Best Vintage Amplifiers ever made
Best Vintage Amplifiers ever made
Best Vintage Amplifiers ever made

The 50 Best Vintage Amplifiers ever made

Amplifier technology has undergone more than a century of development. During this extensive period, numerous iconic models have emerged, serving as both pivotal milestones in the audio industry and enduring cult classics. Enthusiasts steadfastly resist parting with these timeless pieces in favor of more contemporary, cutting-edge developments.

Even amid the swift advancements of modern technology, many amplifiers crafted fifty or more years ago continue to shine brilliantly, surpassing current counterparts in terms of sound quality. In our exploration, we will delve into these exceptional masterpieces, constructing a rating based on the “price/quality” ratio and considering their availability at auctions. Hence, we present the “magnificent fifty” of vintage amplifiers—showcasing the brightest and most sonically impressive classics.

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50.NAD 3020

Launched on store shelves in 1978, the NAD 3020 integrated amplifier became a real bestseller – the model was offered for just £80, and sounded much more powerful and confident than most of its counterparts in the more expensive price category. Only 20 W per channel, but the amplifier’s ability to work with low-impedance acoustics and its excellent dynamic characteristics make the NAD 3020 a very interesting purchase in 2022. Moreover, it now costs “mere pennies.”

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49. A&R Cambridge A60

In 1976, the Arcam company was still called A&R Cambridge, and its brand new stylish full amplifier A60 grabbed the stars from the sky (both in terms of musical talent, the mid frequencies of the integrated amplifier were very expressive, and in terms of equipment, let’s say, “on board” there was room for MM-phono stage) – as a result, sales of the model quickly exceeded 32,000 units. The device was offered for £140 when it first went on sale, but now an A&R Cambridge A60 in good condition can be found for $200, and its 100 W per channel is confidently controlled by most modern speakers.

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48. Sugden A21

Released in 1973, the Sugden A21 (£150) used transistor circuitry and operated in pure Class A. Only 12 W per channel, but the frequency response from 30 to 20,000 Hz was supplied with no more than 0.25% distortion, and the sound was truly luxurious, taking all the best from their tube counterparts.

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47. Hafler DH-220

A damping factor of 300 units, 2 x 115 W of power at 0.0025% distortion at 1 Hz, frequency response from 3 to 160,000 Hz – oh, this “shoebox” turned out to be exceptionally strong. The sound, dynamic and collected, was more reminiscent of a steel fist in a velvet glove. The Hafler DH-220 is quite highly regarded by collectors – and absolutely deservedly so.

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46. ​​Chapman 305/205

The £200 price tag was a bit steep for 1960, but the Chapman 305/205 were worth every penny. The tube combination of preamplifier and full amplifier broke the canons of the industry and offered a surprisingly pleasant sound – velvety and rich. Now the devices can be found on sale for about three thousand dollars – and they are worth it.

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45. Luxman M-05

The Luxman M-05 power amplifier was released in 1982 and almost immediately became one of the iconic models of the Japanese company. The 40-kilogram mastodon produced 2 x 105 W in pure class A, was designed according to a dual mono design with solid shielding of the power supply. The downside is that, given the large amount of heat generated during operation, it had to be equipped with two fans at once for forced cooling. But the natural and spacious sound of the model will still leave few people indifferent.

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44. Marantz 8B

A legend designed by Sid Smith, the Marantz 8B amplifier produced 35 watts of power – for 1961, $250 retail and an EL34-powered system, this was more than enough. 20 dB of feedback allowed for decent control of the speakers, and the musical talents of the model impress audiophiles even in the summer of 2022 – the device does not get old.

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43. Creek CAS4040

The Creek CAS4040 came out in 1983 and sold for a modest £70. Its 30 W per channel, however, was controlled with a bang by most speakers, and the amplifier was immediately loved by audiophiles for its signature rhythmic and transparent sound. The model performs just as impressively today.

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42. Pioneer SA-9800

For 1979, it seemed like a breakthrough to use a circuit that combined low-noise transistors and a final output stage operating in pure class A. As a result, the Pioneer SA-9800 “pumped” 2 x 100 W into 8 Ohms, and the peak power reached 240 W per channel. The performance characteristics are excellent – frequency response from 5 to 200,000 Hz, dumping factor 55 units, device weight – 18.4 kg. As many as two phono inputs “on board” provided the necessary switching flexibility, and the exceptionally assembled sound makes this device the pearl of any collection in 2022.

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41. Phase Linear 400

The ascent of Bob Carver and Phase Linear to the musical Olympus began in 1971, the Phase Linear 400 broke the canons and violated prohibitions – its unique circuit design made it possible to achieve 250 W at 8 Ohm load or 400 W at 4 Ohm, the frequency response ranged from 5 to 40,000 Hz, and the dumping factor was close to 1,000 units! But, most importantly, the signal slew rate – for the Phase Linear 400 this figure was 1.7 μs. It’s no wonder that the amplifier is still considered the king of dynamics.

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40. Naim NAIT

650 pounds of retail for 1983 – isn’t it too much impudence for a small integrated device? Not for Naim – its NAIT amplifier took the sound industry by storm and captivated everyone with its rhythmic delivery. The success of the famous British company to this day is built on this business card.

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39. Conrad Johnson Premier Eleven

A tube device from the early nineties of the twentieth century – 70 W of power at an 8 Ohm load, distortion of 1%, frequency response of 20 – 20,000 Hz, everything seems to be normal… However, it was the Conrad Johnson Premier Eleven that provided the effect of the presence of a string quartet right in the listening room – so that the term “iconic model” is quite applicable to the device.

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38. Fisher 500c

In the early sixties of the twentieth century, it was still strange to produce a “bare amplifier” – usually most devices were also equipped with a tuner section. Well, the Fisher 500c receiver turned out to be the very device that could satisfy most of the public’s needs – 6L6, 7591, 32 W lamps, plus great sound. $400 retail, of course, bit a bit – but the game was worth the candle.

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37.Mission Cyrus One

Can the little box play music? How can that be? In 1984, the Mission Cyrus One created a new form factor for music technology, tossed out loudness compensation and offered an enchanting sound with surgically precise scene building.

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36. Denon PMA-850

The luxurious MS phono stage section of the Denon PMA-850 provided automatic equalization of the signal from vinyl – however, this was not the only thing that was powerful about the device. Wide bandwidth (from 5 to 100,000 Hz), negligible distortion of 0.01%, signal-to-noise ratio of 122 dB, 2 x 85 W of power – such a device is worth hunting for at auctions.

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35.Yamaha CA-1000

The year of manufacture was 1973, and the design of the device (it was developed by GK Design Group) seemed to come from the future – the year 2073! “Under the hood” there is amazing circuitry – for the first time in the world, the amplifier was equipped with a class switch, and the capacitor unit of the Yamaha CA-1000 had a total capacity of 18,000 μF. The continuous power was 2 x 70 W, and he won back the $600 requested for the device to the last cent.

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34. Sony TA-F7

Sony TA-F7 used a V-FET transistor circuit – one of the most progressive for 1976. Three transformers were installed in the power supply for different circuits, and the total capacitance of the capacitor unit reached 88,000 μF. “On board” there was also a built-in phono preamplifier based on FET transistors with current amplification. The output power of the Sony TA-F7 was 2 x 70 W, the frequency response extended from 5 to 100,000 Hz – real Hi-Res Audio!

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33. Audiolab 8000A

In 1983, the Audiolab 8000A (retail: £200) won numerous awards for its stylish appearance – and the model has not lost its charm today. It is gratifying that the detailed and clear presentation of the model pleases fans of high-fidelity sound to this day. 2 x 60 W output power, again, absolutely fair.

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32.Yamaha CA-2010

The Yamaha CA-2010 led the Japanese manufacturer’s line of integrated amplifiers in 1977. Here, current amplification has been applied to all stages, including the pre, output, and even the built-in MM/MS phono stage! FET transistors operated at the output, and the user, again, could choose in which class to listen to the amplifier – A or AB (in class A the power was 30 watts per channel, in class AB – 120 watts at 8 ohms in a frequency band of 20 -20,000 Hz). The amplifier weighed 21 kilograms, and its sound was absolutely luxurious.

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31. Audio Research Reference 610T

In the sixties, William Zane Johnson began upgrading those same Dynaco ST-70s; in the eighties, his name was already associated with “high-resolution sound” from Audio Research; in 1995, one of the master’s most famous models was released. The Audio Research Reference 610T offered a staggering 600 watts of tube power – but they didn’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” and everything was fine with delicacy.

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30. Electro Research A-75

The Electro Research A-75 was created by John Iverson, one of the audio industry’s most renowned designers. Initially, this transistor device was created according to military specifications, but when part of the circulation went on public sale in 1977, the public was amazed at the purity and richness of the device’s presentation.

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29. McIntosh M50W1

The device was developed for McIntosh in the late forties of the twentieth century by Gordon Gow – the M50W1 operated in a fair band from 20 to 20,000 Hz with distortion of less than 1%. The amplifier not only set the industry standards – it largely shaped it. And the soulful presentation of the McIntosh M50W1 will make your head spin even in 2022.

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28. Quad 303

45 W into an 8 ohm load, what’s wrong with that? Why did the Quad 303 receive the British Council of Industrial Design Award in 1969? In fact, the model was the first on the market to show that the sound of transistor amplifiers can compete equally with tube amplifiers – and even surpass them in some ways!

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27. Phase Linear 700

The seventies, Bob Carver at the helm, an incredible 350 watts of power – yes, baby, this is serious! $749 was a hell of a price at the time, but the machine’s musical talents were as good as its brawn.

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26. Plinius 8150

The 150-watt integrated circuit, Plinius 8150, operated in the frequency response from 20 to 20,000 Hz with 0.05% distortion and guaranteed a current of up to 35 A! With this model, Plinius literally burst into the High End market – no one expected such power from a compact and stylish device. Bravo.

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25. Naim 32/Snaps/250 power amp

The three-block combination from Naim – 32/Snaps/250 power amp in 1984 became one of the most impressive in terms of sound quality. Separation of components, removal of the power supply into an external case, proprietary circuitry that guarantees a reference rhythm – as a result, the “magnet for audiophiles” saw the light of day.

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24. Pioneer A-09

Pioneer A-09 was released in 1992 and accumulated the company’s main achievements in terms of sound quality. The model is very popular among collectors – despite the modest power of 35 watts at 8 ohms and the complete absence of negative feedback in the output stage, this amplifier can cope with a very complex load. Pure Class A performance is ensured by a huge power supply, as well as a precision design (copper-plated chassis, huge cooling radiators and a total weight of 28.8 kg).

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23. Carver Silver Seven

One of the most expensive packages on the American market, Carver Silver Sevens were offered for $17,000, pumped 550 watts per channel into 8 ohms and used an array of KT88 tubes. If you want the sound to literally slam you into the wall, all roads lead to Carver Silver Seven; This four-block model takes the stars out of the sky in terms of the scale of presentation.

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22. Kenwood Model 600

In 1975, the Kenwood Model 600, which provided an output power of 2 x 135 W into a load of 8 ohms, was able to dynamically output as much as 640 W into 4 ohms (the dumping factor was 50 units) and sported a THD of 0.08%, it seemed an example of advanced Hi-Fi technology. The amplifier offered a signal-to-noise ratio of 115 dB, operated in the frequency response from 5 to 50,000 Hz, and these “21.3 kg of weight” sounded accurately and naturally.

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21. Eico HF-81

Today, you’ll be lucky to find an Eico HF-81 for $1,000, which is the price for a 1959 vintage that delivers 14 watts of power at 2% distortion. The set of lamps is as follows – 4 x ECC83/12AX7, 4 x EL84/6BQ5, 2 x EZ81; Many audiophiles consider the mercury feed of the model to be unsurpassed.

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20. Harman Kardon 730

The sophisticated design of the Harman Kardon 730 attracts the eye, and the truly surround sound of the device is just as impressive, soft and enveloping, it literally transports the listener to another world. The receiver produces 2 x 50 W of power at 0.1% distortion and has a damping factor of 30 units. A pair of solid power transformers provides confident control of the speakers.

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19. Sansui AU-11000A

Full dual mono was first used in the Sansui AU-11000A, introduced in 1977. Essentially, we have two amplifiers combined in one housing – with a record low harmonic distortion (0.08%). The push-pull configuration of transistors made it possible to achieve 110 W per channel of output power, and the sound of the device was most reminiscent of a window wide open into a hall with live performers.

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18. Nakamichi Amplifier 1

Released in 1990, Nakamichi Amplifier 1 used Nelson Pass’s licensed STASIS circuit design – resulting in a 15-kilogram model delivering 2 x 80 W per channel from 5 to 80,000 Hz with 0.1% distortion. The company proudly announced the gradation of amplifiers in this order: old transistor amp, new transistor amp, tube amp, Nakamichi amp – and, although there is some slyness here, Nakamichi Amplifier 1 sounded very impressive.

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17. Futterman H3 OTL

The brainchild of Julius Futterman, the Futterman H3 OTL is an amplifier with a clever “all-tube output-transformer-less” circuit. The scary-looking model from the sixties of the twentieth century provides a hyper-realistic sound, clearly demonstrating that engineering excellence exists outside of time. Well, evaluate the performance characteristics (don’t forget that this is a lamp) – 90 W of power into a 16 Ohm load, frequency response from 5 to 90,000 Hz, distortion 0.05% at full power, signal-to-noise 93 dB, damping factor – 200!

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16. Marantz PM-15

The Marantz PM-15 features a stunning body that includes a copper-clad die-cast aluminum chassis and extruded aluminum panels and controls. All internal screws, capacitors and even output transistors were covered with copper! It’s no wonder that the device weighed 32 kg – there were also proprietary HDAM modules, which were an assembly of discrete components enclosed in a copper case (2 FET transistors, 5 bipolar transistors, 4 diodes and 10 resistors). The dreadnought’s power output was 150 watts per channel into 8 ohms and the sound quality was exceptional.

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15. Hafler XL-280

A bestseller on the American market in the seventies of the twentieth century, the Hafler XL-280 easily produced 180 W into an 8 Ohm load, could even work with speakers with a resistance of 1 Ohm (in this case the power increased to 325 W), its distortion did not exceed 0.04%, and the bandwidth was in the astronomical range of 10 – 500,000 Hz. The damping factor is 300 units, the “signal to noise” is 100 dB, and the sound here is more than okay.

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14. Conrad-Johnson Premier Four

1983, EL34 tubes, 100 W of power – as usual, behind the modest performance and simple appearance of the Conrad-Johnson Premier Four, true musical talent was hidden. The model painted the scene with precision – the holographically accurate images from the Conrad-Johnson Premier Four became the industry standard for many years to come.

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13. McIntosh MC3500

Amplifier with an arrow! In addition to its extravagant design, this device boasted an astronomical 350 watts of power – in 1968 this meant absolute control over any speaker on the market. Not most – but any. Not long ago the company resumed production of the model, but those who want to save money should look for the original. It sounds very impressive.

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12. Citation Two

The development of Stuart Hegeman is a monophonic 50-watt pentode (!) amplifier. Frequency response from 10 to 45,000 Hz, distortion 0.3%, signal-to-noise ratio 91 dB – Citation Two easily reached transistor speed and, at the same time, did not lose the tube fullness and elegance of presentation.

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11. Audio Research D-150

The 1975 amplifier – Audio Research D-150 most of all resembled a mastodon, which could handle any speakers (continuous power of 150 W was achieved at a load of 4-16 Ohms), a damping factor of 14 units and a signal-to-noise ratio of 80 dB was standard for a “tube”. The amplifier “with arrows” is loved by many music lovers – primarily for its large-scale, fundamental presentation.

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10. Cary CAD-805

The brainchild of Dennis Hud, the Cary CAD-805 was marketed under the slogan “SET midrange magic” – and it was true. Few people on the market have achieved such precision and richness of mid frequencies. The 50-watt model is still in service today, the new product is called CAD-805RS – however, those who want to save money can look for the original, the Cary CAD-805 model was produced until 1992.

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9.Yamaha MX-10000

The “ten thousandth” Yamaha series, released for the centenary of the Japanese corporation, is a real fetish for many collectors and lovers of good sound. Real-size sound is provided by a record power of 1,200 W per 1 Ohm load (Hyperbolic Conversion Class A circuitry was used, which combined the operation of class A output transistors with reduced overall power consumption). A total of 250 copies of this giant weighing 43 kg were produced.

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8. McIntosh MC275

150 W in mono mode, 75 W in stereo, enchanting velvety sound that flows like a continuous river – the MC275 tube amplifier has become the hallmark of McIntosh; bestseller and iconic model for the industry.

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7. Sansui B 2302

In 1990, the Sansui B 2302 cost 740,000 yen – for this money the buyer received a whole bunch of new technologies (proprietary alpha-X balanced circuitry, a diamond differential circuit system and luxurious power supplies). The NM-LAPT transistors used had a stunning “rate of fire” – as a result, the Sansui B 2302 still occupies pride of place in the best audiophile systems. The amplifier develops 2 x 300 W at 8 Ohms with 0.003% distortion, its signal-to-noise ratio is 120 dB. The signal slew rate is less than 0.5 μs.

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6. Dynaco ST-70

The Dynaco ST-70 amplifier really revolutionized the entire audio industry – the model released in 1959 created a sensation and sold 350,000 copies! Truly, Hi-Fi in every home. Tubes, 35 W per channel, frequency response from 20 to 20,000 Hz, and it seemed you could “sell your soul” for sound.

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5. Pioneer A400

2 x 50 W at 0.03% distortion, not too large dimensions and weight, price relatively affordable for most music lovers – what is special about the Pioneer A400, why the model received a record number of awards and for many years became the main recommended component in its price category ? The Japanese manufacturer was able to breathe soul into his creation – this integrated amplifier “one left” put much more expensive competitors on the shoulder blades, offering an exceptional balance between micro- and macrodynamics.

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4. Mark Levinson ML2

Designed by John Curl, branded by Mark Levinson, 25 W of power, the legendary speaker impedance tolerance circuit – this “brick” seems to exist outside of time and space. If you want to know what bass is, all roads lead to the Mark Levinson ML2.

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3. Threshold 800A

A model published by Nelson Pass back in 1975. The Threshold 800A offered a unique Class A active overclocking circuit, which resulted in the amplifier delivering much more power – a shocking 200 Watts. In terms of sound talent, Threshold 800A turned out to be at a height unattainable for competitors – the developments used in the model are still used in Pass Labs products.

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2. Krell KSA-100

An American “super booster” – or a superhero, as you like. Dan D’Agnostino’s talent led to the creation of a reference standard in 1980 that laid the foundation for the modern high-end industry. 100 W per channel in pure class A included.

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1. Audio Note Ongaku

It is unlikely that the world has ever seen or will see such a bright amplifier. In 1988, Kondo broke all industry molds by releasing a single-ended tube model for $60,000 retail! And this is for an integrated device! With only 27 watts per channel, 211 tubes, silver everywhere, the Audio Note Ongaku opened the door to audiophile Nirvana – a device that remains unsurpassed to this day. Now new Ongaku (either from Japanese or from English manufacturers) are sold for absolutely crazy money, but devices released in the last century, no, no, you can catch them for several tens of thousands of dollars. This is the price for a real diamond.