Sunday, June 19, 2005

Grace Notes: Sonic Impact T:Amp (gadget review)

One problem with keeping a vaguely political blog is that it's far too easy to slip into a vortex of despair. No doubt, there is too much wrong with the world and we should each do some part to address the world's macro-issues. Global warming, peak oil, the decline of informed democracy, the evils of the Happy Meal, and a growing resemblance between everyday life and a Microsoft Operating System where our media player keeps growing, but we are more and more subject to viruses, terrorists attacks, pop up ads, recurring shutdowns, memory leaks, and constant talk of security holes, aren't going to change any time soon despite our efforts. At the micro-level, anger and frustration must be balanced with some measure of laughter and joy. Music remains one of the most direct paths to joy.

If you ask me what's actually improved in the last century, there are a handful of things that I'm sure about. Along with the quality of bread in California grocery stores, recorded music has virtually unqualifiedly qualitatively improved our lives. Television, telephones, and the internet may all be mixed blessings, but it's hard for me to see the downside of the invention of recorded music in the last century. I can actually hear Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday, maybe not in full fidelity or due to the limitations of pre-lP recordings not in segments longer than 3 minutes, but it's hard for me to imagine a world where great musicians had their music as they played it die with them. I even once heard a recording of Brahms and Debussy playing the piano. About the worse thing I can think of about recorded music is that the US apparently tried to use Christina Aguilera to torture prisoners at Guantanamo. Well, there is the whole business of William Shatner and Brent Spiner singing. There's also the question of whether recorded music has discouraged regular people from making their own music or at least attending live concerts. Still, it's hard to calculate the joy that's been made possible by recorded music.

For most of my adult life, I've collected and listened to recorded music, a habit that led me into the bewildering audiophile wilderness where the mystical battles on a daily basis with the scientific usually at high retail prices. When music is reproduced with greater fidelity, more of the pleasures trapped inside the recording come out. For decades, many audiophiles have insisted that audio technology has taken a step backwards when it comes to fidelity. Records were better than disks, tubes were better than transistors, and horn loaded speakers sounded better than bass reflex or acoustic suspension counterparts. In other words, to care about sound often made you a kind of technological Trent Lott, extolling the beauties of some lost order of things which wasn't either all that orderly or idyllic.

Recently, via the internet, I came across a battery powered amplifier called the Sonic-Impact T-amp based on something called the tripath chip.
link to T-amp review

Bottom line, it sells for 19.99, though at that price the suppliers are always out of the things, and it actually sounds good enough for me not to wonder how much more joy is trapped inside my CD's and Mp3s. The average boom box makes me think that someone is torturing my old Blue Notes by playing Christina Aguilera into them so they sound compressed and lifeless. As the audiophiles will tell you, real music breathes. The T-amp isn't perfect, but it manages to breathe. Music, like good bread has texture, the T-amp seems to be made from good dough. Last night I found myself listening at loud volume to Bach Orchestral Suites, Steely Dan, Michelle Shocked, Kenny Drew, and Lee Konitz through the T-amp, a concert that would have been impossible in real time. Maybe it won't fix the hole in the ozone layer, but it's progress. Of course, now someone's going to tell me that the chip dies are made from some toxic substance and that the cases are made with slave labor in some South Asian country where workers aren't allowed to listen to music on the job or are limited to the Backstreet Boys.

I've noticed that I get a lot visitors here who are probably looking for more conventional reviews of the T-Amp. Some of my "audiophile" thoughts follow. No one pretends that this amp has much power. You will need either high-efficiency speakers or a very high output source. For some reason, my Dell Axim 5, maybe because the output has to feed a small speaker, mates very well with the T-Amp. If you don't have a high output source, I strongly recommend a pre-amp. If you have a high output source or pre-amp, reasonably efficient speakers 89 db will sound fine. I use a pair of SEAS 5" two ways, home brew speakers most of the time. The overall result is better than my SWANS M200s at my office, but after you figure in speakers, the T-amp+speakers is actually more expensive.

I've had an 800B tubed amp. The T-amp sounds nothing like low powered tubes. It does however share a kind of presence or immediacy in the midrange with them as well as a slightly rolled off quality at the frequency extremes. At the same time, it's not as "rounded" sounding as a tubed amp. One reviewer mentions that the T-amp is very appealing, but maybe ever so slightly artificial and suggested that it had something to do with the frequency filter in the chip. I'm inclined to agree, but we're talking about a $20 amplifier and to be honest the 800B tube is on the warm side of natural as well(something most of us like)

Power, I've used 8 nimh aa batteries, a separate 12 volt batterry and a regulated 1 amp power supply from Fry's. The 12 volt battery sounds best, but it's not a huge difference. A set of nimh 1800 mah batteries runs for something like 15 hours at moderate volumes. I'm wondering if the tripath chip might be great for an amplified speaker that doesn't need AC. Being 12 volt single-ended, it's even well suited for cars or RVs.



At 6/22/2005 03:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gosh, there are so many uncountable joys as the weft of the kaleidoscopicked tapestry of the abun-dance of feathers and leaves and burritos -- the warp being the vileville of politics perhaps !ha!

But having grown up on a farm with zero amplified music or radio or tv before in my teens, the only music, the music of the spheres and the gossip of the Canada geese wintering in our cove, I would sell maybe a limb if people would dagGONE it, wear headphones. Nothing drives me more nuts than having to listen to other people's music! I can't 1/2 tune it out as *you people* seem to do. I have to listen to it (especially if it has words).

And mirabile dictu, full of wonder to say, I probably don't want to hear your music whoever you are unless it's mozart; yo yo ma; bella fleck; or hui ohana. I play music of the spheres much more than man-canned music, whatever the technology. However, I am very content for you to blow your eardrums into the next state as long as it's on headphones.

At 6/22/2005 09:23:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

The Sonic Impact amnp is battery powered and delivers all of 5 watts or so. In other words, most people can't play it loud on most speakers. It's meant to play well not loudly.

In that way, also, it's a form of progress because it appears to prioritize the music over the volume.
Headphones are fine if you are around other people who don't care to listen. The President has an Ipod for instance and I'm not sure a lot of listening happens around him.

At 8/02/2006 10:33:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Sorry I didn't know this comment was here until today. There are different tastes in audio as there are with anything else. The t-amp is a low power amp, meaning that it would be terrible in a noisy environment, say on a motor scooter.
If one needs to play loud, unless you have 95db speakers (which wouldn't fit in a car or on a scooter since they'd likely be horn-loaded), the T-amp is not a viable choice.
With efficient speakers and most say a pre-amp or a very high output source, the T-amp sounds better or as good at the same volume than many expensive amplifiers.

The average car stereo that comes with most nice vehicles in the US likely has as much power as the t-amp.

At 3/25/2007 02:29:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A car amplifier will give you a loud and clear sound on a consistent basis. It will boost the power flowing from the

receiver to the speakers. In doing so, it will reduce the stress put on all the other components of your car stereo

system, including the receiver.

Choosing the right car amplifier is important. Your decision should be based on five important features. Make sure you

address them all !

The first item on the agenda is the number of channels. This will depend on the number of speakers in your system.

Two-channel amplifiers will feed well two speakers or a single subwoofer. You will want to consider a four-channel

amplifier if you have any of the following combinations :

At 7/14/2007 06:18:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I do think Class D has a lot of potential for car amplfiers. The t-amp itself probably just doesn't have enough power for most people's tastes though car speakers can be fairly efficient.

I can't imagine what you'd use on a motor scooter though.

At 1/02/2009 10:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Above average speaker efficiency is the key to success with this small amp.
I've been using a T-Amp with 90 db efficient 4 ohm speakers in my home system with very pleasing results.
The efficiency of the amp is amazing - 36w consumed to produce 30w (15w x2) peak? Sounds like a real winner for mobile applications (RVs, sailboats) where one needs to generate and/or store the energy one uses.

At 3/08/2010 10:04:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

fwiw, I like the tripath 2020 a bit better than the tripath 2024. It also runs on a single-ended 12 volts DC (same as cigarette lighter in the car) but it has slightly more power enough to listen on conventional speakers.

There's a pre-built tripath 2020 called the Lepai that sells on E-Bay.

At 8/19/2010 10:02:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I bought one for use as the base of a Vespa Scooter stereo system I put together. The amp blew out the FIRST time I tried to use it. It distorts at half volume and blows out within 10 seconds of reaching higher volumes

At 11/18/2010 08:56:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

The sonic impact amp would be totally imappropriate for use on a motor scooter. It doesn't have the power to overcome the noise from the scooter or the wind noise.

At 6/14/2019 06:53:00 PM, Blogger Jobian said...

My sonic impact sounds very good with my apparently hard to drive dynaudio 42s...nice to find something cheap which sounds fab! I use a 13.8 volt
Cb radio power supply to t amp which gives the amp a little more power..I'm currently using it to stream from my tablet thru a Cambridge audio dacmagic azur..qobuz sounds brilliant in mp3 (cheapest subscription) I'm using qed silver anniversary speaker cable which seems a good match..cheers


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