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.

1118sprout.bac.jpg

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.

Listening
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.

1118sprout.2.jpg

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.

Conclusion
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.

COMPANY INFO
PS Audio
4865 Sterling Drive
Boulder, CO 80301
(800) PSAUDIO
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

Another winner from PS audio .......... Keep them coming :-) ...........

HammerSandwich's picture

I hope they're in progress, particularly in light of the 2015 model's rather unusual results.

John Atkinson's picture
No measurements planned. Sorry.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

a Class C recommended component? ( or is it made by someone else )

Are we apologizing here or is this thingy an entry level Computer Audiophile device like the cheap ( made in USA ) Schiit stuff?

Seems like everything else PS offers ( and make in Colorado ) is way up on the top of Class A recommended lists.

Tony in Michigan

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If Sprout100 gets a Class-A recommendation, that would be the end of civilization as we know it :-) .........

Mateo Sanboval's picture

I appreciate the new review and am wondering what a similarly budget conscious pair of bookshelf speakers be? Preferably well-rounded ones that don't necessarily require a subwoofer and would, of course, match well with the Sprout100. Double bonus points if they don't have a rear firing port as space is very much at a premium in my room.

funambulistic's picture

... of the Sprout and Elac Debut 2.0 speakers:

https://twitteringmachnes.com/system-review-ps-audio-sprout100-elac-debu...

Not bad for $249 speakers!

ChicagoJEO's picture

You state that the new Sabre chip reads signals up to 384 kHz, but the specifications above say the unit will read only up to 192 kHz. What is the source of this discrepancy?

georgehifi's picture

Re: Measurements, JA? new
Submitted by John Atkinson on October 24, 2018 - 10:41pm
No measurements planned. Sorry.
John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Hope they got rid of this BS massive fixed bass boost that JA measured with the earlier one.
https://www.stereophile.com/images/515PSASfig01.jpg

Cheers George

Bogolu Haranath's picture

HR talks about the 'bass boost' in the review and how to get rid of it :-) .........

georgehifi's picture

"Bogolu Haranath on October 25, 2018 - 9:04pm
HR talks about the 'bass boost' in the review and how to get rid of it"

There's "talk" of a button on the back, but there's nothing to see on the web with some good pics of the rear of the old one, and in pics of this one above.
https://www.stereolifemagazine.com/images/reviews/psaudiosprout/w/PSAudi...

Cheers George

funambulistic's picture

I could not find any info on disabling the original Sprout's bass boost - no switches and nothing in the user's manual.

Regarding the Sprout 100 and it factory default bass boost, Herb wrote, "bass boost is automatically engaged at turn-on... said user must push in the Volume/On/Off knob and hold it there a few seconds..." to turn it off. Also, from the user's manual, "To enable or disable the bass boost simply long press the volume knob to toggle the feature on or off." It does not appear to have any switches other than the Volume/On/Off knob to control the bass boost.

Steveater's picture

I am a some-what seasoned audiophile and own the Sprout 100. I love it! I'm using it in a small living room with B&W CM5S2s and a MacBook Air. This is the same room that used to have Magnepan 1.5s with ARC LS8mkII / 100.2, linn CD player and a Linn LP12. I have to say that I really enjoy the simplicity of the sprout system and play it a lot more than I did the ARC system. Although I have another room now for my "serious" system (no longer the magnepans - were replaced with KEF) we spend a lot more time in the living room with the sprout. I find that it has plenty of detail, imaging and all the other "audiophile" qualities that seem to make listening to music more like a live experience. This system really does a great job of making music!!!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be HR could review the new Sprout100 with Mini-Maggie desk top speakers :-) ............

Bill Leebens's picture

The original Sprout was listed in Class C of Stereophile's Recommended Components, and we were proud to have it there. As you can imagine, it's especially challenging to build a moderately-priced component that compares to our Stellar or BHK series components, and I think the PS team has done a terrific job of meeting the challenge---there's a lot of high-quality componentry in that little enclosure!

The boost in Sprout100 is user-defeatable by way of the right-hand knob/on-off/volume control. In daily usage with speakers of moderate size, the boost in the original unit was rarely noticeable or intrusive.

Finally: I will very mildly take issue with Herb's final comment. We've sold thousands of Sprouts and Sprout100s to longtime PS customers who own "Big Boy" systems, who use their Sprouts in offices, vacation homes, simple systems, and have given them as graduation and holiday gifts to their offspring, relatives, and friends. We've also had a rave review from a website devoted to simple tech for the 50+ set. Just a matter of perspective, I guess!

Happy Halloween!

Bill Leebens
Director of Communications, PS Audio

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