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I have been exploring inexpensive "Class D" chip amplifiers. I was wondering if you could actually listen to an amplifier that is nothing more than a chip, a power supply and a volume control. And the answer is "Yes" and as a matter of fact, it doesn't sound all that cheap.... I purchased a Nobsound 50wx2 Mini Power Amplifier for $40, and shelled out an additional $10 for a 24v power supply. It sounds good. Then I started reading about this kind of amplifier, and oh, boy is there a number of folks who dismiss them without question. I have never been one to read a review and agree with the writer, before I listen myself. As "Computer Audiophile on the Cheap", a $50 amplifier goes right along with a $99 Schiit Modi 2, and the Schiit SYS passive pre-amp I already own. Generally speaking I favor "Vintage" electronics (By Vintage, I mean, ones that don't even have a CD-input-- mid 1980s receivers before Surround Sound and Home Theaters took over the marketplace) They built some great electronics back then, and a quick check at the Salvation Army Thrift store or Craigslist will get you a chunking beast of an amp for less than $100. They can be re-capped and repaired, if you have a good technician around, and if all else fails, you can always find another one... \ So why buy a $40 amplifier, that doesn't even have a power cord? Curiosity more than anything else. I didn't know what to expect, and I have seen rave reviews for what FleaWatt Audio is doing with this chip. Some folks dismiss the whole idea as not worthy of any serious consideration. I am a cheap-skate by nature, and although $40 doesn't break the bank, I expected something that would sound like "a $40 amplifier". I was surprised as just how good it sounded right out of the box, with a recycled 12v 'wall-wort' power supply. I figured it was pumping out 12 watts per channel into 8 ohm speakers. So, I went ahead and ordered the 24v adapter, which seems to put out 30w per channel, if I am reading the Texas Instrument data sheet correctly. Does it sound as good as a 1980s era receiver? It sounds different. Different is neither bad nor good, it is just a different sound. But that same could be said about the harman/kardon h/k330i vs. the Yamaha RX-135. After two albums, do your ears hurt, or do you want to listen to two more? I found it surprisingly bright and punchy, without distortion or "gritty" overtones. Will it be the prime amplifier in my system? Probably not, but it is certainly good enough for a secondary system--like back in the bedroom, with the laptop and a Dragonfly USB DAC, and a pair of Polk bookshelf speakers. It seems that Class-D amplifiers have caught on with the PA systems, where 90% efficiency and lightweight are a consideration. Yamaha is building them, which makes me ponder what the Grateful Dead's "Wall of Sound" would have been like with Class D amplifiers. They could have cut the number of semi-tractor-trailers from three to one during the 1974 tour.
The best way I can describe it goes something like this. I read about 24/96 recordings, and noticed that they were huge compared to FLAC files, freely traded on the Internet from repositories at bt.etree.org. I saw an ad for the Dragonfly by Audioquest, version 1.2, and it was much better than the original version, and it cost $150. In my world, $150 is an amount that would take four months of saving a little each month. That is what is called a "Dream". Then I noticed that a newer, even better Dragonfly was on the market, and I got my 'old' version for $79. It was like reading your first book, not required by school. It opened my mind, it made me want to read more. Then the Audioquest folks had to replace my defective version 1.2, and I discovered that it had been defective from the start, cause what I was hearing was the First Time, even though I had heard the recordings many times over the years, familiar with every note. After all, was it even possible to imagine anything better than 24/96? I read about the Schiit Modi2 for $99, (plus $23 shipping) But it was worth it. I was hearing details that had me gobsmacked. And I discovered 24/176 and 24/192! The naysayers will say our ears can only hear '16 bit/44.1 Redbook SBE standard' CD quality. And furthermore, you cannot hear any difference between a MP3 at 192 (high) and 320 (insanely high) sample rates, they will add with confidence as they plug the stock earplugs, that came with his phone in their ears and smiles. To continue with the metaphor of the reading a book, the Modi2 was finding the Library ,where with a small key tag, you could check out up to 10 music CDs and rip them into lossless FLAC files and build your own digital music library. You could also download freely-traded Grateful Dead soundboard recordings in FLAC files using bit-torrent technology, developed in part by the same Deadheads that designed FLAC, and built the Internet in the first place...but I digress. Today, arrived the iFi nano iDSD LE and I am listening to every recording for THE FIRST TIME. Now we have had my head exploding. ~The Music is Magical. You understand that for the past 40 years, you have listened to these songs, but until this very moment, you had never HEARD them. At $129, this device is a MUST HAVE addition to any "Computer Audiophile on the Cheap*" home stereo system. *-"Computer Audiophile on the Cheap" is a philosophy. Make the Stereo you have sound as well as possible. We extol Vintage Electronics, legendary Loudspeakers, and some in-expensive tweaks that will give you the SQ (Sound Quality) of a system that costs others Thousands of Dollars to best. It is also my Thread and my blog on ComputerAudiophile.com.
I have a very limited budget, but I consider myself to be an audiophile (My definition of an 'audiophile' is simply--There is a sweet spot, and I know where it is). I started with a Dragonfly v 1.2, which was defective. But, as a result of that experience, I learned more about the workings on my computer, and eventually Audioquest replaced the DF. Then I heard about the Schiit Modi 2 external DAC which would give me the full 192 on my Linux machine. It arrived yesterday, one day early, and the result is a spectacular sound. The replacement Dragonfly is now attached to a spare laptop, and runs a compact stereo system in the bedroom. I am a big fan of saving money and getting the most bang out of every dollar. My 'system' is a pair of vintage Advent Loudspeakers (circa 1975-composite boxes, re-foamed in 1990) and a three legged Harman/Kardon 330i which pushes 20 watts per channel. The computer is a vintage Dell Vostro with 4GB of RAM running Ubuntu Linux 16.04 LTS. I had an old pair of AR interconnects, which were close-out priced at $5 a few years back, and USB interconnect was borrowed from an external hard drive enclosure--nothing fancy or expensive. Whilst some amongst us like to talk about how expensive their hobby has become, I am the contrarian who because of circumstance, am quite proud of the sound my re-used, re-furbished, and vintage system with a very low overhead cost. The Schiit Modi 2 is key to making all the pieces work. I have a rather extensive collection of soundboard recordings from the 30 years of the Grateful Dead, and an array of 24 bit/192 audiophile pressing recordings in my hard drive. The Modi 2 makes everything sound better. Dare I say it, even 320 MP3 files sound great. I have no beef with Audioquest, they were prompt to replace the v1.2 and it does a wonderful job up to 24/96. But there is a whole new world of music on 176 and 192 recordings that just get lost with a Dragonfly. Money wise-the discontinued v1.2 can still be bought for around $79-- but my advice would be to pony-up another Dub and get the Schiit Modi 2. You will hear the difference the first time you cue up a 24/192 file, and never regret the extra $20. I have a friend who has invested well over $150,000 in a system, and I know he will never admit it...but I think my rig sounds better.
I admit I am a bit slow on the uptake, with these forums. I posted the question, "Can a chip amplifier sound as good as regular amp?" but I thought the thread was the Computer Audiophile on the Cheap thread--it was the DAC thread... ooops. Anyhow, that drew a number of folks into a exchange of ideas, and at last count, 11 pages of responses. I learned a lot from the experience. My $40 Nobsound Class D amp doesn't sound as good as the h/k 330i, so the answer is: 'No, not for $40.' I did find another USA manufacturer in Class D and read about a 699 GBPound unit from Britain. All in good fun. On this thread, my goal is to talk about not how MUCH a good sounding stereo costs, but rather, how good of a sound can I get out of the stereo I have. Not my original idea, I think it was expressed by folks at Schiit. I like their Modi 2 DAC for $99. That means anyone with a computer, an amplifier/receiver, and a pair of decent speakers can start hearing music differently. Computer Audiophile on the Cheap is a lifestyle. Hugh Hefner popularized the Playboy mystique. We aren't that glamorous. We talk about the iFi iPurifier2 with it's100x noise cancellation, stolen for civilian audiophiles from Military components used on fighters...I guess since they have a picture of a jet on the box. At $109, it is rated as a a "MUST BUY" Accessory if a computer is part of the signal path. Folks, you don't have to mortgage the children's future with a home stereo system. You can really enjoy music, knowing you did it on the Cheap...And it sounds better than you can ever recall hearing the music.