Alternative to the Griffin Twenty

Ever since I bought an Apple TV, I’ve been enjoying using Apple’s AirPlay feature to stream music wirelessly to my home theatre from my iPhone. However, for about a year now I’ve wished that I could AirPlay music to my kitchen, where my wife and I spend a lot of time cooking, cleaning and entertaining.

Enter the Griffin Twenty. Recently Griffin Technology released a device called the “Twenty”. In short, it is an amplifier that uses an Apple Airport Express and connected speakers to deliver the exact functionality that I was looking for. However, at $99 USD + shipping + the purchase of speakers and the Airport Express itself, this idea was getting a bit pricey.

So then I started getting creative and doing some research to see if there was a cheaper alternative to the Griffin Twenty. It turns out there is, and here’s the route I went:

Airport Express

Airport ExpressEven though both Apple TV and Airport Express can AirPlay to a sound receiver, the Apple TV is a bit overkill, because I just wanted music. I also didn’t need the latest release of AE because functionally, it’s essentially the same as the previous revision of the same product. Oddly enough, the Griffin Twenty is designed (cosmetically) to work with the previous version of AE as well.

That being said, I headed to the Apple Refurb Store and scooped up a refurbished Airport Express for $69 CAD and free shipping.

Speakers

OSD In-Ceiling SpeakersI could have used any speakers that were available to me, but seeing as I had no speakers lying around, I decided to shop for new ones. Then it dawned on me: “How cool would it be to have in-ceiling speakers?!”

I searched on Amazon and read some reviews, and finally convinced myself that I should buy a pair of OSD Audio IW540 In-Wall Speakers. These little puppies will sit flush to the ceiling, they’re fully paintable, and for the non-audiophile, they sound amazing. They set me back $60 CAD.

Amplifier

Lepai 2020A+ Class-T ampFinally, I needed to find a suitable replacement for the Griffin Twenty itself. ie: A small and simple amplifier that would take input from the Airport Express and then power my OSD speakers. I read and learned about Class-T amplifiers. The most important part to me was the small design and incredible sound of Class-T.

So back to Amazon I went and purchased the Lepai 2020A+ Class-T amplifier (with power supply). If you have any doubts about the power and quality of this amplifier, you definitely don’t have to take my word for it. Just head over to YouTube and search for “Lepai” to see the plethora of good reviews on this product. The best part is, it costs only $30! Take that Griffin!

The full monty

All said and done, for the entire setup, I spent $160 total. I installed the speakers into my kitchen ceiling and fished the speaker wires down to my basement where I have the Airport Express and Lepai 2020A+ amplifier. I configured the AE to have the name “Kitchen” and now when I want to play music in my kitchen, I can just AirPlay right from my iPhone to the speakers.

As for audio quality, I’m pretty picky about sound, and they sound really good to me – nice and crisp with a lot of bass, thanks to the cavities provided by ceiling joists. I haven’t turned the volume of the Lepai above 50% and controlling the volume right from my phone would allow me to make it loud enough for even the rowdiest of parties.

I’ve had this set up for about a month now, and I’m loving it. My daughter enjoys having after-work dance parties in the kitchen and I often stream Songza playlists to the speakers at meal time. Throw my new Pebble into this equation and now I feel like I’ve just taken a trip to the future in a wireless, musical time-machine.

15 Thoughts on “Alternative to the Griffin Twenty

  1. Awesome, Chris!

  2. What cable did you use to connect the airport to the lepai amp?

    • The Lepai amp allows both 1/8″ (headphone jack) input or left and right RCA inputs. The Airport Express has 1/8″ output.

      So I personally used a 1/8″ to RCA cable to connect the two devices, because I had one lying around. You could just as well use a 1/8″ to 1/8″ (male on both ends) cable as well.

      Note: The Lepai only supports analog input so even though the Airport could support digital output, it’s useless with the Lepai.

  3. Thx.

  4. qvilorio on May 29, 2013 at 11:10 am said:

    Hi Chris,
    Very informative review, thanks. I was wondering if the Lepai is always on?. If I would like to reproduce your scheme into 6 zones, they will be one all the time, right? That setup could draw a considered amount of power and heat. What are your thoughts?

    • Hello and thanks for the comment. You’re right that I leave the Lepai on all the time. I can’t really speak for how much power it draws when it’s not blasting music, but it doesn’t give off any heat that I’ve ever noticed. I just checked right now and it doesn’t feel like it’s even a single degree above room temp. Maybe someone better with electronics may be able to analyze this better than I can?

      By the way, I’m jealous that you’re thinking of going with 6 zones. ;)

  5. qvilorio on June 7, 2013 at 9:55 am said:

    Hi Chris,

    Can you post a pic of your setup? Perhaps a video?

  6. Thanks for the post, I’m looking forward to attempting something similar over the next couple of weeks.

  7. Mikey on June 23, 2013 at 9:06 pm said:

    I have the same setup…. airport expresses with 1/8 male audio cables to Lepai TriPath amps hard wired to in ceiling speakers.

    we have it in 6b zones, but unless you are using “remote” on your iphone/iPad, Airplay will only set you select one “zone” at a time. (From a Mac you can select “multiple speakers”)

    you can also daisy chain a 4 speaker lepai analog to a tripath and power two zones (up to 6 speakers with no noticeable sound degradation.

    We leave them on all the time and havent ever noticed any heat or meaningful power draw.

    Very cheap, very very good sound, and you can pick any non-powered speakers you have sitting around

    • Hey Mikey. Thanks so much for posting this. I hadn’t even considered running multiple destinations using my Mac. I just tried it from iTunes and you’re absolutely right that it works!

      How do you use the “Remote” app on an iPhone to control multiple zones? I’m curious about this, because I tried and don’t see an option?

      Do you use Remote to control your mac?

  8. xvimbi on July 21, 2013 at 9:25 am said:

    That sounds like a good setup, but it is not equivalent to the Twenty. The big thing about the Twenty is that it accepts optical input into a capable DAC, and thus the sound quality is likely superior to the Lepai setup that relies on the decidedly crappy DAC in the Airport Express. Granted, for many applications, it’s probably just fine. But if you added a DAC that uses optical input (not USB) to your system, I’d wonder if you’d still come out ahead of the Twenty. I am looking, but haven’t found much yet.

  9. Hey Chris,

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been planning to do the same myself for a while, and now I’ve find out about this Lepai 2020A+ I think I sold.

    How’s the Lepai 2020A+ working out for you, do you leave the amp on all the time?
    Have you any issues with them, like over heating or failing?
    Is there hissing or humming from the speakers, or have you had to shield the transformers from the amps in any way?

    Thanks in advance

    • Hi Darryl. The Lepai has been great. Yes, I leave it on all the time and haven’t had any problems with it at all. I’ve never felt it give off any heat.

      There was a time when I heard a bit of hissing coming from the speakers when they weren’t being used, but it was caused by the cable between the Airport Express and the Lepai. I replaced the cable and now it’s virtually silent when not in use.

      Overall, I’ve been quite pleased with this setup and recommend it to anyone that I know.

      • Thanks for your quick reply. Now I just need to decide on the speakers. I can’t take your recommendation on that one as they’re not sold here in the UK.

        Did you ever get multiple zones working on iTunes?

        • Unfortunately I can’t make a recommendation for speakers in the UK as I don’t know what’s available to you. But I’m sure you’ll find something.

          As for multiple zones, I haven’t had the need to try it, so can’t say for sure if it’ll work yet.

          Let me know how it goes.

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