Integrated amplifiers have been around for decades, but they've quietly become a viable AV receiver alternative, thanks to TVs that now offer extensive switching capabilities and more integrated amps that include an optical audio input.
That's the context in which we looked at the Teac A-H01, along with several other integrated amplifiers with an optical audio input. The smallish A-H01 is particularly well-suited for typical home theater use, offering up plenty of power with excellent sound quality. Unlike many of its competitors, it has a dedicated subwoofer output, so you can connect a sub without much fuss. It even sports a USB port, making it possible to connect a computer for high-resolution audio playback.
However, the A-H01 has plenty of quirks that keep us from recommending it unreservedly. The remote is lousy, with unreliable buttons that don't always respond to presses. The A-H01 also can't be turned on and off remotely, which means lovers of universal remotes may be tempted to leave the A-H01 on all the time. And it lacks built-in Bluetooth for wireless audio streaming, a feature that's included in the NAD D 3020 ($500).
Overall, the Teac A-H01 is a great-sounding little amp in a terrific compact form, especially for those that want to use a subwoofer without much fuss. But it's not quite as polished as the NAD D 3020, which is likely to be a better pick for most buyers.
Design: Wonderfully small, but with some oversights
The Teac A-H01 is remarkably smaller than a typical AV receiver and even considerably smaller than stereo receivers like the Onkyo TX-8020. It stands just 2.4 inches tall, with a modest width of 8.46 inches and a somewhat surprising depth of 10.16 inches. The front panel is dead simple with just a volume knob, headphone jack, source selector, and power button. While it's not quite as small as the NuForce Dia or quite as pretty as the Peachtree Audio Decco65, the Teac strikes a good balance between the two and will certainly look nice in your TV cabinet. If you're looking for a less obtrusive amplifier for your living room, it's hard not to smile when you see the Teac A-H01 next to a standard receiver like the Denon AVR-E400.
Once you get past looks, however, the Teac is less delightful. That power button on the front is the only way to power the unit on and off, which is particularly annoying if you're intending to use the A-H01 with an activity-based remote like the Harmony Smart Control. The alternative is to leave the A-H01 always on, which isn't ideal.
Besides lacking a power button, the included remote just doesn't work well. It has the annoying bubblelike buttons that are usually found on cheaper devices and they just don't respond consistently to button presses, so you're left hitting some buttons over and over again. You're best off getting a universal remote, even if it can't power the device on and off.
Features: Nearly everything but wireless
The A-H01 has four inputs on the back: two digital inputs (one optical, one coaxial) and two stereo analog inputs. That's plenty if you're planning to use the A-H01 as a desktop amplifier, but for home theater use, you'll likely want to use your TV as a switcher and connect its optical audio output to the A-H01.
Those intending to use the A-H01 in the living room should also note the lack of onboard decoding for Dolby Digital or DTS bit stream formats. In most cases, that shouldn't be a problem, as most TVs "dumb down" incoming surround soundtracks to stereo PCM anyway, which means you don't need any decoding. If your TV does pass on "bit stream" audio signals, you'll want to adjust the settings so that it doesn't or configure your source devices (such as your Blu-ray player) to decode to PCM.
There's also a USB port on the back that you can use to connect a computer directly to the amp after installing the correct drivers. We tried using the Teac with a MacBook Pro and it worked perfectly, letting us listen to our iTunes music collection as well as high-resolution tracks.
Another perk is the Teac includes a dedicated subwoofer output, which many of its competitors don't have, including the Onkyo A-5VL, NuForce Dia, and NuForce DDA-100. You can still connect those amplifiers to subwoofers that have speaker-level inputs, like the budget Dayton Sub 800, but a dedicated subwoofer output is more convenient and makes for considerably less wire clutter.
What you won't find on the A-H01 is any kind of wireless capabilities, such as Wi-Fi, AirPlay, or Bluetooth. On the one hand, it's not a huge loss, as it's easy to add that functionality with an Apple TV ($100) or Bluetooth receiver ($20). However, the excellent NAD D 3020 includes Bluetooth (with aptX support) for about the same price, so it would have been nice to see on the A-H01.
Sound quality: Full sound from a pint-sized amp
Sound quality evaluations of amplifiers are controversial. Some say all properly designed AV receivers sound the same, others disagree, and we're not likely to settle that argument anytime soon.