If you think all high-end products are stupid expensive or mammoth monstrosities, the MiniWatt vacuum tube integrated amplifier should change your mind.
What differentiates high-end gear from mass market technology is performance; mainstream manufacturers know sound quality isn't much of a priority for most buyers, so they build their products to sound just good enough.
By high-end standards at least, the MiniWatt is dirt cheap, just $229 (shipping is $40). And measuring just 5 by 4 inches, the little guy can fit anywhere. Powerful it's not, just 2.5 watts for each channel, but that should be plenty for desktop applications with wee speakers, like the Audioengine P4s I recently wrote about.
Not convinced? Over at ToneAudio magazine, they hooked up the MiniWatt to a pair of $3,500 Zu Essence tower speakers and were blown away by the sound—so much so that ToneAudio named the amp "Product of the Year" in its budget audio category.
You can get yours in black, silver, gold, red, blue, or green.
Downsides: You get just a single stereo input, but you could add some sort of external switcher to accommodate more sources. You have to buy your own AC power cord; the MiniWatt doesn't come with one.
The mini wonder is garnering raves from a number of audiophile magazines worldwide, and I think that's just great. If you're curious about the sound of tubes, here's your chance to get in on the fun.
This story originally appeared on CNET