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Can an audiophile find joy in an under $100 amplifier?

The Dayton Audio DTA-120 stereo integrated amp skimps on features, but this desktop-friendly device pumps out 60 watts a channel.

The Dayton Audio DTA-120
Parts Express

The Dayton Audio DTA-120 stereo integrated amp isn't very big, but for anyone searching for a decent amp that won't break the bank it's a real contender. First, let's look at the numbers: It's rated at 50 watts per channel for 8 ohm speakers; 60 watts per channel for 4 ohm speakers; the rear panel has stereo RCA inputs and speaker cable binding posts. The front panel has a 3.5 mm stereo minijack input, a 6.3 mm headphone jack, and a volume control. The DTA-120's extruded metal chassis feels solid, it's tiny, just 2.2 x 3.4 x 5.5 inches, including feet, faceplate, and volume knob.

The separate power supply box is about the same size as the amp, so it's a good deal larger than your typical wall wart.

I used my old PSB Alpha B speakers and Oppo BDP 105 Blu-ray player for most of my listening tests. Nothing about the DTA-120's sound made me feel like I was listening to an entry-level amp. It was reasonably powerful, imaging was spacious, the sound was neither bright nor dull. I played a bunch of tunes and was perfectly happy with the sound. I also watched a few movies, and even without the aid of a subwoofer the little Alpha Bs provided satisfying, though not room-shaking, bass.

I plugged in my Audio Technica ATH M50 headphones and liked what I heard. The DTA-120 summoned up a lot of detail from the M50s and bass definition was well ahead of what I get from these 'phones plugged into my iPod Classic or Mac Mini computer.

The DTA-120's rear panel Parts Express

I compared the DTA-120 with the $25 Lepai LP2020A+ amp, and they sounded very different. The LP202A+ is mellower and more laid back; the DTA-120 is clearer, more open sounding. The LP2020+ is rated at just 20 watts per channel, so the DTA-120's dynamic oomph was well ahead of the LP2020A+'s, and treble "air" and detail were lacking compared with the DTA-120. Still, for the money the LP2020A+ is pretty spectacular, especially if you don't play tunes all that loud. The LP202A+ sounds sweet and rich at moderate volume levels.

The DTA-120 would also be a fine match with a set of desktop speakers, ones that don't have built-in power amps, like the Audioengine P4.

Parts Express sells the DTS-120 for just a hair under $100.