Disclaimer: PS audio kindly loaned Sprout for the purposes of this review. Sprout goes for about 800$. You can find out all about it here.
Sure, PS Audio’s Sprout’s got speaker terminals out its arse, a pre-amp, a powerful headphone amplifier, and the rough footprint – if not the same smooth aesthetic – of a first-generation Apple TV. Then again, so does Centrance’s DACmini PX. It would be logical to consider them arch rivals.
Sprout is newer. And, I believe, it is a more forward-thinking DAC/amp. It eschews optical input for Bluetooth.
And true to its woody format, Sprout’s facia keeps things analogue-y: all its inputs are directly, and obviously twiddled via a front-mounted knob. That knob looks just like the digital volume pot next to it. And both click into place from step to step. Sprout’s volume pot is surer on its axis than the PX’s wobble-meister. I like that. I also like that Sprout’s clickable front interface is easier to suss at first glance.
What I don’t like is Sprout’s confused rear panel. It’s ins and outs are strewn about at random, and are not not well-labelled. I’m embarrassed to say it, but I had to crack open Sprout’s manual. Professional audio gear aside, that shouldn’t be necessary.
Sprout’s thick rubber feet keep it solid and non-slippy on your desktop, and will keep your other HiFi gear scratch-free. But they’re basic rubber strips are nearly impossible to balance against imperfect surfaces.
From an arm’s length, Sprout’s woody, shiny exterior is handsome. Like one of those woody surf estates, it’s part classic, part upbeat. And it’s got features up the wazzoo. Its shiny buttons are nice. But its rear end is practically ironed on: RCA inputs that budge when thumbed, cheap, poorly-threaded, cheaply capped speaker terminals. They’re so damn compact that even my slim fingers cramp up when threading bare wire into their locks. Sprout’s 3,5 ins and outs are super close to one another, and even the fuze bulb is way too close to the speaker and vinyl terminals. The good news is that once you get Sprout all hooked up you won’t have to bother much with inscrutable ass.
Another thing where Sprout ill-compares to the PX its power supply, which is highly susceptible to ground hum. Not to the same degree that the otherwise-incomparable Goldmund TELOS is, but enough that if you’ve not got your home’s hydro sorted, a lot of headphones will buzz. Non power-related noise is low. I’ve had zero power-related problems with either of my 4Ω speakers.
But you’re probably reading this in order to find out what Sprout can do for you.
And the answer is: a lot.
In my opinion, Sprout’s standout feature is its Bluetooth circuit. Bar none, it is best I’ve used in a home HiFi device. As I’m typing this I’ve just returned to my second-floor office from my kitchen, whisky in hand. And Sprout, which is downstairs, which is connected to my AE towers, which is siphoning Dire Straits from my iPhone, never once cut out. My iPhone is in my pocket. My house is made of wood. I counted the steps between my desk and Sprout: there are twenty nine of them. There are stairs in between. At thirty paces, I get connection issues. When the microwave is going, I get connection issues. When I get a call, I get connection issues. And when I hit up my dunny (a further ten steps), phone in pocket, I get connection issues. But that’s saying a lot. When you’re within Sprout’s working distance, it simply works.
And pairing it is easy as pie: flip Sprout’s input switch to BLUETOOTH, then hit pair on your computer or mobile device. Lickety split.
Sound impressions after the jump: