As the rest of the world is moved into the digital age, the HiFi community is being dragged along with it. In the shops you’ll see the cd players getting replaced by streamers and amplifiers getting smaller and compacted into all in one systems. Whilst you’ve seen people debating the age old digital vs analogue sources, few talk about the difference in amplifiers.
Now that your system is getting older you’re probably wondering how something that’s a few decades’ old stacks up against these modern machines.
Well, it’s actually better than you might have first thought. Modern digital amplifiers boast many advantages for a manufacturer that get past down to the customer. They’re cheaper to produce, more energy efficiency and can be made in more compact and sleeker designs that can include screens among other things to improve the user experience.
However, these pros are shadowed by the numerous disadvantages that a digital amplifier brings. Comparative to an analog amp of a similar spec, the digital amp is likely to have a lower signal to noise ratio, higher harmonic distortion and more electromagnetic interference. These all effect the purity of music you are listening to making this a overall worse listening experience.
If that weren’t enough, the increased complexity in the circuits and the growing use of proprietary parts mean the manufacturer is the only person who can repair and service the units. This allows them to charge what they want and effective decide long the amp should last.
This mimics the advances in car industry, in which cars used to be built to last and could be repaired by anyone with basic understanding of car engines. Now though they need to be repaired by specialists and it is typically the electronics and tertiary elements that break before the functional parts do.
So where does that leave you?
Although modern digital amps are more stylish and typically cost less brand new, they sound worse, are more likely to break and when they do it’ll be more expensive and if the manufacturer decides to stop supporting it you could be on your own.
If you’ve already got a system we’d advice you service and keep it. If however, you want to upgrade or need a new system you a can look at Naim’s budding second hand market. There are some brands that will offer traditional analogue style amps that should be easily repairable should you want it to be brand new.
Streamers are the only caveat to this article in which it’s likely better to buy new but for an optimal sound you should still stick to analog amps.