PS Audio is known as much for its personable co-founder and CEO Paul McGowan as it is for its relatively value priced high-end audio separates. But a few years ago, Paul’s son Scott decided they needed to create a compact integrated amplifier that fit the needs of younger and most likely space deprived audiophiles. He wanted to make a simple, all in one, “just-add-speakers” device that could reproduce the high-end character and most importantly, the sound of his dad’s separates. From that idea, the original PS Audio Sprout was born. While it was an honest effort, some people, including myself, felt there was room for improvement, beginning with the lack of a remote control.
That’s where the subject of my review, the $599 PS Audio Sprout100 comes in. It adds many improvements over the original, like the inclusion of an excellent remote control, a sub out, and double the output power making it even more of an attractive option for audiophiles in the making.
Here’s a rundown of the Features:
- Full featured integrated amplifier
- 100 watts per channel power amplifier
- Drives any size loudspeaker
- Remote Control, brushed aluminum: Volume up/down, Mute on/off, Power on/off
- Preamplifier, RCA analog inputs, precision stepped volume control
- Fully asynchronous DAC supports up to 384/24 PCM or double rate DSD
- Passive EQ moving magnet phono preamplifier
- Low output impedance headphone amplifier
- TOSLINK optical digital input
- USB input
- RCA analog input
- Built-in Bluetooth receiver uses Sprout’s internal asynchronous DAC
- Manual input selector for all inputs
- Headphone output 32Ω: 500mW, 300Ω: 125mW (drives all headphones)
- RCA analog output
- Optional bass boost
- Dedicated subwoofer output, automated internal bass-boost switch
- Signal-to-Noise Ratio 100 dB at max power into 4Ω
- THD <0.01% (1 W, 1 kHz into 4 ohms)
- Indicator light
- Accessories Include: 6ft regional power cord, remote control, 4x banana adaptors, 2x Sprout Decal, Owner’s Manual
- Dimensions: 6.2″W x 8.2″L x 1.9″H
Build and Function
From the moment you open the box, you can tell great care was taken in the design of this product, beginning with the packaging itself. The inner carton folds up to reveal the Sprout100 in all its walnut topped (real walnut!) and bead blasted aluminum glory, then instructions on the lid show you how a simple flip of the cardboard storage tray releases the amp from its plastic inner wrap. Pictures don’t do the Sprout100 justice. It looks a lot more elegant in person.
In the box, along with the amp, you get a beautiful brushed aluminum remote control (perfect size and weight), 4 gold banana speaker connectors which come in very handy (more on that later), a 6ft Power Cable, a 3.5mm to ¼” Stereo TRS headphone adaptor (a nice touch), 2 Sprout100 stickers (???) and a owner’s manual. From this list, you can see PS Audio tries to cover all the bases, making sure an audio newbie has everything they need to get started except a pair of headphones, speakers, and speaker wire.
The Sprout100 is no larger than the size of an average hardcover novel, so I can’t help but marvel at the number of connections present on such a small chassis. There is a moving magnet phono input for vinyl lovers, Toslink optical and USB “B” digital inputs for connection to TV and Laptops, plus RCA jacks for analog connections instead of the 3.5mm jacks on the original Sprout. The analog jacks support expansion since there is not only an analog in but an out as well for adding a more powerful amp. There is also the aforementioned sub-out for the addition of a subwoofer.
The back panel also has a built-in Bluetooth antenna, allowing streaming from a smartphone right out of the box. The Bluetooth signal, like the digital signals from the USB and optical inputs, runs through the high-resolution ESS Sabre DAC (9016) accepting resolutions up to PCM 384/24 and DSD128 (DoP)
To fit all of those jacks on the back of the Sprout100, they decided to use Banana Plug only connectors for the speakers. The use of these speaker terminals could be considered a minor inconvenience, but all my speaker wires have Banana Plugs installed on them already, so I was all in. Also, as I said earlier, the manufacturer includes two pairs of Banana Plugs in the box, so this makes things a lot easier if you only have bare speaker wire on hand.
The amp/power section is a 100w ICEpower unit, a Class D digital amp made for high-end audio applications. They are known to be quiet and efficient amps, and they are used in PS Audio’s $1500 Stellar amps as well. This amp section has the juice to drive even less sensitive 4-ohm speakers, which is a fantastic feat for such a small device.
One of my favorite features on the Sprout100 was the potent discrete zero impedance headphone amp. The amp outputs a very respectable 125mW into 300 ohms, power on par with dedicated headphone amps costing the same price of the Sprout 100. The sound of the headphone amp is nothing less than top-notch, I would say on par with my $500 Class-A Burson Soloist SL Mk 2 headphone amp.
The Sprout brought my (very hard to drive properly!) Mr. Speaker Aeon Flow Closed planar headphones to life. I would recommend this product for the headphone amp alone!
Operation of the Sprout is quite intuitive. There are two smooth turning metal knobs on the front of the amp, one for source selection and the other for volume/power/bass boost. That’s it. Simple.
To use the Sprout, you just have to press the volume knob in to turn it on, then turn the other knob to pick what you want to listen to. It doesn’t get any easier than that.
There is one thing I missed since I was being a typical male and didn’t read the manual all the way through the first time. I’m referring to the Bass Boost feature which is there to give the sound a little more oomph in the low end. When I first plugged the Elac Debut 2.0 speakers into the Sprout100 and fired it up, I was thrown off because they seemed to be a lot more lively in the bottom end than I’m used to. It was distracting on some of my jazz tracks where I look for a more balanced sound.
Little did I know the Bass Boost (indicated by the white led by the volume knob) was engaged by default, and to turn it off you have to long press the volume knob (shown by the White LED turning blue). If you give the Sprout100 an audition, this is something you may want to look out for so you can choose the mode that suits your preference.
I like the simplicity of the Sprout since everything just works. Turning the source knob to “Bluetooth” puts it right into pairing mode, ready to connect to your device. It’s the same with the USB input; all you have to do is turn the source knob to “Digital,” and it connects to your laptop.
However, all this simplicity may be too much for some. From time to time, I found myself missing a display, something to tell me the volume level or the sample rate and bit depth of the file I was feeding into the USB input. But for the beginning audiophile or someone looking to support a secondary system, the straightforward operation is probably more important.
For testing purposes, I set up the Sprout100 on my audio/video stand and connected my HP Envy X360 laptop to the USB input on the back. This signal chain allowed me to take advantage of the built-in ESS DAC. My music source was TIDAL played via the Desktop app.
If I had to use one word to describe the Sprout100 sound, it would be approachable.
With the Bass Boost turned on, the sound was, of course, a little biased toward the low end, playing up the rhythms of music, and in turn, sounding a little faster. I liked it with the PSB Alpha P5s that tend to be a more balanced speaker. It added some life to them.
However, when I used the Elac Debut 2.0 B5.2 speakers which already tend to be warm and bassy, the Bass Boost was a little too much. With those, I liked the Bass Boost turned off since the amp was more tonally balanced and allowed the speakers to sound more natural.
When I started listening, I hooked up the Elacs first because those are the speakers PS Audio recommends for the Sprout. They sell a package with the Debut 2.0 bookshelf and the Sprout100. After listening to this combo for a while, I felt like I was missing something, and switched to the PSB Audio Alpha P5s.
I liked the Alpha P5-Sprout100 combo better since the PSB speakers had more detail and transparency (and they cost about the same). They also had deeper, tighter, bass. All the impressions that follow are from this combination with Bass Boost turned on.
As I said before, the Sprout has an approachable sound with a laid back treble and midrange coupled with a punchy, energetic, bass. It’s a very musical amplifier that doesn’t sound hard at any volume level, and therefore doesn’t ever seem fatiguing. The soundstage is not wide, but it does have a fair amount of depth, and imaging while missing a little bit of focus, is credible. Like all good amps, it allows speakers to disappear.
Listening to Cantaloupe Island by Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, a track that tests soundstage, imaging, speed, instrument separation and a bunch of other things, the Sprout 100 gave a big, energetic performance. I was able to hear all the different instruments like Jeff’s piano along with the backing drums, and sax separated across the soundstage, but again, there wasn’t the tight focus I have heard with some other amps.
All in all, though the Sprout was very engaging, and song after song, I found myself just enjoying the music, which at the end of the day is what this hobby is all about.
The Sprout 100 is a musical integrated amp that gives you so much for your money. The Headphone Amp/DAC alone is worth what they charge for this thing, but then when you factor in the power amp that drives speakers down to 4 ohms, the Bluetooth streaming, phono pre-amp, etc. you can see this product is an excellent value.
This integrated would be a perfect product for young guys putting together their first hi-fi setup, or someone who wants a quality amp and doesn’t have a lot of room to spare. It would also make a great anchor for an excellent desktop setup.
Buy Here: PS Audio Sprout100 Complete HiFi DAC Amp