Sprout -- 1 Month In

So it’s been about a month since my Sprout arrived. I thought I would share an update.

The amplifier took a few weeks to break in and now sounds warm and full. To be fair it sounded pretty good right off the bat but it seems to have improved a bit in the intervening weeks. With Def Tech SM45 speakers, the sounds can be a bit heavy and bass-oriented but the warmth is welcome in a smallish listening room.

Generally I have found that I use the Bluetooth a lot less than I thought I would. It’s much more likely that I will stream data from my laptop USB (digital), listen to traditional CDs from a dedicated CD transport (digital) or spin some vinyl (phono). The phono section is the defining feature for the Sprout. No doubt about it. It’s mere existence makes it unique. It’s quality makes it truly awesome.

If I were just starting out and this were my only system I would probably hook the analog inputs up to a TV or Blueray player but I have a dedicated AV receiver for that purpose in my “TV room”. The Sprout is located in my “front sitting room” (think rocking chair and fireplace).

I have recommended this to many of my younger colleagues and offered to invite them over for a listen. Many see 800 dollars as steep given the perceived function. My goal is to convince them that it is a worthwhile “lifestyle” investment if they love music (they claim to).

Yeah, I know. Sprout’s ‘high’ entry point for pricing is perceived by many as a barrier when it is compared to other $500 units with ‘more’ features. It’s a difficult story to get across to people and we are very appreciative of you helping us get the word out. Quality and performance are hard to quantify in a marketing brochure.

As is probably obvious by my posts and questions, the Sprout is the entry point for me into hi-res audio. We are in a smaller place as we downsized and purged a few years ago and this will be our main system, and with a gap of a few years (where iOS/AppleTV fed us our music), replaces the circa late 1980s big box system that filled our living room with 5.1 sound for a couple of decades.

Even with the the Pioneer BS22s as our current speakers, we love the improved sound we get with the Sprout from all of our music, especially the hi-res files we’ve recently purchased. This system will probably bring us plenty of joy for years to come.

The barrier for folks starting out (or staring again) is more than the $800 entry price point. It is what to pair with the Sprout to truly hear the difference. Everything from understanding digital file types and how to get them to the Sprout from a computer to what kind of speakers make the Sprout (and of course the music itself) shine. What does a $1.5K Sprout system look like? A $3K system? A $5K system?

For current audiophiles, these are non issues. For folks who get most of their music from iPhones and have just upgraded their earbuds to Beats, the learning curve (and the cost beyond the Sprout itself) to make the Sprout shine is tough.

I’m still a little while from having owned the Sprout in a month, but I reckon it’s close enough for me to share my thoughts here as well.

I’m remain extremely happy with it. Much like Fritz, this is my first “proper” audiophile system. The sound is excellent compared to the stereos I’ve owned before. I agree with Andrew that the sound is very warm, but not overly so. I’ve written elsewhere on the forum that I used to own an old B&O stereo which had very, very boomy bass which - I can tell now that I have a better reference point available - turned everything I played on it into ugly, bloated mud.

By comparison, the Sprout sounds much more clear, dynamic and vivid. The volume suits my needs very well too; I’ve never needed to turn the volume up much further than the 3/4 mark. Its compact size and no-frills approach to listening to music are also huge boosts; I’ve looked into getting a proper stereo many times before, but have always been put off by the monstrous-looking receivers that dominate the market. This thing looks and sounds gorgeous and on top of that, it’s convenient. I personally haven’t seen any other manufacturers of audiophile equipment pull that combination off so convincingly.

The digital inputs are probably the ones I use the most. Playing hi-res audio from my Macbook is obviously very enjoyable, but I’ve also been getting a kick out of how good this device makes CDs sound, even on my cheap Philips Blu-ray player. I’m actually enjoying spinning CDs again, which I haven’t in a while. I’ve always had simple setups where I relied on whatever crappy DAC was in the player, so I also consider this my first foray into listening properly to digital audio. I have also only got nice words to say about the Sprout in that regard. Might be worth mentioning that, back during the first two weeks, I did experience some dropouts when using the digital inputs. Sometimes as often as once per album. But I like to think this has to do with warming up/acclimatising; it’s been a long time since it has happened.

Owing to the compression, Bluetooth obviously doesn’t sound as good but this is where the convenience wins for me. If I want to immerse myself in the music, I’ll connect my Macbook via USB. If I need a quick fix or some background music, the Bluetooth functionality is well above average. Again, I really like this marriage between quality and convenience. It’s nice to have both options, and I feel that I’m getting a lot more bang for the buck out of my Spotify Premium subscription than I did before.

Finally, I have the analog input connected to my TV. I was positively surprised by how good this sounds, and it kills me that I don’t have a turntable at the moment, considering the praise that other users are leveling at the phono stage. So I’m definitely looking forward to being able to utilise that.

It is, admittedly, hard for me to tell whether I’d have spent the full $800 on this. But that probably says more about me and my budget. Considering all of the above, I would say that the Sprout is well worth the money. If you can market this thing properly (and I agree with Fritz that it might be tough - but not impossible), I have no doubt that you can connect with an audience that isn’t necessarily part of the group of established audiophiles.

fritzg said Even with the the Pioneer BS22s as our current speakers . . .
While inexpensive, these speakers need no apology. Amazing little guys.

Thanks Frede, that’s an excellent and well reported review.

Thank you, Paul! Genuinely appreciate it :)