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Emotiva's sweet-sounding $219 amplifier

Emotiva's stereo amp isn't very big, but the Mini-X a-100 is built like a miniature tank, and sounds very decent.

The Emotiva Mini-X a-100 amplifier Emotiva

I recently raved about Emotiva's Airmotiv 4 powered speakers, but if you already have a nice pair of speakers and need a great affordable amp, the company's Mini-X a-100 deserves an audition. Emotiva calls the Mini-X a-100 a "Super Flex" amp, which I assume means it's super flexible. You can run it with a CD player, computer, iPod, or as a "second zone" amp in a multiroom system, a rear surround speaker amp, or just a basic amp for a small hi-fi.

The Mini-X a-100 looks like a smaller version of one of Emotiva's big power amps, so it has the same thick, machined-metal front panel and trim as the other amps. The Mini-X a-100 doesn't have any plastic chassis parts! It's a stereo 50-watt-per-channel design (50 watts for 8-ohm speakers/80 watts for 4-ohm speakers), and it's fairly compact, just 8.5 by 3.125 by 15 inches, and it weighs a little under 12 pounds.

The front panel has just a volume control; the rear panel hosts beefy binding posts that accept heavy-duty speaker cables, one stereo set of RCA inputs and one set of fixed-level stereo RCA outputs, so you can daisy-chain a string of Mini-X a-100 amps together. Build quality is first-class, and the amp features a large power transformer, and discrete parts in the audio circuit (it doesn't use integrated circuit chips). The Mini-X a-100 is a "class AB" design, not a digital, "switching" amp. It uses the same circuit as Emotiva's big amps.

The Mini-X a-100's rear panel Emotiva

I hooked up a pair of PSB Alpha B speakers and an iPod Classic to get a fix on the Mini-X a-100's sound. It was nicely balanced and surprisingly potent; I never felt like it was ever close to running out of power. The chassis never got warm, so the Mini-X a-100's fan never turned on, but it's nice to know it's there, especially if you need to put the amp inside a cabinet.

The textures running through Thom Yorke's "Eraser" CD took on a palpable presence, and there's a lot of detail and resolution, so I wouldn't say the Mini-X a-100 sounds like a mellow old tube amp. I compared the Mini-X a-100 with my 32-year-old NAD 3020 integrated amp, and the two amps were pretty close. The 3020 was a tad richer, while the Mini-X a-100 was a tiny bit clearer on the Tony Bennett-Amy Winehouse duet "Body and Soul." I last used the 3020 when I reviewed the NuForce Dia all-digital integrated amp, and the 3020 blew away the Dia. This contest with the Mini-X a-100 was a draw.

Emotiva sells factory-direct with a 30-day return policy. Shipping is free to 48 states, there's no sales tax (except in Tennessee, where Emotiva is based), and the amp comes with a five-year warranty.