On “Shenandoah,” the Geek Out 450 produced a resonant sound with extended highs. The drone effect of de Grassi’s guitar was pronounced, giving it an ethereal sound. Transients were quite lifelike. The harmonic structure of the guitar was also well portrayed, making for a very realistic guitar sound.
Holly Cole’s “Invitation to the Blues” opened with crushing bass. Through the Geek Out 450, her vocals were better defined than with the PMA-50. The occasional characteristic coarseness of Cole’s voice was extremely realistic. Cymbals had that distinctly metallic sound, with sharply defined leading-edge transients.
Pidgeon’s “Kalerka” had a touch of extra emphasis on sibilants, but was otherwise clean and open-sounding.
As an aside, I still have trouble believing the Geek Out 450 costs only $199. But it doesn’t drive speakers.
I haven’t listened to these competing components, but thought it might be useful to compare their features and specifications. The $799 Sony UDA-1 is a more conventional-looking integrated amplifier with USB and coaxial digital inputs, an analog input, and both headphone and speaker outputs. Power is rated at 23Wpc into 4 ohms, but at a rather high 10 percent distortion. It has a remote control. It plays DSD and PCM high-resolution files. Unlike the next two amplifiers, it does not have a Bluetooth input.
The PS Audio Sprout is priced at $799 and is rated at 50Wpc into 4 ohms, 33Wpc into 8 ohms (no distortion level given), and comes with a walnut top. It includes a moving-magnet phono preamp, but not a remote control. It plays only PCM computer audio files, not DSD. Its headphone amplifier produces enough power to drive most headphones. If you have power-thirsty headphones like the HiFiMAN HE-6, you’ll probably already have a headphone amplifier capable of putting out the power they require, but for most cans, the Sprout should be adequate. It has a line-level analog input and output on stereo jacks, and a phono input on RCA jacks. If you have a turntable, the Sprout would be the clear choice. I’d kinda like a remote, though.
The $499 NAD D3020 is rated at 30Wpc into 8 ohms, but claims to produce much higher dynamic power. Its DAC plays up to 192kHz/24-bit through its SPDIF input, 96/24 through USB. As those specifications imply, it does not play DSD files. A remote control is included. It has two analog inputs and a subwoofer output. No information is given about the headphone output. It comes in typical dark-grayish NAD color. It’s designed to be oriented vertically, with the volume control on top.
In my view, the Denon PMA-50 hits the bulls-eye as a beginner-level hi-fi component: It looks good, sounds good, has a lot of features for its price, is easy to hook up and blessedly easy to use. Its features, including remote control and Bluetooth connectivity, are genuinely useful. Even though its power is limited, it’s very competitive for the price. Actually, there’s no reason to restrict all this hi-fi goodness to beginners; the PMA would make a terrific centerpiece for a bedroom or office system. Pricewise, I can’t think of a better value.
The Denon PMA-50 may not be state of the art (what would you expect for this kind of money?), but it may be state of the start(up).
SPECS & PRICING
Rated output (both channels driven): 25Wpc (8 ohms, 1kHz, THD 0.1%); 50Wpc (4 ohms, 1kHz, THD 1.0%)
Output connectors: 1/4" (6.3 mm) headphone jack; 4–16 ohm speaker terminals
Audio format: Digital audio interface (linear PCM)
Communication system: Bluetooth version 3.0
Supported profiles: A2DP 1.3/AVRCP 1.5
Supported codecs: aptX low-latency/AAC/SBC
DENON ELECTRONICS (USA), LLC
100 Corporate Drive
Mahwah, NJ 07430