Not everyone needs a 5 input 2x250W, DAC integrated Class A amp weighing in at 40kg. Some are seeking an amp that keeps its simple, allows 1 or maybe 2 connections, as few knobs as possible, power efficient and in a compact size, with a price point to match… enter the SMSL A2 Class Amplifier costing less than £40.

CONSTRUCTION

At about the same size a medium paperback book with black casing and a silver face (Black/Gold also available) the A2 isn’t something that will make you consider warming up your back before unboxing and hefting into place that’s for sure.

At the front we have  a simple push standby button (which also allows us to select between 2 inputs), 3 LED’s indicating power, source and also tone control and an “infinite” rotary wheel (i.e. no start or end to rotation) to control volume and which also can be pushed to activate & reset the tone controls allowing you to trim Bass and Treble if desired. There is also a 3.5mm jack input. Turning to the rear and you have a single 2 channel RCA input, pretty decent looking binding posts like the baby brother of the ones commonly now found on larger integrated amps which are both bare cable or banana/z clip compatible (however I recommend banana or z clip due to space available and bare wire connections would get fiddly) and .. surprisingly a simple subwoofer out.

Hailing from China the A2 is a very simple Class D in design, the power is delivered via a 19v DC power cable with transformer block in line rather than a wall wart which keeps things a bit neater. Rated at 2x40W into 4 Ohms with a listed response of 20Hz to 20Kz and a rated sensitivity of 90dB.

Its not only small  – so much so that it won’t take up any space really at all on a desktop, or in a bedroom/office setup, or even nestled into your AV set up – but its light – very light. This isn’t a problem per se, however connecting a fairly sturdy gauge speaker cable (in this case the Ecosse 2.23) and the tension in the cable can lift the amp and so it’s worthwhile taking time to position or use very flexible cable. I don’t have a sub to test, but I would note that most subs have an RCA type fitting and the out on the A2 is a ¼” jack so you will need some sort of adaptor – cheap enough to buy but a bit of an irritation to have to. Again not really a surprise but no remote is included for the A2.

What is a surprise given the positioning of this amp in terms of the “who” might buy is the lack of Bluetooth or digital input? While this may have driven the costs up I suspect many initial viewers at this price point would look for this. 

SOUND QUALITY

Before I begin I think it’s worthwhile discussing, as I like to, who I see the most likely user for the A2 being. The list for me is a pretty wide section of the lower end of the market including someone starting out, someone who just needs to hook up speakers to say a CD or Turntable (with inbuilt phono stage) or connect a tablet via headphone jack, or maybe even a home DJ who just needs a way to connect mixer to speakers, for someone looking at a bedroom, office / shop or even workshop setup who really wants to keep the budget right down, but wants a half decent sound this may just be the ideal way to goits. In that vein I’ve tested with components I feel would be a good balance for the amps price-point (and some better to see what it can do).

Vinyl first– sitting the A2 in my main rack with my standard rig (driving my Fyne Audio 500’s) I connect my SL1210 via ProJect phono stage and stick on some go-to vinyl reference pieces. It’s not a surprise that the intro guitar on Dave Gilmour’s 5 AM live at Pompeii doesn’t sing as sweetly, with the same detailed decay as my Musical Fidelity M3Si (almost 20 times its £40 price point) or have the same overall drive and warmth of my old budget Onkyo A-9155 Class A, but it’s actually not bad. For its size, it represents itself pretty robustly, not quite managing to open the stage and deliver the strength of lows I’m used to, but it’s a listenable and easy to get on with amp, it has to be said. And I wouldn’t expect more at his price point, but I’ve heard a lot worse. The only sounds I’ve heard to date that is substantially better at a similar sized form factor box is the incredible Aeron C101 amplifier but that’s coming in at around 20 times the cost.

Streaming from my Pioneer N50 via the Audiolab MDAC+ and same story – fun to listen to, a pretty decent sound across the spectrum, not making me sit up and take notice but I’m sitting enjoying my music. Electronic music pumping and synthing along nicely, no real trouble with timing or musicality but lacking the grip you’d seek in a mid-level solution. The sheer lack of anything over-engineered or complicated is in a way taking away a lot of the faff we get caught up in.

Moving the A2 to drive the much more budget but lovely sounding Dali Zensor 1’s, which for me is a more appropriate partner in terms price point and you retain the A’s overall sound but less capable speakers do uncover some more of the A2’s limitations. Predominantly in bass control. The Fyne’s compensated somewhat and with the Dali’s the bass is certainly looser and less coherent (adding a sub for a budget setup may compensate somewhat), and the mids are certainly a little more closed in – but remember this is a £40 amplifier!

With each set up I experimented with the tone control. Both bass and treble can be adjusted by the common volume/tone rotary and certainly, there is a substantial modulation enabled for those who want it. One niggle here is there are no readouts/markings to offer visual guidance on the exact setting, so really you don’t know where each is set, however, if you want to reset it’s a simple task to press and hold the rotary. 

CONCLUSION

If you have a decent budget and seek an audiophile sound you’re probably not going to consider a sub £50 box and so you probably didn’t read this far and that’s fine, but for anyone in my suggested target list above, or with a sub £500 budget for a full system and needing a simple solution for 1 or 2 sources and who’s pairing with similar budget speakers this should certainly be on your must-try list. No, it’s not going to satisfy critical listeners that’s for sure, but for those on a very tight budget or wanting an inconspicuous amp for background music away from the main rig it offers a great solution. It would also work well for those wanting to add a cheap 2.1 system to their telly. The inclusion of tone control can compensate for some of the limitations and help you manage your room and output sounds and this will attract some users. It’s cheap, it’s cheerful and used in the right context it works well, so really, what’s not to like for thirty-five quid and so I’ll give it a highly recommended. 

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality: Compact, neat, well laid out, choose your speaker cable carefully

Sound Quality: Easy to listen to, overall represents itself well given its ridiculously low price, pretty punchy and musical even and lower volumes, doesn’t have the drive of bigger amps, limited control of bass and lack of dynamics when compared to mid-level offerings

Value For Money: At £40, you get a lot – ideal for the right user with a very restricted budget

Pros:

Price, size, simplicity, tone control

Cons:

Limited capability, lacks Bluetooth or digital inputs, lacks control, requires an adaptor for the sub out. The instruction manual is not well translated into English (but understandable).

Price: £35 

Specifications :

Type – Class D

Power – 40W x 2 (4 Ohm)

Frequency response  – 20Hz -20Hkz (+- 3dB)

THD +N 0.05%

Sensitivity  – 90dB (1Khz)

Alan McIntosh

Review Equipment: Techics SL1210Mk3D, Ortofon 2M Red, Arcam CDS27, Pioneer n50K, Ecosse 2.23 and MS4.45 bi wire Speaker cables, Chord Clearway + Shawline Interconnects , Fyne Audio 500 and Dali Zensor 3’s. Tidal HiFI streaming via HP Laptop and iPhone 8 Bluetooth.

 

 

 

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