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Audio Files: Why Are Ultra-Low-Power Amps All the Rage Among Audiophiles?

"Flea-watt" amps are being embraced by serious music fans

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Triode Labs’ $3,500 2A3S-III
Triode Labs’ $3,500 2A3S-III

Music’s always going to have occasional throwbacks—who would have expected that in 2019 we’d be seeing a renaissance in tubas and tenor guitars? In the related field of high-end audio, though, the throwback may soon become the norm. Many audiophiles are rejecting modern amplifiers that deliver hundreds of watts of power, instead embracing so-called “flea-watt” amps with power ratings of 10 watts per channel or less. Some of these low-powered amps employ technology that was already considered outdated when Sonny Rollins cut his first album. Such amps used to be novelties, but I’d estimate that about a quarter of the demo rooms at most audio shows now feature flea-watt amps.

Can Less Be More?

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Brent Butterworth

Brent Butterworth has been a professional audio journalist since 1989, and has evaluated and measured thousands of audio products. He is currently a writer at Wirecutter and editor of the SoundStage Solo headphone site; served as an editor at such magazines as Sound & Vision and Home Theater; and worked as marketing director for Dolby Laboratories. He also plays double bass with several jazz groups in Los Angeles.