Low-cost hi-fi: the amazing world of cheapo mini-amps

Back in 2005, I wrote about the Sonic Impact T-Amp, a $30 toy amp that stereophiles had figured out how to mod into a brilliant, high-quality amplifier. It was one of my most popular posts, ever, and many of you have written in over the years to tell me about your own T-Amps and the remarkable sound you were getting out of it.

I asked the stereophile friend who recommended the T-Amp in the first place what had become of it, and he told me that there was a new version, called the DTA-1 Class T, that is better built and sells for a still-very-reasonable $45. Judging from the glowing customer reviews, Sonic Impact has continued to produce astounding sound-quality for the cost of a pair of cheap laptop speakers.

But my friend had another suggestion: for a mere $20.67, you can get a LP-2020A+ Lepai Tripath Class-T Hi-Fi Audio Mini Amplifier with Power Supply and a pair of $51.99 Dayton Audio B652 bookshelf speakers, and get some truly high-fidelity sound reproduction from your phone or computer for a price that nearly beggars belief.

This Lepai/Dayton combination comes from CNet's Steve Guttenberg, who reviewed them in May, saying:

Considering the minuscule 1.5-by-5.5-by-4.5-inch amp's rock-bottom price, the Lepai is surprisingly well made, has adequate features, and sounds very decent. And for an inexpensive speaker pair, the Dayton B652 has an unusually large woofer -- it's a 6.5-inch polypropylene cone -- and the speaker also has a ferrofluid-cooled 5/8-inch polycarbonate dome tweeter.

If you think the $199 Jawbone Jambox Bluetooth speaker sounds good, you'll flip over the Dayton/Lepai sound. True, it's very much a wired home- or office-bound system, but it plays louder, sounds dramatically clearer, and actually creates a true stereo image (you can place the two speakers as far apart as you like), something no single-box speaker at any price can ever hope to achieve. Hook up your computer, phone, or portable music player to the Lepai/Dayton combo, and enjoy the music.

Update In the comments, rambles_off_topic sounds an alarm about the speakers: "I believe Steve's review of the Dayton B652s was from May of 2012. Sometime around January of this year, Dayton started sourcing the components of this speaker from another manufacturer (or possibly the same manufacturer, but they are not the same as the components in Steve's review, there's still no clarification from Dayton). In any case, almost everyone agrees that the new version of the B652 sounds terrible compared to the version reviewed back in 2012. I'd encourage folks to research this prior to springing for the Daytons."

Sonic Impact DTA-1 Class T amp

LP-2020A+ Lepai Tripath Class-T Hi-Fi Audio Mini Amplifier with Power Supply

Dayton Audio B652 6-1/2-Inch 2-Way Bookshelf Speaker Pair