To celebrate its 80th anniversary, Pioneer has unveiled this affordable integrated amplifier that exceeds expectations, thanks to an enticing combination of flexibility and smooth sound. With five line inputs, a moving-magnet phono stage and built-in DAC, the A-40AE will form the heart of a great budget system. With generous power on tap Pioneer’s ‘Direct Energy’ amplifier design comfortably drives most loudspeakers, and does so really sweetly. Sonically, its polished yet beguiling sound makes for a satisfying listen, setting up a wide soundstage that is given life by great dynamics. It’s an excellent first step on the hi-fi ladder.