Sometimes I come across something that’s too good to keep to myself – and Tripath amplifiers are one of them.

Typically these days home audio has pretty much moved completely away from systems based on separates (Tape deck, CD Player, Amplifier, Radio and Turntable) to dock arrangements, or possibly home theater amplifiers paired with a 5.1 surround setup.

I still prefer to have two speakers and an amplifier for casual listening but find full size amplifiers unwieldy and a bit overkill when typically I’ll only have one device plugging into it – a PC or phone perhaps.

There are some great speakers with integrated amplifiers – like the premium offerings from Creative or Logitech. Often however, these come with sub-woofer speakers or have DSP circuitry that can colour the sound somewhat. Even if you opt for a flat response set of speakers, you are limited by what you have purchased.

muse-amplifier

Thankfully a middle ground is possible by buying a Class-T / Tripath chip based amplifier and pairing them with a pair of bookshelf speakers that suit your particular setup. You even have the flexibility of using speaker stands with these to help make a great solution for home music listening.

The Class-T is a very power efficient and compact amplifier integrated circuit (IC) created by Tripath who are now a part of Cirrus Logic and was named one of the twenty-five chips that ‘shook the world” by the IEEE spectrum magazine. Sony, Panasonic, Apple and Blaupunkt have used Class-T amplifiers in their products in the past.

You can find out more here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Class_T_amplifier
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tripath

Specifying your Tripath setup

You’ll want to source your speakers first – so check Amazon or eBay and search for bookshelf speakers. Make sure they don’t have an integrated amplifier and make a note of the specifications. Most of the speakers you find will be absolutely fine with any Tripath amplifier – just make sure that the expected input wattage is higher than the output wattage of the Tripath amplifier you choose.

From this point you’ll want to find a Tripath amplifier – this is somewhat unconventional as they are generally assembled by unknown Chinese based manufacturers – I’ve had a bit of experience with them so here’s what I recommend:

  • Buying via eBay is the best way – search for Tripath to begin with. Amazon do have Tripath amplifiers but they are more expensive there.
  • Make sure you either buy a 12v DC amplifier with a power supply included or source one separately.
  • Tripath amplifiers are available in either circuit-board form or cased – you’ll want the cased one.
  • Variants of Tripath amplifiers are typically 15w (TA2024), 20w (TA2020), 25w (TA2021), 30w (TA2050), 50w (TDA7492) and 100w (TDA7498).
  • You can pair up a lower wattage amplifier with speakers rated higher – the only caveat is that at high volumes they are more prone to distortion. I found for general listening a 20w amplifier worked very well indeed.
  • I tried a few different brands – I found Lepai to be the cheapest but prone to making a small pop noise upon turning the amplifier on – however many people are very happy with their Lepai amplifiers, and there are various modifications you can do to suppress this and improve the performance of these amplifiers.
  • MUSE, HLLY and Topping tend to use the same casing and the build quality is good enough. I personally had great experiences with the MUSE amplifiers.
  • Don’t forget to buy good quality speaker cable and any 3.5 to RCA cables you may need.

bookshelf-speakers

Example Setup

  • MUSE M15 EX2 (TA2024) 2x15W available for around £40 including power supply.
  • Yamaha ANSBP200PB – available for around £70 from Amazon.

You can of course go cheaper. This was very similar to the setup I had and I was very happy indeed! Tripath based amplifiers start around £20 upwards and it’s well worth researching online to see what people have opted for.

More reading:
http://boingboing.net/2013/06/24/low-cost-hi-fi-the-amazing-wo.html
http://www.head-fi.org/t/451794/whats-the-general-concensus-on-tripath-t-amps-all-hype-or-good-value

tripath-board