Pros: Brilliant DAC implementation, will drive almost anything, great volume ergonomics, tinytinytiny
Cons: A few functional hicups with and/or without supplied accessories, amp section is almost ruthlessly powerful
IT'S HERE!!! AND LOOK AT ALL THE STUFF THAT CAME WITH IT!!!
There have been another couple great reviews already that have shown the amp and accessories in some great pictures. So I'll make this part of my review short and sweet.
Suffice it to say that you'll be surprised when your A200p shows up, both because of its size and because of the plethora of stuff that it comes with.
This thing is very, very small. I have a PA2v2 portable amp that's nice and small but this thing makes it look like the PA2v2 is like lugging around a desktop amp. So it goes without saying that it's pretty darn easy to implement in any portable rig. My first thought when I took it out of the box and held it in my hand was something along the lines of Will Smith's comment in MIB when he's handed The Noisy Cricket..."I feel like I'm gonna break this damn thing." In a good way, of course.
To add to the benefits of the size, beyerdynamic does a great job of making sure you're wanting for very little when it comes to portable accessories. All the cables are there and so is a leather case. (For the sake of full disclosure, I had some difficulties with the long USB cable that my review sample came with but a cable is a cable and once I got a replacement from beyer, all was well...zero problems.) The case is a very nice addition - it's a nice leather and it fits the amp pretty securely - with 2 main caveats: The strap that is attached to the case is far too small to fit larger smartphones (like my Galaxy S4) and when it's in the case (or out of the case, to be fair), the forward, back, and play/pause buttons on the A200p are very easy to accidentally hit until you get used to handling the amp.
And I guess it bears mentioning that the volume wheel is pretty tough to use as-is unless you have perpetually moist fingertips. But the addition of the little stick-on circles as another accessory is a great fix. To me, this shows that beyerdynamic not only thinks of form factor (with the flush-mounted volume control) but also possible issues with that kind of a design. Bravo.
IT PLUGS THE USB CABLE IN, OR ELSE IT GETS THE HOSE AGAIN...
OK, here's how I went about my testing, gear-wise:
Galaxy S4 smartphone
1964Ears V3 CIEMs
AudioTechnica ATH-FC700 on-ears
Mad Dog v3.2 over-ears
I wanted to try every possible permutation of these in combination with the A200p and I eventually succeeded thanks to my replacement long USB cable. There were no problems on the software side with any of the sources as everything picked up the A200p perfectly and had no glitches during normal operation (about 50 hours total). And I think the different cans I used in particular helped me run the gamut of the stresses that are possible on an amp, portable or otherwise. And the fact that they're all closed was great for investigating what this amp would probably be used for primarily.
In terms of source files, I used everything from the very small number of 192kbps mp3s that I have in my digital collection to my "standard" FLAC rips to the several high-rez (96/24 primarily) titles I own.
On my laptop and desktop, the player was Foobar (Direct Streaming). And on my GS4, the player was PowerAmp.
PLAYING WITH IT (THE AMP)
During operation, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy the A200p was to use. You pretty much just plug it in, adjust volume, and go.
As some other reviewers have noted, it's very nice to have such a wide range of volume possibilities. I don't think this will be too much of a bonus for people who like to plug in the same cans all the time but during my testing, it was great. And it's always better to have and not need than to need and not have. The volume goes up plenty high for orthos like the Mad Dogs and it's easy to fine-tune volume at any point in the range.
The power/lock switch works as advertised. Not much to report there.
Aside from the aforementioned touchiness of the exterior seek and play/pause buttons, they work perfectly with both desktop and portable player platforms. I didn't use them much but when I wanted to, they did exactly what they should have.
I LOVE THE SMELL OF A NEW AMP IN THE MORNING. SMELLS LIKE...VICTORY.
I've been messing around with headphones for a while and I thought I would start with a few of my own idiosyncrasies, for reference:
1.) I prefer a somewhat laid-back presentation with all my music listening. That said, I don't mind neutral at all as long as it's not too boring. And while I am a big fan of somewhat trebly/sparkly cans such as beyer's own DT880, I am pretty sensitive to pronounced treble and/or upper mids.
2.) I am not a DAC nut at all. I appreciate good ones and I've had quite a few over the years but I've never considered spending big bucks on high-end ones, despite the fact that I'll drop some serious coin on both amps and cans in a heartbeat.
3.) I don't like to EQ. Not. One. Bit.
So with those in mind, on to my impressions of how the little dude made noise.
Firstly, I would like to say that my favorite aspect of the A200p by far is the Wolfson DAC implementation. I've only owned a DAC that used a Wolfson chip once before but the way it's used in this particular configuration is nothing short of brilliant. With every source and with every type of digital file I fed it, there was a noticeable improvement in both soundstage precision and dynamics vs. what I'm used to hearing with my humble Schiit Modi and HRT Music Streamer II. Granted, these aren't world-class DACs in and of themselves by any means...but I was quite surprised by how much of that almost indescribable "more" I got from the digital processing in the little A200p.
I also have a vinyl rig at home and on a good vinyl pressing, there's that disorienting sense of texture and depth that is really tough to find in digital files. At the risk of being cliche, it's that old saw about seeing a very good reproduction of a sunset vs. seeing an actual sunset. With the A200p and my CIEMs, I was a little slack-jawed at times when I started to hear my digital music getting dangerously close to that analog level of "there-ness". I also heard it in the Mad Dogs, albeit to a slightly lesser extent. With my wife's cheaper AT on-ears, the effect was less pronounced...but those are several orders of magnitude less expensive than the other two sets of cans I was using. The fact that I could hear the difference in DAC in those at all was still surprising.
I found the DAC to be the most awe-inspiring on quieter vocal and acoustic music (for vocal textures and string dynamics) and on electronic music (for rhythmic dynamics and attack/sustain). But everything...and I mean everything...sounded very, very good. Some standout tracks that I made note of are:
Bruce Springsteen - Reason To Believe (Nebraska)
BT - Every Other Way (These Hopeful Machines)
Beats Antique - Beezlebub (A Thousand Faces)
Cara Dillon - She Moved Through The Fair (Hill of Thieves)
Jane Monheit - Tonight You Belong To Me (Home)
Keb' Mo' - City Boy (Keb' Mo')
Kelly Joe Phelps - The Black Crow Keeps Flying (Lead Me On)
Blockhead - Triptych, Pt. 3 (Music By Cavelight)
So the DAC implementation in the A200p gets a 17/10 for me. Which sucks because it has me wanting to get my hands on the next Wolfson-based DAC I see.
As much as I loved the DAC portion of the A200p, I was really hoping to like the amp section at least as much. While it didn't turn out that way, all was not lost.
I have no complaints about the overall competence of the amp at all. The little beyer is far from underpowered. It drove even my Mad Dogs adequately from my GS4 which is something I didn't expect. The amp is plenty loud from all sources with all types of files and it doesn't sound unbalanced, per se. But for me, it made everything sound a little more forward than I'd like.
All of the headphones I used for testing handle bass pretty well and I had no complaints in that department. Nothing was bloated or uncontrolled and the accuracy of the bass from the A200p is actually pretty darn good. It allows the driver to dig nice and deep and the only time I heard any real strain was when I was listening to bass-heavy electronic music (Phutureprimitive's Kinetik album comes to mind) via the MDs out of my GS4. But with the ATs, the amp actually helps quite a bit in keeping the bass - from the bottom to the upper bass - from disintegrating into pure mud...which it does very easily with unamped input. When evaluating the bass with all the cans I used, the phrase "iron-fisted control" surfaced in my mind more than once. I highly recommend trying out albums like Daft Punk's Tron soundtrack with bass-capable cans via the A200p.
Mids with all cans were very respectable. Everything was pretty much neutral with the exception of the upper mids sounding noticeably shouty with some tracks. I noticed this most with my IEMs and to a lesser extent with the Mad Dogs. One example I noted was Billie Joe and Norah Jones's take on the Everly Brothers in their Foreverly album. I found myself turning the volume down more than once because the upper registers of their vocals started to hurt a little bit. (The humming at the beginning of Who's Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet? is a good example.) This isn't a damnation of the overall midrange presentation, however. There are always recordings that are a little taxing on the ears in the upper mids and I just found that the A200p had just a little bit too much muscle in that area for me with those tracks.
Treble with the A200p is nice and clear. There's plenty of nice detail even with muddier cans like the ATs. And I never had an issue with the treble sounding scratchy. But I would say that my biggest complaint was that the amp made the highest frequencies sound a bit icy and peaky at times. When I was using the MDs and IEMs, I was reminded of the one gripe I had about my Denon D2000s; I always visualized them sonically as a big, sinfully plush couch that has an icepick hidden in it somewhere. It was sort of the same with the A200p. I had never really heard the two expensive sets of cans exhibit such sharp high frequencies before using the A200p. But again, these instances were rare. For the most part, the little beyer amp imparted just the right amount of detail with some headphones that are somewhat dark by nature. And with decidedly non-neutral cans like the cheaper ATs, the A200p goes a long way toward making them sound almost even up top.
Soundstage was very good with all headphones tested. The combination of the excellent DAC and the ultra-powerful amp made separation and localization as good as I've heard it from my IEMs. Considering that all the cans I used were closed, I thought the headstage was uniformly wide and deep and sonically, nothing got in the way of anything else even with the ATs. Again, it was probably equal parts DAC and amp but in terms of spatial sound reproduction, the A200p sounds as effortless as they come.
Dynamics were fantastic in all respects, considering the circumstances. The A200p probably isn't ideally suited to driving orthos out of a smartphone but even in that regard the A200p performed better than it has any right to, considering its size. And when you throw a more reasonable load at it, your transducers will bow out long before the amp starts to stumble. POWER and CONTROL are what this amp is all about.
OK, TL;DR....SUM IT THE F$&* UP, MAN!!!
My summary of the beyerdynamic A200p is that it's an excellent choice for portable use or even on-the-go desktop use. It has a beautiful DAC implementation and an amp that backs down from absolutely nothing. And beyerdynamic has truly thought of its customers in the way they have approached the A200p design and their choice of included accessories. My only warning would be to those who have somewhat bright-sounding 'phones and don't want to EQ and to those who are overtly sensitive to upper mid and/or treble energy. Those people may want to purchase the A200p from an outlet that has a good return policy.
Last thing: Thanks again to beyerdynamic for allowing me to review this little guy. They're a great company, they have yet another great product on their hands, and I'm glad I was able to check it out and share with the community.