Upgraded study music system

Like a lot of people, I sometimes work from home. In general it’s a day or two a week, and I’m lucky enough to have a small (2m x 2m) study dedicated to that. And since it’s the one room in the house that is genuinely “mine” and no-one else’s, it’s something of a refuge as well as a place of work.

My need for music while I work has meant that over the years I’ve moved from a pair of earphones plugged into the laptop, to a Joggler acting as a DIY Squeezebox Touch. This fed a pair of powered computer speakers from its headphone socket, which produced some basic noise, but wasn’t exactly high fidelity.

For some time now I’ve been watching the discussions around Gainclone and T-class amplifiers on the internet with interest, and this month I decided to spend some of my “toy fund” on improving my study music system. In the end, I was somewhat limited by the Joggler (which I wanted to keep) in my choice of improvements, as the only analogue audio output available is a low-quality headphone output. Which meant I needed to move into the digital domain, and flow my music over the USB output into an offboard DAC and amplifier.

I looked at various options (mostly involving second-hand DACs) but then I discovered this review of the Topping TP30, which is a combination T-class amplifier and USB DAC in a conveniently small package. Further investigation led me to this further (and more detailed) review.

At this point I was pretty much convinced, especially as I was able to get one delivered from a UK Ebay supplier for only £63. My only concern was that as the output is only 10watts RMS per channel into 8 ohm loads, the speakers need to be reasonably efficient, even in as small a room as mine.

Fortunately I had an old pair of speakers from a Sony micro hifi, which looked like they might be good candidates – and were helpfully only 6 ohm loads too.

So, what does it sound like?

Surprisingly good. It’s no match for my old Audiolab 8000A and KEF reference speakers in the lounge, but it’s a massive step up from the old set of 2.1 powered speakers that I was using. It produces a very pleasant sound, tending towards the lean and analytical – which is the sound I prefer anyway. With a good recording, it can be quite revealing, and with the right track it happily grabs the beat and rocks along nicely. Volume levels are (as Rolls Royce would say) “adequate”; half volume is as much as I would ever want in this size room. My only criticism would be that it doesn’t have the reserves of power to provide sudden big slams of bass; but then I wasn’t expecting that it would.

What’s interesting to me from having done this is the minimal cost of creating a very impressive sounding system; the TP30 was £63 delivered. Speakers like mine are about £25 on Ebay. Jogglers are £50 on Ebay. Admittedly I already had the NAS with the Squeezeserver software & music store … but many people have a spare computer these days, or you could equally well feed the amplifier and speakers directly from a laptop. Hard to imagine a better value-for-money set up for a student. It’s even relatively portable.

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