AVS Forum Special Member
Join Date: Feb 2004
Location: Douglasville, GA
Mentioned: 5 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 438 Post(s)
Pretty much all of the amplifiers listed above (save for probably the Yamaha, Marantz, and maybe the TEAC) are chip-amps. Anywhere you see "TI Chips" listed, it's an amplifier-on-a-chip device. The biggest differences from one to the next are what chips, how many, and in what configuration, as well as the power supply voltage/current/wattage. Quality Control and build quality can also vary, so I'd probably order from Amazon and not from eBay (especially from China). They could all be driven by your Airport Express without any change to how you interact with it, simply eliminating the large AVR.
For this application, especially since WAF is a big part of it, I'd strongly consider one of the more basic amps above driven by either a Google Home Mini (if the speaker has Bluetooth... if it doesn't, the addition of a Chromecast Audio or inexpensive Bluetooth receiver fixes that) or Echo Dot (which can be connected over 3.5mm to either 3.5mm or Stereo RCA). This method allows you to consider only what amplification you want/need without the need to consider UI, storage, etc. The device can be driven either purely by voice, or through your phone (either via casting or as a basic Bluetooth speaker) if desired as well.
The ability to say "Hey Google, play Cooking Playlist on Spotify" or "Hey Google, play the news" is a bit of a game changer and can likely integrate with your thermostats as well. I honestly listen to way more music and other content around the kitchen than I EVER did before, just due to the ease of use of voice control (compared to having to drive a Bluetooth speaker from my phone). The biggest drawback would be the lack of voice access to Apple Music, depending on how much you rely on that... though it can still be driven from your phone through Bluetooth, similar to how you currently do through the Airport Express. You also open up the ability to easily/cheaply expand into Sonos-style whole home audio through the addition of Google/Alexa devices in other rooms. You can set up groups of speakers and, for example, say "Hey Google, play Party Mix on Spotify on the First Floor" or "Hey Google, play Cleaning Mix on Spotify everywhere".
If you like the idea of working with an Echo but don't want a more purpose-built and higher-quality combination, maybe wait for the Echo Link Amplifier that Amazon is releasing. To me, it seems pricey for what it is but I expect it to be a quality piece of equipment and integrate with the Echo ecosystem extremely smoothly. You'll still need an Echo Dot to receive your voice directions, but you could probably save a few dollars and get an older second-gen since you won't need the improved sound quality of the third-gen.
BenQ TK800 | Silver Ticket 106" 16:9 1.0 Grey | Marantz SR6011 | B&W P6 | B&W CDMC SE | Sonance .5 THX SUR | MCM In-Ceiling Atmos | Ascendant Avalanche 12" in 6 ft^3 @ 18Hz w/ BASH 500w Plate Amp | Sony X800 | NVidia Shield TV Pro | XBox One 500gb | Nintendo Switch | Harmony Smart Control | SmartThings Hub | Google Home | AT&T Fiber 300 | YouTube TV | Netflix | HBO Now | Spotify