Sound & Vision - - CONTENTS - By Al Grif­fin

THE ORIG­I­NAL PS Au­dio Sprout in­te­grated am­pli­fier/dac was noted as be­ing part of a new trend of ul­tra-com­pact am­p­dacs when Sound & Vi­sion re­viewed it back in 2015. We’ve since tested sim­i­lar mod­els from Elac and Teac, though it was the Sprout that most grabbed our at­ten­tion due to its mov­ing mag­net phono stage—a fea­ture those other mod­els hap­pen to lack. While vinyl play­back may not be a pri­or­ity when an am­p­dac is on your desk con­nected to a com­puter and used to drive head­phones, that fea­ture takes a step-up in im­por­tance when it’s in a liv­ing room con­nected to speak­ers.

Three years later, PS Au­dio has come out with a next-gen Sprout, the Sprout100. Vinyl play­back re­mains a pri­or­ity for the new model, which fea­tures a re-de­signed phono stage, along with aptx Blue­tooth wireless stream­ing. The new Sprout100 pro­vides in­creased power out­put, with an Ice­power class-d am­pli­fier de­liv­er­ing 50 watts per-chan­nel into 8 ohms, and 100 watts into 4 ohms. Other new fea­tures sep­a­rat­ing it from the ear­lier Sprout in­clude a re­mote con­trol, a sub­woofer out­put, Rca-jack line-level ana­log in­puts and out­puts, and an ESS Sabre 9016 DAC that sup­ports PCM sig­nals up to 24-bit/384khz and DSD up to DSD128. Last but not least, at $599 the Sprout100 is priced $200 less than its pre­de­ces­sor.

PS Au­dio opted not to mess with the orig­i­nal Sprout’s de­sign: The 100 fea­tures the same cigar box-size ma­chined alu­minum case and real, ac­tual wood top-panel, the lat­ter giv­ing the com­pany’s AM­P­DAC a homey, vin­tage look. Front-panel fea­tures are lim­ited to in­put se­lect and vol­ume con­trol knobs (also alu­minum), an LED in­di­ca­tor light, and a ¼-inch head­phone out­put. PS Au­dio also tosses in an adapter to plug in head­phones that use a 3.5mm con­nec­tor.

The Sprout100’s back panel is com­pletely packed with con­nec­tors. As men­tioned above, there are asyn­chro­nous USB, op­ti­cal dig­i­tal (an­other dif­fer­ence from the ear­lier Sprout, which pro­vided a coax­ial dig­i­tal jack but not op­ti­cal), RCA phono and line-level RCA stereo in­puts. Out­puts in­clude line-level RCA preamp, sub­woofer, and speaker con­nec­tions that ac­cept ba­nana plugs but also bare wire when used with the in­cluded ba­nana-plug adapters. In a wel­come touch, the com­pact Sprout100’s power con­nec­tion uses a stan­dard IEC jack as op­posed to the ex­ter­nal wall-wart power sup­ply that typ­i­cally gets pack­aged with com­pact elec­tron­ics.

The brushed alu­minum-clad re­mote con­trol that comes with the Sprout100 is a def­i­nite up­grade over the stan­dard credit-card types you get with some gear. It has a sub­stan­tial feel when seated in the hand, and its power, mute, and vol­ume up/down con­trol but­tons click au­di­bly when pressed. I was happy to see a printed owner’s man­ual—an en­dan­gered species in the A/V world—when I opened the box, es­pe­cially an in­for­ma­tive, clearly writ­ten one.


To eval­u­ate the Sprout100, I by­passed desk­top use and in­stead de­posited it on the hi-fi rack in my liv­ing room where it was lit­er­ally dwarfed by an­other in­te­grated amp I had in for test­ing. Setup was a sim­ple mat­ter of in­sert­ing the ba­nana plugs of my Nor­dost Pur­ple Flare speaker ca­bles to con­nect the amp to a pair of Totem Acous­tic Sky book­shelf speak­ers. I then plugged in ca­bles from my Pro-ject De­but turntable into the jacks la­beled “Vinyl” and con­nected an Elac Dis­cov­ery server to the op­ti­cal dig­i­tal in­put to stream Tidal and other un­com­pressed mu­sic from my Mac com­puter. Most of my lis­ten­ing was done with the Totem Sky book­shelf speak­ers alone, though I also plugged in a Martin­lo­gan 12-inch pow­ered sub for a spell to test the sub­woofer out­put.


To quickly get ac­quainted with the Sprout100, I grabbed my iphone, linked up via Blue­tooth, and used Ap­ple Mu­sic to stream the song “Dis­ar­ray” from Cana­dian post-punk band Pre­oc­cu­pa­tions’ lat­est al­bum,

New Ma­te­rial. (Maybe it’s just me, but it seems the band could have tried harder to think up with a bet­ter al­bum ti­tle than that.) Right off the bat, the sound was room-fill­ing, dra­matic, and had a dense sense of at­mos­phere. The com­bined acous­tic and elec­tronic drums dis­played strong im­pact, while the bass gui­tar came across as clean and with good low-end power.

Switch­ing to the same Pre­oc­cu­pa­tions track streamed to the Elac mu­sic server via

Roon mu­sic man­age­ment soft­ware—this time from

Tidal— I heard a no­table in­crease in sep­a­ra­tion be­tween in­stru­ments. Vo­cals gained body and a distinct place­ment in the mix, and the im­pres­sively wide sound­stage also took on some depth. The most im­pres­sive change could be heard with the per­cus­sion and bass: drums were not just punchy but also packed with de­tail, while the bass gui­tar’s sound now dis­played a more rounded, full tone.

With a sen­si­tiv­ity rat­ing of 87 db, the Totem Sky I lis­tened with is not the most ef­fi­cient mon­i­tor. Still, the Sprout100 didn’t seem to have any trou­ble driv­ing it to a loud level in my fairly large lis­ten­ing room. Play­ing a techno track, “Syn­cope,” by Steve Hauschildt, the sys­tem’s ren­der­ing of the four-on-the­floor beat was solid and dy­namic. The syn­the­siz­ers had a warm and con­vinc­ingly ana­log sound, and when the mul­ti­tracked fe­male vo­cals en­tered, there was a crisp, lay­ered qual­ity to the pre­sen­ta­tion, with voices float­ing forth ef­fort­lessly.

Com­pared with the in­te­grated amp I nor­mally use for test­ing, a more pow­er­ful unit that costs nearly seven times the PS Au­dio’s $599 price, the Sprout100 dis­played a bit of tre­ble em­pha­sis. This could be most clearly heard when I played “Wood­stock” by con­tem­po­rary jazz su­per­group Hud­son. Most of the el­e­ments I lis­ten for when play­ing this track—sub­tle dy­nam­ics, a wide pre­sen­ta­tion, deep but con­trolled bass—were in ev­i­dence, though Jack De­johnette’s cym­bals had a slightly crispy char­ac­ter and the tone of John Medeski’s pi­ano came across a bit ag­gres­sively. Still, the Sprout100’s sound struck me as well-bal­anced with a good sense of dy­namic ease dur­ing most of the time I spent lis­ten­ing with it.


Since vinyl play­back is a big fea­ture of the lit­tle Sprout, I made a point of giv­ing some of my records a spin. Pulling out a clean, vin­tage copy of Dire Straits’ epony­mous first al­bum, I played “Six Blade Knife.”

The back­ground was notably silent, and I heard im­pres­sive dy­nam­ics on this sub­tle, slinky track, with drums punch­ing cleanly through the speak­ers and the bass gui­tar com­ing across as smooth, yet mus­cu­lar. Mark Knopfler’s vo­cals also sounded smooth, and his gui­tar was de­tailed and tre­bly, but not edgy, dur­ing so­los.

Mov­ing on to heav­ier ma­te­rial, I played “Bleed­ing Muddy Wa­ter” from The Mark Lane­gan Band’s Blues Fu­neral. The song’s deep, foun­da­tional bass had good im­pact and the de­tail to be heard in Lane­gan’s gruff, breathy vo­cals gave the singer an al­most phys­i­cal pres­ence. The back­ground key­boards and elec­tron­ics in this dirge-like track pro­vided a dense, wall-of-sound pre­sen­ta­tion that the Sprout100’s phono stage— ob­vi­ously ca­pa­ble of con­vey­ing both del­i­cacy and weight— clearly ren­dered.


PS Au­dio’s Sprout100 is an im­pres­sive lit­tle in­te­grated amp. With more power, bet­ter con­nec­tiv­ity, an im­proved DAC, and, yes, a lower price than its pre­de­ces­sor, the new Sprout has a lot go­ing for it. The key fea­ture that al­lows it to vault over other ul­tra-com­pact AM­P­DACS is its built-in phono stage, which, de­pend­ing on your me­dia con­sump­tion habits, may or may not be es­sen­tial. Ei­ther way, for $599, you won’t go wrong with the Sprout100.

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