Re(al)view: Dayton DTA-1 T-Amp

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Ok- We have finally done it. It has received rave reviews all over the world for being one of the highest values in audio. It had gone out of production in favor of a higher quality package which, of course, meant a higher price. Now, Dayton Audio has taken over the molds and reintroduced the product that changed the game and we, your humble servants at Unplggd.gov, have purchased our first T-Amp; the Dayton DTA-1.

Normally we try things out for a long time before we post anything online- helps to get over the honeymoon stage, but we just couldn’t wait to tell everyone about how hot our new “companion” is in the bedroom. Find out after the jump…

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One of the issues with the original Sonic Impact T-amp was that it did not come with a transformer. This can be a good or a bad thing, depending on your budget and level of expertise in the audio world, but it definitely was a bit of a downer if you bought the amp and weren’t aware that there was no power cord coming with it. It did and does take 8 AA batteries, but no cord meant you had to buy one separately. Since the amp was $40 and the transformer/power cord could cost $15, suddenly we were talking about a $55 amp… which was still good, but it kept us from buying.

Most people are used to amps having all kinds of inputs and outputs, a radio tuner, and a very big box associated with them. Really, an amp is just an amplification circuit board with a power source (it may not even have a “board” if it is wired “point to point”). This is common knowledge to audiophiles but to the rest of the world, it may feel like something has been left out if they don’t get lots of weight and size and apparent functionality.

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However, with the advent of digital music and iPods and so forth, people have turned towards a more spare aesthetic. People want less now. Ok, they want more but they want it to look like less. We talked a bit about this in our Sonos interview last week; people want electronics to fit into their lives.

The Dayton DTA-1 is small and ONLY what it needs to be. This is an amp that can be used and abused in any small office, kitchen, small living room and yes, bedroom. Bottom view:

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Specifications:

• Power output: 2 x 15 watts RMS (into 4 ohms @ 10% THD), 2 x 10 watts RMS (into 4 ohms @ 0.1% THD)
• Efficiency: Greater than 88%
• Dynamic range: 102 dB
• Dimensions: 2" H x 6-1/8" W x 3-3/4" D.

Dayton Audio is a company that is owned by Parts-Express out of Dayton, Ohio. You see, Parts-Express, being a retailer of all types of audio equipment, hears all the customer feedback from the products they sell. They sold literally buhzillions of the original Sonic Impact T-amp and heard what the customers had to say when the amp was eventually upgraded. Some customers didn’t want the upgrades because they cost more and didn’t offer anything substantive in return. Sure, you get a power cord now, but the new box is not very attractive and the new terminals are not so much better that owners won’t still want to upgrade them. Still the same circuitry so nothing has been lost in terms of sound, but almost doubling the price for a few minor changes may not be worth it to some. So they responded.

We are assuming that Dayton is licensing the technology from Sonic Impact, maybe they bought the tooling, but they are definitely the only ones producing the older box now. Since Dayton (Parts Express) is also the retailer, this means there is no middleman markup. They have larger margins and can offer things like powercords and still maintain the $39 price point. So all they did was change the plastic to a matte finish black, which looks hugely nicer than the original, and sell the original package.

Let’s get on to how it sounds, shall we?

There are plenty of reviews on the net about the original version of this amp and they all say how amazingly awesomely awesome it is; worth more than ten times its price, crisp, clear, natural, sweeter than tubes, faster than that swimmer guy in the Olympics; a lot of positive feedback.

We have been listening to it nearfield since it fits so nicely on our slim and sexeh desk. Nearfield is a term used to describe when your speakers are “up close” to you, as they might be on a desk upon which you are working. It just means that you are hearing the speakers directly, without the colorations that arise from sound interacting with room conditions.

We have tried a few different speakers with it. Running it through a ‘90’s pair of 8 Ohm Paradigm Atoms has produced a sweetness that we haven’t heard before from them. Music sounds so clear and benevolent, even Nick Cave sounds like a take-home-to-mom guy. Resolution is so sharp and pointed that you can’t stop from leaning in to catch more detail.

We then tried our full-range Fostex speakers we built a while back and they were less impressive. Certainly fuller and faster than with our tube amp, but not as rich and magical. This has a lot to do with the fact that the drivers have magnets the size of Rhode Island and require a real transformer to get them going.

The final test was to go with some 4 Ohm speakers to test out how that intensity is handled by this little munchkin. 4 Ohm speakers are typically found in cars- they are more difficult to drive in the home environment partially due to their being more resistant to the electrical current. Most home amps are stable enough to run them these days, including the DTA-1, but the sound quality is usually not as good. Dayton rates this amp at .1% distortion for 8 Ohm speakers and a much larger 10% distortion for 4 Ohms. We found this to be quite an accurate rating with there being A LOT of distortion at 4 Ohms. Some of this will have to do with the full range, 4” drivers we were using, but these speakers sound very sweet with amps that are more forthcoming at 4 Ohms.

We’ll just stop right there with the negative aspects and go back to the 8 Ohm experience because these little amps are truly amazing at 8 Ohms and few people even own 4 Ohm speakers. For $40, you CANNOT do any better than this. So simple to use- no built in iPod dock or anything, but you can’t use your equalizer settings on the iPod if you use a dock anyway. If you are a purist and need your “line out”, use a dock to get the clean signal to the amp and you are all set.

Oh, and if you want to go portable, there is room for 8 batteries to enable you to do so. In fact, the size of this amp is almost entirely due to the space allotted for batteries. This amp could be ¼ the size if it didn’t accommodate them. THAT, is even more amazinger (yes it is).

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In this economy, you need something this cheap to make you happy. Yes, cheap equals happy, Sri Unplggd reader, as long as it’s also good. A few well placed dollars can really make your musical experience deep and this is definitely a “to buy”.

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