Re(al)view: Firestone Big Joe 3 Digital Power Amplifier

Re(al)view: Firestone Big Joe 3 Digital Power Amplifier

Aug 7, 2009

Firestone has been kind enough to send us a few of their products recently and today we take an in-depth look at a new digital amplifier. The Big Joe 3, as its numerimacality suggests, is the third generation of a series of small, yet powerful amplifiers.

...Powerful if you think 20 watts times two is power. "Huff, Huff", you say? "My amp has over 100 watts per channel, what would I do with this little thing?" When was the last time you made it through even one song at a volume above 2 or 3 on the dial without someone yelling at you?

Noise is just not appreciated by most of the population and no matter how great you think your own musical tastes are, to everyone else it's just a racket. So why not focus on quality, not quantity? A new breed of affordable and beautifully designed products is here to fill this broadening niche.

This amp is perfect for the office, garage, bedroom, and dorm. When I went to college, I thought volume was king and bass was like... the wizard emperor. I loved quality but I didn't have enough experience to know what quality was. If I could go back again, I would take one of these with me... and a list of all the winning horses at the Kentucky Derby over the last 13 years, see?

Here are the basic specs of the amp:

  • Amplifier Structure : True digital signal path, Class-D
  • Power Structure : Soft-Start circuit, Single-supply
  • Power Mode : Stand by and Power on mode
  • Input Select : USB / Coaxial / Optical / Line in
  • Power Output : 8ohm @ 20W
  • Circuit Protect : Output short / over current / over and under voltage / temperature protection
  • Reclock : Includes Fi-reclock® technology to reduce jitter
  • USB Support Format : 16-bit, 32 / 44.1kHz / 48kHz
  • SPDIF Support Format : 24-bit, 96kHz (MAX)
  • Main Amp : TI - TAS5706
  • ADC Chip : Cirrus - CS5343
  • USB Chip : CMedia - CM102
  • Receiver : TI - DIR9001

One of the great things about this amp is the HUGE number of inputs you can... input... into it. Just look at the back of this thing-

It's actually a bit of a tangle and when you have a few things plugged in, it's almost impossible to turn it on and off- not a big deal, but you gotta pick it up and sort of stick your finger in the right place... This is the price you pay for amazingly small size. You could fit this anywhere in your life and even though it isn't specifically designed for portability, you could definitely take it anywhere you find electricity.

Anyway, as you may have noticed from the specs, this is a class D amplifier and if you are into clean, on demand power, this is an enourmously efficient amp.

Hook it up directly from your computer through USB, through an optical input from your CD player (or computer or wherever), or through the analog line-in from your iPod. Whatever source you choose, you are covered. You can even run a coax cable in... a lot of choices.

Just be sure to remember that when you turn it back on, the selector switch on the front defaults to "Line-in". This caught us off guard a few times when the sound did not come back on after firing it back up. Again, not a big deal at all.

If you don't have banana terminals on your speakers you can do one of a few things:
1. Buy adapters to fit your speakers.
2. Cut the Banana plugs off and stick the wires into the backs of your speakers.
3. Jam them in the holes as we did below (ok, we didn't JAM them in ...finagled)

Using the USB interconnect, this is a plug-and-play set up. The computer should just switch all audio output to your amp with the line-out being disabled.

The overall sound is best described as "Superior"- very clear, with sharp attack and fleshy delivery. This amp will kill many way above its price point. There is one category which will surpise you in its outstanding-ness; Soundstage. I was really amazed at how situated every instrument and vocalist in any given recording was. The music felt "present", like you were there taking a bath in it. There was real depth to the sound which extended in front of and behind the speakers. Among others, I tried it out with some 80's vintage Bose 301's and some 90's vintage Paradigm Atoms. This amp is better suited to the Atoms- you might say they were made for each other.

It will take care of any small to mid-sized room and at $347 it might seem a bit pricey for some, but this is real high end sound in a small package- iPhone small:

Looks the part too:

They really have thought of everything so no matter what your needs are, there is a way for this to fill them.

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