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Integrated amplifiers have been around for decades, but they've quietly become a viable AV receiver alternative, thanks to TVs that now offer extensive switching capabilities and more integrated amps that include an optical audio input.
That's the context in which we looked at the Teac A-H01, along with several other integrated amplifiers with an optical audio input. The smallish A-H01 is particularly well-suited for typical home theater use, offering up plenty of power with excellent sound quality. Unlike many of its competitors, it has a dedicated subwoofer output, so you can connect a sub without much fuss. It even sports a USB port, making it possible to connect a computer for high-resolution audio playback.
However, the A-H01 has plenty of quirks that keep us from recommending it unreservedly. The remote is lousy, with unreliable buttons that don't always respond to presses. The A-H01 also can't be turned on and off remotely, which means lovers of universal remotes may be tempted to leave the A-H01 on all the time. And it lacks built-in Bluetooth for wireless audio streaming, a feature that's included in the
Overall, the Teac A-H01 is a great-sounding little amp in a terrific compact form, especially for those that want to use a subwoofer without much fuss. But it's not quite as polished as the NAD D 3020, which is likely to be a better pick for most buyers.
Design: Wonderfully small, but with some oversights
The Teac A-H01 is remarkably smaller than a typical AV receiver and even considerably smaller than stereo receivers like the Onkyo TX-8020. It stands just 2.4 inches tall, with a modest width of 8.46 inches and a somewhat surprising depth of 10.16 inches. The front panel is dead simple with just a volume knob, headphone jack, source selector, and power button. While it's not quite as small as the NuForce Dia or quite as pretty as the
Once you get past looks, however, the Teac is less delightful. That power button on the front is the only way to power the unit on and off, which is particularly annoying if you're intending to use the A-H01 with an activity-based remote like the Harmony Smart Control. The alternative is to leave the A-H01 always on, which isn't ideal.
Besides lacking a power button, the included remote just doesn't work well. It has the annoying bubblelike buttons that are usually found on cheaper devices and they just don't respond consistently to button presses, so you're left hitting some buttons over and over again. You're best off getting a universal remote, even if it can't power the device on and off.
Features: Nearly everything but wireless
The A-H01 has four inputs on the back: two digital inputs (one optical, one coaxial) and two stereo analog inputs. That's plenty if you're planning to use the A-H01 as a desktop amplifier, but for home theater use, you'll likely want to use your TV as a switcher and connect its optical audio output to the A-H01.
Those intending to use the A-H01 in the living room should also note the lack of onboard decoding for Dolby Digital or DTS bit stream formats. In most cases, that shouldn't be a problem, as most TVs "dumb down" incoming surround soundtracks to stereo PCM anyway, which means you don't need any decoding. If your TV does pass on "bit stream" audio signals, you'll want to adjust the settings so that it doesn't or configure your source devices (such as your Blu-ray player) to decode to PCM.
There's also a USB port on the back that you can use to connect a computer directly to the amp after installing the correct drivers. We tried using the Teac with a MacBook Pro and it worked perfectly, letting us listen to our iTunes music collection as well as high-resolution tracks.
Another perk is the Teac includes a dedicated subwoofer output, which many of its competitors don't have, including the Onkyo A-5VL, NuForce Dia, and NuForce DDA-100. You can still connect those amplifiers to subwoofers that have speaker-level inputs, like the budget Dayton Sub 800, but a dedicated subwoofer output is more convenient and makes for considerably less wire clutter.
What you won't find on the A-H01 is any kind of wireless capabilities, such as Wi-Fi, AirPlay, or Bluetooth. On the one hand, it's not a huge loss, as it's easy to add that functionality with an Apple TV ($100) or Bluetooth receiver ($20). However, the excellent NAD D 3020 includes Bluetooth (with aptX support) for about the same price, so it would have been nice to see on the A-H01.
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.
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
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
What are the alternatives?
For home theater use,
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.