After many years pairing high-powered amps with low-efficiency loudspeakers I decided to go in the opposite direction. Why? Mainly curiosity. I’ve never had the opportunity to hear high-efficiency single-driver loudspeakers in my system and thought it was time. And tubes. I find tubes fascinating, single-ended triode in particular. Cost of these amps was always somewhat prohibitive for me and is why, for the most part, I shied away. Enter Chi-Fi. Initially I think many of us audiophiles balked at the spate of cheap (and cheaply made) electronics coming out of China. After all, how could anything so inexpensive be remotely “hifi”?
APPJ PA0901A integrated amp
For me, it was the oddly named PA0901A that caught my eye. This minuscule “integrated” from APPJ is a single-ended triode design rated at 3.5 wpc with an SMPS (yes, you read that right) and uses one 12AX7 and two EL84s. The use of an SMPS in the design allows for it’s small form factor (approx. 5” x 5” x 5”). The sound quality is simply astonishing at this price-point ($189).
Omega Super 3i loudspeakers
Omega Speaker Systems has been on my radar for as long as I’ve been reading about high-efficiency loudspeakers. Louis Chochos has been building his single-driver designs for 14 of his 34 years in the speaker industry. I purchased the Super 3i’s in the beautifully finished EKO Ash Tweed for $695. These speakers have an efficiency rating of 94.5 dB at 8 ohms and are a perfect match for the little Chi-Fi wonder amp. Coherent. Fast. Addicting.
Fleawatt Audio TPA3116D2 integrated amp
I also purchased a low-powered solid state integrated amp from Fleawatt Audio recently. This class d integrated amp (25 wpc) is built around the TPA3116D2 chip which was the darling of the DIY community at one time. Derek Sanderson builds these creations as a hobby and sells to members of the audiophile community at such a low cost it’s almost ridiculous*. Mine, which has significant upgrades, cost me $250. While not actually Chi-Fi, much of the parts were sourced from China but nicely built right here in the USA.
From a conversation with Derek: “The somewhat lower dampening factor, 3D imaging and smooth highs are very much like a single ended triode amplifier, but with more power.” He wasn’t kidding. Incredible sound for so little cash. I’ll be using this nice cool-running amp in the summer months when I’ll want a break from those lovely little glass heaters.
It’s a great time to be an audiophile.
*Derek is now on hiatus.