Sonic Impact T-Amp: The Next Generation
By James Grahame
Sonic Impact have released their third budget amplifier based on a Tripath T-Amp digital amplifier chip (the TA2024C, it seems), priced at $69.99. Some sites are reporting that it's twice as powerful as the original, but the specs indicate the same maximum power output. In other words, it looks like you're paying twice as much for a sleeker case and perhaps some improved internal circuitry.
The Retro Thing guys had a chance to put a Tripath-based amp through its paces a few weeks ago, and we were pleasantly surprised. The Tripath chip produces respectable, uncolored audio at moderate volumes. If you're looking for a cheap amplifier with only a single input and no tone controls, this thing is a bargain.
That said, ignore the hype from the various audiophile review sites who treat T-Amp chips as if they're the second coming of Christ. After all, these little power-efficient (low heat) chips are intended for televisions and set-top boxes, and I haven't (yet) seen any online reviews blathering about how certain televisions exhibit "brilliantly effervescent and poignant soundstages," and all sorts of other unquantifiable nonsense.
My guess is that the reviewers are being fooled by the way these chips handle distortion, interpreting it as exceptional sound. To be blunt, many golden-eared audiophiles are in their late 30s to 50s and are probably unaware of their rapidly deteriorating hearing. It's always worth checking out photos of their audio setups, which often feature impressive stacks of exotic components in a massive and sparsely furnished listening room -- a cavernous space that echoes and colors the sound in a myriad of strange and unpleasant ways.
My living room is one of those awkward listening spaces with a 12 foot vaulted ceiling, lots of hardwood and a 12 foot wide bank of windows. I would never dream of conducting a serious listening test there, but it appears many others would.
In conclusion, don't expect a miracle but do expect to get your money's worth from Sonic Impact's latest little digital stereo amplifier. It's in stock now at Think Geek for $69.99, or through Amazon.com at just over $50.