Amplifiers: Which is Best?
There has been a lot of technological advances recently and it is to the point where people are adding home theaters and extravagant backyard movie escapes. Essentially, these homeowners have the freedom to watch movies comfortably at home and the extra money that would have been wasted at a commercial movie theater is spent on a nice system that will eventually pay for itself. Sound systems can also be installed in backyards, around pools, and near the barbecue on the patio. Stereo amplifiers aren't as simple and stripped back as they used to be. The days of equipping them with just analog inputs and outputs, and a pair of speaker terminals, is now no longer the norm. With laptops, smartphones and streaming services becoming ever-more popular music source
Homeowners are lucky these days because they can really enjoy their music now with a nice system. However, searching for the products that are going into these situations can get extremely tedious. A lot of the time the homeowner doesn't do the searching for the particular products either. It is often better to hire an experienced contractor or installer to complete their whole-home audio. Stereo systems are all different and yet they are all similar but the biggest thing is that they need an amplifier to really get a good blood-pumping experience with music that they love, pounding in their ears. The largest piece of the puzzle for these types of setups are the amplifiers, of course.
So in an attempt to save you some time looking at several websites and also from making a possible mistake by purchasing something that isn’t worth the money, here is a comparison of some of the top audio professionals and their version of an amplifier. Remember to keep in mind what you value most with a product like this. Better features or a lower price point? This comparison is just meant to assist you in making a decision that fits your situation.
The Sonos Amp
The Sonos Amplifier retails for $649 which some say is a little too high. Sonos has come a long way from its very first product, the ZP100. This was a bookshelf-class amp. As far as design goes it is built very compact at 1RU and resembles similar updated brands. It delivers multi-room audio to any speakers in the home and includes built-in WiFi.
It’s also compatible with Google, Alexa, Josh.ai, and is able to connect to Airplay2 and Spotify Connect. This model provides 2x125 watts to 8 ohms (which works great for movies when you use it to drive your surround channels). Unfortunately, if you want to use voice control, it requires having another smart speaker to be paired with it.
With its 125W per channel output, the Amp can provide sound to your outdoor, bookshelf, floor-standing, or architectural speakers. An auto-detecting subwoofer output is also onboard. This amp will fit in most standard-sized racks and can be fitted to a wall mount. A "cool" feature with this amplifier is not having to worry about the noise of a fan. This amp has a centralized heat sink and air inlets to keep it from overheating.
It was also found that the Sonos Amplifier sounds too bright while in its default mode and lacks a calibration routine. The Sonos Amp does require a specific type of connection or proprietary app for streaming music and if a guest is ever wanting to connect to your home, they will have to download the app in order to be granted access.
VSSL A.1 Home
The VSSL A.1 Home retails for $570, usually better quality products can be priced a little higher than the competitors but perform above the competition. It is all about how much you are willing to spend for the type of quality that you want. These versatile and compact amplifiers are built for any install. It easily connects to Airplay2, Google cast, and Spotify Connect.
The most unique quality that VSSL is extremely proud of is that its products have something called Native Streaming™, something created solely by VSSL and it allows you to connect your music to your speakers using any app that you already have. It makes streaming your music a lot simpler, instead of having to use a specific app meant for that brand of the amplifier, just to be able to connect to all of the speakers. VSSL’s A.1 Home could have provided a more powerful amplification and maybe even a surround sound mode for watching films.
Yamaha MusicCast Multi-Room Amplifier
The Yamaha MusicCast Multi-Room Amplifier retails around $2,699. Although this multi-room audio system had low expectations regarding its performance (due to previously released products, it actually is a decent amplifier). The device actually is equipped with four zones and eight amplifier channels and is also a MusicCast Streamer. 1U-high, rack-wide enclosure; removable rack ears, and a faceplate are included. A plus to using this unit is the quick and easy setup that it provides.
These channels are grouped into pairs and each pair has the capability of being bridged to double the power output. There is also an easy setup with the app, however, it is wired instead of wireless (which some may prefer one over the other). The app is available on both Android and iOS devices. Each channel is rated at 50W output into 8 ohms.
AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect are available to use on this device as well as Alexa for voice integration. Unfortunately, the MusicCast app supports only a handful of music-streaming services, it is a closed system, it’s not compatible with wireless speakers, receivers, and software from competing brands like VSSL or Play-Fi; and you cannot use receivers made before 2018. Built-in Pandora®, Spotify, SiriusXM Internet Radio, SiriusXM Music for Business, TIDAL, Deezer, Napster, and more, plus access to music libraries and linked external sources.
This amp offers the ability to use multiple units and expand up to 32 zones in total, while still being connected together. The audio performance of the QS is further enhanced with a suite of exclusive Yamaha technologies, including our Compressed Music Enhancer, Advanced Bass Extension Processing, and volume adaptive EQ.
The VSSL A.3 retails for $1860 and its voice integration services include Google and, early in Q2 2020, Alexa. Each channel is rated at a 50W output into 8 ohms. Like the A.1, the A.3 also has Native Streaming™ allowing the user to select music from their favorite app and then use Airplay 2, Google Cast, or Spotify Connect to any zone in their house.
It also allows you to integrate with major home automation systems for even better control. Drivers expose matrix amplifier capabilities and allow metadata like artist, album, and track information to be passed. The install for this amplifier is also very simplistic and allows you to follow simple instructions for setup via the VSSL app and Google Home app. This amp does not include Bluetooth or Wifi.
The Russound MCA-88X retails for $3275. It is an eight-zone/eight-source controller, streamer, and amplifier. Russound has a built-in XStream music streamer that is currently compatible with Pandora, Spotify, SiriusXM, Airplay, and Bluetooth to name a few.
The Bluetooth Receiver is external and gives you the ability to install it up to 300 feet away (avoiding Bluetooth’s limited range). Also available is a home theater loop and paging interface for extra flexibility. Alexa is the only voice integration available on the MCA-88X. This is one system that requires a licensed installer, a password is required by the dealer in order to correctly install the device.
It has been noted by other users that the Russound app has a slight delay while trying to use music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, and seems to have several second delays. The Russound media server used to access your music collection has also gotten complaints about the loading time and that scrolling A-Z is the only way to look through your music storage, there is no option to skip letters or search for specific songs. The Russound MCA-88X is not as compact as the previous products mentioned and is at 2RUs for rack space.
The VSSL A.6 retails for $3,298 and is a multi-channel audio distribution system that enables direct control of your home audio system from your favorite music app. This particular model allows you to stream six zones of audio to six different rooms from six different sources. This model, like all the others, has the patented Native Streaming™ technology to allow its users to play audio from any app. It also allows eight sources to connect to eight zones.
Another great feature of this streaming amplifier is that it provides the ability to select a home audio zone and adjust the volume without leaving the selected app or using a remote control or third party app. This model is a little bit bigger than the others at 2RUs but it offers more channels so a larger operating system is acceptable. This unit along with the A.3 have to be hardwired to the internet in order to receive connection.
In conclusion, all of these amplifiers have positive and negative aspects of each product/model. When choosing an amplifier you truly have to know how much power you are looking for, how loud do you want the sound to be, and where do you want your music/sound to play? Do you want it in 2, 4, 6 different rooms?
This will help determine which amplifier you invest in and the quality of sound that it will provide. Sonos has a great reputation with most of its users but it does not provide the freedom of using any music app that you want to for your listening needs. Yamaha is a little pricier but the MusicCast is a great contestant against other competitors with its multi-room audio and eight zones that allows eight different sources to play at the same time (pretty impressive). This product is great because it provides all of the things that you would expect from Sonos.
The Russound MCA-88X is a great product if you are looking for more channels, it is also a product that is Ethernet-enabled (IP based control system), it does allow communication bi-directionally with Russound zone keypads. These are sold separately which if the price is not an issue for you, its is a pretty fancy set-up. Now, the VSSL models are always going to be at the top of my list being someone who loves convenience, its just hard not to want a premium amplifier like these. Native Streaming™ is what makes VSSL so easy to use and you don’t have to control your music by any third-party