New audiophile wants an integrated amplifier

Hi all,

I watched Paul’s video and really like it. And then I come to this forum to seek you guys’ help to set up my first home audiophile system. Thanks in advance!

Here is my situation:

I’m currently owning a portable audiophile system, A&K Kann Cube + Campfire Solaris. I like it and now want to set up a stationary system. Because the Kann cube has XLR output (from its internal ESS 9038Pro DAC), I’m looking at an integrated amplifier with XLR input so that I can take advantage of my Kann cube.

On the other hand, I’m living in a apartment and the living room is about 16ft*13ft. So a pair of bookshelf speakers is good to me. The majority of my listening is instrumental music, particularly Al Hirt’s trumpet performance, and some live concert with a wide range in terms of genres. I have no idea about how to pick speakers. in my case, speakers focusing on high frequency is good to me (I guess, for trumpet sound)?

Would you please recommend some integrated amps with XLR input (<$3000) and a pair of speakers (<$1000) to me?

After long searches on internet, I’m interested in two options in terms of amps, Cambridge CXA81 and Stellar Strata here. The Strata is twice the price of the CXA81, but it might be worth of it. A good XLR input capable integrated amp without built-in DAC sounds very interesting to me because I can take advantage of my DMP while I may save me some money. For speakers, I’m looking at Focal 806. No idea on speakers.

Thank you!

Update on 01/10/2021
Finally I went with Cambridge CXA81 and a pair of Moon Audio Silver 300. Total cost is ~ $4K USD.
This setup is very affordable and I think it’s a good start point for a new audiophile like me. Really enjoy it! Thank you all and happy 2021!


If you’re going to utilize the internal DAC of the A&K then an integrated with it’s own internal DAC is not necessary. If the A&K is your source then get then something without it’s own DAC. You’ll get more for your money that way if you leave the digital out. For speakers you really need to go listen because what you are going to get here are peoples personal favorites or what they’ve read sounds good. There are several good internet only speaker companies like Aperion and Ascend that have 30 day trial periods and may even sell some electronics so look around a bit.

Marantz makes some great integrated amplifiers.

I’d offer you’d be better off flipping things around and spending $3000 on speakers and $1000 on an integrated to start. or maybe $2000 each.


Strata at $3K or Schiit Ragnarock at $1.5K
No dac in the Schiit.
Both excellent.


Rogue Audio Pharaoh. You don’t state any preference for tubes versus SS (the RA is a hybrid). The RA is $3500 retail, but I’ll bet in this environment you can negotiate a price that gets you within striking distance of $3k. Ticks the boxes including a XLR input. No DAC, but I’m one of those folks who aren’t fans of mixing analog and a DAC in an integrated.

Too few details about your listening environment to make any intelligent speaker recommendation. Speaker selection is very much a matter of personal preference. Will have to punt on that.

I agree with @aiki14. I would spend 50% to 75% of the money on speakers. A $1,000 pair of speakers do not need a $3,000 integrated amplifier. I am listening to a $7,000 pair of speakers and $2,000 subwoofer with a $1,000 integrated amplifier/streamer.


If you truly want an audiophile integrated, my suggestion would be get one without a DAC for two reasons, they add noise and the technology changes faster than that of an amplifier.

Everyone has on opinion on budget. The one in the complete guide to high-end audio suggests 30% on sources, 30% on amplification, 30% on speakers and 10% for cables. It’s a good reference point.


Something to consider if you are not adverse to slightly used speakers as these are extraordinary and should fit your situation:

Find something to trade and work out a price reduction of up to $900 on this baby, with DAC on board and XLR inputs:

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Great recommendation! Based off OP’s situation, this would be a fantastic system. The Strata with a pair of ATCs would be a killer pairing!


Good to know this!

Schiit Ragnarock looks good to me! I’ll have a look. I did search their website before, but to be honest, the website is too confusing to figure thing out…Thanks for the recommendation.

The OP says he already has a DAC with XLR analogue output, so why are people recommending a product that has a DAC inside it? $3,000 is a huge amount of money for a 100w/8ohms class D integrated amplifier.

I think the problem the OP is facing is that the old style integrated pre/power amplifier hardly exists any more, especially with XLR inputs.

The Audiolab 6000A is a superb unit with decades of happy users and costs $600.

If the OP can get a cable with unbalanced outputs, which isn’t going to make a significant difference, then he has over $3,000 for some seriously good speakers. Could be SCM19 or a used pair of SCM40 but the options are endless.

If the OP is planning on getting <$1,000 speakers, he should just get something like ELAC Navis ARB51 and a small balanced pre-amp and put the rest of the money in the bank. I has a balanced passive pre-amp from Hattor for $800 that was superb.

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Hi Steve,

I’m seriously considering your recommendation! Yes, I had a good DAC already. So I want to put money on amps and speakers only, if possible. Exactly as you said, it seems that there is just a few integrated amps or pre-amp+power-amp WITH XLR inputs in the current market. Most of them do not have XLR inputs, otherwise may come with build-in DAC for which I don’t want to pay it :grinning: as my DAC is already a good one.

Here is the recommended setup from A&K regarding my DAC

What’s the attenuator here? I really a new guy in the audiophile field…
So the balanced input may not make a significant difference?

It’s really good to learn that I may need to put more money on the speaker side than the amp side.

Thank you!!


I’m okay with slightly used items. Will have a look at this.

Exactly! I want to get a pure integrated amp or pre-amp+power-amp without DAC but with XLR inputs. But it seems there is just a few such setup in the current market. Schiit Ragnarock recommended from another nice guy looks good to me. Will have a look.

Good to learn the budget plan. Very useful!

Thanks for your recommendation regarding to Rogue Audio Pharaoh. This one looks good to me. The only concern is the brand. To be honest, like Hattor audio and Schiit audio, they seem to be very small brand. I understand that, small brand doesn’t mean they wouldn’t sound great. But my concern is, are they trusted brands? Can they run for another five years to guarantee their warranty? I’m new to the audiophile so I prefer some larger brand as a starting point.

I’m living in a normal apartment. No acoustic treatment yet. But may have some panel on the wall. I see your point. Will see if I have a chance to visit some audio shop to listen the speakers first.

A “pre-amplifier” may do three things. They all attenuate the signal level. In English, that’s volume control.

It may add gain, i.e. is also a mini-amplifier, but that is not necessary.

It is also usually a switch, in that it can accept multiple inputs. This used to be more relevant 40 years ago when analogue devices often output different voltage levels, but now they are much the same and just have a row of analogue RCA inputs and possibly a phono input. Look at the black of the Audiolab 6000A and that is what you will see.

Your A&K uses a quite unique output cable. There should be no problem getting a pair of adapter cables to run into RCA inputs that you see on the Audiolab and just about every other integrated amplifier. Go on Amazon and search for “Female XLR to male RCA”. $10 to $20 each I reckon.

The only balanced solution I can see that is a sensible price is the Schiit Freya pre-amp (attenuator) at $900, you could get this used PS Audio Stellar M300 amplifier (balanced inputs, loads of power) and you still have over $2,000 for a really good pair of speakers.

In fact that could be a really good fully balanced system.

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Personally I don’t believe you need to worry about Rogue they have been around for over 15+ years and there customer service and support is tier one. Have had a Rogue Cronus for awhile and every upgrade that came out they managed professionally and without issue. That’s right they upgrade your investment unlike many other larger brand companies that just want you to continue purchase new to upgrade.