PS Audio Sprout100 integrated amplifier

The original PS Audio Sprout, which I reviewed in the May 2015 issue, showed newcomers an easier, smaller way to amplify music recordings in the home. At $599, the Sprout100 costs $100 more. It fixes a few of the old Sprout’s weirdnesses: no power-on indicator light, no remote control, five-way binding posts that weren’t really five-way. It also doubles the Sprout’s class-D power output into 4 ohms, from 50 to 100Wpc (or 50Wpc into 8 ohms), and adds a few sonic and mechanical enhancements. The main sonic improvement is a newer DAC chip: An ESS Sabre 9016 replaces the Sprout’s Wolfson 8524. The new chip handles DSD128 data and 24-bit/384kHz PCM (the Wolfson stopped at 24/192). The Sprout had USB and coaxial digital inputs; the Sprout100 has USB but trades coax for optical (TosLink).

The Sprout100 is housed in the same case as the Sprout, and retains that motel-paneling flourish on its top. But the two front-panel knobs are now shiny and round, instead of brushed and rectangular. And now the right-hand knob, for Volume, does double duty as an on/off pushbutton (the original Sprout’s power switch was a tiny rocker on its rear panel). The Input knob’s selections—Vinyl, Analog, Digital, Bluetooth—are unchanged, but the line-level Analog input used to be fed by a 3.5mm jack in the back; now it’s fed by a pair of conventional RCA jacks. I fondly remember trying, unsuccessfully, to connect audiophile spade lugs to the Sprout’s “five-way” binding posts. Happily, the Sprout100 features banana-plug–only speaker terminals. Good-quality banana-to-spade/bare-wire adapters are included.


New on the right side of the front panel are two little dots: the bottom one is an IR sensor for the remote; the tinier one, at top, lights up when the Sprout100 is powered on. (Vexingly, the Sprout had no power-indicator light.) The Sprout100 comes with a small but handsome brushed-aluminum remote-control handset with controls for On/Off, Volume, and Mute.

After a few days of warmup, the Sprout replaced my superfine daily driver desktop system: a Mytek Brooklyn DAC–headphone amplifier fed by my Mac mini computer running Audirvana Plus 3.5, plugged into (don’t laugh) a pair of Bel Canto Design e.One REF600M monoblocks driving a pair of Dynaudio Excite X14 loudspeakers.

I was immediately impressed by the smooth and surprisingly full quality of the sound. The Excite 14s were happy with the Sprout100’s greater power, and showed it when I watched director Sion Sono’s Tokyo Vampire Hotel (Amazon Video). I noticed also how the Sprout100 seemed quieter than the Sprout. I listened a lot using Sony’s MDR-Z1R and Focal’s Clear headphones plugged into the Sprout100’s phone-plug headphone jack: the sound wasn’t as crisp, detailed, or transparent as the Mytek–Bel Canto combo, but was smooth and laid-back, never sharp or annoying.

A few days of happy listening later, I began reading the Sprout100’s owner’s manual and discovered that, like the original Sprout, the Sprout100’s bass boost is automatically engaged at turn-on—it’s the default setting. Whose idea was that? If the user ever discovers this (who reads product manuals?) and wants to make it go away, said user must push in the Volume/On/Off knob and hold it there a few seconds, until the teeny-tiny indicator light turns from white to blue.

Bass boost gone, my Amazon and YouTube videos were less enjoyable—but music streamed from Tidal sounded more balanced, more properly detailed. Finally, I began to really dig this thing. The Sprout100 loved my Kenwood KT-990D AM/FM tuner. While listening to New York’s WFMU, I realized that the Sprout100 is basically a damn good desktop amplifier. With or without bass boost, it liked radio and streaming, and was totally comfortable driving the Dynaudio Excites.

I wondered how the Sprout100 would sound in my reference system. It replaced a HoloAudio Spring “Kitsuné Tuned Edition” Level 3 DAC, and Rogue Audio’s RH-5 preamp and Stereo 100 power amp. The tiny PS Audio looked disarmingly unserious sitting atop the heavy, monolithic blackness of the Stereo 100. I connected it to my Harbeth M30.2 speakers with Triode Wire Labs American cables, to the Mac mini with an AudioQuest Cinnamon USB link, and to my Linn LP12 turntable with SME M2-9 tonearm. I used the same Ortofon 2M Black moving-magnet cartridge I’d used in my review of the Sprout three years before.

In that review, I wrote that I thought the Sprout sounded liveliest and clearest through its Vinyl input; but through the Sprout100, my Ortofon 2M Black now sounded shy and wallflower-like. The sound was attractive and relatively satisfying, but too well mannered. I have a feeling that the brash, lively brightness of the 2M Black’s far cheaper sibling, Ortofon’s 2M Red ($99), might offset the tendency of the Sprout100’s phono stage to sound a bit dark and rolled off.


DSD, Tidal, Qobuz
The Sprout100 sounded its most open, elegant, and audiophile best playing Puente Celeste’s Nama (M•A Recordings M084A) in DSD. Think deep, detailed, a little dark—and delicious. The 24/176.4 PCM download of Nama sounded almost as fresh, but a tiny bit hard and digital.

All of my best moments with the Sprout100 were not when I listened to fancy top-shelf files, but while streaming contemporary classical recordings. Soprano Patricia Petibon’s Nouveau Monde: Baroque Arias and Songs, with Andrea Marcon conducting (24/96 FLAC, Deutsche Grammophon/Qobuz), was nothing less than seductive, richly toned fun. Petibon’s exquisite voice soared, and La Cetra Baroque Orchestra Basel played tight and superfast; the little Sprout100 sounded enjoyably musical, if maybe a little too sexy and feminine.

I thought PS Audio’s original Sprout sounded most alive and most sharply detailed through its phono input. I found the Sprout100 exactly the opposite. Its digital input seemed more articulate and vivacious than its analog input. Of course, Bluetooth was Bluetooth. My memory isn’t good, but maybe the Sprout100’s reproduction of Bluetooth signals is more sharply focused than its predecessor’s.

The Sprout100 seems born to stream music and play vinyl via a low-cost MM cartridge. Its best trait was that it made recordings sound tuneful and attractive. Its worst trait was that it made recordings sound tuneful and attractive. It did not do such audiophile tricks as strong, tight bass, precise imaging, transparency, or airy highs. It just played music enjoyably.

Is the Sprout100 an easy-to-use lifestyle product in a small, attractive package? Absolutely. Would it appeal to seasoned audiophiles who’ve “been there, done that,” and who seek a “better, simpler way to play music” in their homes? I don’t think so.

NEXT: Specifications »


PS Audio

4865 Sterling Drive

Boulder, CO 80301



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