For $99, I expected nothing more than a small surface-mount circuit board with a minimal parts count. But the Q-2 charmingly employs construction methods I’ve rarely seen since I was 16 and I took apart my late-1970s Electro-Harmonix Small Stone phase shifter. The board uses old-school (and labor-intensive) through-hole construction. The transformer feeds two separate power supplies, both of which are regulated. Instead of using bridge rectifiers to convert the AC from the transformer to DC, the Q-2 uses little discrete diodes. Based on the construction, I’d have guessed the Q-2 would go for two or three times its price.
Qinpu provides two inputs on the back: stereo RCAs for CD input and a 3.5mm stereo jack for iPod input. A switch on the top panel selects between the two. Convenient, top-mounted binding posts make connecting speakers easy and, even better, make it impossible to conceal your speaker cables. Better have some nice-looking ones. Actually, speaker cables that look as good as the Q-2 might cost more than the amp.
Flipping on the side-mounted power switch sets the blue LED behind the tube a-blinkin’. It pulses for several seconds while the tube is warming up, then glows solid when the tube’s ready for action. A handy feature indeed — handy for telling you the tube is warmed up, and handy for reminding your guests that you have a tube amp. (You don’t have to tell them it’s a hybrid.)
Choose your speakers carefully. With just 2.5 watts per channel, the Q-2 will give you only 4 dB more output than the speaker’s rated sensitivity — i.e., with a speaker rated at 88 dB sensitivity at 1 meter, the Q-2 will give you 92 dB at 1 meter before clipping. Above that, you’ll likely notice distortion. In a 2-foot experience (i.e., using the amp to power your computer audio system), the Q-2 should produce adequate volume with most speakers. But in a 10-foot experience (i.e., sitting on your living-room couch with the speakers arrayed along the opposite wall), you’ll need a speaker with a sensitivity rating in the 90s to get a decent listening level. Unless, of course, you plan to use the Q-2 for nothing but playing The Best of Sade at background levels during candlelit dinners with your latest eHarmony hookup.
Brent Butterworth and Geoff Morrison combine their years of gear testing and knowledge in one überblog of irreverence and techiness.