There's a problem with most AirPlay docks; most of them have relatively underwhelming speakers and weak amplifiers. Wouldn't it be nice if you could grab those humongous speakers that you bought back in college and somehow hook them up to an AirPlay-enabled amp? That's the idea behind the Griffin Twenty Audio Amplifier (US$99.99), which uses your existing speakers and an old AirPort Express (not included) to let you stream music to your towers of power.
Since the Twenty uses your AirPort Express to communicate with the rest of your WiFi network, you'd be correct if you assumed that there's a way to plug the APE into the Twenty. Griffin was smart with the design -- you basically just remove the "duck head" power plug from the AirPort Express and slide the rest of the unit onto a plug on the Twenty. Note that you must have an older AirPort Express, the type that could be plugged directly onto a wall socket. The new type, which uses a more traditional power cable, requires a workaround (see note under "Functionality" below). In either case, you'll also use the included optical audio cable to connect the Twenty and the AirPort Express
Of course, if you have an existing amp, you can always run an audio cable from any AirPort Express right into an audio-in jack, and you're set. But the Twenty is designed for people who may have a great set of speakers laying around somewhere but no amp to drive them anymore -- which seems like a limited market.
The device looks good and is very well built. On the back are four 8 Ohm speaker connectors, the type that work with bare speaker wire. You just push in the spring-loaded connector, insert the uninsulated wire ends for the two wires on each channel, and then let go to have the wire held tight. There's also an RCA connector for hooking up a subwoofer if you really want to raise the roof with sound.
The name of the Twenty refers to the 20 Watts of power provided per channel by the amp. While that may not be as powerful as your cool McIntosh MC275 Tube Amplifer with its 75 Watts per channel, it's still enough oomph to power most bookshelf speakers and most larger speakers as well.
In a way, I have to feel sorry for Griffin's engineers. They designed this unit on the assumption that the AirPort Express would never change its design, and then last June Apple made the little WiFi router look like a pale Apple TV. On the plus side, you could probably lay your new AirPort Express on top of the Twenty and run the included optical audio cable between the back of the Twenty and the analog/optical jack on the back of the AirPort Express. However, the aesthetics of the design would be compromised in that case.
The Twenty is drop-dead simple to set up. You plug a preconfigured AirPort Express into the top of the unit and hook up your speakers. Plug it into the wall with the included power cord, flip the power switch, and it's ready to rumble.
There are just a few indications that things are humming away. First, the green light on the AirPort Extreme will light up, provided that your network is set up properly. Next, there's a blue light on the front to indicate that power is flowing to the device. Finally, when the Twenty and your AirPlay "transmitter" (i.e. your iPhone or other device) are talking to each other, a green LED will glow on the front of the unit.
There's only one more control on the Twenty -- a big volume knob that works in tandem with your device's volume controls.
I hooked the Twenty to an old pair of speakers that had been collecting dust in the basement of my house, and was impressed with the sound that I got out of them. It was a much better experience than listening to music through my Apple Ear Pods or from the speaker on my iMac. Turning the knob on the Twenty up while AirPlaying at full volume from my iPhone resulted in the loudest noise I've had in this house since I accidentally stepped on my cat's tail.
If you have an older AirPort Express and a pair of underutilized speakers, the Griffin Twenty Audio Amp is well worth the $100 expenditure. Just make sure that your speakers work with the 8 Ohm output, and you're on your way to a great sound experience.
- Reasonable cost for a professional quality amp
- Allows re-purposing of older speakers for use with new technology and AirPlay
- Extremely easy setup
- Top-notch materials and construction
- Not designed for use with the latest version of the AirPort Express although it will work
Who is it for?
- Audiophiles who would love to use their favorite speakers with AirPlay
One lucky TUAW reader is going to get a Twenty courtesy of Griffin and TUAW. Here are the rules for the giveaway:
- Open to legal US residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 and older.
- To enter, fill out the form below completely and click or tap the Submit button.
- The entry must be made before March 3, 2013 11:59PM Eastern Standard Time.
- You may enter only once.
- One winner will be selected and will receive a Griffin Twenty Audio Amp valued at $99.99
- Click Here for complete Official Rules.