PS Audio Sprout
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
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 ;-)
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.
Also in-use during the Sprout review: Teac AI-301DA