Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.
SoundStage! Network founder Doug Schneider and I have been talking a lot lately about the race to the bottom—specifically, the glut of imported amplifiers with unpronounceable names seemingly cobbled together out of capital letters pulled at random from a hat. All of them seem to boast a gazillion-and-three watts per channel of output for like $50. On the one hand, I’m happy to get gear into the hands of people who might not have felt like they could afford an amp before. On the other hand, my experience with these things, a few rare brands aside, indicates to me that they’re largely disposable.
In many respects, the Tangent Ampster BT II seems to be a nice antidote to this trend that nonetheless addresses many of the same pain points. For one thing, it’s small, simple, reasonably well-featured, and barely costs anything—at least in Europe. The Danish brand sells the amp for €199 in the Old World, which converts to roughly $213 (in USD) as I’m writing this. It’s marked up quite a bit here in the Colonies. Still, its $299 price tag in the Land of the Freeways and the Home of the Braves isn’t bad at all. I would have been thrilled to buy an amp with these specs for this price when I first got into hi-fi decades ago.
Packed into a chassis measuring just 2.8″H × 7.7″W × 7.7″D and weighing a meager 4.9 pounds, the amp promises to deliver 25Wpc into 8 ohms and claims 50Wpc into 4 ohms. If we get this thing on the bench and it actually doubles its output into 4 ohms, I’ll eat my Stratocaster, but still—25Wpc should be plenty sufficient for most listening for most people in smaller to midsized rooms, assuming the power supply is up to snuff.
As far as inputs, as the Ampster BT II’s designation suggests, Bluetooth is the main selling point here, and best I can tell, the II has been upgraded from BT version 4.0 to 5.0. The amp also supports aptX HD but no other advanced Bluetooth codecs, which is a bummer for this Apple aficionado, but so be it. For whatever reason, few hi-fi companies seem to be on board with AAC Bluetooth support outside of headphones.
For inputs, you get a line-level RCA stereo analog input labeled Tuner, a 3.5mm mini stereo input labeled Aux, an optical S/PDIF (TosLink) in labeled CD (with support for PCM up to 24-bit/96kHz), and the aforementioned BT antenna. Outputs include a pair of speaker-level connectors that accept banana plugs just fine, a subwoofer output, and a 5V/1A USB charging port that’s mistakenly labeled—in the specs, on the Tangent website, and at the Apos website from which most North Americans will likely purchase it—as 5v/500mA.
Installing and configuring the Tangent Ampster BT II
Given the streamlined I/O, it’s no real surprise that setting up the Ampster BT II is not a lengthy process. I dropped it into my system, connected my Paradigm Studio 100 v5 tower speakers via a pair of Elac Sensible Speaker Cables, and hooked up my reference iFi Zen One Signature DAC via its own pack-in RCA interconnects. Sources consisted of my Maingear Vybe media and gaming PC, along with my iPhone 12 Pro Max.
As I hinted at in my unboxing, the Paradigm towers were connected almost as a dare more than anything else, so I also tested the Ampster BT II using a pair of RSL CG3 bookshelf speakers and an SVS PB-1000 Pro subwoofer. As best I can tell, connecting a sub does not engage any sort of bass management, meaning the sub output is simply a summed-mono pre-out. When I connected the sub, no bass frequencies were subtracted from the main speakers. That’s not unexpected at this price, although I want to underline the “best I can tell” part from above. The little amp does have a few hidden settings, such as bass and treble tone controls (±8dB each in 2dB increments) accessible by a semi-secret handshake using the Play/Pause, Skip Back, Skip Forward, and Enter buttons on the remote. But there’s nothing in the documentation about crossover points or anything resembling bass management, so I feel confident in saying it lacks such.
If you’ve read my unboxing and were curious as to what the mysterious little corded black cylinder packed in with the amp turned out to be, it is indeed an IR repeater, although I found it wholly unnecessary so long as the amp was installed in open air. The remote was even responsive when I pointed it 180 degrees away from the amp, so I’m assuming the repeater is for instances in which you install it behind a TV or in a cabinet or something along those lines.
How does the Tangent Ampster BT II perform?
Lately, I’ve been listening to Pink Floyd’s 50th anniversary remaster of The Dark Side of the Moon (24-bit/96kHz FLAC, Pink Floyd Records / Qobuz), mostly to undo the damage done to my brain by Roger Waters’s attempt at Taylor Swifting the album. It was almost by happenstance that this is what I cued up when I started my critical evaluation of the little Tangent amp after a few days of background listening. I eased into the album, owing largely to my concerns about sending the amp into clipping, with average SPLs around 70dB and peaks hitting around the 87dB mark from my listening position roughly six feet from the speakers.
Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the Ampster BT II rendered the music, especially “Time.” It was clear, dynamic, and uncolored, with nice imaging, good soundstaging, and dead-on-balls-accurate attack (especially with Nick’s rototoms) and decay. It sounded so good that I pressed down on the gas pedal a little, bringing the average SPLs up to around 78dB. And all was sounding smashing until the kick drums kicked in around the 2:26 mark. However briefly, the kicks sounded a little too hot, a little more saturated than they ought to. Did they sound bad? No. Had this been my first (or 100th) listen to Dark Side, I might have thought they sounded exceptional. But knowing this album, and indeed this remaster, as well as I do, I wanted to hear just a little less heat on the upper bass and lower midrange.
That made me suspect that the amp was struggling with the low-impedance dips of my Paradigms, but I wanted to be sure. A great test for this is a track I’ve been lambasted for using as reference material in the past, which only makes me want to use it more. The overall tonal balance of “Freedom! ’90” from George Michael’s Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 (24/44.1 FLAC, Sony Music CG / Qobuz) is so emblazoned on my brain that if it starts to tilt, I’m super-sensitive to it.
Again, at average listening levels around 72 or 73dB, the track sounded absolutely smashing: dynamic, detailed, and wonderfully balanced. As I pushed the volume control up and approached average SPLs closer to 78dB, though, it sounded as if bassist Deon Estus (or maybe it was Michael himself, who was taking lessons from Estus at the time) started heading toward the door.
That sort of thing leads to an interesting phenomenon, at least for me. When I crank the volume on a song like “Freedom! ’90,” more often than not, what I’m looking for is more bass impact, and with my Paradigm towers connected to the Ampster BT II, the higher I cranked the make-go-louder knob, the less bass I was getting relative to the rest of the mix, hence the more crispy/crunchy/brittle the mix sounded.
The solution, of course, was to swap my Paradigm towers for the RSL CG3 bookshelf speakers and add my SVS PB-1000 Pro. At this point, my only complaint was that integrating the sats and sub was a little tricky given the lack of bass management, but that’s largely a consequence of the way the CG3 rolls off on the bottom end. I really need to get a pair of reference stand-mount speakers that can play like hell down to 80Hz or so. But that’s a problem for another day, and certainly not the fault of the Tangent amp.
With the 2.1 setup in place and dialed in, I somehow or other found myself grooving to “Reminiscing” from the 2022 Australian remaster of Little River Band’s Sleeper Catcher (24/48 FLAC, EMI Records / Qobuz). I highly recommend this version over the disastrous 2002 remaster from the band’s Greatest Hits album, which is dull and lifeless by comparison despite being available in 24/96. (An important lesson to learn, kiddos: mastering has way more impact on sound quality than does sample rate).
The combo of the Tangent amp, RSL speakers, and SVS sub had me in heaven. The sound was rich, nuanced, punchy, detailed, and warm without being crispy. Just for giggles, I switched over to the Qobuz app on my iPhone and connected to the Ampster BT II via Bluetooth. Even given the lack of AAC support, I was shocked by just how little was lost in translation (or transcoding, if you want to get uppity about it). The percussion lost a little bit of crispness, and the horns might have lost something like half a percent of their smoothness. But by and large, I would have been happy to listen to the song via Bluetooth all night long.
What other integrated amps in this price class should you consider?
In terms of direct comparisons, I’m admittedly at a bit of a loss here since I haven’t tested any other integrated amps in this price class. But after talking to some of my colleagues, I have a few recommendations you might want to check out.
The Fosi Audio DA-2120C retails for $159.99 and has very similar connectivity, except that it loses the RCA in and gains a coaxial digital input. It also has a USB-DAC connection (Type B) and supports sampling rates up to 192kHz. Output is rated 50Wpc into 4 ohms, and although no specification is given for 8-ohm loads, I’m guessing the amp is a lot more stable with lower-impedance speakers thanks to its 32V/5A external power supply.
My buddy Steven Stone has nice things to say about the S.M.S.L DA-8S, which sells for $249 these days and reportedly has 80Wpc of output into 4 ohms or 40Wpc into 8 ohms. Interestingly, the only digital input is Bluetooth, but it also has balanced and single-ended stereo analog inputs, which is kind of outrageous at this price. Still, if you groove to non-Bluetooth digital sources, you need to factor the cost of a good DAC into the equation with this one.
TL;DR: Should you buy the Tangent Ampster BT II integrated amp?
With this amp, I really don’t think it’s a matter of “should you buy it?” or “should you not?” I think it’s really more about who should or shouldn’t buy it. Right off the bat, it’s a better deal for our European readers. If you’re in the U.S., it’s a harder sell given its higher price.
I also think it’s going to be a better fit for someone with a pair of stand-mount speakers and a sub, since it can technically drive a pair of three-way towers to satisfying listening levels, but not without some tonal imbalances centered on low-impedance dips.
All that said, the Tangent Ampster BT II has opened my eyes to the fact that I need to spend more time playing around in this price class, since this is a legitimate hi-fi product for under $500, and I feel like I’m selling you, dear reader, short by not being able to make more direct comparisons. Look for that to start changing soon.
Taken on its own terms, though, the Ampster BT II delivers way more for the money than I expected it to.
. . . Dennis Burger
Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.
- Speakers: Paradigm Studio 100 v.5, RSL CG3.
- Subwoofer: SVS PB-1000 Pro.
- Speaker-level connections: Elac Sensible Speaker Cables.
- Interconnects: Monoprice Monolith #33464 USB Type-A to USB Type-B cable.
- Sources: Maingear Vybe PC, iPhone 12 Pro Max.
- Power protection: SurgeX XR115.
Tangent Ampster BT II Integrated Amplifier-DAC
Warranty: Two years, parts and labor.
40 Birk Centerpark,
Herning, Central Jutland, 7400
Phone: +45 96411500
North American distributor:
266 Applewood Cres.,
Concord, ON L4K 4B4
Phone: (905) 660-3110