Review: Qinpu Q-2 Integrated Amplifier Page 2

The guts

For $99, I expected nothing more than a small surface-mount circuit board with a minimal parts count. But the Q-2 charmingly employs construction methods I’ve rarely seen since I was 16 and I took apart my late-1970s Electro-Harmonix Small Stone phase shifter. The board uses old-school (and labor-intensive) through-hole construction. The transformer feeds two separate power supplies, both of which are regulated. Instead of using bridge rectifiers to convert the AC from the transformer to DC, the Q-2 uses little discrete diodes. Based on the construction, I’d have guessed the Q-2 would go for two or three times its price.

Qinpu provides two inputs on the back: stereo RCAs for CD input and a 3.5mm stereo jack for iPod input. A switch on the top panel selects between the two. Convenient, top-mounted binding posts make connecting speakers easy and, even better, make it impossible to conceal your speaker cables. Better have some nice-looking ones. Actually, speaker cables that look as good as the Q-2 might cost more than the amp.

Flipping on the side-mounted power switch sets the blue LED behind the tube a-blinkin’. It pulses for several seconds while the tube is warming up, then glows solid when the tube’s ready for action. A handy feature indeed — handy for telling you the tube is warmed up, and handy for reminding your guests that you have a tube amp. (You don’t have to tell them it’s a hybrid.)

Choose your speakers carefully. With just 2.5 watts per channel, the Q-2 will give you only 4 dB more output than the speaker’s rated sensitivity — i.e., with a speaker rated at 88 dB sensitivity at 1 meter, the Q-2 will give you 92 dB at 1 meter before clipping. Above that, you’ll likely notice distortion. In a 2-foot experience (i.e., using the amp to power your computer audio system), the Q-2 should produce adequate volume with most speakers. But in a 10-foot experience (i.e., sitting on your living-room couch with the speakers arrayed along the opposite wall), you’ll need a speaker with a sensitivity rating in the 90s to get a decent listening level. Unless, of course, you plan to use the Q-2 for nothing but playing The Best of Sade at background levels during candlelit dinners with your latest eHarmony hookup.