It seems the hi-fi world has fallen hard for crowd-funding. On the back of storming successes from Pono, Light Harmonic and the Orbit turntable it’s easy to see why. (Those links point to Kicktraq – and not Kickstarter – to show the funding pattern throughout each product’s campaign period.)
Perhaps it’s the sense of finite availability or the chance to secure a healthy discount that has people committing like crazy to products launched and funded via Kickstarter or Indiegogo? Whatever it is, PS Audio’s Kickstarter blasted past its initial funding target of $36K within the first day or so. It presently sits at over a quarter of a million dollars with sixteen days to go. Impressive.
You can read my initial thoughts on the Sprout here.
Not everyone was happy though. Within hours of launch, some unrest from those living outside the USA began to surface online. The Sprout was strictly US-only but people in Europe, Australia/NZ and Asia wanted a Sprout and they wanted one bad. I emailed designer and Kickstarter campaign manager Scott McGowan asking what gives?
“Hey Scott – there’s a bit of (friendly) frustration amongst non-US residents about not being able to take part in the initial Kickstarter campaign. Do you have any future plans to offer models to overseas residents?”
By the following day PS Audio had flung their crowd-funding doors open to the global market and the reply came down the line from McGowan.
“We have made Sprout available to international backers! Adding a flat fee for shipping, we will send a Kickstarter Sprout anywhere in the world, direct from PS Audio.”
I’m not taking credit for that though. A sharper than expected initial uptake in Sprout clearly had McGowan Jnr thinking quickly on his feet in seizing an opportunity to reach more funding through a wider audience.
Still, I had more questions. Questions that ultimately gave rise to a short Q&A session with Scott McGowan.
JD: You designed the whole thing from ‘woah’ to ‘go’?
SM: I had the role of developer. So PS was gracious enough to offer me autonomy on design (within reason) and control of feature set. My job was to know what I wanted and coordinate with electrical, mechanical, software, finance and also suppliers, the marketplace, and our future customers, to develop Sprout. So, I did it with a TON of help, but it was my baby so to speak.
JD: What motivated you to make the Sprout?
SM: A little bit of frustration building over the years about how confusing and alienating audio equipment can be, a LOT of frustration born from members of our industry who could be overheard suggesting that “high-end audio is dead” and that all the young whippersnappers are just into their iPods…i.e. that you could never convince a “regular person” that sound quality is important…which is something I vehemently disagree with. Mainly, I just wanted one for myself. During 2 years’ development I told myself, you have ONE customer who is guaranteed to love it.
JD: Is the speaker output handled by a switching amplifier? If so, is it ICEPower or something else?
SM: It is a class D unit from Scandinavian module designer Elan (formerly Abletec, formerly Anaview), and yes SMPS. Cool that it’s internal huh? Can’t tell you how many competitors are boasting small integrateds for the home or desktop…only to find that the small box comes with ANOTHER small box i.e. a wall wart or in-cord power supply. It bothers me somewhat. Like, they haven’t figured out how to make it small, they just split it into two?
JD: The headphone output stage – what can you tell us about it?
SM: That it ROCKS! The technical specs are 500mW into 16Ω , 425mW into 300Ω. We went with a 1/4″ jack because it encourages home ‘phones i.e. something better than your ear buds. Every Sprout comes with a 3.5mm –> 1/4″ adapter. Nothing more important for a small apartment than the headphone option.
JD: Where is the Sprout made? Any previous PS Audio tech inside?
SM: Sprout is designed and engineered in Boulder, CO, and is made in China. We drew handily from our 30 years’ experience making DACs, our 41 years experience making phono-stages, and applied all we know about live sound and the quality of components required to make it a reality in your home. Some new technology we had as-yet not worked with was Bluetooth. One of the coolest parts about Sprout is that we use aptX, but we draw the S/PDIF signal from the Bluetooth dev board into our DAC. This improves the sound quality to levels which qualify for high-end status.
JD: What DAC chip are you using inside the Sprout?
SM: We are using the Wolfson WM8524. [A DAC that pushes 2V right from the chip itself – Ed]
JD: What about USB receiver chip? Off-the-shelf or custom code?
SM: The USB receiver is an XMOS, and yes we do all of our own in-house programming and software design.
JD: How have you configured the phono stage with loading and gain? I see from the Kickstarter photo of you and your fiance that you’ve a Clearaudio MM at home. Did you voice the phono stage with any particular cartridge? Would some MM cartridges be better suited than others?
SM: With a moving magnet or high output moving coil, the standard 47k load resistor and 200pF of capacitance works well for just about any cartridge we have heard. We know this because of the years of experience we bring to the table in designing such things.
JD: It’s evident you’ve put a great deal of effort into how the Sprout looks. Did you have the metal/walnut idea from the outset or is that something that evolved over time.
The metal & walnut idea came from…well I stole it from…my brother who makes hand-made furniture out of re-purposed airplane parts (among other re-purposed items). This is a close up of an airplane desk:
In fact, I just dug up this picture of my Dad’s first product, a phono-stage from 1973:
And I’m only just realizing how strikingly similar all of this is. Wood and metal seems to be in the McGowan DNA. I will say for my part I am a fan of mixed mediums. The raw natural feel of wood—whose grain is designed by nature—is offset by the ridged, clean lines of aluminum and stainless steel. Additionally I am inspired by Dieter Rams and his functionalist views on design. A well executed product will be aesthetically pleasing, functional, honest, useful, innovative, and not over-designed. Lastly, Sprout looks the way it does because I am a fan of mid-century modern furniture.
Further information: PS Audio Sprout on Kickstarter