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Audio

A low-cost/high-performance contender: Onkyo's A-9010 integrated amplifier

Onkyo's feature-packed A-9010 amp is just the ticket for aspiring audiophiles.

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Onkyo A-9010 integrated amplifier. Onkyo

Bluetooth speakers may be good enough for the masses, but if you crave better sound, the Onkyo A-9010 integrated stereo amp (US $300, UK, £199, Australia AU$549) would be a great place to start. Paired with Pioneer's terrific SP-FS52 tower speakers, you'll enjoy superb sound for not a lot of money, and if you're into vinyl, add the Audio Technica AT LP60 turntable. Budding audiophiles never had it so good.

The A-9010's design hearkens back to the classic Onkyo integrated amps of the 1970s and 1980s -- there's a big, smooth-turning volume control centered on the front panel, an input selector, balance, bass and treble tone controls and a Loudness button. Very much in the old-school tradition, Loudness is a handy feature that warms up the sound for hushed, late-night listening sessions. There are no setup menus to fuss with, so you'll probably never have to consult the A-9010's owner's manual. A full-function remote control is included.

Connectivity options are well above average for an amp in the A-9010's price range. You get five stereo analog inputs for CD, Blu-ray, games and so on, plus a moving-magnet phono (turntable) input, and one each coaxial and optical digital inputs. There's sturdy wire binding posts for one pair of speakers and a 6.3mm headphone jack. Peering through the slots on the A-9010's top cover, I was surprised by the size of the power transformer and the transistors' heat sinks -- build quality like this is rare in this price class. Power is rated at 44 watts per channel for 8 ohm speakers, and 70 watts per channel for 4 ohm speakers. The A-9010 is about the size of an AV receiver, it's 17.1 by 5.1 by 13.1 inches (435 by 129 by 332mm), and weighs 14.3 pounds (6.5 kg).

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Onkyo A-9010's rear panel Onkyo

I have one operational gripe with this amp: since the remote control doesn't offer direct access to each input -- Phono, D1, D2, Line 1, Line 2, etc. -- and there's no display, it's hard to tell what input you're selecting. You have to scroll through the inputs until you locate the one you need.

The A-9010 sounded clean and clear with music and movies, even when I pushed the volume way up. I played a few LPs on a Pioneer PL-30-K turntable, first with the turntable's built-in phono preamp, which sounded fine. But when I turned that off and switched over to the A-9010's phono preamp, the sound grew more dynamic and the bass filled out.

Back with CDs, I compared the A-9010 with my NAD C316BEE integrated amp, and the A-9010 sounded crisper but less solid, with a flatter soundstage. The C316BEE is rated at 40 watts per channel, but it sounded more transparent and powerful. Keep in mind the C316BEE lacks turntable and digital inputs, so if you need those features, the C316BEE won't make sense. I used a pair of Dynaudio Contour 1.1 speakers for all of my listening tests.

The Onkyo A-9010 is the sort of component that will never go out of style, and will provide many years of great sound.