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Lepai LP-2020A+ review: Lepai LP-2020A+

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The amp is rated at 20 watts per channel , but since Lepai doesn't provide specific ratings for 4- or 8-ohm-rated speakers (most amplifiers have different power specifications for 4- and 8-ohm speakers) the actual rating may be lower. That's not unusual; most low-price and midprice receivers that sell for 10 or 20 times as much as the LP-2020A+ fail to meet their advertised power ratings.

Like many desktop amps, the LP-2020A+ doesn't come with a remote. While it's hard to complain at this price, that does mean that all your interactions with it -- power, volume, and tone controls -- need to be handled manually.

If you want to add wireless audio capability to the Lepai, you can easily do so by purchasing a Bluetooth adapter for $35 or less. See models from Logitech and Belkin, for example.

I listened to the LP-2020A+ with a pair of PSB Alpha B bookshelf speakers, and the little amp could play fairly loud without distortion. I'd accept the 20-watt-per-channel rating as realistic. The amp's tonal balance is soft and mellow, and considering the LP-2020A+'s low, low price I was very satisfied with the sound quality. Engaging the tone controls with the front-panel button slightly decreases the volume, even when the bass and treble controls are set to "flat." That's hardly a concern, but that's not what usually happens with most amplifiers.

The LP-2020A+ in action, amplifying Sony SS-B1000 speakers and using a Belkin Bluetooth adapter as an audio source.

To get a better fix on the LP-2020A+'s sound I compared it with the least expensive low-power amplifier I had on hand, the $199 Audioengine N22 (22 watts per channel). The N22 is a desktop amp, but unlike most small amps, the N22 is a conventional (not digital) amp. In any case, the two amps sounded equally powerful, but the N22 presented a more sharply focused sound "picture." The bass definition on Beyonce's "4" album was much improved; dynamic punch kicked harder, and the treble detailing was superior. The N22's stereo soundstage was more detailed and spacious than that of the Lepai LP-2020A+. The nearly eight-times-as-expensive amp was clearly better than the Lepai -- but it certainly wasn't eight times better-sounding.

The LP-2020A+ is definitely worth the money, and I wouldn't rule it out for audiophiles looking for a budget amp for a bedroom or office system. As long as you're realistic about the Lepai's capabilities and limited features set, you can't go wrong with this little amp.

Editors' note: The CNET rating factors in a new Value score that joins Design, Features, and Performance in our ratings calculations for home audio. In the case of the Lepai LP-2020A+, the Value score is 8.

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