PS Audio Sprout100 - Positive Feedback (2023)

A little over three years ago, I reviewed the original PS Audio Sprout integrated amplifier (HERE). That unit received widespread acclaim throughout the audio press for its feature set, performance and price. However, those who paid attention to my review would recognize that though I respected it for its effort and its potential significance in the "entry level" marketplace, I wasn't overall terribly enthused by it. I found its sound with my favorite lower cost speakers to be lackluster and not very involving. I also felt its lack of a remote and low power output limited its appeal in a broader market.

Still I found it important, as at the time there were limited options for a complete, easy-to-use decent sounding starter kit to get beginners and first time buyers into somethingworthwhile. The original Sprout may not have competed with slightly more expensive offerings from Rega, NAD, Heed and some others, but it was still a decent enough place to start.

Now, a few years down the road, there is a new upgraded and improved version of the Sprout. The new Sprout100 listing for a full $200 lessthan the initial MSRP of the original Sprout and while generally looking the same, offers substantial improvements that make it much more appealing not just to inexperienced first time shoppers, but to those of us with a few years or more experience in all this high quality audio stuff.

What remains the same is the physical layout. The new Sprout100 looks pretty much like the old Sprout (at least as my memory holds up) so it is still a physically small and lightweight unit. The knobs for Volume and Source Selection on the front are different; round now versus rectangular on the original. On the back, though most of the inputs and outputs are the same (line level, MM phono, USB input, line level and subwoofer outputs), one much appreciated change was going to regular RCA connectors for the line level input and output, rather than the stereo mini-plugs used on the original. Also, the S/PDIF Digital input of the original has been replaced with the much more useful Optical TOSLINK input.

There are three more significant changes that address, at least for some of us, major issues with the original Sprout.

1. Power output of this Class-D design has been increased to 50 wpc into 8 ohms (up from 38) and 100 wpc into 4 ohms (up from 50). This seriously helps move the Sprout100 off the desktop and into the full room filling 2-channel speaker based audio world. I used the Sprout100 with a variety of speakers in the $280 to $2000 range and it did fine with most of them.

2. The Sprout100 now has a remote control. Sure that wasn't needed in a desktop system where the amp is likely within an arm's reach. But it should greatly improve the appeal to a wider audience for people looking to use the amp in a full-size 2-channel system.

(Video) Z Review - PS:Audio Sprout100 (Canadian Audiophile Approved!)

3. Maybe not important for everyone or even very many people looking in this price range, but the Sprout100 now is fully DSD capable (up to DSD128). About 15% of the files on my server are DSD so for me that is a good thing. None of the other integrated amps I've tried under $1000 are DSD capable. Again, I don't expect too many newcomers to high quality audio to be starting out with DSD files so it may be less important to other people.

For the most part, I used the Sprout100 with what I felt were appropriately priced speakers, mostly the Tekton Lore, ELAC Debut B6 and F5, and the new ELAC Debut2 B6.2. I have seen the Sprout often bundled with ELAC speakers, so felt this would be a good thing to use the various models I had available. I did use it briefly with the Magneplaner .7 and the Tekton Impact Monitor just to see how it would hold up under more demanding circumstances.

For LP playback I used either a Music Hall mmf 2.3 SE (with Music Hall Spirit cartridge) or a Pro-Ject RPM-1 Carbon (Sumiko Pearl cartridge) into the still hipsterly named vinylinput. Digital was handled by one of my two notebook computers (both on Windows 10), one of which runs JRiver Media Center 24 to play various PCM (16- and 24-bit) and DSD files, and the other using the Tidal Desktop App to stream Tidal (HiFi or Master). I'll admit I used Tidal a lot more than my saved files during the evaluation. That seemed more in line with modern listening habits of the audience this product is designed for. Sometimes I used an iFi iUSB power supply between the notebook and the Sprout100, sometimes I didn't. As always, the usefulness of the iUSB was more likely based on the source PC, not so much the DAC built into the Sprout100. For speaker cables, I went lower priced using either an inexpensive set from Emotiva (about $20, apparently discontinued) or a pair of Canare 4S11 cables I terminated with non-soldered banana plugs (about $50 total). On the rare case that I needed an analog interconnect, I again stayed with lower priced cables and used either Morrow MA-1 or Audioquest Evergreen.

As far as connecting your speakers is concerned, please be aware that only banana plugs are supported. However, if your speaker cables have spades or bare wire, no problem. Packaged in the box are four banana plugs designed to accept both spades and bare wire. No need to re-terminate your cables or get adapters. I prefer bananas, so I don't view this as a problem at all.

Getting right to the point, the new Sprout100 is a big improvement over the original. It mated up really well with all the aforementioned "appropriately priced" speakers. I was concerned how it would play with the Tekton Lore since the original didn't fair very well with them and I've not had good results other times I've tried Class D amps with those speakers. Those concerns were dispelled fairly quickly and in fact, I quite enjoyed the sound I was getting from the pairing of the Sprout100 and the Lores.

For starters, the reticent and fairly blah sound I had heard from the original Sprout with the Lores was now properly energetic and exciting as we would expect from these speakers. Playing the track "Never Say Never" from Romeo Void's four track EP of the same name (IRS 415A-0007) really rocked. There was excellent level of punchiness from the bass and drums along with an energy from the sax that sounded right. The grit and crunchiness of the guitar was spot on and just jumped out at you, full of real energy.

(Video) PS Audio Sprout Review - It's Really Pretty - Bonus!!! Cheaper Options that Sound Better

Same with Gang of Four's LP Solid Gold where on the track "What We All Want" the incessant repetitive drum beat just powered through the strong bass line. This was the way this album was meant to sound. The old Sprout just couldn't get that quite right.

Shifting gears to the other end of the spectrum, listening to the beautiful harmonies on the album Fifteen by The Wailin' Jennys (Tidal HiFi) was a very nice experience. There's a wonderful mix of delicacy and power in their music that can easily be confused in playback. The Sprout100/Lore combo was fully up to the task. Maybe it didn't float as three-dimensional an image as I get with my tubed Antique Sound Labs MG-SI15DT-S integrated amp, but that maybe isn't that much of a surprise. Tubes generally do that better. Tonally the voices were very well done.

Moving on to the ELAC Debut2 B6.2 (a major improvement on the already excellent original Debut B6), the new Sprout100 was an exciting match. I've found all the ELAC Debut series speakers to be on the power hungry side, especially if you want to get the most out of their low frequency capability. Understanding that the jump from 38 to 50 watts (into 8 ohms) doesn't really amount to that much, but seeing the 4 ohm rating jump from 50 to 100 watts tells me the power supply has been improved. That made quite a difference. Playing an early 70s English import of Genesis's LP Selling England By The Pound, on the track "Firth of Fifth," the low bass pedal notes near the climax of the guitar solo really shook the walls. Very few small inexpensive speakers can even play those notes, let alone do so with any power. Just takes enough juice to get it done and the Sprout100 handled it just fine.

I've become a big fan of Colter Wall recently. Though young, this country singer from Swift Current, Saskatchewan sings with the deep, resonant voice of an old soul. Listening to his releases on Tidal via the Sprout100/B6.2 combo really dug deep on the earthiness of his voice and let the emotion and meaning of the songs come through. I decided this was a good time to try the Bluetooth option on the Sprout and streamed from my iPhone. I have that set to stream at full resolution when on WiFi so no compression for this Tidal HiFi tracks. It certainly worked well and I can see where the sound would be totally acceptable to a lot, if not all but the most hard core audiophiles that would use it this way. All for about $1000 total.

(Video) PS Audio Sprout 100 integrated amp, my experience.

I also took this as an opportunity to use the Subwoofer connection on the Sprout100 to match the B6.2 speakers with an Audioengine S8 subwoofer ($349). There are no adjustments on the amplifier for crossover point, but that was easily set on the S8 (I used Stereophile Test CD2, a Dayton calibrated microphone for my iPhone and Studio Six Audio Tools to measure, then fine tuned by ear). Crossed over at about 50Hz, I found the blend very smooth, and ended up with fine sound down to the low 30 Hz range.

I did briefly try the Magneplaner .7 speakers with the Sprout100. As long as I kept the volume at reasonable to moderate levels it actually sounded surprisingly good. Getting past the upper 80/low 90 dB output it started to sound a little congested and strained. To be fair, the Maggies do like power, but then I know a lot of people whose listening habits probably would never have them playing loud enough for this to be an issue. And the .7 does sound really nice even when not cranked up to 11. Maybe the match-up wouldn't work for me, but still, a good showing for the little Sprout100.

The last speaker option was the superb sounding and easily driven Tekton Impact Monitor. These don't need a lot of power, but they are high resolution and are capable of a huge, detailed soundstage, where they will definitely let you know if an amp isn't up to the task. I kept this combo up for about a week and whether playing LPs, streaming from Tidal, playing files from my server or playing the TV through the optical input, it worked and sounded better than expected with no actual anomalies to detract from the overall sound or listening enjoyment. Sure, when I replaced the Sprout100 with my primary setup (Burson Conductor Virtuoso preamp and Timekeeper Virtuoso power amp, a $5000 combo), levels of detail, dynamics, soundstage depth and that overall sense of realism were noticeably improved. However, none of those characteristics were mishandled or portrayed in a way that detracted from the listening experience with the Sprout100. A good reminder that just because something is "better" it doesn't mean that the other thing isn't very good in its own right.

I need to discuss a few things not related to the amp/speaker combination. First off, the phono section is actually very good. We have to remember that PS Audio started way back in the 1970s with a $69 phono stage. A crazy idea at the time, since virtually every receiver, integrated amp or preamp back then had a phono stage guilt in. Yet, it was better than most, and was good enough to build a following and allow for the company to build a reputation and grow. I used a PS Audio 4H preamp for over thirty years, mostly because of the quality of the phono stage in it. Stick with a decent quality moving magnet cartridge and you'll be all set. Yes, the iFi iPhono2 I normally use does dig deeper and more powerfully in the bottom end and is a little more airy sounding up on top. Dynamics are more expressive too. But, that unit costs $549, which is almost the price of the Sprout100. Probably not a fair comparison and certainly not meant as a dig at the Sprout100's phono capabilities. Really just an observation that as good as it is, sometimes more money does get you better sound. I really think that in this under $1000 price range, where there are now many solid offerings for good quality integrated amps, if you are tending towards having a turntable in your system this should definitely be on your short list.

Next we come to the DAC. This is a major point in favor of the Sprout100. A fully DSD capable DAC that handles all high resolution formats and does so with no hassle or fuss is a major accomplishment. On the original Sprout, I had to keep reloading the drivers or my PC would fail to see it. With the new Sprout100, after initial installation (a quick and easy download from PS Audio's web site), I never had to think about the driver or the connection again. I just plugged either of my notebooks in via the USB, selected it in Windows as the output and was playing music. Never had an issue with rebooting or switching PCs. It just worked and sounded excellent. Again, the times I used the iFi iUSB3 (or the original iUSB) power supplies between the notebook and the Sprout100, any improvement it made (and it certainly made an improvement) was principally based on the noisiness of the USB signal from the notebook, not really any issue with the Sprout100 itself. As I've been saying for several years, if you are using an inexpensive notebook or PC for a music source, at least try something like the iFi iUSB3 or the Schiit Wyrd. I've had five different notebooks and at least a dozen DACs in my system over the years, and the dedicated USB power supplies have been essential in every combination I've tried.

If I have an issue with the DAC section of the Sprout100, it is its lack of MQA support. As much as I listen to Tidal, and appreciate the high resolution stream of their Master files, I do find that the two DACs I have with MQA support (the iFi iDAC2 and the Audioquest Dragonfly Black) do handle Tidal Master files better. The difference varies, and ranges from barely noticeable to pretty significant. I know MQA decoding is somewhat controversial, but if you are planning on using a Tidal HiFi account to stream as a major source, it is something to consider. Of course if you stream from Qobuz you'll get your high-resolution stream without needing MQA. You would not need MQA if you use Spotify or Pandora.

One last area that needs a comment is the headphone amp. If you have fairly efficient headphones in the 32 ohm range the Sprout100 does a nice job. I used Meze 99 Classic and 99 Neo, 1More MK801, and 1More Triple Driver Over Ear headphones to test it out. The sound from this amp is generally nicely detailed, never harsh, and very listenable. It was especially nice with the two Meze headphones, with which I have had issues when using my Audioquest Black (too much gain for the high sensitivity of those). I did not expect it to work well with my 600 ohm Beyerdynamic DT770Pro headphones and it didn't. Simply ran out of gas and sounded pretty flat and lifeless. Even my $1900 Burson Conductor Virtuoso doesn't drive those properly, though the $349 first generation Schiit Valhalla is spectacular with them. Headphones and the amps you use with them always have to be viewed as a pair. You would have to try your favorite headphones with a Sprout100 to see how they mate up.

Oh yeah, the remote worked like a remote should. I loved the super simple design. It has just four buttons; power, mute, increase volume and decrease volume. It did its assigned tasks properly and easily with satisfactorily small increments in changing volume. I find when I listen to files stored on my server, having a remote for volume adjustment is essential since it seems every album comes up at a different level. I like to simply set the server on shuffle and each new track usually requires a change in volume

(Video) Full HiFi System for Under $1400 that will ROCK YOUR WORLD. PS Audio Sprout 100 Long Term Review.

So, there you have it. Whereas I found the original Sprout to be important, but not necessarily a complete success, I think PS Audio got things very right with the updated Sprout100. Great sound, great ergonomics, a well thought out feature set that does everything that is important in this price range and does it quite well. And it does it all at a lower price than the original. There's a reason I gave it a Writer's Choice award. Very highly recommended.

Sprout100

Retail: $599

PS Audio

www.psaudio.com

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