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Audio

Here’s a pint-size, yet feature-packed integrated amp from PS Audio

PS Audio revised their popular little integrated amp and rechristened it the Sprout 100.

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The PS Audio Sprout 100.

PS Audio

Where to begin? The PS Audio Sprout 100 is an update of the original Sprout, which was the first affordable amp from a high-end manufacturer. The first model showed a lot of promise, so what's been changed?

With the new one, there's a doubling of the amp's Class D power to 100 watts per channel into hard-to-drive 4 ohm speakers, and with 8 ohm speakers you now get 50 watts per channel. While the cosmetics have had a slight upgrade, with different knobs, the remote control is brand new. The cute little all-metal unit handles volume, power on/off and mute. 

As a result of the improvements, the Sprout 100's price is now $599, up from $499, while UK and Australia pricing has not yet been announced ($599 roughly converts to £440 or AU$800). The Sprout 100 is sold with a three-year warranty, that's one or two years longer of what's typically offered with most stereo or AV receivers.

Connectivity options are somewhat limited by the Sprout 100's petite dimensions, but you do get a turntable input that works with moving-magnet cartridges, one set each of stereo RCA inputs and outputs, a mono subwoofer RCA output, a 6.3mm headphone jack, and optical and USB digital inputs. The built-in digital converter handles up to ultra-high resolution 384 kHz/24 bit PCM and double rate DSD files.

The Sprout 100's speaker output jacks only accept banana plugs, so the good news is you'll find a set of all-metal banana plugs packed with the Sprout 100. I like that there's no wall wart -- the power supply is built into the Sprout 100.

I reviewed the original Sprout in 2014, but I haven't heard it since so I can't say how the original and new models compare. This much I know for sure, I enjoyed my time with the Sprout 100 paired with my KEF LS50 speakers, and I checked the amp's compatibility with my Magnepan .7 flat panel speakers (they were good together). Since the Sprout 100 is just a mere 6.2x8.2x1.9 inches (152x203x44mm) it's small enough to be used in desktop systems. The aluminum chassis runs slightly warm to the touch.

The PS Audio Sprout 100 shown with Hifiman HE400S headphones.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I next compared the Sprout 100 with the much larger Emotiva TA-100 integrated amplifier ($399) that features a power rating of 50 watts per channel for 8 ohm speakers, and 90 watts per channel with 6 ohm speakers. With David Bowie's final album, Blackstar, the Sprout 100 was clearer, and the sound of each instrument was more fully formed within the soundstage than what I heard from the TA-100. The Sprout has more of an "audiophile" sound, but the TA-100 is still pretty decent. 

Beck's Morning Phase album is chock full of lushly orchestrated music, but I started to note the Sprout 100's internal digital converters overlaid the music with a fine, cool haze, and when I bypassed those converters by hooking up my Oppo BDP 105's analog output to the '100's analog inputs, the haze evaporated and the sound clarified. Audiophiles without Oppo players might want to consider adding an outboard digital converter such as the Schiit Modi 2 Uber ($149) for use with the Sprout 100. I know I would.

As for the Sprout 100's Bluetooth sound, it was perfectly serviceable for background listening, but not good enough for foreground listening. I'm not knocking the Sprout 100 for that, I feel that way about all Bluetooth audio.

Popping in a set of Hifiman HE400S headphones into the Sprout 100 demonstrated its ability to drive these amazingly good, bang for the buck 'phones.

The PS Audio Sprout 100 rear panel.

PS Audio

I watched a few episodes of Handmaid's Tale Season 2 on Hulu with the Sprout 100 and the LS50s, and the sound was so good I didn't miss a center channel speaker (in part because I was sitting equidistant from the left and right speakers). Stereo imaging was broad and sharply focused in ways you'll never hear from a sound bar.

So yes, the PS Audio Sprout 100 is an overachiever, just pair it with a good set of speakers and you'll be good to go.