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Audio

Emotiva's $229 BasX A-100 amplifier wows the Audiophiliac

Don't let the Emotiva amplifier's low price lead you to underestimate its capabilities.

I get this question all the time: "Hey, Steve, do you have anything for me that's affordable, small and sounds great?" Now that I've spent some quality time with this little Emotiva amp, it'll be the one I'll start with. The BasX A-100 stereo integrated amp is built like no other $229 amp I've ever seen. It delivers 50 watts per channel for 8-ohm speakers, and 80 watts per channel for 4-ohm speakers. Let's stop right there. The fact that the BasX A-100 even has a 4-ohm rating is noteworthy; few AV receivers selling for three or four times the BasX A-100's modest price can happily drive low-impedance speakers. That says a lot about the BasX A-100's build quality.

The Emotiva BasX A-100 stereo integrated amplifier

Emotiva

Most budget- to midprice amps and receivers are Class D circuit designs. The BasX A-100 is a Class AB circuit. Without boring you about the technical reasons why that's such a big deal, let's just say that most of my favorite high-end amps are AB (or A) designs, and not too many are Class Ds. So you see, the BasX A-100 isn't just another me-too budget amp, not by a long shot.

This bad boy measures a taut 8.5 x 3.1 x 15 inches, and weighs a very solid 11.8 pounds, the heft attributable to its large toroidal power transformer, steel chassis, solid milled aluminum faceplate and machined aluminum volume control knob. No plastic parts like you'll find on some pricey AV receivers; the BasX A-100 is built like a mini high-end component.

Connectivity is limited to just one set each of stereo input and outputs, heavy-duty speaker cable binding posts and a front panel 6.3mm headphone jack. That jack looks pretty standard, but one really unusual design feature of the BasX A-100 is that it doesn't use a pipsqueak chip headphone amp as most integrated amps and receivers do. The BasX A-100 uses its main speaker power output to drive headphones. No worries, the amp has resistors to limit power so you won't accidentally fry your headphones. The BasX A-100 can be configured to automatically switch on when it senses an incoming audio signal, which makes it perfect for use in a remote zone. Alas, the BasX A-100 doesn't come with a remote control.

I listened to the BasX A-100 with a set of $299-per-pair Emotiva B1 bookshelf speakers (a full CNET review is in the works), starting with the Pixies' "Live at the Paradise in Boston" 2006 DVD. It's a great, meaty-sounding recording, and the Emotiva system easily belted out the Pixies going full-tilt. The B1s might be small speakers, but their sound loomed large. A quickie comparison with my $379 NAD C316BEE integrated amp proved interesting, I liked both a lot, but the BasX A-100 had a fuller, more rounded sound with Van Morrison's classic "Moondance" album. I also tried the BasX A-100 with an old set of PSB Alpha B bookshelf speakers, and the sound was well above par.

The Emotiva BasX A-100 stereo integrated amplifier's rear panel

Emotiva

With an audiophile recording as good as Austin Wintory's "The Banner Saga," the BasX A-100's vivid transparency and uninhibited dynamics came to the fore, it was hard to believe this level of sound quality could be available for such a modest price.

I was eager to try a few headphones with the BasX A-100, and started with my Audeze Sines. I usually listen to the Sines plugged into my iPhone 6S, but here with the BasX A-100 the Sine's soundstage bloomed, and dynamic punch much improved. I experienced similar epiphanies with my Grado SR325e headphones. The BasX A-100 is one heck of a good-sounding $229 headphone amp.

With the "The Girl on the Train" Blu-ray, I settled down to watch the film, and the BasX A-100 and B1s disappeared as I fell under the spell of this twisted, psychological thriller. The amp and speakers worked together as a nice little two-channel home theater sound system. The speakers may be small, but they made enough bass that I never once thought about adding a subwoofer.

Emotiva's feisty BasX A-100 is a clear-cut winner for sound and build quality, but its limited connectivity and lack of a remote control might turn off some potential buyers. That's too bad; they'll have to spend a lot more to find an amp as satisfying as the BasX A-100.