FleaWatt TPA3116 Amplifier Tour. Those on the tour, post your impressions here.

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. Read 16207 times.

Canada Rob

  • Industry Participant
  • Posts: 1005
    • Industry Participant
Disclaimer:  I don't deal in or have any financial interest in FleaWatt.  I'm doing this to help promote another affordable amp option for financially challenged prospective Omega customers and to help promote small businesses like FleaWatt.  And yes, I was curious about all the enthusiasm surrounding the TPA3116 amps.

A couple of weeks ago a sizable parcel showed up at the post office.  It felt kind of heavy for a tiny little FleaWatt amplifier and a couple of brick switching power supplies.  When I opened the box I saw why.  The FleaWatt amp in it's cast aluminum case measures 7-3/8" square by 2-1/2" high not including volume knob, binding posts, etc.  It's solid as a rock which I really like and when you connect cabling it won't be tipped up or dragged off the back of your shelf, desk, or stand.  This FleaWatt is Derek's basic, no frills model.  The volume control is very smooth with a high end feel and connectivity on the back is also very solid and well made.

The FleaWatt was hooked up to Super 3U and Super 3i Monitors, and a Pure i20 digital dock with iPod 6 generation Nano playing 16/44 files.  The interconnect was a Decware 1 meter Silver Reference, and the speaker wire was basic Monster 16ga.  Sometimes I ran my Klipsch RPW10 sub, and sometimes not.

Both the Super 3U and Super 3i work well with the Fleawatt - with or without sub depending on whether the music or room size/acoustics want a sub or not.  YMMV.  I tried the Fleawatt with the Super Alnico Monitor but didn't like it.  The Alnicos are just too revealing and want commensurate partners upline.  In fairness to the FleaWatt, the basic Decware is 6-1/2 times the price and my Decware is almost 11 times the price. 

Rather than bore you with a bunch more block paragraphs, I'll list how the FleaWatt/3U/3i system did with each type of music.  All files are native 16/44 or downsampled from 24/96 or 24/192.

Pop (run with the sub): Fast, punchy, dynamic, with symbols having a lot of shimmer and air - they really sound like what they are, metal.  The kick drum has lots of punch.  Soundstage well defined and 3D.  Bass and lead guitars sound well balanced.  Vocals very real, but sometimes there is some sibilance depending on the recording.

Jazz & Blues (run with sub): Scary spooky 3 dimensionally in the room with you.  Every nuance of the singer's voice is very clear.  Brass (which I don't care for anyway) can get a little brash on the top end, but not on every recording.  Double bass is such that I can hear each string with it's buzz or rattle as it's plucked.

Classical (sometimes with sub, sometimes not): Single driver speakers, we're told, don't do complex music well of which classical is the most complex.  With the speed of this amp and the RS5 driver, this system is able to pick up all the subtitles and nuances that classical music is known for and at low to medium volumes does a treat to this genre of music.  If one cranks the volume, yes compression will set in, but with a system like this the volume doesn't need to be cranked in order for the dynamics to flow.  Class D does really well with low level dynamics as do any truly efficient speakers like the Omegas.  Save your ears.

Baroque (sometimes with sub, sometimes not): Similar results to Jazz - utterly spooky.  The period instruments are rendered reedy and sonorous with lots of texture.

Choral (sometimes with sub, sometimes not): I only tried a piece from Mozart's Requiem which is a large work with lots of dynamics and high voices, and being this type of music rattles my nerves, I'm prejudiced against it.  Smaller choral works that are more gentle on the nerves, I love, and would put them in the class of jazz and blues as far as their presentation and dynamics go.

In conclusion (at $155 USD for basic amp and 15 volt brick switching power supply) I think the FleaWatt is a steal.  Just think, for well under a grand USD one could have the FleaWatt amp, a pair of Super 3i, and a Schiit Modi 2 DAC.  With a system like this there are almost endless upgrade possibilities without changing out any of the main components.  The upgrade possibilities for the amp are almost endless not to mention the power supply options.  You can add a sub, better interconnects etc, etc. 

The sound signature of the FleaWatt is very detailed and leaning to the analytical, and can get harsh on the top end with some recordings.  The system I played with this amp is highly resolved and not always forgiving of bright or hot recordings.  The upside of this is incredible detail and dynamics.  Imaging is insane and finely focussed with all types of music clearly revealing the space of the recording venue.  It was enjoyed by all who heard it and I found myself getting addicted to the sound.  The Fleawatt amp is clearly better sounding in every way than my "red board" TPA3116.

At $155 USD I can't think of anything that compares to the FleaWatt and in the aforementioned sub $1000 USD system could deliver some iPhone/iPod/Android/earbud owners from sub musical mediocrity to something that has a taste of the high end. 

As they say in the professional reviews: "highly recommended".

Below is my "red board" TPA3116, the FleaWatt, and Firestone Big Joe V1.3 for size comparison. 
I love the FleaWatt case, it's solid as a rock and well made, not to mention Derek's workmanship inside is impeccable.
« Last Edit: 13 Feb 2016, 08:58 pm by Canada Rob »

HiFiJeff

  • Restricted
  • Posts: 210
  • Money Never Sleeps!
Re: FleaWatt TPA3116 Amplifier Tour
« Reply #1 on: 6 Jan 2016, 07:45 pm »
Very nice review Canada Rob.
The Fleawatt TPA 3116 is a special amp. For the price it's VERY hard to beat.  I am going to give my own review once I receive my Supercharged 3XRS's, which  should be soon. It's funny that you pretty much listed my system. I have the Omega Supercharged 3XRS's, the Fleawatt TPA3116 and a Schiit Modi 2 Uber version. The speakers are by far the most expensive part of my system but still for under $2000. I am sure it is going to be a steal. And like you said, I don't plan on changing the main components so it leaves room for other possibilities, like you also said, a power supply. Which that is my next upgrade, Derek already built me a custom power cable for it.  :D Derek and Louis are two of the nicest people I have come across in this industry and have made it possible for people like me on a limited income to really be able enjoy my music to the fullest! Thanks guys, it's a good time to be an audio enthusiast!  :D

Canada Rob

  • Industry Participant
  • Posts: 1005
    • Industry Participant
Re: FleaWatt TPA3116 Amplifier Tour
« Reply #2 on: 6 Jan 2016, 10:45 pm »
Thanks for that Jeff.  Nice post - makes my job more pleasant.  :thumb:

jbryngelson

  • Jr. Member
  • Posts: 5
Nice review.  It is easy to overlook the different behaviors of different types of music.  Acoustic guitar is very different than a horn section or drum set. Yet again more different is full orchestra, and then there is gut slamming, hard rock jamming, which is another degree different. Some types of music play heavily to one or another, so your system should be aligned with your listening preference!

I believe my listening is to the easier to replicate music (Jazz, Acoustic, Vocal), but we should all try to build our systems to replicate full orchestra.  if it does this well in instrument separation/location, and does not muddy or get congested, then we have a winner!

I am trying to figure out if I just LIKE the single driver solutions, or if I LOVE them, and will build a room to suite their strengths.  Currently I have a pair of Jeff Carder Tybones (Fostex FE126N) Dual BLH speakers that are AMAZING on many fronts, but lacking in a few areas. 

So I am now trying to properly match them to optimize their amplification.  I have four different amps that have been tested on them so far.  Adcom GFA-545 100w from yesteryear.  Nice, but thin, not the soundstage I would hope for, and easily congested.  A Dayton APA-150 75w in stereo mode (made me rush to reconnect the Adcom).  It was provided as a SUB Amp @150w for the sub provided with my Tybones.  I also have two very unique Tube amps.  One is a pair of 1625 based beast mono block that kicks out about 50w each.  They deliver a holographic experience that you expect from $5000 tube amps.  They do not have an Inky black floor, as they are designed to drive a much harder to drive speaker.  I like them, but.... I had a SET Tube amp designed/built by the same Tube Amp designer.  It is a based on a similar tube to the 2A3, but I forget at the moment which it is.  I now have the holographic experience, further separation/identification of instruments, but a bit laid back for my taste.  Not as immediate or forward as the others, but spooky good in a number of areas.

So, how with the FleaWatt perform on this single driver BLH?  We shall see.

I also am hopeful Louis will send me/sell me a pair of his RS5 drivers to replace the Fostex currently in place.

Thanks everyone!

Jeff in Detroit

jbryngelson

  • Jr. Member
  • Posts: 5
UPDATE: I am on the Road Trip map.
UPDATE2: I talked with Louis at Omega, and I have purchased a pair new drivers for my Tybone D-BLH speakers. 

Should be a very interesting February!

Ultralight

  • Full Member
  • Posts: 377
I received the FleaWatt last week and it went out to Tabrink today.

Unfortunately, due to extended shipping time from Canada, Martin Luther Day, AND that my schedule (after the delays) took me away from home for five days, I only got a few hours on it.  I almost did not listen to it as I have a huge project currently with 1000 people coming in next week.  BUT I did promise Derek so I had a listen last night and this morning.

This is unfortunate because I don't generally trust my initial impression and really need to live with a piece of equipment for a while to get a solid feel of its characteristics. 

BUT, here's my comments for a $150 integrated amp driving my RS5 bipole speakers.  I don't want to keep waiting.

1. HOLY SCHMOLY.  Seriously? That much quality for $150?   It's a lot closer to my 22 watt SET amp than it has any right to be. 

2. Detailed, articulate, punchy, fast, lots of air etc.  I did not find it too sharp with anything BUT I was using the Line Magnetic 502CA DAC with the tube stage active.  And I had a relatively liquid tube and the DAC is known for giving a very high quality analog tone.  There are a few rave reviews on the web.  So I think there is good synergy.

3. Derek sent two AC adapters. 15 volt and 25 volts. (Don't remember exactly.)  The lower voltage sounds a bit warmer.  I used that first and did not think that I would change as I liked it that much.  Did not think the 25 volts could possibly improve.  Well, I did try the 25 volt and it added air, and sweetness at the expense of a bit perceived mids/bass.  This is fantastic - you can actually change the tonal characteristics a bit by changing adapters which is a 10 second swap.  Depending on the music, I may prefer one or the other.  At this point, I preferred the air of the 25 volts overall.  But both are very nice.

4. Talking with Louis today, he expressed surprise when I said, "With the Line Magnetic DAC, this amp and your RS5 bipole speaker, I can listen to this for years and be content."   

In short, I am VERY impressed by the first chip amp I have ever listened to.  Yes, it is not up to the 845 based SET amp I'm running but it is remarkably excellent. 

The only caveats:
1. Derek selected a volume pot that gives the best gone on a budget.  (Meaning not $100 volume pot) But at very low level, there is channel imbalance. My right came on when the left was still quiet. It is enough to be a problem for me - but a minor one. I just turn the knob higher, and adjust volume from my laptop software. But that's dropping some bits/resolution. But this is a VERY minor problem as I do listen way lower than most people when working with background music.

2. The wattage here (25 watt? dont' remember) is not the same watts as my 22 watt SET>  The SET can push much more power.  BUT the tonal quality of the Fleawatt is remarkably close - way closer than it has any right to be at the cost.  But I never came close to maxing out the volume knob on the Fleawatt.

3. The case is solid, and should stand anything short of intentional damage.  But it is a budget finish - meaning raw aluminum.  But that's not a drawback as Derek already noted that all the money went to audio performance.

4. I would like a MUCH smaller case - the smallest case one can get away with.  In fact, I may want to build one without any case...:)

5. This is NOT a drawback in that the price precludes remote but practically, I do like my remote to control volume.

Hope this is of some help.  ENTHUSIASTIC Two Thumbs Up for Derek's FleaWatt.  Go get one. :)

UL

jbryngelson

  • Jr. Member
  • Posts: 5
Interesting update UL.  I will be doing a similar comparison, but my tube amp is a SET - 4W 5V6GT based unit.  With my ear to the driver, I get the slightest buzz.  Are you getting any buzz from your bottleheads?  What about the FleaWatt, did you put your ear to the drivers with Dereks amp?  I believe there will be better control of the speaker with the chip based amp, so it may be a bit smaller sound stage, did you get that vibe at all?  What about cymbals and the upper range, did it get harsh in any way, or was there an improvement over your 845s?

Jeff in Detroit

seikosha

  • Jr. Member
  • Posts: 182
I've got a few of the Fleawatt amps and they are all completely quiet.  No hum or buzz.  I think they are tremendous values.  I still prefer my tube amps, but for the price, they're a great deal.

Canada Rob

  • Industry Participant
  • Posts: 1005
    • Industry Participant

4. I would like a MUCH smaller case - the smallest case one can get away with.  In fact, I may want to build one without any case...:)

Great review Ultralight. 

I just finished building my own "Fleawatt" putting my red board in the same type of case as Derek does, except mine is considerably smaller.
I think I now know why he uses the case he does - ease of moving around inside when connecting everything up.  It was a challenge in my little case.

Canada Rob

  • Industry Participant
  • Posts: 1005
    • Industry Participant
I'm not sure why those Omega owners on the Fleawatt tour aren't posting their impressions, but if your impressions are positive, please post.  :)

Ultralight

  • Full Member
  • Posts: 377
Yes, I'm also wondering.

FYI- I just visited Derek/FleaWatt's blog site and clicked on the older posts from 2012 onwards.  I had no idea that Derek is also an excellent woodcraftsman.  I thought he simply used that raw aluminum box.  I recommend checking his site out just look at the beautiful cases.  NICE!!

UL

ps: Anyone one know what a 'dual chip' TPA3116 is?

Canada Rob

  • Industry Participant
  • Posts: 1005
    • Industry Participant
I finally bought a small Hammond cast aluminum chassis to put my red board TPA3116 in.  It's a bit smaller than the one Fleawatt uses, thus being a little more difficult to work in, but the red board being very small, makes a pretty good fit.

I downsized the multi ply wooden base and mounted it upside down in the chassis, that way I got away with using two tiny #4 panhead wood screws.  The wood should help with resonance damping too.
The volume control body is mounted to the chassis front and the PCB mounted with four plastic standoffs, making sure not to flex the PCB.
The signal wires were braided to prevent or lessen crosstalk between them.
The case was buffed before final assembly.
For power a 19V, 5 amp laptop switching power supply is used.

The system in the picture is the "lowest common denominator" setup I've put together.  Wanted to see how "low" a system I could put together and still sound good. 

I'm using only the headphone output of my 2009 Mac Mini, a 3.5 stereo to 2 RCA adapter into a $40 three foot Monster interconnect straight into the amp.  Basic Monster 16g speaker wire is used.  The speakers are Super 3i.

Amp: $155 (less if you build your own)
Speakers: $595
Interconnect: $40
3.5/RCA Adapter: $10
Speaker wire: $4 (50 cents a foot)
Total: $804

The sound: Sweet, detailed, spacious, and open without a hint of harshness or sizzle retaining good dynamics at low volume, yet able to be turned up without getting congested.

Why am I doing this?  In the hope there may be some lurker or member who would like good sound, but think they can't afford it.  Even though there's no DAC in the system, this system will likely destroy what most people listen to anywhere near this price range.  The Super 3i is one of the most popular and versatile speakers Louis has ever built.  They are incredible nearfield like on a desktop, midsized room, or large room.  If you love the inner detail of a good set of headphones, the Super 3i will give much of that same detail on the desktop without overpowering you.

The Fleawatt amp is a steal, and Derek is doing people great favor selling his amp for the price he is.  One of the beauties of this amp is it's ability to play at lower volumes and retain the dynamics of the music.  For obvious reasons it's a great match with Omegas.  At louder volumes it doesn't get congested.
Add a DAC, better cabling, and linear power supply, not to mention these little amps can be internally hopped up.  Voila, you've moved up in sound quality a few notches.




This...


...Became this.  Sorry for not showing the back.  Should have before plugging it in.

trackball02

comments deleted
« Last Edit: 16 Feb 2016, 04:19 pm by trackball02 »

tomsch

  • Jr. Member
  • Posts: 12
Great review Canada Rob. I believe you have had experience also with the Audioengine N22. How would you say they compare? One other question, how did you connect your sub in the system with the Fleawatt?

Canada Rob

  • Industry Participant
  • Posts: 1005
    • Industry Participant
Hi tomsch,

On the desktop with Super 3i's I never use a sub.  In a room I sometimes do and sometimes don't, depending on acoustics and front end.  With the Fleawatt or any amp with no variable line level out, I use speaker level out, but the sub must have speaker level inputs.  In this configuration the amp sees no load and the sub is only taking the signal from the main amp outputs, no power.  This method, for a two channel stereo, in most cases is the superior way to hook up a sub.  See picture.



Canada Rob

  • Industry Participant
  • Posts: 1005
    • Industry Participant
Oh yes, missed it.  The Audio Engine N22 is a Class A/B chip amp, and from memory (as it's been awhile since I heard one) the sound isn't too far off the TPA3116, perhaps a little warmer and not as detailed on the top end.  I could live with either - they're both great little amps.  The N22 also has more features than the Fleawatt.  Audio Engine makes a great product for the money and they know how to voice their gear.

Ultralight

  • Full Member
  • Posts: 377
Just want to say Derek/Fleawatt has been absolutely fantastic to 'talk' with about his amps.  Thanks!

I do want to reiterate that for me, the Fleawatt on tour is excellent enough that if I had it as a primary and a pair of great Omega, I would actually be happy.  Value to performance ratio is off the charts!  Super highly resolved but for me, with my dac, no sense of unhappy brightness.  Just my own observations.

fleawattaudio

  • Industry Participant
  • Posts: 51
I'm not sure why those Omega owners on the Fleawatt tour aren't posting their impressions, but if your impressions are positive, please post.  :)

Last I knew, the amp was in Tabrink's listening room....#3 stop on the tour.
« Last Edit: 16 Feb 2016, 07:20 pm by fleawattaudio »

fleawattaudio

  • Industry Participant
  • Posts: 51
Ultralight:  Thanks for the comments.  The solid wood enclosures were very labor intensive (days instead of hours) & expensive, as you can imagine.   I'm finding these days that more people want something less expensive, rather than spending funds on boutique parts, enclosures or finishes.

The dual chip board that is popular right now uses two TPA3116D2 IC's in a parallel tied bridge load configuration.  They only output more power as the load dips below 8 ohms.  Despite this, I have built several amps with this circuit and it does have a slightly different flavor than the YJ circuit board that I use most often.  One of my close friends, who has heard nearly every iteration of my amps (and owns several) now uses a dual chip I built as his reference amp.  You can read other's subjective opinions in the DIY Audio TPA3116D2 thread, where many have posted their opinions on this circuit layout.  I think much of one's preference depends on the rest of the one's system.  Just my 2 cents.

Yes, I'm also wondering.

FYI- I just visited Derek/FleaWatt's blog site and clicked on the older posts from 2012 onwards.  I had no idea that Derek is also an excellent woodcraftsman.  I thought he simply used that raw aluminum box.  I recommend checking his site out just look at the beautiful cases.  NICE!!

UL

ps: Anyone one know what a 'dual chip' TPA3116 is?
« Last Edit: 16 Feb 2016, 07:28 pm by fleawattaudio »

Canada Rob

  • Industry Participant
  • Posts: 1005
    • Industry Participant
As more time gets put on my "red board" the better it's sounding.  I'm running Super 3i's with no sub and the bottom end I'm getting on songs that have bottom end is utterly amazing.  It really sounds like there's a sub under the desk.  With a 19 volt/5 amp switching power supply, my guess is it's putting out about 35-40w/ch.  Nice and punchy and never runs out of power.  The other advantage is it runs very cool.  Great for our subtropical summers. 8)

If the basic Fleawatt Derek sent me, and my red board sound as good as they do, what must his tricked out ones sound like?  Compared to what one can spend on a reference amp, it sounds like buying one of his high end ones would be pocket change in comparison, yet maybe sound every bit as good.  At Derek's prices, it's worth a try.  :thumb: