Are you finding that the music on your iPhone is a little lifeless? We have found a new way to get the life and soul out of the music, and it works on android smart-phones, laptops and ipads too! With Beyerdynamic’s new A200p portable DAC/ headphone amp you can get great sounding music wherever you are; in the office, on the bus or taking a walk.
If you haven’t realised by now from reading our blogs and reviews, we don’t think too highly of 15p DACs that come built into your laptop, ipad or smart-phone. Yes its true, Adair Acoustic are firm believers that if you want to enjoy music from your desktop or on-the-go, you need a decent DAC / headphone amp to really get an enjoyable sound.
It is precisely this thinking that meant I got very excited when I saw that Beyerdynamic were working with Astell & Kern to produce a pocket-sized, smart-phone compatible DAC/headphone amplifier, the A200p. In fact one of my favourite combinations is to use on-the-go is the Astell & Kern AK120 with the Beyerdynamic T51p headphones, so for me, this is a bit of a dream team.
The box arrived this week and I quickly got stuck in.
When you open the packaging, you notice the plethora of accessories that comes with the A200p. You get an apple lightning short-lead, a Samsung/HTC/Sony short micro-USB lead and longer regular USB lead for laptops and charging. You also get a nice little Astell & Kern looking leather case; this is designed to be attached to your belt, presumably with your player in your pocket. The case has a nice feel to it, and still allows all functionality of the player whilst it is attached.
The device itself is a 55 x 55 x 13mm cuboid, so it is a really compact device, which is very important with portable DACs, I’m sure a lot of you have seen some of the headphone ‘rigs’ that some headfiles have, where it looks like they are carrying a bomb around. With this, you don’t get that.
The front plate of the A200p features a large volume wheel, and a small LED light. The light indicates which way you are turning the volume, red for up and blue for down. Why you need this when you have ears, I am not too sure, but it is a good reassurance that it is working correctly. On the right hand side of the product you have function buttons (pause, skip left and right), and on the top there is a power switch and a lock button. Overall the A200p feels very well made and looks sleek and simple.
All the cables come in Astell & Kern packaging, there is no hiding that this is a joint project by the two companies. It is actually refreshing to see them being so open about it, rather than rebadging everything.
Inside the A200p is a Wolfson WM8740 DAC chip, this is a well respected manufacturer in the DAC world. It can handle 24bit/96Khz files. Compatibility-wise you will need to check that your phone will work with the A200p before buying, it basically works with any Apple product with the new smaller type of lightning connect (iphone 5 onwards) although you could buy and adapter for older versions. For Samsung users, it works with the Galaxy S3 onwards, it works with most handsets using Android 4.1 or higher. If you want to check if you are compatible, the list is available here.
A fully charged battery will last for 11 hours, which to me seems decent.
The A200p has a built in volume limiter (according to EN50332-2) which is added to avoid hearing damage over prolonged listening, however if you hold down the pause button for 5 seconds you can deactivate this and pump the volume up very loud indeed. It all depends how much you value your ears.
But as always, its the sound that is the most important. I assume that Beyerdynamic and Astell & Kern realise this because the A200p certainly delivers. What is instantly noticeable when listening is the improvements in the bass and the atmosphere given, suddenly the bass and drums become a lot more realistic.
I tested initially playing ‘A Day in the Life’ by The Beatles in FLAC through foobar2000 on my laptop, I had the A200p plugged in via USB and paired it with the £75 Pro-Ject Hear-it-Ones. I tried it first by plugging them direct to my laptop, and then I switched to the A200p. After the switch John’s psychedelic vocals were so much more engaging and the sound was a lot more analogue sounding, which is what I look for when listening to stuff from the 60s and 70s. Everything seemed to gel a lot better, it was well timed and cleaner, with the lesser DAC the timing is not as good and as such parts can get muddled and somewhat ruined.
I then wanted to see if going up in quality of headphones would also see an even larger improvement in the DAC. The answer is yes, I plugged in the HiFiMAN HE-300s and played ‘Creep’ by Radiohead. Suddenly Johnny Greenwood’s thumping guitar was so much more alive, it felt much more 3-dimensional, I found myself waiting in anticipation during the quiet verses for the chorus to roar in again, I was listening so intently.
Now, the real selling point of the A200p is that fact that it is portable and easily compatible, so I tested it with my ipad. I plugged the A200p straight in and it immediately worked, there was no waiting around for it to work out that it had been plugged in or downloading drivers, it just worked. I found that the results were much the same.
I felt as if the A200p had really passed every test that I had thrown at it.
The sound you get from the A200p is a very Astell & Kern sound, the AK120 gives a bit more depth to the sound and gives a bit more a soundstage but when you consider that the A200p is a quarte of the price, it gets considerably closer to the AK120s sound than I thought it would going into this review.
Overall, it is a product that has been needed on the market for a while, and Beyerdynamic have done a really good job all round. For £269, it is definitely money well spent. The sound quality and build quality are strong and it is incredibly easy to use. If I had to pick out a downside it might be the volume wheel isn’t as smooth as it perhaps could be and also means that if you use a band to pair with your phone, you will not be able to use the wheel. This is just 2 very minor things in comparison to the long list of plus points that I have come up with throughout this whole review. Well done Beyerdynamic.
To buy the A200p click HERE.