Two cheap mini-amps tested: Pyle vs Topping

To hook up some old KLH speakers to my computer, I needed a small amp. First up was the ultra-cheap Pyle PFA100, an allegedly 30-watt amp that's just $25. Though it had controls for treble, bass and tone, and jacks for headphones and a mic, it was so bad that none of it mattered. The Pyle was was noisy, distorted at louder volumes, and picked up radio interference. Even accepting the possibility that I got a lemon, it's clearly junk when you see it in the flesh. Replacing the power brick (as some suggest) did not make a difference.

I next considered trying the Lepai 2020, a similarly-tiny product at an even-tinier price. Though it's got a reputation as surprisingly good for the $20 you'll pay for it, I was dissuaded by the fact that it really does seem identical to the Pyle: the same controls and jacks, all in the same places, as if the only difference was the casing. While it only claims 20W output, suggesting at least some different innards, I decided not to be a sucker twice and opted for the Topping TP10.

Though three times the price, at $65, it's a simpler gadget with no mic or headphone jacks, and no bass or treble to fiddle with: signal in, signal out. It also claims only 15W of output, half that of the Pyle. It's nicer on the eyes, though, with a brushed-metal faceplate and superior knobfeel. Most importantly, it sounded much better than the Pyle, with no audible interference and clean audio at higher volumes. Read the rest