Integrated amps have always made a great deal of sense to me. A good integrated can get you all of, if not better, performance then their separate siblings, save you a bit on cables and shelf space and cost less than most a-la carte options. Furthermore, given the current state of the economy an integrated amp not only feeds the audiophile need without going to debtors prison, it can also prove to be a fine center piece for a recession proof home theater.
Take the Anthem 225 Integrated Amp reviewed here for instance. It retails for $1,499 and features a 225-Watt internal stereo amplifier, a great preamp complete with a very capable MM/MC phono preamp and an RS-232 port for integrating it into a control system or home theater. The cost of Anthem's own MCA 20 Stereo Amplifier, which churns out the same 225-Watts per channel is $1,500 making the 225 a bargain if not a steal right there.
The 225's build quality is first rate and has a level of control and adjustability not usually found with integrated amplifiers at any cost. Beyond its good looks, great features and even better value the 225 has a single, dedicated, front-mounted Aux input for portable devices such as iPods or iPhones.
Now, about that home theater comment I made earlier. My very first foray into home theater wasn't a 5.1 rig the type that usually comes to mind when thinking of a home theater. It was a simple stereo with my TV and DVD sound being fed to a stereo receiver, which powered a large pair of JBL loudspeakers. While I've come a long way since then, I have to say, rocking a two channel home theater with the 225 serving as the system's heart and soul isn't a bad way to go. If you're willing to allow your display or video switcher handle the video and run analog audio to the 225, you can mate damn near any speaker to the 225's massive power output and never look back. I didn't. I've racked up more hours enjoying the 225 in my office feeding a pair of Paradigm Studio 100's with video going to a Samsung HDTV than my reference home theater a floor below.
I know what you're thinking, that's not a home theater. If I put three speakers across the front and two in the back yet didn't tell you only the left and right mains were on I'd bet good money you'd think they were.
• The Anthem 225's terrific build quality exudes class and just feels solid and reliable from the moment you take it out of the box. It feels like it should cost more.
• Once it's given a chance to warm up (10-15 minutes) its sound is sublime. Seductive yet authoritative, a nimble and airy treble accentuated by a smooth, ever so slightly warm midrange and rockin' bass response is the best way to sum up the Anthem 225. This baby has musical heart and a lot of soul.
• The 225 plays nice with all sorts of music. This isn't an amp only for small ensemble music and Diana Krall, for it can rock AC/DC until the cops show up without becoming harsh or fatiguing.
• The soundstage and dynamic prowess of the Anthem 225 is off the charts good and has no rivals in its price range that I'm aware of.
• While the 225 is only a stereo integrated amp, it is phenomenal when it comes to movie soundtracks and dialog. Cue up a Blu-ray disc and set the disc's audio to uncompressed stereo and prepare to be amazed.
• The 225's internal MM/MC phono preamp seems like icing on the cake, while rather impressive, I'd still call the 225 a bargain without it.