Where can I get a small, no-frills amplifier?
September 12, 2008 7:32 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to buy a small (preferably brick-sized or smaller) home amplifier that does nothing but accept RCA inputs and output 2 channels at ~30 watts/channel? If so, where should I look?

I live in a small studio, and I have an iPod, laptop, and a nice set of speakers (paradigm atom, 8 ohm, 15-70W recommended).

The only thing I'm missing to connect them all is an amp. But I don't really have the space for a huge component-sized amp, and plus I don't need a radio or DTS or anything like that. I just want decent-quality stereo sound. The only option I need is volume (bass/treble adjustment would be nice but not required).

But I haven't found a solution. I could buy a micro system and discard the speakers, but even those systems are bigger than what I'm looking for, and that seems like a waste of money.

Any ideas? Does a very simple brick-sized amp exist?
posted by helios to Technology (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The canonical "what is a good cheap small amp" answer is the Sonic Impact T-Amp. It is slightly under the power recommendation for your speakers, but should still work OK, especially given that your room is so small. It also only has one input, which may or may not be an issue. You can easily get a switchbox for it. If you want more watts, treble/bass controls, and an input selector, and are prepared to spend a bit more, the Kramer 903 seems to get decent reviews.
posted by kindall at 7:44 PM on September 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I came to specifically recommend the Sonic Impact T-Amp. kindall wins.
posted by sanka at 7:57 PM on September 12, 2008

huh, this is something i never really thought of. i've presently got my laptop running to a 1998-model behemoth of a receiver. both of those amps suggested so far look pretty nice, and would definitely take up less desk space.

thanks for the idea!
posted by bilgepump at 8:52 PM on September 12, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, kindall! That's exactly what I was looking for.
posted by helios at 9:37 PM on September 12, 2008

This may really make you giggle, I know I did. Audiophile lunacy really knows no bounds. In fact they really really love that amp. They think it's the next best Jesus. It's embarrassing really. But honestly it's powered our outdoor speakers like a champ for years. I'd recommend it every time. Also it can be powered by 8 AA batteries, if you'd like to be portable.
posted by sanka at 12:42 AM on September 13, 2008

At the risk of looking like I belong to a small cult, I also came in to recommend the T-Amp. My minimal stereo system is a squeezebox, attached to this amp, attached to speakers. Very satisfied.
posted by Sitegeist at 1:28 AM on September 13, 2008

Not for rocking out, that amp, but if you want pristine, low volume sound, it is the best on the block for the buck. If you are listening to MP3's, your source music has a lot more distortion than the amp will contribute... Just don't run the volume up too high... the chip specs show less (almost no!) distortion at moderate volumes.

Note: use an appropriate power brick.
posted by FauxScot at 5:59 AM on September 13, 2008

There is nothing amazing about those, but they work by pretty clever means. I can't jump on the bandwagon though... I think it will be pretty underpowered for those speakers. If you don't mind, get one, but honestly I'd get an "inferior" amp with sufficient wattage.
posted by phrontist at 7:12 AM on September 13, 2008

I have a full sized amp/receiver that uses a tripath amplifier, and love it.

Note that the wattage ratings are less "necessary" with these amps, because they amplify cleanly all the way up to their rated wattage. This is in contrast to analog amplifiers, where as you get into the higher range of their rated output, you get distortion. So if you wanted to output say, 30 watts of sound, you'd need a 60 watt amplifier to get a good sound.
posted by gjc at 7:16 AM on September 13, 2008

The T-Amp is a bargain. I used and enjoyed it for a long time. The volume you get from it depends on the efficiency of your speakers. It's not going to drive power-hungry floorstanders, but I get fairly loud levels from my bookshelf Infinities. In fact, there's already a mefi thread about which speakers to pair with the t-amp.

If you need an even smaller footprint and more power (but at a considerably higher price) take a look at Headroom's Desktop Amp.

(Incidentally, Headroom's site is an invaluable source for reliable headphone reviews.)
posted by paulg at 8:03 AM on September 13, 2008

I too own a T-amp. It has great sound for the price, and sounds better than many amps five times its price. It still is not that amazing though. I think everyone should get one to experiment with just because they are so incredibly cheap. However, for real fidelity I think you are looking for something more like the Shanling MC-30 or the Musical Fidelity X-T100. If those are too pricey, and they are pretty pricey, a used Musical Fidelity X-80 can probably be had for about half that price. Given how well they age and the price reduction, it almost seems foolish to buy an amplifier new.
posted by caddis at 10:19 AM on September 13, 2008

I have a T-amp and was pleased with it, but I was quickly lured by the increased power and reasonable price of Charlize.
posted by FissionChips at 12:19 PM on September 13, 2008

Response by poster: Just to followup, I bought the Kramer 903 and it's perfect. It's small and light, has 4 inputs (3 RCA and 1 stereo headphone jack) which matches up exactly with the devices I have. It also sufficiently powers my speakers despite being slightly under the recommended wattage.
posted by helios at 4:31 PM on September 18, 2008

For what I would perceive to be completeness, I want to add a small piece of information to this good thread.

The Tripath TP2050 chipset is the bigger brother of the TA2020 / 2024 chips in most of the T-Amp and similar.

TP2050 amps can take double as high power, so they'll work with a much greater range of speakers. It also sounds very noticeably better; Objectively, the distortion is an order of magnitude lower. Subjectively, the sound is somehow more hypnotising and dynamic.

To get cheesy, I'll say the T-Amp is like looking through very, very clear glass. The bigger TP2050 amps are like watching through a sheet of Star-Trek grade crystal.

Examples of amps with this chipset are DIY kits Amp4 and Amp11 from 41Hz.com, Red Wine Audio 30 and 70, and the very pretty Virtue One and Virtue Two: http://store.virtueaudio.com/category-s/27.htm
posted by krilli at 3:52 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

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