Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceIt’s a funny old thing, seeing legitimate buzz about any piece of hi-fi gear these days, but in the past year we’ve seen oodles of noise about not one, but two very different stereo integrated amplifiers—and for very different reasons. The NAD C 3050 ($1399, all prices in USD) I’ve discussed to death already, and I’m going to be discussing it more soon since I’m buying one and plan on doing a comparison with the LE version I reviewed last year. The other, as you’ve likely already guessed from the headline, is Dayton Audio’s HTA200 ($349.98), which—along with its little sibling, the HTA100—is garnering a lot of noise for its hybrid tube design, its ample power, its connectivity, and its ridiculously low price.

What, exactly, is a “hybrid tube design”? In short, the HTA200 relies on solid-state amplification with traditional class-AB topology for its power stage, with a specified 50Wpc into 8-ohm loads (<1.5% THD+N) or 100Wpc into 4-ohm loads, but its preamp stage is built around seven vacuum tubes. Each channel, according to Dayton Audio, comprises a 13P1P pentode as a shunt regulator, a 6K4 triode as a voltage amplifier, and a 6H2 pentode as a full-bridge rectifier, and there’s a single WY-3P cold-cathode regulator. In other words, this doesn’t appear to be a situation where the tubes are used merely as a buffer or as eye candy. Mind you, I’m not familiar with any of those tubes, but replacements are all available from Dayton Audio.

Dayton Audio

The HTA200’s I/O is quite generous for an integrated amp at or near this price, with a moving-magnet (MM) phono input (RCA), a stereo aux in (RCA), coaxial (RCA) and optical (TosLink) digital in (both with support for PCM up to 16-bit/48kHz), a USB Type-B DAC input (with support for PCM up to 32/192), and Bluetooth 5.0 with support for the SBC and AAC codecs. There’s also a subwoofer output, but no bass management, so you’ll need a sub with an adjustable low-pass filter if you want to augment your bass, and in an ideal world you’d have one with speaker-level inputs and outputs, along with a crossover.

Up front, the HTA200 sports a distinctive design, with a pair of VU meters (rawr!), a rather small volume-control knob that still feels pretty good and has an indicator light, tone controls that bump and lock quite nicely at 12 o’clock, and six direct source-select buttons. There’s also an LCD readout that, based on online images, I thought I would hate, since it looked like it would clash with the retro aesthetic of the rest of the amp. In person, though, it just works, and in a few weeks’ time I’ve gotten accustomed to it as an integral part of the HTA200’s overall vibe, which I dig quite a bit.

Dayton Audio

The other prominent feature of the front panel is an adult-sized headphone jack, although no specifications are given for the headphone amp either on the product page or in the manual.

Installing and configuring the Dayton Audio HTA200

Setup of the HTA200 is as straightforward as it gets, since there’s no app to worry about, no bass management to configure, no room correction, etc. And since the subwoofer out is a summed-mono preamp out, there really wasn’t much practical point in testing a 2.1-channel setup, so I relied on my reference Paradigm Studio 100 v5 tower speakers, connected using pre-terminated Elac Sensible Speaker Cables, throughout my evaluation.

Dayton Audio

For sources, I relied mostly on my iPhone 12 Pro Max, connected via Bluetooth, along with my Maingear Vybe PC, connected via USB. The latter connection was the only thing about the entire setup process that gave me pause, as the USB Type-B port on the back of the HTA200 had a bit of give, which prompted me to take it a little easier while plugging the cable in, for fear of caving in the port. I was, no doubt, being overly cautious, but any sort of flex in any form of digital connection makes me ever-so-slightly squeamish.

The five-way speaker binding posts, on the other hand, are quite nice, and accepted my banana plugs just fine. The remote, as I mentioned in my unboxing blog post, is the same form factor as the clicker for Fluance’s active loudspeakers, with some rearranging of the buttons—and with no standby/power button, meaning you’ll have to use the power button on the front of the amp to turn it off and on.

The direct access to inputs is nice, although I’m not fond of the placement of the volume controls on the directional pad. I also found that the remote worked very unreliably unless I leaned in within 5′ of the amp and mashed its buttons in a borderline-threatening manner. So most of my volume control was done via my phone or my computer, or by just walking over and twisting the volume control.

Dayton Audio

With all that out of the way, the only thing to do was to let the amp warm up a bit. (Necessary? I dunno, but with tubes I figured better safe than sorry.) Then I could start digging into some test tunes.

How does the Dayton Audio HTA200 perform?

In my recent review of the Technics SU-GX70, I talked a lot about expectations and preconceptions, so let’s stay in that mode for a bit longer. Put a $350 integrated amp in front of me that claims 100Wpc of output into 4 ohms or 50Wpc into 8, and I’m immediately skeptical about whether it can deliver enough current to really handle the big impedance swings of floorstanding speakers like my Paradigm Studio 100 v5 towers.

So I turned to one of my many go-to tracks for testing such: “Dime” from Cake’s Pressure Chief (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Columbia Records / Qobuz). The track starts with a pleasant little guitar/keyboard riff that would sound great played through a half-dry rubber band, but it’s the bass line that kicks in behind John McCrea’s vocal that gives any amp a good stress test. The key here isn’t so much the power or impact of the bass—although there’s plenty to be had via the HTA200. It’s the consistency. The bass line is choppy and punchy, and from one note to the next it occasionally jumps an octave or thereabouts.

Dayton Audio

What I’ve found with otherwise-excellent amps that can’t deliver sufficient current quickly enough (or that don’t have low-enough output impedance) is that the bass line becomes uneven in amplitude. But the HTA200 sounded like it had an iron grip on my Paradigms’ woofers, resulting in incredible consistency from note to note, even when the volume knob was cranked to uncomfortable levels (around 1 o’clock).

If forced at gunpoint to find some criticism to make here, I guess I could say that the overall bass was perhaps a weensy bit high in the mix. Maybe? To be frank about it, though, I’m hesitant to criticize such because I quite liked it.

Whether or not that slight bass boost was a matter of my imagination, there’s just no denying that the Dayton Audio amp has incredible bass authority, and based on its performance with “Dime” alone, I’d be inclined to say that if by some chance it doesn’t meet its specified output, it must come incredibly darned close.

Switching over from the USB connection out of my PC to the Bluetooth output of my iPhone, I couldn’t find much meaningful difference with “Dime.” The bass was every bit as punchy, the stereo soundstage every bit as wide, imaging every bit as precise, and the dynamics of the song left nothing to be desired.

Dayton Audio

Continuing with the Bluetooth connection, I queued up “The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys” from the 1971 album of the same name by Traffic (16/44.1 FLAC, UMC Records / Qobuz). Even on such a lowly, lossy, wireless connection, the sound was incredibly rich and detailed, with a wonderfully wide soundstage and pinpoint imaging. Tonal balance overall was spot on (again, with perhaps a bit of extra spice in the bass), and the overall energy of the presentation was such that the hairs on my arms stood on end when the jaunty piano riff started at the 2:19 mark. Say what you will, but a literal physiological reaction to any piece of gear is always a good sign, in my book.

If there were any nits to pick, I’d say it was the fact that the vibraslap at 1:21 and the handclaps starting at 3:09 didn’t penetrate quite as deeply into the room as I’ll sometimes hear with my reference gear. At first, I wasn’t sure if that could be chalked up to the Bluetooth connection, but switching over to the USB from my PC confirmed that, though the soundstage lacked for nothing in terms of width, it didn’t reach out into the room as far as the very best stereo gear can. Did that affect my enjoyment of the recording in any meaningful way? Absolutely not. And this is the sort of thing I could forgive in a $2000 integrated amp, much less a $350 one. It’s honestly the only criticism I could make.

Dayton Audio

That observation did lead me on a bit of a journey, though. I couldn’t help wondering if it was simply a function of channel balance (or stereo separation). So I fired up “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)” from the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland (16/44.1 FLAC, Legacy Recordings / Qobuz). The song is mixed with Eddie Kramer’s signature phase wizardry, such that the guitar solos really leap out into the room. And indeed, I heard plenty of leaping via the HTA200—just perhaps not quite as much as I’d hear on my NAD C 3050 or my old Classé Sigma 2200i before it played its final Hendrix tune.

Again, I’m deep into hair-splitting territory here. I’m picking nits because the HTA200 so thoroughly exceeded my expectations that I feel like I’m in danger of fan-boying. And it must be said that soundstage depth was very, very good—just not world-class. Whatever that means. It’s such a subjective (and hence unreliable) metric.

In every other respect, though, the performance of the HTA200 genuinely shocked me—with its stellar bass authority, with its detail and imaging, with its dynamics and exceptional clarity.

As I said in the intro, it’s pretty clear that the tubes on this thing are actually in the signal path. Do they make an audible difference in the sound? Frankly, I don’t know and I don’t care. The HTA200 sounds fantastic, and that’s what I care about. The glow of those valves over the dancing VU meters makes for one hell of an engaging sight, though, especially in a dark room. If that doesn’t matter to you, I’m not here to argue. But speaking for myself, having something this nice to look at when I’m hearing my music sound this good is quite a treat.

Dayton Audio

One last thing: Given my experiences with the Technics SU-GX70 last month, I couldn’t resist the urge to plug in my thirsty Audeze LCD-2 cans to see if the headphone output of the HTA200 was sufficient to drive them well. I had to lean on the volume knob a bit, sure, but I heard none of the distortion and bloated bass I got from the Technics. I would have liked a bit more juice, especially with tracks like “Dime,” but if you have anything easier to drive than big planar-magnetic headphones, you should be A-OK.

What other integrated amps in this price class should you consider?

Throughout my time with the Dayton Audio HTA200, I kept thinking that if I were buying a new music system for my daughter and her husband, this would be what I’d build it around. The only thing it’s missing that they might use is an HDMI port.

But if they balked at the tubes or the VU meters (kids rebel in the weirdest ways, after all), I’d keep the Yamaha A-S301 ($349.95) in my back pocket as an alternate recommendation. I heard this piece a few years back and was similarly shocked by the performance for the money. It lacks a USB-B input, though, and it doesn’t have Bluetooth, so we’d have to add something like the iFi Audio Zen Air Blue, which would add another $99 to the total.

TL;DR: Should you buy the Dayton Audio HTA200 integrated stereo hybrid tube amplifier?

If you’re in the market for a throwback-looking integrated amp that does what it says on the tin, sounds freaking incredible, works reliably, and might even start a conversation or two about hi-fi with the normies in your life, heck yes. The HTA200 has no right being this good at this price. Granted, its published figures for THD+N may look a little iffy, but I never heard any noise or distortion, even at screw-you listening levels.

Dayton Audio

Combine the good looks and good in-room performance with a quite competent headphone amp that will likely serve the needs of 99% of listeners, and there’s just not much to knock here. Add to that a generous five-year warranty, and the value proposition is nearly off the charts. Dayton Audio knocked it out of the park with this one, and it’s time for all of us to take this company more seriously as a legitimate force in the audiophile marketplace.

. . . Dennis Burger

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers: Paradigm Studio 100 v.5.
  • Headphones: Audeze LCD-2.
  • 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 surge eliminator / power conditioner.

Dayton Audio HTA200 Integrated Amplifier–DAC
Price: $349.98.
Warranty: Five years, parts and labor.

Dayton Audio
705 Pleasant Valley Dr.
Springboro, OH 45066
Phone: (937) 743-8248