Dayton Audio DTA-120 Amplifier Review

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120 Watts for a Low Price?

Brent Butterworth

There are all sorts of little stereo amplifiers available now at very reasonable costs. Most are branded as Dayton Audio, Lepai, Pyle or Topping, and most put out 15 or 20 watts per channel. Compared to its mini-amp brethren, the Dayton Audio DTA-120 is a powerhouse, putting out a rated 60 watts per channel into a 4-ohm load.

Most of these amps use Class T amplifier technology, which is a trade name for a variant of Class D -- a topology that can produce lots of power while producing very little waste heat. That's what allows these amps to be so small; with Class T, they don't need big heatsinks (or any heatsinks).

The DTA-120 seems a perfect little package for a desktop audio system, or maybe for a garage system, or to power a pair of outdoor speakers. With more watts on tap than most mini-amps, it shouldn't lack for power and dynamics with most speakers. It also has two headphone output jacks on the front -- one 1/8th-inch jack, one 1/4-inch jack -- which I'm sure will be a big convenience.

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Dayton Audio DTA-120: Features and Specs

Brent Butterworth

• Class T amp rated at 60 wpc into 4 ohms, 40 wpc into 8 ohms, both at 10% THD
• RCA stereo analog input
• Five-way mini binding posts for speaker connection
• 3.5mm (1/8-inch) and 1/4-inch headphone jacks
• External power supply
• 2.1 x 3.4 x 5.5 in / 53 x 86 x 140 mm (hwd, amplifier)
• 1.2 lbs / 0.5 kg (amplifier)

Unlike a lot of other mini-amps, the DTA-120 is just an amp. It has no USB input, no Bluetooth, not even a second analog input. It does have volume control, so you don't need a preamp for it. I would guess its most likely use will be plugged into the analog output of a computer or TV to power a small sound system. You could also connect a Bluetooth receiver or an AirPort Express to create a wireless system.

Note that while the DTA-120 is touted at 60 watts per channel, that's into 4 ohms. Into a more common 8-ohm speaker, it's rated at 40 watts per channel. Both ratings are at 10% total harmonic distortion, which allows Dayton Audio to quote higher numbers; a more credible rating would be at 0.5% or 1% THD.

While the amplifier itself is appealingly compact, it relies on a separate power supply that's almost as big as the amp. However, you can put the power supply on the floor or anywhere it'll be out of the way.

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Dayton Audio DTA-120: Performance

Brent Butterworth

I tried the DTA-120 with a few different speakers: my Revel F206s, the Rogersound CG4 and the Dayton Audio B652-AIR. Obviously, only the latter would be likely to be used in a system with the DTA-120, but I prefer to use high-quality speakers when reviewing electronics so I'll be less likely to be distracted by the speakers' sonic colorations.

It's hard to be fair to an inexpensive amp like this because, in a way, it makes buying a more expensive amp seem ridiculous. It's quite common for audiophiles to spend 20 or 30 times the DTA-120's price (or even way more) to get the same amount of power (or even way less). No matter how you consider it, it's hard to make a case that those amps deliver 20 or 30 times the performance of the DTA-120 in a typical residential application.

That said, I'd recommend using the DTA-120 in a garage, or in a waiting room, or someplace where sound quality doesn't matter. I wouldn't use it anyplace where I care about sound quality. I thought vocals sounded rather dry and thin through the DTA-120. Higher-frequency instruments sounded edgy and coarse. I also noted some distortion in the bass when I used my Revels and played bassy material such as Holly Cole's recording of "Train Song."

The other mini-amps I had on hand are also Class T models, so I didn't think comparing the DTA-120 to them would be illuminating. I did have my Mengyue Mini, though. It's much more expensive than the DTA-120, but still quite affordable. The Mengyue Mini sounded better in almost every way, delivering a lusher, more natural treble as well as smoother voice reproduction. It also produced a smoother, more enveloping soundstage; with the DTA-120 music seemed to emerge from a bunch of little pinpoint sources rather than a natural, continuous soundstage. The Mini did produce slightly looser, less defined bass notes, though -- no surprise considering that like almost all tube amps, it uses an output transformer.

Both amps delivered adequate volume through my Revels, although if you're using relatively inefficient speakers with, say, 84 dB sensitivity or less, the Mini may not play loud enough for you. The DTA-120 is good for about +6 dB more output -- probably not needed for desktop audio, but it would come in handy in larger spaces.

All things considered, I think the DTA-120 would be a great choice for setting up a fairly powerful but affordable sound system in a garage or workspace, or as a way to power some outdoor speakers. It's not some sort of "audiophile bargain," but it's a fine utility amp.