Beyerdynamic A200p DAC and Headphone Amp Review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Feb 25, 2014.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review: Beyerdynamic A200p DAC plus Headphone Amp for Apple / Android / Computer USB review by Dale - YouTube


    Gear used: iPhone5, Macbook Pro, Dell PC with Foobar2000, Final Audio Pandora VI, Focal Spirit Pro, Yamaha MT220, Beyerdynamic T51p, v-moda M80 headphones.

    Review note: I configured my computer settings to play 24-bit 96 khz music tracks, and made certain there were no external controls or settings on the A200p that would alter the sound in any way. With some of the i-device-compatible DAC/amps those might include bass, treble, or ambiance-related DSP controls. I connected the A200p to the computer as an ordinary USB DAC, so the A200p would process the USB digital output and feed that to its own internal headphone amp, then connected my headphone to the A200p's headphone out. Since the short (5-inch) USB cable made for the A200p carries only the unprocessed digital signal, and the output to the headphone uses the cable that comes attached (usually) to the headphone, there aren't any cable issues per se that could potentially degrade the sound.

    Setting the volume for computer use wasn't simple - using Foobar2000 and with the output set to the A200p device, the computer system volume was forced up to maximum no matter what I tried. My only option was to spin the volume control disc on the A200p down to a reasonable listening level. Even when using an i-device such as the iPhone5, both the i-device volume and A200p volume controls are active, making it uncertain what the best setting is. Having to listen for "best" sound when two or more volume controls are inline isn't something I want to spend a lot of time on, so I'm assuming that once I find a suitable volume level it's the right level. But there's an additional problem with the A200p volume control - I haven't found it possible to spin the volume control disc unless I wet a finger first to provide enough friction to turn it. The disc is very smooth and flush with the case it's embedded into, and I don't see any way around that problem.

    The A200p comes with two short cables - one with a 'Lightning' connector for i-devices and the other a micro-USB connector for non-Apple devices. It also comes with a USB charging cable. I don't know if it will work with 30-pin i-devices since I don't have an adapter with a Lightning jack (jack == opposite of plug) on one end and a 30-pin plug on the other end. If I had a USB jack to USB jack adapter I might be able to test it, but I'm not optimistic about that. Since the A200p contains its own battery, it's not only small and portable, but does not require more than the cable (Apple or non-Apple) that comes with it to use with compatible devices. The A200p is square, less than half the length of an iPhone5 and about twice as thick, and comes with a leather case that has a belt loop on it. The cable that attaches the amp to a portable music player has a proprietary plug on the A200p end, so it might be difficult for users to find a way to conveniently carry both the amp and the music player at the same time.

    I don't have access to other i-device DACs to compare to the A200p, but I did compare it to the Microstreamer computer USB DAC. The A200p did not have as much "air" or spaciousness in its sound, and given the fact that both of these amps are automatically configured by the computer from default drivers, I can only guess that something in the A200p that makes it an i-device-compatible DAC might be a factor in limiting the sound quality. There is no signal light on the A200p as there is on some of the USB mini-DACs that indicate the data rate (i.e. 96k when playing some of my 96 khz hi-res tracks), but Foobar2000 on my Windows 7-64 PC is putting out the same data to the A200p as it is to the Microstreamer.

    My impression of the A200p's sound quality with the iPhone5 varies with the headphones I use, but with the Final Audio Pandora VI, the upper harmonics of many instruments seem to stretch out to infinity as they decay. The bass impact and quality are as good as any of the small portable amps I've used in the past year or so. It may be possible that some of the higher-priced Apple-compatible DAC/amps like the Theorem 720 would sound better with an iPhone, but there are contrary factors such as the iPhone's 48 khz WAV-format data rate limit. The most obvious factor of course is ambient noise in portable-use situations, which would mask most of the upper harmonic details in hi-res music, making use in very quiet places away from home necessary for optimum sound. The maximum volume and dynamic range look great for such a small amp, and the output level of 1700 mvRMS seems very high. Even though the European version has a volume limiter, my understanding is that the user can turn that off with a simple procedure.

    Comparing the sound of the A200p to regular headphone amps (without DACs) that connect to the iPhone via the Line Out Dock (LOD), the difference is immediately obvious - the upper harmonics from those amps are slightly dull compared to the output from the A200p. Some users will find that difference subtle and others will hear a dramatic difference. I don't usually hear a major difference between several brands of USB mini-dacs such as the Dragonfly, Audioengine D3, or the Microstreamer, but the difference between a regular headphone amp and the A200p as I just described isn't subtle - it's quite obvious.

    Looking at the A200p from the front, there's an on/off/lock switch and the headphone jack. On the back is the USB input jack - a proprietary connector that's similar to the subminiature USB connector that Panasonic uses for their digital cameras. Similar, but not interchangeable. On one side are 3 buttons that control start/stop and previous/next track for Apple and possibly Android portable devices. The fourth side is blank, and the large round volume disc occupies the entire top. The case appears to be an anodized aluminum and looks well made, but any strong impacts on the round volume disc could make this amp unusable, since proper operation of that volume disc is required in some cases.

    The following music tracks were my primary test material for this review:

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This music track has a very spacious sound, providing a pleasant stereo image. The voice and instruments are well balanced and the tambourine sounds very realistic, undoubtedly because of the excellent harmonic reproduction.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks, where the instruments are reproduced smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clear and detailed with some amps. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrumental separation and detail.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared using gear that has a good undistorted response and dynamic overhead at 16 hz.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The A200p reproduces these sounds faithfully.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The A200p reproduces that experience as well as any amp I've ever heard, although I haven't used any headphone amps or DACs that cost more than $600 USD.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are quite strong, and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The A200p delivers the impacts with great weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

    William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): The string tones beginning at 0:18 are fairly soft but detailed, and while the bass isn't very deep, it adds a solid underpinning to the music. This is a good track for comparing amps because many of the tones and their harmonics are soft and fairly subtle, and with some of those amps the harmonics won't reproduce properly.

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