Desktop Speaker Amps: Is Class AB becoming obsolete?

I write this post as an open question to the community: has Class A and Class AB speaker amps taken a backseat to Class D and Class T in the desktop environment?

Recently I contemplated buying the Emotiva BasX A-100 to power a to-be-determined set of speakers on my desktop (considering the ugly Monoliths) and I had to ask the serious question to myself if paying more for Class AB was worth it. Class D and Class T amplifiers have come a long way in sounding great, and now ‘smol’ things like the SMSL SA100 appear to have an edge in the price to performance arena. Not only does it seem like a better value for the price standpoint alone, but it also has features and conveniences like Bluetooth 5.0.

Despite this, I’m still somewhat biased and want to go with the Class AB amp. I’m not sure if I’m alone but I feel like I am stuck with yesterday’s differences between Class AB vs Class D even though I acknowledge the gap is closing or may even be non-existent for a desktop application. If I am not going to the limits of the amp, then is there really a difference any more besides one costing more while containing less features? Would there be a difference in a near field environment like a desktop?

Because I am thinking about doing it, I might have to buy a SMSL DA-8 (because I’ve heard good things about ICEpower Class D amps) and ask if Zeos would be kind enough to compare it to his Emotiva BasX to get an apples to may-as-well-be-an-apple scenario. A large part of me is also thinking that maybe I could get away with a Topping PA3 or even the SMSL SA 100 to get even more features and not miss anything.

Anyways, is Class AB becoming obsolete? I am spending too much time thinking about this because I’m obsolete? Is Class D or Class T the way to go for a desktop, near field setup? Please let me know your thoughts.

I don’t think class A/B amplification is becoming obsolete per se, but I think that miniature class D amps are gaining market share because their sound quality is catching up (if not already equalling or surpassing A/B in some cases), they do offer a strong price/performance ratio, and they simply fit better on a desk. Classes D and/or T may be what most audio amplifiers of any type are made of down the road but I think it’s too early to say A/B is obsolete.

Also, I don’t think the near-field question applies to amplification. How close you are to your speakers matters more when you’re talking about speakers. If a speaker doesn’t do near-field well, it won’t make much difference if it’s driven by A, A/B, D,… Full disclosure, I use an older Onkyo HT receiver with A/B amps in it as my desktop stereo amp because its HDMI output failed so it could no longer anchor my home theater. I also have a Micca Origain (one of those little Class D amps) that I use in my office at work. When I compared the two they sounded a little different, but it was really hard to say that either was ‘better’. The Onkyo has more power so I keep it at my home desk so that I can crank it to have room music when I’m not sitting at the desk. When I’m at work though, I still marvel at what that tiny Origain can do.

Bottom line, the choice you make should depend on what differences you perceive. Do you prefer the sound of Class A/B or Class D? That’s only a question you can answer. Then, consider things like price/performance ratio and how much physical room you have on your desk setup.

Hope this helps. Happy amp hunting!

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Thank you for the reply.

I only said near-field as I just wanted to qualify that I do not intend to cause myself further hearing loss at my desk and should not need an astounding amount of power to say go to the limits of an amp.

The title is a bit hyperbolic, but I’ve long held the bias against Class D and T. In the current day, I don’t think I can justify that bias.

I can’t compare the different classes of amps as I am a little inexperienced with amps, but I went from a 90W/channel Sony receiver to the 50W/channel Emotiva A-100 and heard a noticeable difference in sound. My music sounded “fuller”. Not sure how else to explain that, but I felt a gain in performance. It is a very heavy, well built amp and fits perfectly on a desk although a lot bigger than most desktop amps.

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I have the A-100 paired with the Elac UB5’S I’m using the schiit modi Multibitbit for a DAC when
Playing Flac files or streaming. iMO AB amps are here to stay.

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