Review: Qinpu Q-2 Integrated Amplifier

Maybe back in the 1920s, when Sound + Vision was called Superheterodyne Journal, we might have reviewed some giant tube amplifier that put out 2 watts at full blast. But other than perhaps some forgotten device from audio's days of yore, this storied publication has never tested an amplifier so small, so weak, so limited in utility as the Qinpu Q-2. Yet I doubt we have ever tested an amplifier that's so frigging cool.

The Qinpu Q-2 is a tube hybrid integrated amplifier built (like most of the other small tube amps we've been seeing lately) in China and distributed in the U.S. by Head-Direct, a company best known for selling the HiFiMan HM-801, a bulky portable music player beloved of audiophiles who wouldn't be seen dead carrying a mere iPod.

Talk about exotic: The Q-2 not only uses a vacuum tube, it protects the tube using silvery Jetsons-esque metal rings. It illuminates the tube from behind with a blue LED. A gloss-red metal cover cloaks the power-supply transformer. And it has Chinese characters on the top, in a matching shade of red.

Audio snobs would normally pay thousands of dollars to get a component with such an in-your-face, "I don't shop for audio gear at Best Buy" vibe. But get this: You can pick up the Q-2 for a mere $99. For the price of a no-frills Blu-ray Disc player from a brand so old even your Dad's never heard of it, you can actually get something esoteric enough that your audiophile buddies will approve.

Note that I said tube hybrid. The single dual-triode 6N3 (Russian/English PDF) tube is part of the Q-2's preamp stage. Power amplification is provided by an 18-pin integrated circuit. The top of the IC is smushed against the thick aluminum top plate for heat-sinking purposes.

But that little IC doesn't provide much power: The Q-2 is rated at just 2.5 watts per channel. What can you do with 2.5 watts? Well, that's what we're here to find out.