Recommendation for inexpensive integrated

I'm trying to help out a friend who is finally willing to put a toe into the audiophile world. He picked up a pair of NHT SB3s on sale at Audio Advisor on my recommendation. Now he needs a new integrated amp or receiver, but doesn't want to spend a bunch. I was thinking of the Cambridge Audio Azur 640, but I see that Sam Tellig gave it a mixed review in Stereophile. Do others like that amp? Any other recommendations in the $500 or below price category? (I own a Creek 5350SE myself, but that's too expensive for my friend.) Note that the NHTs are not very efficient so some wattage is needed.
Thanks a lot!
For the money Cambridge Audio is a good value, but if you want an integrated that sounds more than twice as good and will really make your system come alive at the budget end of the spectrum, get a Jolida. I purchased a Jolida hybrid 1501 from Galen Audio and Galen gave me a very reasonable price, should be close to your budget.
I have the NAD C320BEE ($400 list) paired with the NHT SB2 and to my ears, it is a great combination ... very musical with an enjoyable sense of detail and I can listen to it for a long while at a time. The NAD plays much louder than its 50 wpc would normally lead you to believe. I posted a review of the NAD here in the Audiogon Reviews section that you may wish to reference.

FWIW, the Musical Hall MMF CD25 is a superb CD player to team up with the NAD & NHT. Absolutely magical.

Regards, Rich
I second the Jolida hybrid ($350 NEW). You can also find one of my favorites, the Jolida 302b, in the $600's used if you're willing to up your limit slightly.

Rega Mira.. great integrated IMHO.
I'd look at the Rega line too...
naim nait 3 usually 500-650 used low watts but clean usable power.very musical.
The Audio Refinement Complete is a very nice integrated, around $500 used. For less money, and as a good place to start, a Rotel integrated is excellent value.
I backup the Naim recommendation ...

modded jolida 102 which uses el84 tubes and gives around 15 watts I think...very good for 575...put some good NOS tubes in the thing and off to the races
How much better is the Jolida over the NAD 370 and 372? I've listened to the NADs and they are nice. But I have no access to the Jolidas in my area.
I would not view a Jolida and NAD comparison as a "which is better" type of question. It is more a question of do you prefer the sound of tubes over solid state electronics? Answer that and the rest is simple.

Regards, Rich
I've never heard tubes. . . I don't think. Could you describe the difference briefly?

Also, is it necessary to mod the 1501 to make it sound good (I read that somewhere)?

My comments will be VERY general in nature. Also, I have not used tube equipment for a good while and I may not be entirely up to speed on SOTA tube equipment. With that said ... tube equipment can provide a greater degree of lushness, warmth, and liquidity to the overall sound than solid state equipment can. Solid state amps have their advantages ... they are typically more detailed sounding with less total harmonic distortion (.08% THD is common for solid state as opposed to 1% THD for tubes)and they run much cooler. Tube advocates will claim that the higher THD is of a pleasing nature and does not distract from the sound. And just as solid staters are modding their equipment, tubers are rolling/rotating tubes and debating the virtues of new old tubes (NOS) versus new tubes.

Tube equipment is typically way more expensive (hand wiring, etc.) than its solid state counterpart ... which is one of the reasons why the Jolida is so attractive ... an entry level way to enjoy tubes.

Hope this helps.

Regards, Rich
I owned the Nad C370 amp and I have recently upgraded to the Manly Stingray. I am now rolling NOS tubes as Rarl mentioned (good post Rarl).
The Nad has power but lacks the sophistication that drives most audiophiles to keep up the search. Also it struck me as a rather dry sounding amp. Ultimately, you just have to jump in and try tube vs SS to see for yourself. Talk will only take you so far (but informative).
I am much happier with the Stingray here. As an audiophile, I would encourage you to try tubes at some level if for nothing else the experience and education. Then you will have a truly informed decision (priceless).
I second the naim take here
Howdy. I just came from Spearitsound in Boston to demo an integrated for my 11 year old son for the holidays. I listened to the NAD320BEE, Rotel 02 and Cambridge Audio 540. To my ears the Cambridge was the best of the 3. The Rotel was the clear looser in this group while the NAD came in second. The CA amp was pretty good, smoother, more detailed and delicate, a little airy too. Not bad for around $300 bucks. I paired it w/ the 540 CDP, T500 tuner (older model) and B&W 303's. A nice little holiday gift to start off a young audiophile who's on his way up!
Hammer ...

Not surprised and hope your son enjoys the set-up ... it's a sweet one. Cambridge Audio (and Rotel for that matter) pair together very nicely with B&W and the pairing comes up frequently enough in the British hifi magazines. NAD tends to pair very well with PSB and NHT (amongst others ... obviously).

Regards, Rich
I would suggest the Audio Refinement Complete. I may be a bit over the $500 budget however. You should be able to pick one up used for about $550.