Review: Audiosource Inc. AMP 102 Amplifier

Category: Amplifiers

Not all amplifiers are created equal and sometimes even within a given manufacturer's line...there can be...and more often than not will be...sonic variations. World class amplifier designer and builder Bob Carver once sat down with top audio reviewers and demonstrated how he could change the sound of his Carver amp to mimick other designs by simply adjusting a pot {potentiometer} or two under the hood.

AMP 102's meager asking price...$135 brand new or as in my case…$75 as a “B” model [Factory Blem]. AudioSource offers these blems with the latest factory upgrades. My model was originally built in December of 2007. Listening fatigue should not factor in so long as the Class A/B amp is matched properly to room and speakers.

Most audio buffs are pleasantly surprised when they first receive an AudioSource amplifier and then are awed by its sonic performance once set up properly. When looking at the benevolent manufacturer’s quality line of amps on their web site……it looks nice enough for the respective price points. However…it is only upon delivery of a given unit that one becomes fully impressed by the amazingly simplistic attractive craftsmanship and substantial feel to the amp…far exceeding expectation. This Amp 102 clocking in at a full seventeen pounds standing 3.8” tall by 16.5” wide and 6.25” deep is nothing short of a poor pocketed purist’s dream!

All this company does is design and turn out amplifiers not only for themselves…but for other brands as well. Who built the amp for your powered sub? You guessed it…probably AudioSource. Now for a direct quote from this overseas manufacturer…”AudioSource’s amps provide high sound pressure levels as well as subtle details with accuracy and transparency. You won’t find better sounding amps at anywhere near the price. A toroidal power transformer keeps stray magnetic fields to a minimum and the discrete output devices ensure pure signal fidelity.”

This really is no surprise to me as I have familiarized myself with AudioSource’s many amplifiers over the years. They’ve been making plenty of them since 1977 but it wasn’t until 1989 that they scored their first really successful product under their own brand…the Amp One. Three years later I got to test it with a pair of Allison CD-6s and the audition awed everybody in the huge showroom at Topps City. The little amplifier along with the small Allison cubes literally shook the showroom floor when listening to a Telarc recording of “Pictures At An Exhibition“ with absolutely no tonal compensation

The Layout:

I am not going to delve deeply into the setup of the AMP 102 like I did so several years ago for the AMP 100. At that time I felt it was helpful to potential buyers as AudioSource’s Owner’s manual was poorly written and very much inadequate to say the least. Since that time they have vastly improved the booklet and the 102’s twenty page plus English/Spanish brochure is very detailed and very well written. The model AMP 110 is included in the manual as both amps share many features. Kudos to AudioSource!

Just remember that Line 2 is your main line in with no signal sensing via a three position slider marked “Trigger“, “Auto On“ and “normal“. Simply set it to “Normal” for non-signal sensing. Whatever you supply Line 1 with will be signal sensed regardless of this switch‘s setting. This means that the amplifier will stay silent until it senses the incoming signal from that line. A signal from line 1 will override the signal coming into line 2. The amp can be triggered on via a special remote and there are two mini jacks for this purpose.

There is also a rear panel switch to turn off amp “power on” signal sensing plus one for the front display lighting.. This does not affect the “Power On” front button red light or the two “Clipping” indicators. The plug-in three prong “Mains” is impressive but unlike the AMP 100...there is no extra AC outlet provided for a preamp or e.q. YOU DON’T NEED ONE! The rear panel also provides two sets of RED/BLACK - 5-Way {Banana] Binding posts for running up to two sets of 8 Ohm speakers. If your speakers are 6 Ohm or 4 Ohm types…you may only safely run 1 pair. There is also a red slider switch for selecting voltage. Make sure it is set to proper area voltage...115v for USA

The front panel black faceplate is impressive looking and not cluttered with unnecessary buttons or frills. The lower left speaker buttons differ from AMP 100’s in the sense that they do not affect each other when one is fully depressed. Also different is a square plate dead center of the attractive faceplate containing the red AudioSource logo name & model #. There are two line bars on opposite sides of the square panel that glow steady red when the ampis turned on. If for some reason they annoy you…you can turn them off permanently via a rear slider. Personally…I think they look great when lit giving the amp a nice JVC red-like high end sexy look…especially when you turn your listening room’s lights down low.

The bottom of the square sports the big round red lit power button with left and right channel clipping LEDs on either side of it. They gradually glow green when the music plays at safe levels and blink red when clipping levels are reached. If you persist in the latter condition…the amp will shut down and cool until its thermal protection is safely overridden. A steady orange glow indicates amplifier safe mode or standby. On the front right are the two typical Audio Source “Balance” “Volume” controls that are about half the size of AMP 100’s. They are not detented but feel just smooth and wonderful and are well step marked.

There is a line out for left/right channels that can be used for sending a stereo signal to another amp or zone. Although AMP 102 is considered a zone amplifier…I and others like to use it for serious stereo only listening. It can also be used for Home Theater applications as well where more channels may be desired.

Construction of the amp itself is impressive upon unboxing the audio masterpiece. I was pleasantly surprised by the unusually large heat sinks inside of 102 but taken aback when popping open the AMP 102’s cover as it seemed to sport a more classic conventional but extremely large and weighty power supply...non toroidal. I absolutely LUV the toroidal power supplies introduced by Pioneer back in the late Seventies in their top amps and receivers. These toroids render quiet transparent warm sweet sounding neutral performance that others seem to only fall short of. The toroids reject hum and spurious noise better than most others.

Apparently AudioSource uses the toroidal transformer in their "00" series...Amps 100, 200 & 300 but not in their other amps...102, 110 & 210. This series was developed shortly after the introduction of the "00" series. The heavy transformer in the 102 is more conventionally quite squarish but even so...once the AMP 102 quietly powered up…any skepticism on my part ended at that point in time.

It must be mentioned at this point during setup/burn-in that the amplifier is twice the weight of its little superb-sounding brother the AMP 100 and yes…even though similarly rated…noticeably more powerful!

I have several reference CDs for break in and testing purposes. I let the AudioSource/Polk R30 combo play at moderate levels for about two hours with my \”Chaplet Of Divine Mercy [in song}” CD followed by my “Atmospheres-Celtic Voices“ & “West Side Story Soundtrack” transient/tone bursts/timbre test CDs. To witness the AMP 102 suddenly open up in bass and depth during the process was a thing of beauty to behold. Even during the initial burn in period...the mighty little AudioSource proved to be very musical and most engaging. Many of my favorite Jazz recordings were so intimate and seemed to come to life! Cymbal reproduction is easily the best I have ever heard through anything near this price point...and NOT SMEARED!

It also must be stated that although similar in quality to its little brother…the AMP 100...the AMP 102 sounds bigger with more punch and sweetness. In fact…like the 100 but even more so...this AMP 102 needs to be treated like a high end integrated amp. You can use a phono preamp but using my well designed Pyle Pro PYP-1X proved to only detract from the natural tonal balance of this natural depth-layered sounding AudioSource. I don't like tone controlled preamps in general as they only clutter the sound regardless of how well they are made but find them a necessary evil for late at night low level listening on my AMP 100. The AMP 102 sounds so warm and sweet at a whisper that nothing else should be introduced into its path..

Go straight "purist" in from the source or use a simple unbuffered selector box like I have from a Radio Shack purchase I made years ago. TCC offers this sort of arrangement with their top moving magnet preamp for under seventy bucks. The AMP 102 prefers a full direct signal as opposed to tone controlled devices. Any tone controls entered into the mix will colour compromise and contaminate the already perfectly balanced tonality of this gorgeous sounding amplifier. Dimensional purity will surely be compromised by tone controls. You could opt to leave them in their “Flat” position but that still will not equal the more discrete/direct approach. You’ve been given fair warning here. Your ears will thank as you have mercifully spared them of excruciating torture that leads to bleeding and you begging for it all to end soon.

I personally have my 102 setup so that my classic Pioneer Analog Tuner [permanently set to 88.3 FM WBGO...JAZZ} is attached to the signal-sensing Line 1 and the three position selector box on Line 2. I use the TCC Audiophile TC-760LC MM/MC Phono Preamp/GLI SL-2500 TT combo on Selector 2 with my Toshiba CD/DVD player on Selector 1. Selector 3 is open for now as I will choose another source for it at a later date. Who knows…maybe an IPAD?

Listening Tests:

During warmup I could not help but observe a sweetness not quite as present in previous AudioSource amps along with superb pumped midrange and very deep tight bass. This was all while using plain Calibre Xtreme 12 Gauge speaker interconnects. If your speakers tend to be on the brilliant side…use Kimber Kable 4PR 8 Gauge interconnects as these will open up the bass and mids while softening the highs. John Rutan of Audio Connection Of Verona, NJ is preparing a couple of eight foot lengths of 4PR interconnects for me and I have no doubt this will further improve the sonic listening qualities. For all others with neutral warm sounding monitors … just good ole 12 ga. is fine and you could even double it up for thicker economic connection..

During testing…I could not get the amp to distort at any level until the volume control reached its max where the “Left/Right Clipping Lights” finally flickered red a tad. This was a testimonial not only to the AudioSource but to the lovely cherry finished R30s as well. These modestly priced towers pair up so nicely to the AMP 102 that any obscurity in midrange detail previously observed seemed to almost totally disappear. Not only that but I never fully realized just how dynamic the mighty Polk towers were until I played a Telarc CD of Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite Of Spring” whereas there is a tympani gut puncher that is ever so striking around the eight minute mark…my heart almost flew out! Polk R50, R300 and M50 owners take note.

TIM {Transient Intermodulation Distortrion} is rarely mentioned by receiver manufacturers and appears to be a concern of AudioSource designers. The AMP 102’s transient attack and ability to double its power when called upon is stunning. This is a fast dynamic well-damped most powerful amp indeed. The airy quality to both human voices...female in particular and instruments alike is quite an experience in itself with what appears to be a total lack of hashy harshness. Details in music not previously perceived through lower quality equipment suddenly manifest themselves through the AMP 102.

The 102 compares quite favorably to more expensive Goliaths. Notice I stated “quite favorably” but not equal to. Noo freakin' way! The lovely AMP 102 is not going to match the warm subtle detailed accuracy of a $2000 Belles and Jolida or a $5000 Plinius. It will however prove most challenging to many heralded $500 NAD, Rotel, B&K or H-K entries. These esteemed amplifiers will seem to be minor league ball players by comparison 102 might even run neck 'n neck with a highly regarded more expensive Jolida tube amp... e.g. Jolida Audio FX10 . The overall performance is very reminiscent of my previously owned John Curl designed Parasound HCA-800 II and my vintage Edgar Villchur created AR Amplifier of the Seventies. Both had more than a touch of that ever so lovely liquidy "Tubular" sound.

The AR Amplifier was also conservatively rated at fifty watts per channel but when Stereo Reviewer Julian Hirsch ran tests on it at Hirsch-Houck Laboratories…the amp was found to put out well over one hundred watts per channel. It made the reviewer and others long for the old IHF [Institute Of High Fidelity] Dynamic Power rating spec to return.

The Audio Source shares most of the sound quality of that great amp but with extended highs and considerably less hiss. It was funny…the AR amplifier when turned on made a momentary buzz sound and hiss could be heard through revealing speakers. The hiss tended to subside as the amp warmed up. The AMP 102 is almost completely noise free at any point. The only time I was able to induce audible hiss was with the volume set to max while engaging the phono preamp. Resistance to Hum is outstanding and this amp musically is very engaging regardless of music genre! The only idiosyncrasy that the Amp 102 shares with the AR is the fact that when powered up there is an ever-so-slightly split second buzz noise. The AudioSource AMP 102 is almost like the AR amplifier least to my ears…the AMP 102 seems to be also as powerful as the ninety watt per channel Parasound classic.

Final Analysys

I wonder what this beautiful piece of equipment would sound like with classic Dynaco A 35s. These are considered by many to be the most accurate of transducers. I think the sugary highs would sweeten the Dyna’s 1 ½ “ dome tweeter just enough to dispel any audiophile rumor or perception of lack of extreme high frequency reproduction on the part of Dynaco’s most refined loudspeaker.

Boston Acoustics A 70 owners are in for a treat. These highly regarded Bostons are now the most accurate loudspeakers I've ever owned with the AMP 102 at the helm. The only possible better solution for A 70 owners would be a tube amp. The Shure M97xE phono cartridge will also benefit as its smooth but somewhat subdued highs will sparkle through the AMP 102.

The AR 3As and 48s along with the Allisons should also benefit wonderfully with this amp at the helm. I wouldn’t use it with overly brilliant speakers though…it may prove to be too steely sounding on some. The current speakers by Sony, Paradigm and Infinity plus vintage ones like the brilliant lovely sounding Boston Acoustics HD-8s will probably mate well with the AMP 100. Remember…no two amplifier models ever quite sound the same.

At any rate I can wholeheartedly recommend the AudioSource Amp 102 to those of you that are interested in great sound quality but with limited funds. The AudioSource AMP 102...hefty and robust with HCC [High Current Capability]…is a mighty little wonder indeed. It is extremely difficult for me to find fault with this liquidy sounding amplifier as it most assuredly is indeed a poor audiophile’s dream come true! It can truly be perceived as more than a baby step into the world of High End audio. Good listening music lovers!…PJSII

Associated gear
TCC TC-760LC Phono Preamp
RS Selector Box
SL-2500 Direct Drive Turntable w/Shure M97xE
Polk R30 Cherry Towers
Boston Acoustics Classic A70 Loudspeakers
Pioneer TX-5500 II Tuner
Kimber 4PR
Calibre Xtreme 12 Ga. Interconnects
Clearaudio Concept MM

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Audio Research
Very nice review. It's refreshing to hear about inexpensive yet strong products on audiogon.

I'm considering getting one to power my zone 2 (kitchen) speakers, as my 5 channel amp is full with its part in the 5.1 channel home theater.

Thank you Michael for your most intelligent kind remark...Peter