Thursday, July 2, 2009

Is the AN214 IC Amplifier Hi-Fi?

Given that it resides in the 12-volt world of car audio, does the AN214 IC amplifier fulfil the tenets of high-fidelity audio reproduction – namely a good to excellent sound quality?

By: Vanessa Uy

Today, we audiophiles – at least the sane ones anyway – judge an audio amplifier’s performance by its ability to realistically reproduce the sound of a recorded musical performance. As opposed to how many watts it can deliver or how low it’s overall total harmonic distortion – i.e. a good to excellent set of measurements, and even the amplifier’s circuit topology / technology.

The practice of using our ears – as opposed to a 10,000 US dollar multi-function audio analyzer – probably gained fashion (again?) back in January 1994. When Stereophile magazine released a correspondingly dated magazine with a riddle posted on the cover that goes “If either of these amplifiers is RIGHT…the other must be WRONG”. An idea probably influenced by James Carville’s book titled “We’re Right, They’re Wrong: A Handbook for Spirited Progressives” – a reactionary idea born out of chronic bullying by Rush Limbaugh and his global warming / climate change denying ilk directed at us liberals. It looks like our too liberal postmodern dictum of everyone’s opinion is right is our own downfall - at least according to Mr. Carville.

Returning to the world of hi-fi, it does seem like sound quality has indeed gained vogue in assessing the pride of ownership potential of audio components, especially audio amplifiers. The circuit topology and technology used seems no longer relevant, probably due to the single-ended triode “revolution” in Japan during the 1970s which made audiophiles around the world reexamine their views about what’s important about their hobby.

Given that the AN214 IC amplifier might be cheap, its hi-fi credentials easily manifest by the overall improvement in sound quality every time you over-engineer one. Use larger than necessary output transformers and the bass quality improves, just like its single-ended triode counterparts. Use larger than necessary heat sinks and the AN214 amplifier rewards you with a more agile pace, rhythm, and timing. In fact if you tweak the AN214 amplifier’s power supply with Rubicon Black Gate capacitors, it could even sound better – from a musical perspective – than a standard Pioneer A400 amplifier. The only way a Pioneer A400 can be more musical than a tricked-out AN214 amplifier is by doing a T. Evans Audio Design-style modification to its power supply.

During the AN214 amplifier’s heyday, many audiophiles – especially absolute beginners – have never been told about the wisdom of trusting their own two ears as the ultimate arbiter of sound quality. This is why back then solid-state high-powered full-complementary output stage direct-coupled power amplifiers were touted as the ultimate in sound quality. Even though most of them sound sluggish in the pace, rhythm, and timing department because their power supply capacitors have not been designed to take advantage of time-constants. Ad given that solid-state full-complementary amplifiers are relatively complex in terms of component count, tweaking one – especially if you are an audiophile on a budget – seldom makes fiscal sense. It is even cheaper – time and labor wise – to buy very expensive solid-state amplifiers from Mark Levinson, Krell, and Spectral.

So, is the AN214 IC-based amplifier hi-fi? If you trust your own two ears, then the answer is a resounding yes. If the music matter’s more to you than the circuit complexity of your audio amplifier, then maybe it is about time you should check out the AN214 amplifier - especially if you can’t afford exotic single-ended triode tube-based amplifiers, or if you live in a place where the 50 caliber Browning Machine-Gun cartridge is way more plentiful than 300B vacuum tubes. During the AN214 IC amplifier’s heyday, it might have the requisite resolution to play out the full beauty of Larry Carlton’s guitar playing on Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough.


  1. I thought that the 5-watt AN214 power amplifier IC is already extinct. The last time I bought one - back in 2002 - it had became more expensive than a Chinese-made 12AX7 pre-amp tube. Compared to those atrocious-sounding switching-mode power amps they used to drive personal computer multi-media speakers, the AN214 IC-based amplifier could end up sounding like a flea-powered Mark Levinson amplifier in sound quality terms.

  2. I think James Carville was disillusioned by the Liberal America's meekness when it comes to the vilification by the Conservative Right-Wing zealots. Remember the April 19, 1995 terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City?
    I think it was more by accident than by intentional engineering design that the makers and manufacturers of the AN214 IC amplifier allowed this venerable chip-based power amp to have a very exceptional sound quality. The AN214's internal layout probably canceled the effects of memory distortion and ultrasonic band analog-domain jitter.