How Do I Deliver Audio to My Speakers Using Just an Amp and No Preamp

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Q After a lull of many years, I’m now in the market for a new audio system and plan to buy high-quality tower speakers and a good amplifier. Here’s my question: How do I deliver an audio signal to passive speakers using just an amp and no preamp or receiver? I’ve become accustomed to the convenience of music-streaming apps like Pandora and don’t want my new system to be unnecessarily complicated. —Gary Barnett / via e-mail

A You chose a good time to get back into audio given your desire for simplicity and convenience. There’s a new crop of network-capable integrated amplifiers that streamline the music-listening experience by providing built-in wired or wireless networking capability. In most cases, you just connect speakers, link the amplifier to your home’s Wi-Fi network, and then use a custom iOS or Android app for control and setup. Many such amps provide integrated support for services like Tidal and Spotify. A number also support AirPlay and/or Chromecast built-in for direct audio streaming from compatible iOS or Android apps.

We recently reviewed one such integrated amp, the Cary Audio AiOS, a $2,995 All-In-One System with a 2 x 75-watt Class-A/B amplifier. Similar models are available from a range of companies including NAD, Naim Audio, Auralic, Simaudio, Arcam, and Hegel. Many of these are priced in the $2,000-to-$4,000 range. However, by combining a streamer, high-performance DAC, and amplifier in a single package, they ultimately prove to be a good value.

KINGTED's picture

If you are only going to be streaming you could go a lot cheaper and probably simpler with a Sonos Connect:Amp or Bluesound PowerNode. If you need more power then hook up the non-powered versions, the Connect or Node, to a decent amplifier, that is what I have in a couple rooms.

Or look into Roon and amps that are Roon endpoints. Michael Lavorgna at Audiostream raves about Roon's ability to browse music.

John Sully's picture

Makes some nice stereo receivers which do the same job for much lower price if money is a consideration.

Toslink's picture

I'd also add that an excellent solution for this situation is the AudioControl Rialto 600. I own one, mated with a Sonos Connect pre-amplifier/streamer, and can say it is excellent. It's rated at 100 watts/channel, and is mated with a set of 4-ohm Andrew Jones-designed S-4EX monitors, and is making beautiful music, What's notable about the unit is it allows the volume control to be in the unit or external to the unit for the inputs. For example, the digital input used for the Sonos Connect is set to "external", allowing the room's volume to be controlled in the Sonos system. The second digital input is my TV, and for that input, the volume resides in the Rialto 600 itself, and is controlled using either the handheld remote control or via an external control system using IR or RS232. She employs Wolfson 24-bit DACs, for compatibility with high-resolution audio sources. Finally, I'd add that the unit turns on automatically using "music sense". So, I can turn on the room fully using just the Sonos app.

I've owned the unit for about a year and could not be happier. It's a very smart upgrade for owners of just about any streaming audio platform owner--not just Sonos, HEOS, ELAC, Blue Sound...etc.


walt0291's picture

I have a pair of Focal towers hooked up to the Elac Element amp and then stream through a Denon Heos link. The Elac/Denon setup is relatively easy on the wallet and I've been very pleased with the sound quality that we get from it. The combo doesn't create much heat either, so I've got them inside of a cabinet with the door closed all the time and it hasn't been an issue. It's nice because then all you see are the speakers giving us a really clean look which we value since it's in our main living area. With our old amp we had to keep the door open all the time because of all the heat it put off.