatic speakers). Some speakers need very high current, high power amplifiers; some requirement amplifiers that can operate into very low impedances without becoming unstable, some require amplifiers that like capacitive loads (such as tube amps), etc. Will your future speakers be a good match for your chosen amplifier? If it's a high efficiency, 8-ohm impedance, and resistive load, then you will probably be ok otherwise, you may need a different amp.

For me, its easier to find a speaker I love and then get the best amp I can afford to drive it, rather than have my speaker choice dictated by my amplifier. Just some food for thought!
Did someone say receivers????????

www.harmanaudio.com Harman Kardon HK3470 100wpc $188.00 refurb. $18 shipping.

www.accessories4less.com Marantz 4120 60 wpc $250.00 free shipping.

Marantz has a bit better tonality on vocals and violins.

Both have 30 day trial so not much to loose if you want to try one out.

I cannot agree more with you on everything you mentioned in your last post. Sane advise!

As for the record the Puccini SE is very comfortable driving a 4 Ohm load as well. No problems there. My friend who has it is driving his ESS floorstander speakers with side with large woofers are 4 Ohms and the sound is excellent (tube like, if I dare say it). I am not sure of the sensitivity but I guess in 90's
I'll chime in again. Lots of great posts, even Geoff who must "completely disagree" with me. He recommends some fine equipment, which will certainly provide a lot of long term satisfaction.

I guess the ultimate question is what truly is the budget, and the priority.

I have heard the NAD 320BEE, and it bettered some nicer receivers IMO, including a Yamaha and Pioneer. It even edged out a more expensive Rotel integrated to my ears as well.

As for driving speakers, the NAD is stable into lower impedences, no worries. Deepest bass may be lighter than the heavyweights, but muscially, it is a winner overall.

I am an ex-Audio Analogue owner, I bought the Puccini SE a few years ago over 4 other integrateds, ALL of which are more expensive by 1.5 to 3 times the SE's price. I thoroughly agree, that would be a great amp to get. Based on the original post, though, it may be best to keep the recommendations closer to the original budget. Maybe we convinced Ann to spend more, maybe not...

But the NAD's or any of the other recommendations would be a warm welcome into the world of music and "audiophilia."

Best of luck to Ann, and hope there is years of good listening ahead !
Fishinfool's advice, while not totally incorrect as far as it goes, to me seems a little beside the point, considering that any major future system upgrade (if Ann decides to go that way) will likely mean improving upon any small integrated amp bought in the circa $300 range, no matter what she chooses first at this juncture. That is, after all, how better systems are built over the years.

Since I really doubt she will be in any danger of trying to mate, for the moment, a particularly 'tough load' speaker (read: larger, maybe esoteric, more expensive, and more revealing) with her modest amp choice, this 'danger' can be safely disregarded for the time being. Any decent small integrated she is likely to get should do an appropriate job of driving any decent, small, and relatively inexpensive speakers she might pair with them as her potential next step.

Yes, it would be ideal to be able to choose a new amp and new speakers concurrently and audition the options together as a system to create a synergistic match with no prior constraints, but her amp is on the fritz now, and she's just getting her toes wet in this stuff. Significant further upgrading, should it occur, would mean eventually upgrading everything anyway, small integrated included. But she will not be unduly limited in her choice of matching speakers in the commensurate size, price, and fidelity range she is likely to be shopping in this time around by choosing her amp first to meet her current needs, so I wouldn't encourage her to needlessly worry over having to go 'amp-first' now.

However, I do concur, as a general rule and when other conditions (such as a broken amp) are not prevailing, that if and when Ann decides to progress higher up the audiophile food chain, the ideal upgrading sequence is speakers first, amp to follow - though as in everything audiophile, there is hardly universal agreement with that view. But even in that scenario, the amp she gets now will probably suffice to produce acceptable sound for the meantime if she has to stagger her upgrades and go speakers first, amplifier second in the next round (even if that round winds up beginning with her next speaker purchase and not a subsequent one). Besides, I suspect her next moves, beyond maybe changing the present speakers, would be in the areas of sources and wires, and anyway, one of the beauties of buying on Audiogon is that she will not be facing much depreciation when it comes time to sell the small integrated (especially one bought in the price range she is contemplating here), so the whole prospect should be neither daunting nor painful in the pocketbook at this stage of her audio-development.
I have read reviews on several amps mentioned in this thread and am starting to get a sense of the differences between them (and between amps in general). One of the amps mentioned by a couple of you is the Acurus DIA-100. Wow, stellar reviews. However, I noticed that some reviewers mention the high degree of "detail" this amp provides, and how it can sound less-than-pleasant with lower quaity speakers. In fact, this "detail" issue was mentioned in reviews of other amps, too. This leaves me wondering if it would be better to get an amp designed for a more modest system.

This discussion is helping to clarify something for me: I was under the impression initially that there was some kind of absolute scale of good-better-best, but I'm concluding that at a certain point it boils down to context: what other gear you're combining it with and your personal preference for sound.

Time to head over to a listening room and educate my ears. Right now it's all too academic. I'm ready for some test-drives.
The best advice yet, Ann: Your own ! Follow your ears, your heart, and your wallet :-)

Bring a selection of music you most like, good recording or not. Sometimes the dealer will try to impress you with superbly recorded "audiophile" music. And sometimes it sucks as music goes !

I bring my own music, as well as listen to some audiophile music. This way, I can judge the emotional impact better (my music, even if not recorded as well) and also the POTENTIAL of the gear (audiophile music).

Good luck, let us all know how you fare !

Todd - chams_uk
I agree with Mcfavre4. A used NAD C340 or C350 would be a good match with your tuner, and have sufficient power and flexibility to handle a wide range of speakers. A used Creek 4330 might also be a good choice, if you could find one within your budget.For and/or reviews on these amps, see:
Once you have an amp which is working properly and you've saved up some more money, you can think about other components such as your CD player, speakers, and interconnect cables and speaker cables; but one thing at a time for now.
You might give a listen to a Cambridge Audio A300 V.2. I have one in my bedroom system paired with B&W 303 bookshelf speakers. A very satisfying little system. I believe the Cambridge can be had at Audio Advisor for $250.00 new. Basicly a no brainer. I believe the Cambridge is designed by Mike Creek so in effect you are buying a poor mans Creek.Good luck in your quest and let your ears be the final judge.
How about a Jolida 102b? Used you might be able to find one for about $350-$400. I think that you'd like what this little amp does to vocals.
Don't be afraid to go with used, even 10 yo. NAD or Adcom separates if you find a used pair for cheap ($300-$400 for both amp & preamp I'm guessing?). I have a 12 y.o. NAD 2400 power amp, with a 1600 pre-amp/tuner. They both look good, sound good all considered, have a great remote, good tuner, etc. I'm using them as a 2nd or 3rd system right now. I know Adcom made similar stuff back then. Altho I think an integrated is a good idea, I wouldn't turn down "separates" either if you find a really good deal on a matched pair...........

good luck! steve