PS Audio Sprout

Device Type: Integrated Amp/DAC/Headphone Amp
Inputs: Moving Magnet Phono, 3.5mm analog stereo, Coax S/PDIF, Asynchronous USB, Bluetooth
Outputs: 1/4" headphone jack, 3.5mm stereo connector can be used for subwoofer or amplifier feed, 2x speaker binding posts
Dimensions: 6" x 8" x 1.75"
Weight: 5 lbs
Availability: PS Audio dealers and distributors worldwide and Online Direct
Price: $799

The Sprout Vision
I see it, I hear it, I like it. Sprout plays vinyl and digital (up to 24/192), lets you stream to it via Bluetooth from your smartphone while pumping out 32 watts of Class D power per channel into 8 Ohms (50W into 4). It delivers all of this in a small, simple, attractive package and it costs $799. What more do you need to know?

The Sprout grew out of Scott McGowan's desire to deliver, "...the performance levels of his father’s creations packaged in a single, beautiful product he and his friends could afford to own." There's that vision in a nutshell. Scott's father is Paul McGowan, PS Audio's Founder and CEO. PS Audio has been around for about 42 years and their products include phono stages, DACs, power products, and a soon-to-be-released amplifier. Having heard their DirectStream DAC (see review), I'd say they know their way around sound design.

The Sprout's body is stainless steel, extruded aluminum, and walnut and is about the size of a good book. Its back panel houses most of the ins and outs including the MM phono input, the asynchronous USB Type-B input for connecting your digital file player, a Coax S/PDIF input for legacy digital stuff, and a 3.5mm input for your iOS or Android devices. The Sprout also includes Bluetooth connectivity which is tied to the unit's upsampling Wolfson DAC. Outputs include a 3.5mm stereo jack for connecting to a subwoofer or external amplifier, and a pair of speaker binding posts.

Around front, we find a 1/4" headphone jack (output impedance for the headphone amp is rated at <0.3 Ohm according PS Audio), the input selector knob, and the analog stepped volume control knob. These controls have a very nice tactile feel, which is another aspect of Scott's vision. Nice. Inside we find a Class D amplifier from Scandinavian company Anaview. The exact Wolfson DAC in use is something that PS Audio prefers to keep to themselves, I'd imagine because some people like to think they know what different DAC chips sound like. I'll give you a hint: nothing. It's all in the implementation.

Sprout does not offer a remote control which was obviously an intentional choice. According to PS Audio, the lack of a remote ensures that owners will physically interact with their Sprout, an important aspect of the overall experience. They are also clearly aiming for a younger and more spritely demographic than your average audiophile crowd ;-)

Sprout Sound
What the Sprout delivers is a fit and lively sound with very good control of the speakers, I used my DeVore The Nines for this review paired with the classic Type-4 speaker cables from AudioQuest. There's lots of dynamic punch, a crisp overall presentation, and a goodly helping of micro detail and bass impact. In a word fit and fun.

I played all manner of files from my MacBook Pro to the Sprout including CD-quality and high res files and enjoyed them all. The little Sprout to my ears has landed on a nice balancing point of sound qualities that strike me as being very listenable. You may notice some hesitation in my wording which is simply due to the fact that I typically listen to much more costly separates and while the Sprout does not deliver as much natural organic grace as my Pass INT-30A and Auralic Vega, we're talking about thousands of dollars worth of kit compared to a one-box $799 solution.

To put things on a more level playing field, I also happen to have the 22W (into 8 Ohms) Teac AI-301DA ($549.99) integrated amp/DAC here for review. The Teac does not offer a phono input while it adds DSD support, optical and coaxial digital audio inputs, as well as two analog line level inputs so I see these two all-in-one devices appealing to different people. That said, the Teac offers a softer and darker sound as compared to the Sprout, with not as much dynamic snap. This comes across in things like a bow on strings where the Sprout delivers the attack and bite in a more palpable manner as compared to the Teac. Music overal sounds more lit up and more lively.

If I was system building and starting with speakers that struck me as being on the lean and bright side, the Teac may offer a nice antidote to those not-so-nice attributes. Through my DeVore's, I preferred the Sprout's cleaner and more precise sound. Also in terms of system building, I'd make full use of the Sprout's phono input.

Back to the Sprout, I streamed some tunes via Bluetooth from my iPhone and was frankly surprised at how good this sounded. Beck's Morning Phase (The Vinyl Experience) was all warm and cuddly, with nice sparkle, pop and drive. Offering Bluetooth on this type of product stikes me as being a "must-have" feature as it allows friends and family to easily share their music through your hi-fi. A few taps on their smartphones and they're streaming away. Sharing music is something we seem to have lost to some extent and I'm all for bringing it all back home and Bluetooth is a very nice and easy way to do it.

I also hooked up the NAD Viso HP50 headphones to the Sprout and they made lovely dancing partners. The HP50s can sound a bit dark around the middle so the Sprout's nice lit up sound lit up the HP50s and made them sing. Bass was big and fat while remaining well controlled and everything just gelled. I listened to The Bug's Angels & Devils and had a hard time standing or sitting still. Very nice, indeed.

There's A Lot To Like About Sprout
I say bravo Scott McGowan and PS Audio for delivering a well-designed, attractive, and good-sounding chunk of the hi-fi puzzle. For those people looking for a simple one-box solution combining an integrated amp and headphone amp with the ability to play their file-based music, streaming services, and LPs, the little Sprout shouts out loud and clear that it's worth more than a casual listen.

Associated Equipment

Also in-use during the Sprout review: Teac AI-301DA

mcullinan's picture

Simple and seems like a winner in the simplicity department. Im a sucker for pretty packaging and this seems to have it in spades. It also seems like a great opportunity for people with limited space or on a limited budget.

Jmilton7043's picture

$800? You could buy a decent stereo receiver with those features...and more power.Is less really more?

Michael Lavorgna's picture in the eye and ear of the beholder. Some people do not need more power.
deckeda's picture

Especially playing records.

Hiro's picture

I'd think that's hardly an analog lover's dream...

deckeda's picture

... no matter the source.

If it's got a nice phono pre it could sound as good as anything else. Or in the case of Bluetooth, a whole bunch better.

By the way, the "D" in Class D doesn't mean digital and there wasn't an ADC mentioned anywhere.

Hiro's picture

Class D amplifiers are digital PWM amplifiers so there has to be a conversion from A to D in there.

deckeda's picture

PWM describes how the power supply in a Class D modulates the power. And PWM supplies are often seen in car stereo amps (and they are not necessarily Class D), where big, cool power can come from small boxes.

But the amplification stages are indeed an analog function and you won't hear or read about a Class D amp having an ADC unless it also uses DSP for an EQ or some other digital processing function.

Hiro's picture

there's a digital PWM stage there. Bye, bye analog records.

deckeda's picture

... with "digital" signal processing.

But hey since you won't take my word for it, feel free to look up what a Class D amp is, and what PWM is and what it's used for.

Or, you can continue to not do that and "assure" me of what you think you know.

Hiro's picture

digital PWM is analog.

Good luck with your pure analog chain.

deckeda's picture

I will. :)

Hiro's picture

BTW, do you know how many *bits* PWM are we talking about here?

deckeda's picture

... since the music signal never goes through a digital stage.

fritzg's picture

Did you connect your Pono to the Sprout? I thought you mentioned that in an earlier version of this review.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...but didn't have time - the comparison with the Teac took longer than I expected. I'm sure the Pono Player and Sprout would make a great combo.
fritzg's picture

That would be in unbalanced mode from the Pono, correct? Did you test anything with Sprout's analog inputs?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
The Sprout does not offer balanced inputs. Other than the phono input, the Sprout's analog input is a 3.5mm jack. I did not try this input and felt Bluetooth would be the more popular method of connecting.
OldZorki's picture

NAD D3020 is probably more natural comparision with Sprout, with a cost of 40% less it offer similar veratility and power (no phono input probbaly compensated by inclusion of optical input, necessary for millions of airpot express owners).
I like the look of Sprout however much more )).

ktracho's picture

to convert its analog input to digital if I remember correctly from their website. Otherwise, I'd be tempted to get it, since I already have a phono preamp. My only reservation with the Sprout is that I may prefer the sound of a decent tube amp, but it has analog out, so it seems like a safe choice. If it had an analog->USB converter, it would be perfect for me, but the lack thereof isn't a showstopper.

One question, is the headphone amp separate from the class D amp that drives the speaker outputs? Also, any chance of evaluating the incorporated phono preamp?

Michael Lavorgna's picture a separate discrete Class A/B power amp.
Reed's picture

Paul's son was showing this in an adjacent room to the PS Audio room. He played an album on some appropriately price turntable. I can't remember which for sure, but I think it was the lower end Project Carbon with an Ortofon Red. There wer so many rooms, it's hard to remember all of the associated equipment. He was also using The smaller Golden Ear monitors. I remember the sound, though. It was very impressive. He was selling it as something high fidelity for the younger crowd with limited room real estate. I was thinking it would be a great first system for my daughter. It's simple, has a small footprint and very impressive sound.

whell's picture

The rest of the package looks pretty sweet!

maasomenos's picture

Just spreading the good word here: bought the Sprout for the bedroom, where the wife would no longer tolerate the mini-separates firing up some Zu credenza. Living in NZ, I had to a) go through an internet buying site with zero customer service and b) use a step down transformer. After a week, the amp broke. Wrote to PS, had a response within 24 hours. Upshot is, they will not only repair it as per warranty, but have promised to convert it to 230 v for free. Now that is what buying from a boutique brand should get you, but very rarely does, even when you don't go after their budget offerings. Awesome experience. Happy holidays! Oh. It sounds really nice, too...