Teac A-H01 review: A compact stereo amp with full-range sound

Sound quality: Full sound from a pint-sized amp
Sound quality evaluations of amplifiers are controversial. Some say all properly designed AV receivers sound the same, others disagree, and we're not likely to settle that argument anytime soon.

What we can say is that amplifier sound quality has much, much less effect on overall sound quality than speakers or room acoustics, so it's typically not worth sweating the sonic differences between amps when you can focus your attention on the factors that make a much larger difference.

We started by listening to the A-H01 with three different sets of tower speakers, the PSB Image T6s , Aperion Intimus 4Ts, and Pioneer SP-FS52s.

The A-H01 may be small, but its rich tonal balance is on par with the nearly twice as expensive Peachtree Decco 65 ($1,000), while it sounded fuller, but less detailed, than the similarly sized and priced NuForce DDA-100 ($550) amp. The A-H01's sound was also richer than the much larger Onkyo A-5VL ($370) integrated amp.

First up, we wanted to see how the Teac compared with the other popular compact home audio option: a sound bar. Using the A-H01 paired up with Pioneer's budget SP-FS52 tower speakers compared with one of our favorite sound bars, the Harman Kardon SB 16 , was a study in contrasts.

Pioneer SP-FS52 tower speakers
Pioneer SP-FS52 tower speakers Sarah Tew/CNET

The SB 16 has a large wireless sub, huge by sound bar standards, so it was no surprise that the SB 16 sub made deeper bass than the Pioneer towers, but not that much deeper. Worse, even the SB 16's sub and sound bar don't perfectly jell, so there was an audible bass gap between the two. The A-H01/SP-FS52 towers had no such problem, so they sounded fuller and much better balanced overall with movies and music. The sound bar audibly compressed the large-scale dynamics of action movies like "Black Hawk Down," compared with the A-H01/SP-FS52, which was significantly better in that regard.

With music the A-H01/SP-FS52 combo pulled further ahead, and the 6-foot spacing between the tower speakers in the CNET listening room helped, compared with the more confined spread of the SB 16's speakers in the 36.25-inch wide sound bar. "Real" stereo versus a sound bar for music is a revealing comparison -- it's more spacious and natural, so if you listen to music more than watching movies, the A-H01/SP-FS52 combo wins by a landslide.

The Harman SB 16 did have one advantage for movies, by better focusing the dialogue in the center position for listeners sitting over on the right or left sides of the room. With the SP-FS52 speakers, listeners closer to the left speaker will perceive nearly all of the dialogue sound coming from that speaker, and the equivalent for the listeners over to the right.

Next we wanted to see how the Teac held up with more revealing speakers. Our listening tests with the Aperion 4T and PSB Image T6 towers only heightened our appreciation of the A-H01's sound. The A-H01 amp has a rich tonality that suits music and movies well, with only the much more expensive Peachtree Decco 65 amplifier and NAD's D3020 matching the A-H01's sound quality. The DDA-100 amp had a cooler and leaner balance than either of those two amps, with a more upfront perspective. If you prefer a more detailed sound, the DDA-100 might be a better choice.

To wrap things up, we went the ultrabudget route, pairing up the A-H01 with the smaller Pioneer SP-BS22-LR bookshelf speakers and Dayton Sub 800 subwoofer. It was another winning combination that compared favorably with the sound quality you typically get from a sound bar.

What are the alternatives?
For home theater use, Sony's STR-DN840 ($450) has a lot going for it. Sure, it's much bigger and bulkier, but you get a lot more features. It's a 7.2-channel receiver, so you can run a full surround-sound setup, including dual subwoofers if you'd like. There are also six HDMI inputs, so it's a better choice if you have a lot of living-room devices. And finally, it's packed with wireless functionality, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and AirPlay, making it perfect for instant-gratification listening. If you've got the space and don't mind the "big black box" aesthetics, it's hard to argue against the STR-DN840 from a value perspective.

NAD D 3020
NAD D 3020 Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're convinced a simple integrated amp is the way to go, we think the NAD D 3020 is considerably better than the Teac A-H01. It has a better remote and a sleeker design, plus built-in Bluetooth means you can also stream from nearly any mobile device.

Conclusion: A good, small amp spoiled by a few flaws
The Teac A-H01 was an early front-runner going into our integrated amplifier roundup and while it exceeded our expectations for sound quality, it's not quite a perfect living-room amplifier since it can't be turned off by remote. But if you're looking for a desktop or bedroom amplifier where you won't use the remote much, the Teac A-H01 is a solid choice.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Color black
  • Response Bandwidth 10 - 80000 Hz
  • Functions amplifier
  • Sound Output Mode stereo
  • Type amplifier / digital to analog converter