Conceived in Japan and tuned in the UK, the A-9010 is an integrated stereo amplifier designed to deliver the "warm, full-bodied sound" that pleases European ears. But the real story here is price – at an affordable £199, you can experience your favourite music in hi-fi quality without making a major dent in your bank balance.
The wallet-friendly price certainly isn’t reflected in the A-9010’s design. It’s impeccably built and easy on the eye, with a dashing brushed faceplate and large metal knobs that give it a vintage hi-fi feel. Admittedly, it isn't the most visually exciting product you’ll ever see – it’s essentially a black box with knobs on – but this understated simplicity is actually part of the Onkyo’s charm.
Front controls include a large volume dial in the centre, which turns with the firmness of a more expensive amp. It’s flanked by bass, treble and balance dials on the left and a source selection knob on the right – a small green light indicates which input is selected. Elsewhere, there’s a Direct button that defeats the tone controls, a Loudness button and two sockets: a 6.3mm output for headphones and a 3.5mm mini-jack input for portable devices.
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On the rear you'll find a simple selection of analogue sockets, including four sets of RCA inputs, MM phono input (with ground terminal) and RCA line output. There are two pairs of gold-plated, banana-plug-compatible binding posts with transparent knobs, plus a Remote Interactive (RI) port to control multiple Onkyo products with the same remote.
However, with no digital inputs on board, the A-9010 is a strictly analogue affair. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since it means Onkyo can plough the money it saves on DACs into squeezing the best performance out of the analogue circuitry. There’s no network or Bluetooth connectivity either, but that’s hardly surprising given what you pay for it – and it's not what this amp is about anyway.
Inside the A-9010 are a large, high-output transformer and a thick, extruded aluminium heatsink to keep it running cool. Onkyo’s Wide Range Amplifier Technology (WRAT) uses high current flow to maintain precise control over the speaker drivers, even when the impedance drops.
Power output is rated at 44W per channel. The discrete amplifier output stage features low-impedance transistors and closed ground loop circuits to help minimise electrical noise. There’s also an independent headphone amplifier powerful enough to drive high-impedance cans.
As mentioned, the A-9010 has been tuned by engineers in the UK with specially modified circuits and four audio-grade capacitors to give its sound warmth and body.
The A-9010 ships with a decent remote. The black and grey buttons on a silver backing give the handset a real retro look, while the thoughtful layout and foolproof labelling make it easy to find the right function when you need it. On the downside, its plasticky build betrays the budget price and the volume buttons could be a bit bigger.
I'm not sure if it was out fish and chips, beer or rainy weather, but something about the UK clearly inspired Onkyo’s engineers to create a rather brilliant budget amplifier.
As I ran through my range of CDs, regular rewinds and closed-eyed nods of appreciation are sure-fire signs that the A-9010 is hitting the spot.
It’s a delightful performer, offering a warm and expressive sound with bags of energy and attack. Its irresistible combination of depth and detail makes it a hugely satisfying listen, whatever genre floats your boat.
Starting on a jazz tip, its handling of "Modaji" by Dave Grusin is simply gorgeous. The track starts with a big slap bass note, which the Onkyo imbues with an incisive twang. When Grusin’s signature Fender Rhodes kicks in, however, the A-9010 hits hero status.
The heart-melting chords sound rich and full-bodied as they pan smoothly between the front channels, leaving me transfixed. These are feelings I didn’t expect to be stirred by a £200 amp.
Meanwhile, subtle percussion and slinky hi-hats add width and sparkle to the roomy soundstage, revealing that Onkyo is no stranger to refinement and insight. Snare drums have a snappy leading edge, but stop short of hardness.
Move to something more modern and uptempo such as "Midnight" by Lianne La Havas and the Onkyo shows us its more energetic side. The drums are conveyed with impressive drive and precision, while towering brass lines and huge backing vocals give the track a pleasing sense of scale. It also stays cohesive and composed when you turn up the volume.
Add that to the Onkyo’s sweet treble, full-bodied mids and lively dynamics and the result is a performance that’s above and beyond what we’d expect for the money.
If you’re looking for an affordably priced amp to kick-start your hi-fi separates system then we doubt you’ll find many better than the A-9010 at this price.
It’s a fabulous performer, offering a warm, refined sound that makes a mockery of the price tag, while its solid build and simple aesthetics should please fans of old-school hi-fi kit. Some might lament the lack of digital connectivity, network streaming and Bluetooth, but others – us included – will find it all part of the Onkyo’s charm.
Onkyo’s great-value stereo amplifier delivers a deeply impressive UK-tuned performance, making it the perfect foundation for a top-drawer hi-fi system.