The Dayton Audio DTA-100a Class-T Digital; value, versatility, and hopefully virtuous (I’m running out of “V” words) sound quality.
The Real Deal
What if I told you about a $99 dollar stereo amplifier with Tripath Class-T power that delivers 20-25 watts of audiophile power into an 8 ohm’s…what would you say? Now throw in a 3.5 mm stereo input and an RCA line level input for quick connection of CD Players, iPods, MP3 players, and other portable audio devices. But that’s not all; it’s more than 85% efficient, comes in a compact extruded aluminum housing with thick black anodized faceplate, has high-current banana plug receptacles for the speaker output connections and comes complete with a world compatible 24v switching PSU, and its associated connectors. Oh, and it doubles as a headphone amplifier and comes with four rubber feet too! All for $99, $89 when it’s on sale. “Holy Shenanigans Batman. That’s crazy.” You say. Yes, yes it is…I say! The DTA-100a makes quite a statement offering value, versatility, and hopefully virtuous (I’m running out of “V” words) sound quality.
Who is Dayton Audio
Dayton Audio is a spin-off of online powerhouse PartsExpress.com which hails from Springboro, Ohio. P.E. (as they are known), made a name for itself selling audio, video and speaker building components to custom installers, audio enthusiasts, audio engineers, and DIY’ers. They’ve been in business for more than ten years. Each product is designed and engineered in the U.S.A. while manufacturing happens in China to keep costs down. I myself have purchased several products from both P.E. and Dayton Audio and have always been happy with the products. They also excel at offering a high level of customer service. In a world of rude and often inept customer service personnel, it’s refreshing to see a company rise above the trend. That’s my PartsExpress.com plug…P.E. if your reading this, make the check payable to: Thomas Turner. Thanks.
What is a DTA-100a
As I said before, the Dayton Audio DTA-100a is a Tripath Class T amplifier that delivers 50 watts per channel amplifier. I know I said it was 20-25 wpc in the opening paragraph and it is, but it’s a little complicated. Here’s what’s going on…Looking at the Datasheet, the Tripath chipset (TK2050) can be powered by a +30V power supply and deliver 50 watts into 8 ohms @ < 3% THD. To produce “audiophile,” hence, low distortion levels (<0.05% THD), the TK2050, with a 30V power supply, can deliver 30 watts into 8 ohms, @ 0.01% THD. But since Dayton Audio ships the DTA-100a with a 24v power supply it delivers 30 watts into 6 ohms @ 0.05% THD. You might be thinking “What’s the power output into 8 ohms using the supplied 24v power supply?” Good question. It delivers a real world 20-25 watts of low distortion (< 0.05% THD) power into 8 ohms.
Why Class T
A Class T amplifier is type of digital amplifier design that belongs to the Class D class of amplifiers. Class D amplifiers are digital switching amplifiers known for their high power output, efficiency, compact design and good sound quality relative to it’s cost (and in this case, irrespective of it). Class T amplifiers have such great potential that even dyed in the wool analog audio companies such as Audio Research produced models; the 300Wpc, 300.2, the 150Wpc, 150.2, and the 5-channel, 150Wpc, 150M.5. Other companies have gotten into the game as well…more recently Winsome Labs Mouse, Sonneteer Brontë, Sonic, LIttle Dot, Gary Dodd and Virtue Audio One. All these amplifiers cost more money than the DTA-100a, but they include audiophile grade components, better design, fancier housings, and power supplies. In theory all these things should make those amplifiers sound better and often times they do, resulting in more refined, transparent, punchy, and dynamic sound.
Efficient Class T, headphone amp, compact extruded aluminum housing, thick black anodized faceplate, short circuit, thermal, and overload protection, world compatible 24 VDC switch mode power supply
INPUTS: Two stereo inputs, 3.5mm input jack, 1/4″ headphone jack OUTPUT: Standard Binding Posts
POWER OUPUT: 30w/2 @ 6 O THD: 0.05% (using supplied 24v PSU), 30w/2 @ 8 O THD: 0.01% (using aftermarket 30v PSU) DIMENSIONS: Faceplate dimensions: 1-29/32″ H x 3-3/8″ W x 5/16″ D • Body dimensions: 1-3/4″ H x 3-1/8″ W x 4-5/8″ D • Overall dimensions: 2-1/8″ H x 3-3/8″ W x 5-1/2″ D (feet, faceplate, and volume knob included) WEIGHT: 2.75lbs
The first set of speakers I connected to the DTA-100a’s were the 100dB efficient and excellent sounding Emerald Physics CS2’s. They require bi-amping and are heavily EQ’ed especially in the bass region making the amplifier work harder due to the loss in efficiency attributed to the EQ process. While playing bass heavy music the CS2’s bottomed out when pushed beyond their limits. Played within it’s means however, the DTA-100a had excellent bass control. This bitter sweet fact was highlighted while playing my new bass test reference CD, James Blake’s self titled album James Blake [Universal Records]. Initially, I started the volume to high on Blake’s track “To Care (Like You)” and the DTA-100a’s ran out of steam every time the bass beat dropped. I quickly reduced the volume to a level more in-line with my everyday listening levels and the bass tightened up nicely; the whole track gained solidity and began to groove. The DTA-100a reminded me several times of it’s limited power output as I kept wanting to turn the volume higher. The little amp that could just didn’t have it in him and I faced the fact that this would be a strictly normal volume level affair.
Moving from the low end to the high end, the DTA-100a was at ease with high frequencies conveying 3-D like sense of space and air. It didn’t have as easy of a time with the mid-range frequencies however. Listening to tracks from Coldplay to Eva Cassidy, the pristine audio signal emerged from the speaker outputs of the DTA-100a more ragged than when it started. This raggedness affected the mid-range through the lower treble mostly though not enough to completely turn me off, but enough to notice. I caution, however, to keep things in perspective, some hash is to be expected from an amplifier in this price range. The price tag doesn’t permit the extra care necessary to refine the sound of the amplifier, not only in the mid-range but elsewhere as well. While the mid-range was a bit rough sacrificing transparency and accuracy, it wasn’t a deal breaker because taken as a whole the amplifier was more than passable; I could live it in my main system for a spell.
Several days before wrapping up this review, my Walsh 5’s came back freshly refurbished from Ohm Acoustics. I couldn’t wait to hear the combo and after several days of re-breaking them in, I did. Immediately, the Walsh 5′s were a better fit for the DTA-100a. The Walsh 5′s flourished in the DTA-100a’s light, showcasing a sound completely different the CS2/DTA-100a combo. The bass on “Limit To Your Love” from James Blake’s album James Blake [Universal Republic] was so much more powerful that I had to reduce the bass level on the Walsh 5′s. The mid-range of DTA-100a remained grainy, but it was an order of magnitude or two less than it had been before. I attribute this to the Walsh’s being an easier load for the DTA-100a’s, which helped smooth out the DTA-100a’s grit somewhat. Treble detail increased, and the sense of space and air all gained presence. Soundstage was larger and more three-dimensional playing “Just A Little Moon” from Rebekka Bakken’s album Is That You? [Universal]. The Walsh 5’s are well known for throwing a large soundstage, but the little DTA-100a expanded it further. In the end, if I could live with the DTA-100a/CS2 combo for a limited time, I could now live with the DTA-100a/Walsh 5 combo indefinitely if I had too.
The last album I cued up was Paloma Faith’s album Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful? [Epic]. I listened to “Play On” from the album and the violin at the beginning of the song comes though as wiry and full as I’ve ever hear it through the Walsh 5/DTA-100a combo and the tuba was round with good weight and depth.
Unfortunately, a week after receiving the DTA-100a’s, the LED on the left channel amplifier started flickering. Soon it was going out for seconds at a time. Not wanting to risk being stuck with a defective amplifier I called P.E. for a replacement. They promptly obliged and sent out a replacement before receiving the defective one back. A nice gesture.
A week later, the right channel started crackling. I fiddled with the wires and accidental bumped the amplifier and walla, I got sound. I tapped it again and the sound crackled and sputtered out. I tapped it again and walla, music came back. Something wasn’t right inside the chassis so I sent that one back too. The DTA-100a’s propensity to break does cast doubt in my mind about their long term reliability. Putting a positive spin on it, P.E. has a gracious 45 days return policy, which gives you enough time to evaluate the reliability and sound quality of the amplifier.
What We Liked:
- Great Bass: Excellent bass depth, control and tightness (with the right speakers).
- Detailed Highs: Airy and nimble treble make this amplifier shine.
- Inexpensive: It’s $99 dollars, need I say more!
- Versatile:Great all around amplifier, headphone amp, and multi-room amplifier
What We Didn’t Like:
- Mid-range grain: The amplifier exhibits some mid-range and lower treble grain.
- Unreliable: It’s $99 dollars, need I say more! I got two defective units.
- Can’t Defeat Volume Control: Bypassing the volume control would remove a layer of grain while at the same type nullifying it’s versatility. Ah, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Sound Quality vs Versatility?
The little Dayton Audio DTA-100a makes music, real music. Likening the DTA-100a to a college term paper, it would be a outline whereas pricier amplifiers would be the final draft. More expensive amplifiers get more of the big stuff right as well as more of the little stuff. Having said that, even though the DTA-100a was an outline; staying with the college term paper theme, it was a very detailed outline and music flowed through it just as it would have through any good amplifier. Under close inspection it exhibits some upper mid-range, lower treble grain and things never did smooth out the way I’d hoped for. Furthermore, the DTA-100a masked some mid-range nuances and deep textures of music that gave music a slightly un-natural tonal quality. It also suffered from reliability issues. On the positive side, the DTA-100a has superb bass control and detailed if not hyper extended highs (just the way I like it). For the purpose it was designed for, the DTA-100a is a winner. It’s versatile and is fully capable of anchoring your audio system if paired with the right speakers. Whatever you do, don’t be turned off by Class T amplification before you’ve had a chance to hear the DTA-100a; it’s the real deal.
Author and Associated Equipment
Speakers- Emerald Physics CS2, Ohm Walsh 5
Amplifier- Heed Obelisk Si w/X2 Power Supply
Digital Processor- Schiit BiFrost, Heed DACtil 1.0 DAC Module
Sources- Squeezebox Touch, PS3
Cables- DH Labs Silver Sonic, MIT EXp2, Signal Cable MagicPower Cord
Accessories- Homebrew x2 Isobases, Ikea Lack Audio Rack
Manufacturer ContactParts Express
725 Pleasant Valley Dr.
Springboro, OH 45066 USA