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Minimalist Desktop Audio Setup | SMSL AD18 Stereo HiFi Amplifier Review

October 6, 2018

What’s going on everyone my name is Myxo. Today I’m going to review the SMSL AD18 Stereo Amplifier and how it can turn a mediocre audio setup into an audiophile’s dream setup. And it’s only $150! 

 

I decided I wanted to upgrade my audio setup while trying to achieve a more minimalist aesthetic. Before my upgrade to the AD18 amplifier, I was using self-powered M-Audio BX5a desktop speakers that didn’t require external amplification. These speakers took up a lot of desk top real-estate, so I knew for my upgrade I was aiming for something more compact; all while delivering higher fidelity sound than the M-Audios. I had an old Gallo Acoustics Nucleus 2.1 speaker system which would perfectly fit the bill for achieving the minimalist aesthetic I was going for. The catch with using my Gallos was, they are passive speakers, meaning they would require being paired up with a separate amplifier or receiver.

Using a home theater receiver or amplifier would have been far too big and bulky for a minimalist desktop solution, so here entered the SMSL AD18 Stereo Amplifier.

 

The AD18 is a compact 2.1 amplifier, but don’t let its small foot print fool you. This little amp packs a huge punch. Its internal class D amplifier delivers 80watts per channel @ 4 ohms which is plenty enough power for any desk setup. While the AD18 can be used for multiple purposes other than connecting it to a PC for audio, this review is going to focus on a desktop audio experience.

 

The AD18 comes packed with a user manual, a large external power brick which is almost the same size of the AD18 itself, a USB cable to connect the amp to a PC, a remote control, an antenna for Bluetooth connectivity, and of course the amplifier itself.

 

The AD18 has a tiny form factor. Speaker wire is connected to the left and right channels via binding posts. I recommend using banana plugs when connecting speaker wire to the binding posts being that banana plugs create a seamless plug and play connection. Along side the binding posts are numerous connection inputs to connect to various devices to the AD18 such as an optical input, usb input, toslink input and wireless Bluetooth which is AptX enabled.

 

While the AD18 is marketed as a stereo amplifier, it features basic pre-amplifier controls and a DAC making this an all-in one desktop solution. The front knob while controlling volumes also controls input selection, preset equalization selection, screen display color and brightness.

 

While the volume control goes from 0 to 60, I rarely turn it up past 12…this amp can get plenty loud if you want it to. The internal DAC inside the AD18 is very clear and detailed sounding. With some budget amplifiers it’s not uncommon for the sound to start to distort at moderate volumes. I perceive the AD18 to only start to distort at high volumes, which is pretty good for a $150 amplifier.

 

The AD18 also doubles as a modest headphone amplifier. I was able to easily drive my AKG 7XX headphones rated at 62 ohms effortlessly. While the maximum volume output of the AD18 goes up to 36 for headphones, by level 20, my AKG’s were screaming which ensures there is plenty of headroom left in the amp for higher impedance headphones. The specs of the AD18 rate the maximum impedance for headphones at 150 ohms. This should be enough for the average consumer; however, if you have headphones rated at a higher impedance of 150 ohms, I’d recommend a dedicated headphone amp such as the mica origen.  

 

To wrap up this review, the SMSL AD18 Stereo Amplifier is a fantastic piece of audio gear. If you’re looking for a desktop amplifier that doesn’t take up a lot of space, this is a must buy. In fact, if I were looking for a budget stereo receiver, I’d consider the AD18 as a front runner. This is definitely one of my favorite purchases of 2018. With the addition of the AD18 to my desk setup, I feel like I finally found the desktop audio setup that have been eluding me. 

 

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