Small Amplifier
May 14, 2015 9:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a small, simple amplifier to drive bookshelf speakers

My 20 year old Kenwood receiver/amplifier died, leaving me with two old Bose 301s (from the manual: Compatible with amplifiers and receivers rated from 10 to 150 watts per channel. Rated 8 ohms)
I want to simplify my system - I just want a small amplifier that can adequately drive the 301s, really doesn't need more than 2 inputs. No HDMI, no big home theater box.
(my plan is to use a raspberry pi running Airplay -> DAC -> small amplifier)
I don't want to spend more than $400, $300 or less preferable
Any recommendations?
posted by deliquescent to Shopping (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
On the very-low frills-free end (and only if you'll be satisfied with 20W per channel): Lepai LP-2020A+ Tripath TA2020 Class-T Hi-Fi Audio Amplifier
posted by Nerd of the North at 10:07 PM on May 14, 2015

You said "small" several times so I assume the physical size is important, but just in case... I have a very similar setup (Airport Express->amp->bookshelf speakers) in my workshop, and for the amp I'm using an old AVR I bought for peanuts (I think it was less than $20). It's big and heavy, and has a bunch of inputs and features I don't need, but it was super cheap and sounds great. If you go this route, you'll want to buy local, because the shipping on these things will kill you (don't even bother looking at eBay; the shipping is more than what you should be paying total for one of these).
posted by primethyme at 10:09 PM on May 14, 2015

Sounds like a good fit for a T-amp (and they are only $30 or so).
posted by ssg at 10:09 PM on May 14, 2015

nthing T-amp. I still have one of the little Sonic Impact ones driving some solid old speakers via an iPod Touch, and it's perfectly fine; the eBay sellers from Shenzhen and HK who package Tripath chips in boxes with proper speaker plugs, good power adapters and decent components (Topping, Muse, Dayton) are perhaps better than the Lepai boxes with spring connectors. Better than the vintage separates system I left in the UK? No. Good enough? Yes.
posted by holgate at 10:27 PM on May 14, 2015

Response by poster: and only if you'll be satisfied with 20W per channel

I guess this is one of my questions - how important is higher wattage output? I'm really not looking to shake the foundations, even on my old receiver I never went over halfway on the volume dial, but I don't want it to sound underpowered. Of course, at $20-30 I could always check it out, not a huge investment.
posted by deliquescent at 10:29 PM on May 14, 2015

I have one of those Lepai amps and I think it sounds like crud but my speakers aren't very sensitive. It depends a lot on your speakers (and I don't know anything about the ones you mention).
posted by primethyme at 10:37 PM on May 14, 2015

posted by persona au gratin at 12:41 AM on May 15, 2015

I have an SA-50 in my office and it's been excellent. It drives a pair of bookshelf speakers and a subwoofer with no problems. Looks like they have a pretty good price on it right now as well. I use this to drive Klipsch speakers and a MartinLogan sub, so it sounds good on higher end gear. This is a far cry from audiophile but it has a very warm and enveloping sound.

For what it's worth, I have a DAC in my setup as well. I have a Modi and it's been great. Its maker also offers a companion amp that is meant to pair with it but I thought the SA-50 was a better deal.
posted by feloniousmonk at 2:18 AM on May 15, 2015

I have one of these NAD integrated amplifiers driving a pair of Paradigm speakers I've had for years and have been very pleased. It could be called with justice an entry level, or lowest end, audiophile amp. Not a tiny sized amp in physical dimensions, but not hulking huge either. I actually tried one of the T-amps prior to getting the NAD but returned it due to it, yeah, sounding like crud.
posted by bertran at 6:56 AM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

you don't want to try to drive 8 ohm speakers with one of the 20W T amps. bigger ohms means less power getting coverted into sound amplitude. you will hear a frequency dependent drop off especially towards the bass, which bookshelf speakers aren't strongest at anyway i.e. the speakers will sound dull, even if they are generally loud enough.

The topping TP-60 however should probably work... and it's quite small. it's technically not a class 'T'. with amps, you really pay for the quality of the power supply and components, it's hard to build something truly clean for nothing. if you can't find any audiophile amps used, the topping should be nice.
posted by at 10:02 AM on May 15, 2015

Yes, NAD makes good amps of this sort. Denon, too.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:48 PM on May 15, 2015

(I looked at my records and it was a Topping Tp-60 I tried before the NAD. To my ears a world of difference; more than worth the extra $150 or so for the latter.)
posted by bertran at 8:10 PM on May 15, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks all for your input - I'm liking the size of the Topping or SA-50 amps (also this Denon). What I'm understanding is that I need higher wattage output (say 50-100W per channel?), at least some T amps may not be strong enough. I need to look into the NAD more...
This is such a big topic - it seems like there are a million products out there.
I'm currently going down a "cheap audiophile" internet hole, which I feel is likely going to slowly drive me insane.
(This gets great reviews but I think its 10W)
posted by deliquescent at 5:29 AM on May 16, 2015

I just typed up a long answer and it ate it. Ok, the takeaway, unless you're playing the 1812 Overture at high volumes in a large room, you'll be fine with a good amp with a decent transformer (as a Rotel or NAD will have) that rates at 40wpc or higher.

Look at Audiogon, too. There is good used stuff there.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:16 AM on May 17, 2015

Response by poster: Those are great suggestions, which I will look into further. In the meantime I'm liking this Emotiva a lot - good balance of good reviews, size, price, and power. Only one input but that's fine for me.
posted by deliquescent at 6:23 PM on May 17, 2015

Hadn't heard of Emotiva, but I checked reviews and the brand is legit. NAD and Rotel are the two brands I think of for good sound at cheap(ish!) prices.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:07 AM on May 18, 2015

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