If you even remotely care about music, you should at least listen to some good music, on half decent audio equipment. I’m not talking about $10,000 speakers with an amplifier the size of a car, in a room hand crafted for best acoustic response, connected with cables made out of unobtanium-213. That’s all audiophile woo woo bullshit nonsense. Just a quality set of speakers and a decent amp, for under $300. $300 is a small price to pay to enjoy your favourite albums properly. Luckily for us, good quality gear has never been cheaper.
There’s a special category of amplifiers called D-class, these are lower power, more efficient style amps, which won’t pump music into a large room for your party, but are more than fine for anything in use at home. They were not very popular until the early 2000’s when a company called Tripath released an amplifier chip called the TA2020, which was cheap, compact and sounded *great*, putting amplifiers worth much more to shame. Apple even used the TA2020 in many of the G4-era Macs to handle audio amplification. The IEEE included it in its list of 25 microchips that changed the world, alongside the MOS 6502 (Apple II fans know what’s up), the Zilog Z80 and Toshiba’s flash NAND. Amplifiers that use these Tripath chips are often called Class-T amplifiers, or T-amps.
Our friendly Shenzhen manufacturers have embraced the Tripath chips and made dozens of different amplifiers with it built in, for under $150, and generally on eBay. I won’t go through them all here (there are many, from heaps of different brands), but the one I recently purchased is the Topping TP30. I chose this one because it also has a built in digital to analog converter (DAC), that connects to the computer via USB and bypasses the computer’s internal audio circuitry. It then just appears as a new audio device on your Mac:
So for a DAC and an amplifier, all I had to spend was $108. And it sounds gooooood. Audio quality is in the
eye ear of the beholder, so what I think sounds good, you might think sucks. I’m not particularly fussy, or attentive when it comes to audio quality, but even I can notice a massive increase in clarity and depth by hooking up a pair of old 80s speakers to this little Chinese amp, versus the $1000+ B&W Zeppelin I used to have, or the $400 Pioneer A1 Airplay dock I own now. Those all-in-one units all sound awful against a proper pair of speakers. The TP30 also has a traditional aux input, so plug in an AirPort Extreme for Airplay goodness, or hook an iPod up directly via a 3.5mm to RCA cable.
There’s plenty of reviews of the Topping TP30 out there, I just wanted to highlight the fact this little bargain exists. Grab one of these, hunt around eBay and Gumtree for some speakers under $200 in your local area and try them out. Keep buying & selling cheap speakers until you find a pair that grab you, I’ve gone through 3 different types and brands of speakers and almost have it just right. It’s worth it if you love music. The Topping T30 can be found on eBay for around $100-$110 delivered.