Source – Lenovo Ideapad / Assus N55SF
Headphones – HD 280 pro/ 595 / 650 and 800 – Beyerdynamic T1 – Shure SHR440
Amps – WA2
Dacs – Arcam Rdac
Test Tracks ¬
Cecile Mclorin Salvant - John Henry
Bruce Springsteen - Hungry Heart
Rush - Makig memories
The knife - Like A Pen
Talking Heads - The Great Curve
Wynton marsalis - The Arrival
Richard Bona – Janjo La Maya
Julian Lage – Margaret
| Portable Dac/Amp
| Wolfson WM8740
| 51 g
| 55 x 55 x 13 mm
| Frequency Response
| 20 Hz – 20 KHz
| Maximum Output Voltage
| 1.7 vrms
| Output Impedance
| 1. Ohms
| Unweighted SNR
| > 110 dB
| Channel Separation
| > 106 dB
| Maximum Resolution
| 24 Bit , 96 KHz
| Battery Life
| 11 Hours
This is beyerdynamics first foray into the world of portable amplification with the A 200 p and with a name like Astell&Kern printed on the back you would expect it to deliver in spades. Can this tiny little player compete with other giants of the portable world like Ibasso and Fiio? From my 3 weeks with the device I think it can.
The A 200 p was sent to me as part of a tester reviewer program set up by Beyerdynamic. I am not affiliated with Beyerdynamic in the professional sense and this review is of a voluntary nature so I will post the product back after the review is finished. I was picked along with 10 others to submit my thoughts about the device for others to read here on the forum.
Build Aesthetics and Durability
The build quality of the A 200 p is compact and practical and comes in a nice black carded box with leads designed by J River. The amp also comes with a tidy leather case and on the back is attached an extendable strap for binding to your player.
Beyerdynamic include 3 cables for connecting to various devices such as laptops, idevices and smart phones. I had planned on using the A 200 p in it's intended portable form. My Ipod is an Ipod classic with a 32 pin line out but unfortunately there was no 32 pin connector provided with my review sample. I also have a Cowon J3 which does not allow an external Dac and it would be nice to be able to use the amplifier section in the A 200 p with the Cowon but unfortunately this is not possible. I have talked to Beyerdynamic about this and they have informed me that there will be a 32 pin provided for Ipod connectivity when the product is released so for my time with the A 200 p my laptop was my only source device.
In one sense the build quality is fine. Beyerdynamic have opted for a plastic casing over aluminium. Choosing plastic over aluminium has its benefits – its lighter and although the amp casing seems very durable I can't help but think that aluminium would have been a better choice in terms of robustness. In my opinion metal casings have a nicer fit and finish and in terms of appearance plastics just dont cut it.
The volume pot is a wheel adjustable design. It functions by turning the wheel clockwise to increase volume and as you turn the wheel anticlockwise the volume decreases.
I find the volume wheel slightly annoying to be honest. One of the biggest draw backs is the fact that there is no hard stop. It takes about 5 revolutions of the wheel to reach maximum volume but once achieved the wheel will keep turning ad infinitum. A hard stop would be a good feature so you know where the volume is when you turn the player back on, otherwise you can get max volume when you least expect it.
The sound of the A 200 p is where it really shines. It takes my laptop to new levels in terms of audio quality. When I compared the 2 sources the A 200 p easily trounces my lenovo IdeaPad. I also have an Asus N55SF that I used for A to B comparisons with the Beyer amp. And even here the A200 p comes out on top. It is also very close to the performance of my Rcam Rdac and maybe some of the reason for that is in the fact that the A 200 p shares a similar chip-set – the Rcam uses a Wolfson 8741 IC and the A200 p uses Wolfson WM8740 and when you listen you can clearly hear the Wolfson house sound.
The A 200 p drives my HD280 pro, HD595, HD650 and Shure SHR 440 with ease. I had no issues at all driving these headphones regardless of the slight differences in impedance. I also tried my Beyerdynamic T1 and Sennheiser HD800 (thinking the A 200 p wouldn't be up to the task) and was pleasantly surprised by how it handled them. These Flagship headphones are a lot more power hungry and although the A 200 p couldn't give them the volume they needed, I thought that the pairing was fine. Sure it lacks the smoothness and finesse of my Woo Audio WA2 but aside from that the A 200 p managed them without too many hitches.
While listening to the track “John Henry” by Cecile Mclorin Salvant I found the vocal was crisp and clear and the double bass was very well rendered. The drumming on this album is top notch, each cymbal was well defined in the mix and the contra bass had a nice extension. The A200 p handles jazz very well and seems to also have a very nice presence for acoustic music for example the Julian Lage album “Gladwell”. I listened to this album a lot with the A 200 p. I was very surprised at how good it sounded through this little amp. I had the HD650 on loan and the combination of this album with A 200 p and HD650 was very engaging. I could clearly hear that Julian used an archtop guitar on most of the tracks and on the track “Margaret” I could almost imagine myself in the sound hole of the guitar.
For my next test track I plugged the A200 p out and just listened to HD595 straight from my laptop – the result was terrible. Bruce Springsteen's “Dancing in the Dark” sounded flat and dead. My laptop/HD595 has a horrible etchyness in the treble that would put anyone off listening. As soon as I plugged the A 200 p back in everything was brought back up to par. The A 200 p really gave this track meat in the lower registers that it needs. The baritone sax had lots of bite and sounded warm and bell like. The drumming also sounded great with lots of snap on the snare. Very enjoyable indeed.
While listening to the track “like a pen” by The Knife I really noticed an big improvement in imaging – the electronic percussion's were really well spread to the left an right channels and the vocal sat in the middle with the right amount of air.
So in the end my opinion is a slightly mixed one. Cost aside, the A 200 p does a pretty bang up job. It renders audio pleasingly. It's versatile, and simple to use, and a complete amp/dac solution. If you only care about sound then I think the A 200 p is a good choice.
However, at this price you may be seeking a higher build quality than you actually get. If you're easy on equipment, and appreciate the light weight, the A 200 p casing is certainly an advantage. If like me, you're a little more demanding on your hardware, and like the “sexier” look and feel of polished aluminium then this might encourage you to look at other more robust solutions.
If you don't already have a dac/amp, and this is your first endeavor into high end audio the A 200 p is a first step worth considering. It is a simple, self contained, adaptable device. As most of us would agree - sound comes first - and in that vein you could do worse than the A 200 p