Denon's PMA-150H Integrated Network Amplifier with HEOS ($1,099) lends some credibility to an argument I've been making for a few years now: Stereo integrated amplifiers represent one of the hottest product categories in our industry. We could speculate about why this is the case, but I think the answer is pretty simple. In a world where our lives are ever-increasingly being dominated by technology, a good integrated amp takes a bit of fuss out of the entertainment equation. There's no worrying about matching amp to preamp, no consternation over which interconnects to purchase and install, and when you add network streaming capabilities to the mix, as Denon has done with the PMA-150H, many of us find ourselves no longer needing to worry about source components, either.
An even more recent trend in the integrated amp marketplace is the embrace of video, which further simplifies things for those looking to build a good stereo AV system that services double duty as a hi-fi music system. In many cases, you'll even find newer integrated amps with HDMI switching and support for the latest 4K/HDR video standards.
The PMA-150H doesn't go quite that far. Or, perhaps viewed from a slightly different perspective, it goes further by eschewing HDMI altogether while still supporting TV interactivity, perhaps in recognition of the fact that shoppers looking for the simplest AV setup possible have probably turned their backs on video source components altogether in favor of the entertainment apps built into their smart TVs.
Y'all know I don't fall in the latter camp. But it's such a significant slice of the market now that if I were making a new sound solution with a focus on mass appeal, I would certainly be targeting the smart TV crowd. And that's exactly what Denon has done with the PMA-150H. While its TV audio input is limited to optical digital, that's totally fine if you're using built-in apps as your primary source, and don't need surround sound processing (which, of course, you don't with a stereo product). The PMA-150H even has a feature whereby it will turn on automatically in the presence of an incoming audio signal on its TV input, meaning you could connect this integrated amp and a couple of speakers, run a Toslink cable to your TV, and have a vastly upgraded sound experience for your video entertainment that functionally operates like a soundbar but delivers all of the fidelity (though not necessarily the power output) of a component sound system.
Of course, TV viewing is ultimately just a tiny slice of the PMA-150H's pie. I imagine most people who purchase it will use it largely as a music streamer, decoder, and amp, thanks to both its USB-DAC input (with support for PCM up to 384kHz/32-bit and DSD at 2.8, 5.6, and 11.2MHz), as well as its integration of the HEOS wireless multiroom music platform. The latter gives it access to all manner of streaming music services, including Spotify, TIDAL, Pandora, Amazon Music HD, TuneIn, Napster, Deezer, iHeartRadio, SiriusXM, and SoundCloud, just to name a few, along with any music stored on your portable device and connected devices (both networked and USB-attached), as well. Needless to say, AirPlay 2 and Amazon Alexa/Google Assistant connectivity are also part of the overall equation.
The PMA-150H also includes a pair of analog audio inputs, should you have any such sources that you'd like to connect to the HEOS ecosystem at large, though neither of them features phono preamp functionality.
One unexpected feature it does boast, though, is a really nice built-in headphone amplifier whose specs unfortunately aren't revealed in the product literature, unfortunately. It is a full-sized quarter-inch headphone output, though, with configurable gain, which is very much appreciated.
The first thing you see upon unboxing the PMA-150H is a rather sparse quick-start guide that is, quite frankly, largely unnecessary except as a means by which to point you toward the HEOS app for Android or iOS, which you'll need if you want to get the most out of the integrated amp from a streaming music perspective.
Other than that, setup is self-explanatory. The back panel features a pair of really nice speaker binding posts, connectors for WiFi antennas should you choose to use them, an Ethernet port for wired network connectivity (my preference, of course), an IR control input, a USB-DAC port (Type B), two Toslink inputs, one coaxial digital input, two stereo analog RCA inputs, FM and AM antenna connections, and a subwoofer output. The latter is more accurately described as a summed mono preamp output, since the unit lacks bass management capabilities, so if you want to add a sub you might want to consider getting a model with speaker-level inputs.
That aside, setup couldn't be any simpler. Connect speakers, connect sources (if any), connect power, and the front panel holds your hand through setup from there. Other than reassigning the TV input and adjusting auto-on functionality, and putting in your HEOS account information, there's likely little else you'll need to do.
Unless, that is, you have a set of hard-to-drive headphones. In that case, you'll likely want to adjust the HPA's gain setting to "High." But that's really it from a setup perspective.
It is worth discussing the physical design and construction of the PMA-150H, since unboxing and setup is where you'll really get your first taste of the unit in this respect. Frankly, photos just don't do the thing justice. In terms of materials, the chassis is a mix of matte aluminum, high-quality black plastic, and glass, and the front panel is graced with an attractive OLED display screen.
The back panel is recessed, which does make plugging in cables and interconnects a little trickier, but not by much. Honestly, the unit is so compact that I found it easy enough to spit it around, make the connections from the front, then spin it back, although if you don't have enough slack in your wiring, this might not be an option.
Front panel controls are minimal, consisting solely of navigational buttons, Enter, and back, as well as a power button and one that cycles through inputs. All of these buttons save the power button are touch-sensitive, which adds a touch of class that's honestly a few steps up from what I would expect in a $1,000-ish stereo integrated amp.
For the bulk of this review, I relied on ELAC Sensible Speaker Cables to connect first a pair of Paradigm Studio 100 v5 towers, then a pair of Focal Chora 826 towers. In addition to networked connectivity, I relied heavily on a USB connection between the integrated amp and my Maingear Vybe media and gaming PC.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...