Pros: Small size, ideal for wearing on the hip; easy-to-use controls; neutral, non-fatiguing sound; great pairing with IEMs
Cons: No line out; best used with more-efficient headphones
My review of the A200P is part of the beyerdynamic loaner program described in this thread:
About me: I am a big fan of portable audio gear, having acquired various DACs, amps, and sources over the years. Some of that gear will show up in the review for comparison. I've been into headphones for quite a while -- I had an Audio-Technica ATH-1 when I was a kid which is now long gone, and after college I bought the Sennheiser HD580 from HeadRoom, followed by the HD-25 II, both of which I still have. I bought the Total BitHead about nine years ago, but its controls got noisy and so I didn't do much with it. I recently got back into the hobby and got the head-fi bug to learn what sound I like. Short answer: I am a fan of neutral sound, and like both the LCD-2 revision 2 (pre-Fazer) and MrSpeakers Alpha Dog for their low distortion and fast response. For portable headphones, I mainly use the V-MODA XS (which replaces the M80 for me), the Audio-Technica ATH-ESW9, and the VSonic GR-07 Bass Edition IEM. My musical taste is heavily-weighted towards jazz (surprise surprise), but I mix in some old rock, R&B, and EDM at times.
Ergonomics and Design
The beyerdynamic A200P looked small in pictures, but it still surprised me how small it is when I unboxed it.
This device is tiny! It measures 5.5 cm by 5.5 cm by 1.3 cm outside of its leather case. Inside the case, the size increases to 6.2 cm by 5.8 cm by 2.2 cm including all clearances. It is light, too; slightly under 2 ounces (57 g) with short cable and no case, and around 3 ounces (77 g) with cable and case. It is so light that you might not know that you are carrying it, except for its connection to the smartphone you are using as a source -- which brings up the most important issue: How do you carry the A200P?
Well, in one particular scenario, the design of this device is brilliant -- so brilliant, in fact, that one might consider getting the A200P just to have the ergonomics it provides. You see, the back of the case has a spongy, springy elastic band. This band is too small to use as an attachment method to a phone -- no modern smartphone will fit inside of it. But it is perfect for a belt. So, I put it on my belt, on the left side, like a permanently attached old-school pager (it flips out from the leather back to aid in cabling), with the buttons facing up. Then, the length of the iPhone cord suggested exactly where to put the teathered device: in my back left pants pocket. Connect headphone to the headphone jack facing forward, and I was ready to go.
Now, the brilliance of this design as a remote control is easily gleaned in this setup. Need to adjust the volume? How about pause a track, or jump forward or back? No problem! It can all be done by touch using the left hand, and without going to the phone itself. It can even be done through the fabric when wearing a shirt out, like us somewhat older folks are wont to do. I found myself changing my listening habits with this little setup attached to me. The ease of volume changes was a godsend while walking; I could reduce it quickly when I heard something nearby, making my travels safer. To do this, attaching one of the little black dots to the top of the turntable volume control was necessary. And the diminutive size of the A200P means I wouldn't bump into it ever. How does it compare with other remotes?
You see, I like remotes. I have some Pebbles, I've tried Bluetooth audio controllers, and I even have the old Apple (Wired) Remote, which is non-functional at this point even for those devices that are compatible with it. The A200P is a bit bigger than the Apple Remote, but of course the Apple Remote relies on the line-out of the iPod it is connected to, so there's no digital-to-analog going on in the Apple Remote (although there may be some op amps there). But the Apple Remote has buttons. Lots and lots of buttons. Whenever I changed volume using the Apple Remote, I felt like a starship captain on Rigel VII on Star Trek, except unlike the chest-worn communicator, I was inanely hunting for the correct button clipped to my chest. The A200P has a big wheel for volume that is easy to find, doesn't blow out your ears when you start rotating it, and stays out of the way when not in use. It is much easier to use than any buttons on a headphone cord, too.
This use case is important enough that beyerdynamic should include a sheet of paper showing you how to wear it.
The A200P is simple enough to use: Turn it on, connect it to your portable audio source via one of the provided cables, and play. Three cables are provided: a 14.2 cm Lightning cable for modern Apple devices, a 14.2 cm micro USB cable for Android devices, and a longer 1 meter USB A cable for PCs and Macs. I did not try the Android functionality but was able to easily use the Lightning cable with both an iPhone 5 running iOS 7.1.1 and an iPad mini running iOS 6.1.3, and I also found the USB A cable easy to use under both Windows 7 and Mac OS 10.8.5. The volume control and buttons on the A200P were functional in Windows Media Center on a PC, and I found it very nice to tweak the volume and pause and play TV shows without going to the computer keyboard. On a MacBook Air running Mac OS X, the volume control acted on system volume, and the buttons worked properly as transport controls in iTunes. I found the use of the volume control ideal in practical scenarios. It takes many many turns to adjust volume, which means you will not likely blow out your ears accidentally with the A200P.
The cables provided in the package have proprietary connectors to the A200P, so losing these will require a purchase of new ones from beyerdynamic. This also means that the two portable-device cables are not easily extendable, which means the distance between your portable source device and the A200P will be 15 cm always. That can be a problem if you need to extend the controller away from the device, to put the source device in a different pocket, for example. It is easy to extend a USB A cable as extender cables are readily available, although I did not try this.
There are two LEDs and one toggle switch on the device. One of the LEDs is close to the data port on the A200P and glows green when the DAC/amp is on. The other LED is on the "volume turntable" side of the device near the top left corner, and blinks blue when the device is in use. It quickly flashes blue when you turn the volume control, and it quickly flashes red when you try to raise the volume past the limit on the device. The toggle switch serves two purposes: (1) in one direction, it turns the device on and off, springing back to center, and (2) it locks the volume and transport controls in the other direction, which is convenient when an errant button push or volume change is not desired.
The A200P has a battery that takes a few hours to charge using the USB A cable and lasts for about 10 hours of playback. The device is smart and turns off after a few minutes of no audio playing through it.
The A200P supports playback at sample rates of 32kHz, 44.1kHz, 48kHz, and 96kHz, with either 16-bit or 24-bit sample depths. It was difficult to determine what sample rate the A200P uses in practice, however, as there are no rate indicators on the device itself. Both Windows and Mac OS X reported hi-res sample rates and bit depths when selected. Also, I ran some tests on four different portable DACs under five different configurations in this thread to test greater-than-16-bit playback capability under iOS 7.1.1:
The A200P passed this test, meaning that it does play back greater-than-16-bit information when it is presented to it. Of course, getting 24-bit files to play back in iOS is currently tricky, but rumor has it that the situation could change soon. Suffice to say that the A200P looks to be future proof from a hi-res music point of view.
So how does the A200P sound? For this part of the review, I will use as reference two other DAC/amps that I have in my possession: the HRT microStreamer, and the CEntrance HiFi-M8. Each of these is quite different from the A200P. The HRT microStreamer has both a headphone out and a line out, but it has no battery, no volume control, needs the Lightning-to-USB Camera adapter AND a USB cable to connect to an iPhone, and looks like a DIYer's rig no matter how you wrap things when using it with a portable source. The HiFi-M8 is quite a bit bigger, has toggle switches for all sorts of things, comes with a power adapter that is as big as the DAC/amp, and carries the source device on its back. From a form factor and convenience standpoint, the A200P has them both beat. But, it is still useful to compare their sound as this
When I first started using the A200P, I paired it with the V-MODA XS, which is a warmish headphone.The pairing made the A200P sound very, very dark. Bass was everywhere. For comparison, the microStreamer had a much lighter tone and sounded much better with the XS, and the HiFi-M8 sounded more neutral. But that was only the initial impression, and I decided time was the key with this device.
The next day, I tried the A200P with two other headphones: An IEM - the V-Sonic GR07 Bass Edition - and an over-ear - the beyerdynamic DT250/250. Now we are talking! Using the beyerdynamic headphone with the beyerdynamic DAC was a match made in heaven. Suddenly the bass was in line with everything else, and I could hear a level of detail that I was not hearing before. That is when I noticed that the A200P is a very fast-sounding, nuanced DAC. It does not provide an exciting sound, but it provides a very accurate, non-fatiguing sound. I found placement of percussion instruments to be particularly noteworthy. For example, when listening to Luis Conte's conga drums in "Pools" [Latin Jazz Trio], I found each tap to have a distinctive character that was presented by the A200P as is, with no additional excitement or false ringing. Ultimately, I began to enjoy the beyerdynamic A200P as a long-term portable companion, listening to album after album without getting tired. Since then, I've paired the A200P with the sweet-sounding Audio-Technica ATH-ESW9, and it has plenty of juice to drive the small woodies to ear-splitting levels.
Pairing the A200P with a good-quality IEM is the best way to travel with this DAC/amp. I found it a bit unnerving to listen to the GR-07 BE and walk around, not just because the sound was so good; I felt like I was getting a great life soundtrack with no added weight or bulk whatsoever. Bass-laden tracks worked particular well with this setup, such as Lose Yourself to Dance" by Daft Punk [Random Access Memories], and "H Gang" by Donald Fagen [Morph the Cat].
The A200P has a reasonable amount of gain and gets louder than the iPhone's headphone out, but only slightly louder. I did try it with two hard to drive headphones: Mr Speakers Alpha Dog, and the Aude'ze LCD2 version 2. Both were driven nicely to moderate volumes, but they did not open up as much as when they are driven by a more capable amps, such as the FiiO E12. One could pair the A200P with a portable amp like the E12, but the setup is not very convenient due to the shape of the A200P - physical stacking does not make sense.
So what is the verdict on this little DAC/amp? Well, for its intended use case - as a belt companion to a back-pocketed phone - the beyerdynamic A200P is a ideal portable audio device. I can think of no better way to wear a portable DAC/amp on the go. The size is right, the controls are convenient, and the sound is a nice bump up from a stock headphone out.
The A200P is a smooth-sounding DAC, with a tilt towards a warm, non-fatiguing sonic character. It does not add anything to the audio you are listening to, which is IMO a very good thing. It does hi-res playback when the upstream software allows it, which gives some future-proofing to the device. How does it compare to the other DACs in my possession, particularly the HRT microStreamer and the CEntrance HiFi-M8? For everything but movies, I prefer the A200P's sound over the microStreamer, the latter of which has a more bright and forward character. The A200P came close to the sound of the HiFi-M8 with efficient headphones when playing at sub-48kHz sampling rates, but the HiFi-M8 bettered the A200P when it came to its upsampling 96kHz performance and when used with harder-to-drive headphones. Of course, the HiFi-M8 is a totally different design, is incredibly heavy, and costs more than twice the amount of the A200P, so there are some apples and oranges happening with this comparison.
On sound alone, the beyerdynamic A200P is quite capable, and one could make the argument to get it as a laptop add-on, especially given its controls. A volume knob is so nice to have, and watching TV on a PC was incredibly comfortable.
About the only concern I have on the A200P is the lack of a line out, which means you are going to mainly use it with more-efficient headphones like IEMs or portables. Double-amping with a second more-powerful amp is an option but is not convenient. The form factor of the A200P begs to be used solely with a source, not as part of a multi-device audio chain.
The A200P is a nifty little DAC/amp that is (Lightning-based) iDevice compatible and works with Windows and Mac PCs. Its price is also quite competitive with other DAC/amps that work with iDevices, and in fact costs less than many other current offerings in that camp.