Tangent Ampster BT II Integrated Amp Review
Wondering what you might use to drive those affordable standmounts? Wonder no more
What is the Ampster BT II?The Tangent Ampster BT II is an integrated amp. At least it is closer to an integrated amp than it is to anything else. Like many devices we’ve seen described as ‘integrated amps’ it does have many factors in common with an all-in-one system but Tangent seems sufficiently confident in categorising it that they’ve even snuck the word ‘amp’ into the title.
Like a number of such devices we’ve looked at though, the Tangent has the scope to do rather more than simply collate your analogue sources. With decoding and Bluetooth on board, this little device has the potential to be quite content to work on its own, so long as you have a mobile phone and a streaming services account. What’s more, the Ampster - as we shall come to - is offered at a very tempting price for this sort of thing.
Unusually though, however well it might be seen to function on its own, what is more notable is that Tangent has gone and built some supporting equipment for it. This means that the Ampster BT II can also form the basis of a compact and very affordable separates system. Is this still the best sort of thinking for building a strong performing setup at sensible money or a bit of a throwback that uses too many plugs for its own good? We’ll consider both the Ampster BT II on its own merits and then look its partnering equipment as well to see where things stand.
Specification and DesignThe Ampster is built around an amplifier section that delivers 25 watts into eight ohms, which apparently doubles into four- a feat which would make it one of the most affordable devices I’ve ever seen to perform this neat feat of audiophile credibility. The topology of the amp isn’t specified but it generates a small amount of heat in use suggesting it isn’t a class D one, although whether it is completely discrete is a harder thing to ascertain as we’re generally dissuaded from pulling review samples apart.
This 25 watt output is made available to a selection of inputs. Tangent has tried to cover most bases and fitted the Ampster BT II with two analogue inputs, one on a conventional RCA stereo connection and one a 3.5mm input. There is then an additional optical input and the aptX capable Bluetooth connection. These are supported by a subwoofer output and a USB-A connection. This latter socket doesn’t have signal capability but it can power a USB bus type device which has some interesting potential applications.
This is not the most extensive list of inputs going but it should be sufficient for most requirements. Crucially, that digital input is a little more talented than you might expect. Until recently, it would be have been entirely acceptable for it to top out at 16/48 or similar but Tangent has equipped the Ampster with the ability to handle 24/96. In the great scheme of things, this might not sound important but it means two things. The first is that the Tangent is likely to put in some decent numbers with ordinary 16/44.1. The second is that it does mean that the Ampster has the ability to work with you if you decide to use this as a starting point that will take you to the lofty peaks of the high end.
Of course, if you just want some more functionality, Tangent has you covered. The Ampster is joined by the CD II and Tuner II. These are the same size as the Ampster and will combine to form a stack of equipment less than 30cm high. The functionality has a ‘does what it says on the tin’ nature as the CD II is a CD player and the Tuner II a radio but there are some little quirks that make them more interesting than you might expect. The first is that both have digital outputs. This is partly for practical reasons - it spreads them across the limited inputs of the Ampster more effectively - but it also gives them the potential to work in some other situations. The CD II, in particular, has some potential as a transport for someone moving away gradually from CD to streaming and looking for a feed for a DAC. The Tuner is also unusual in that it has FM support. Quite how much longer FM will be around for is open to debate but it does give some flexibility for people outside of great DAB reception.
As you might expect, given the sensible pricing of these devices, the aesthetics of the Ampster and its supporting equipment isn’t the sort of thing that will have the high end quaking in their boots. Each unit is a little black box with fairly minimal adornment and frippery. Within this simplicity though are some likeable attributes. Everything is well made for the asking price, with the all-metal chassis feeling sturdy and well thought out. Little touches like the decent speaker terminals and removable mains leads - handy for the convenience of being able to change them for longer or shorter ones rather than any performative benefit - are nice touches too.
They are also easy to live with. Each unit comes with a system driving remote that is reasonably responsive and non-directional. In fact, Tangent seems very keen on the ability to use the Ampster when not in line of sight. The 3.5mm aux input will wake the unit up if it detects a signal, as will the Bluetooth connection. No less intriguing is the fitment of a rear panel IR jack and an IR extender being supplied in the box. I can’t remember the last time such a thing was supplied with a piece of Hi-Fi equipment at any price and it means that the Tangent is an absolute star candidate for being hidden away - in which case the aesthetics don’t matter at all.
The Ampster has the ability to work with you if you decide to use this as a starting point that will take you to the lofty peaks of the high end
How was the Ampster BT II tested?The Tangent has been connected to an IsoTek Evo3 Aquarius mains conditioner (your regular reminder that this is resident to ensure a degree of protection for both the review equipment and my resident system rather than a deep rooted belief that £1,500 of mains treatment is needed to listen to things). It has been tested with and without the CD and Tuner but also with a Google Chromecast Audio, a Yamaha WX-AD10 and an LG 55B7 OLED. Bluetooth testing has been via an Essential PH-1. Speakers used have been the Polk S15E and the Spendor A1. Material used has included FLAC, ALAC and AIFF, Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer and some broadcast and on demand TV.
Sound QualityOne thing and one thing only really makes the difference between the Tangent being seen as some sort of curious lifestyle object and something rather more interesting and that is the way it sounds. As Tangent feels that the Bluetooth is of sufficient importance to warrant putting it in the title, this is where listening begins. Pairing up is simple and once done, there is no unwanted background noise and the connection is stable over several metres.
Beyond the basics, the Tangent sounds genuinely good fun. It gets stuck into the ballistic dance hall nostalgia of Ibibio Sound Machine’s Tell Me (Doko Mien) with real enthusiasm and more than a little quality. Partnered with the extremely musical Polk, it delivers the high tempo rhythm with a useful combination of speed and reasonable punch. If you connect the Polks to my resident Naim Supernait 2, they will go a little deeper and with fractionally more control but it’s a reflection of the basic ability of the Tangent that the performance on offer here isn’t so different.
This means one very important thing. Streaming Tidal from an aptX capable phone to the Ampster and a decent pair of affordable speakers (and you can take your pic from some real stars at the moment from £160 up) is enough to impart the suspension of disbelief. You stop listening to the equipment and enjoy the overall performance that results. This is, in embryonic form, Hi-Fi. It’s not perfect, there is a slight lack of fine detail and if you want to play UNKLE’s utterly devastating Ar.Mour at the sort of levels it deserves (that is to say, a level that makes the air shimmer), you are going to need either more than 25 watts or a pair of extremely sensitive speakers. For under £500 though, it’s extremely impressive.
What’s more, the Tangent is only getting started. The key to the extra potential is that optical input. Keeping it in-house and using the CD II via its Toslink out keeps the same basic presentation as the Bluetooth connection but the extra information available does help to flesh the performance out further. Comparing the CD of Christine and the Queens to the Tidal stream via Bluetooth sees it sound slightly fuller and more detailed - a neat reminder that the old silver disc can still deliver when required.
Much as Tangent would like you to go CD, the true calling of that input is for two rather more modern roles. The first is that the Ampster is a fine partner to boost the sound of a flatscreen TV - and one that comes in at price more in keeping with the outrageous bargains that seem to crop up routinely in the world of soundbars. That inbuilt ability to work out of sight allows the Tangent to be hidden away so you can have a nice clean install of the TV and a pair of speakers and, potentially, very smart it will look too. The small matter of the Masterchef final was entrusted to the Tangent and the Polks and a very fine job they did too.
Impressively, there’s an even better use for that connector if you fancy. If you can hunt down an example of the recently discontinued Chromecast Audio, it partners the Tangent like hollandaise does salmon. The USB connection on the Ampster can power the Chromecast and the optical connection can match its sample rate handling. For a whisker over £200, you can have a high res capable, self-contained streaming all in one. We can often poke fun at the slow perceived rate of change in Hi-Fi but it wasn’t too long ago that 96kHz capable hardware was the preserve of the studio and the very rarefied high end. To see it being done well for this money is quite something.
There is in fact, no shortage of cost effective front ends you can bolt onto the Tangent to make it into just about anything you want it to. Something like the phono stage equipped version of Pro-Ject’s Primary turntable would be a fine analogue fronted combination while the Yamaha WX-AD10 gives you bulletproof streaming, excellent streaming service integration and internet radio for about £120 and can also be powered off the USB connector. There is a strong argument that many companies are ignoring the ways in which people might start out in constructing affordable Hi-Fi systems and this is a fairly erudite retort to that.
We can often poke fun at the slow perceived rate of change in Hi-Fi but it wasn’t too long ago that 96kHz capable hardware was the preserve of the studio and the very rarefied high end. To see it being done well for this money is quite something
- Sounds Good
- Solid Build
- Usefully flexible spec
- Not terribly pretty
- Can run out of steam at higher levels
- Some lack of fine detail
Tangent Ampster BT II Integrated Amp ReviewAny criticism of the Ampster BT II - and there are a few mainly centred around the lack of absolute headroom and a slight lack of fine detail - have to be seen in the context of it costing less than £200. Combining it with a Chromecast Audio and a pair of Monitor Audio Monitor 50s would cost less than £400 and deliver a level of basic musical joy that will knock any equivalently priced one box speaker into a cocked hat. This is a complete and utter bargain that opens the way to take your stereo listening to wherever you want and for that reason, the Tangent Ampster BT II has to be seen as a Best Buy.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £179.99
Ease of use9
Value for money10
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