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Brainwavz AP001 Portable Headphone Amplifier

Rating:
3.46154/5,
  1. twister6
    Good for some selective uses
    Written by twister6
    Published Nov 9, 2014
    3.0/5,
    Pros - compact size, bass boost, unique amp characteristics
    Cons - no volume control, EMI interference, background hiss/hum
    First of all, I would like to Thank Audrey for providing me this headphone amp for test/evaluation.
     
    Along with an opportunity to review Brainwavz new S0 IEM, I also received their new AP001 portable headphone amplifier. I recently had a chance to review a number of different portable amps, such as E11k, E12A, and C5, ranging in price from $70-$170, so obviously a $30 AP001 would not be a fair comparison; not to mention that I also don't have E06 which should be in a similar class. Therefore I decided to look at AP001 performance as is, trying to be unbiased and keeping my expectations realistic for its price. Furthermore, I see that currently it's being offered on Amazon for $26.50, while MP4Nation sweetened their own $29.50 deal by including a choice of either black or silver $20 Delta IEMs. Now, that is an INSANE deal!!! So with all this pricing reference out of the way, let's take a closer look at what we got here.
     
    Arrived in a very simple small plastic box, I still think it has a nice presentation with a front facing picture and a back with an open display to reveal the actual product along with features and specs. Out of the box you are have a tiny 1.5" x 1.5" x 0.5" square device weighting only 15g. The design is quite unique with a plastic sealed bottom/sides and a metal top with a very fine etching which you can't see but can actually feel by sliding your finger across it. It also has a 1/4" hole in the middle and a slit to one of the sides. You can use your imagination about practical use of that slit opening, either attaching to headphone cable or audio cord from a source, but I actually found it useful by attaching it over the edge of my jeans front pocket while my DAP was inside of the pocket. Along with AP001, Brainwavz also included USB to micro-usb charging cable and a short 3.5mm audio cable.
     
    Looking around the unit itself, you find Line input for connection from your audio source, dual Line output to allow simultaneous connection of 2 headphones, and micro-usb charging port. Inside of the middle opening there is a blue LED which comes on during automatic power detection. Yep, this little amp doesn't have any power switch or volume control. Just charge its built-in 120mA battery, which should provide you about 12hrs of usage, and the next time you plug in AP001 to your headphone output, the power will come on automatically. The same way with a power off which turns off automatically after source is disconnected. You do have to be aware there is a minimum power level threshold for automatic turn on, so if you have sensitive headphones and start off with volume at minimum level you might have to crank it up a bit to kick start this amp. Also, be very careful not to connect AP001 to Line Out of your DAP since it doesn't have volume control and the sound will come out blasting at the max level.
     
    Now, lets talk more about application of this portable headphone amplifier. The first thing I noticed was how susceptible it was to EMI interference from wireless and smartphone devices. Being connected to HO of my Note 4 or even being in close proximity of my phone generated noticeable pops and clicks on top of already existing background humming. So, I wouldn't recommend using it with smartphone devices. Also, background noise is not black and low level of background hiss/hum was constantly present. Is this really a deal breaker? If we are talking about $100 portable amp, it is, but this a dirt cheap headphone amp ($10-$15 price point if you factor in free Delta headphones), so this could be actually acceptable. As a matter of fact, my Topping NX1 $40 amp has exactly the same hissing and EMI problem. So you might ask, is there anything positive about AP001 beside cheap price? Definitely!!!
     
    When used with DAP or mp3 player connected to headphone output, this is actually a great little amp/booster with a permanently enabled bass boost enhancement. Though you are subjecting your sound to double amping (built-in and external), it actually does a good job shaping your sound with a new characteristics. To my ears, you get a rather well controlled bass boost to enhance the low end and also to enhance the rest of the spectrum at a lesser quantity. It's not just a volume booster, as claimed by Brainwavz to raise the output by 120% to compensate for an output split, but actually has a true amp performance to change the sound characteristics. The effect of this enhancement will vary, and that what makes it fun to try it out with different sources and headphones to determine which one will yield the best synergy. Though I don't have Clip+ mp3 player anymore, AP001 w/Clip+ sounds to me like a match made in heaven! With regards to headphone pair up, I found it to benefit more a brighter signature, like Altone200, where I noticed it breathed more life into bass and mids tighten up, even sounding a bit smoother. With warm headphones, this effect was less desirable where for example S0 warm signature didn't gel well with AP001.
     
    Overall, this is not the most flexible amp since it doesn't have volume control and the bass boost is permanently enabled, and I also found its EMI interference to be a show stopper in use with a smartphone. BUT, for a small mp3 player or even DAPs like X1 or X5 this could be a little gem to further enhance the sound and to add a new variable in ever evolving equation of sound shaping! For the price, considering free Delta headphones, these are worth just for a splitter functionality alone where now you have the ability to burn-in two pairs of headphones simultaneously or use it for A/B comparison. When you factor all this in, the value of AP001 definitely goes up!
     
    Here are the pictures (click to enlarge).
     
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  2. lin0003
    Brainwavz AP001 Mini Review
    Written by lin0003
    Published Nov 7, 2014
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Fun Bass Boost
    Cons - Can't Turn Bass Boost Off, Glitchy
    The Brainwavz AP001 is something that I rather unique in today’s market. Whereas we have plenty of portable amplifiers, I don’t think that I have seen on that is quite as unique as the AP001. To be perfectly honest, a week or so ago I had never even heard of the AP001 until Brainwavz offered to send me one to review. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Audrey from Brainwavz for sending these for me to review.
     
    **Disclaimer** These were given to me in return for an honest review.
     

     
    Unboxing & Accessories
    Let’s start with the price. Right now it is just $30 with free Brainwavz Delta IEMs, which is an absolute steal. Hell, it is worth getting these for just the splitter feature. The box is unspectacular obviously and it comes with a pretty standard micro USB cable and 3.5mm cable that is very thin and flexible. Not bad at all for something this cheap, was very nice to see a 3.5mm cable in there – some very expensive amps don’t even include one.
     

     
    Design & Build Quality
    Once I saw the design I was immediately impressed. I thought about the Fiio E6 straight away, the form factor is indeed very similar. It is thicker though. There is a gap which looks cool at first, but as far as I can see has no other functionality than that, so maybe that space would have been better used to fit a bigger battery or something. The battery is supposed to last 12 hours, which is decent. There are 2 headphone outs, which is quite cool and it boosts the volume by 120%. This is very good for sharing 2 similar headphones which are rather inefficient or if you just listen very loud.
     
    The build was actually really quite good. I was expecting it to be flimsy and similar to the E6, but it was much better and feels like a truly quality product. The cable is nice, but could have been a little thicker.
     

     
    Sound
    Usually I would break this into several sections, but I’m not going to this time. I tested these with a Clip+ and an SPC cable. After trying several IEMs, I think that the RE-400 is the best match.
     
    Boy, this little amp kicks some ass! It is really impressive for $30, being clean and has a bass boost that actually works, which is quite rare for something of this price. The boost is mainly in the mid-bass and I didn’t notice any bass bleed into the mid-range. It is very good with my RE-400s because I always felt like they were just lacking a bit of bass, but now the bass is very solid and hard hitting, but still quite fast. The sub-bass also has a bit of a boost, not much as the mid-bass though. The mid-range is also a little affected, being just a little darker. If you already feel like your IEMs or headphones are too dark, these might not be for you. The treble remained largely unaffected. Soundstage got a little bit of a boost from the Clip+ and imaging was as improved as well. Overall very impressive!
     

     
    Conclusion
    I think that Brainwavz has done exceptionally well here, their AP001 is truly an excellent amplifier for the price and ticks many boxes. It is tiny, has two outputs, looks cool, comes with a 3.5mm cable and has a nice bass boost that I imagine many people will appreciate. Well done Brainwavz, I really think that the AP001 will be a very successful amp that might just be the E6 killer that we have been waiting for. 
     
    Sorry for the short review, I have exams coming up soon, so don;t have a lot of time ATM. If it changes with burn in or if my impressions change I will edit it. I'll also post it in the reviews section when a product page is made. 

  3. Brooko
    Brainwavz AP001 – Micro Fun, But Feature Short
    Written by Brooko
    Published Nov 7, 2014
    2.5/5,
    Pros - Price, size, signature (for bass lovers), auto on/off, dual headphone out
    Cons - No volume control, bass boost always on, sensitivity of auto on/off, weak amplifier, static “pop” when plugging/unplugging, possible EMF issues
    AP00113.jpg
    INTRODUCTION
    Brainwavz is a well established manufacturer of headphones in the value for money category – offering many different options (especially for IEMs) that suit almost anyone’s sonic preferences. 
    I’ve had regular contact with Audrey from Brainwavz, and when she asked me to consider reviewing an entry point mini amplifier (the AP001), I immediately agreed – intrigued by a possible new direction for them.
     
    I received the courier pack a few days ago – and although I haven’t had a lot of time with the AP001 , its basic functionality doesn’t take a huge amount of time to test, so I thought I’d pass on my thoughts before I start working on my next major review projects.
     
    I have already spent as much time as I could with the AP001 – logging about 18-20 hours so far with a variety of different earphones.
     
    I’ve listed price at USD $29.50 (current MP4Nation price at time of writing) – however this is not what I paid for them (they are a review sample).
     
    DISCLAIMER
     
    I was provided the AP001 as a review sample.  I am in no way affiliated with Brainwavz - and this review is my honest opinion of the Brainwavz AP001.  I would like to thank Audrey for making this opportunity available.
     
    PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'.
     
    I'm a 47 year old music lover.  I don't say audiophile – I just love my music.  Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up.  I vary my listening from portable (Fiio X5, X1 and iPhone5) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP).  I also use a portable set-up at work – either X5 > HP, or PC > Beyer A200p > HP.  My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Beyer T1 and Sennheiser HD600.  Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs, and up till now it has mainly been with the Fidue A83, A81, Dunu DN-1000 and Altone200. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).
     
    I also formerly owned several portable amps including the Arrow 4G, GoVibe PortaTube, Fiio’s E7, and E11.  I own the Fiio E11K (currently on a mini tour of Australia with my X1) and Beyerdynamic A200p but generally do not use portable amps – especially since buying the Fiio X5.
     
    I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock.   I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock.  I am particularly fond of female vocals.  I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced.  I am neither a bass nor treble head (you could argue that I do like clarity though).  I am not treble sensitive (at all).
     
    For the purposes of this review - I used the Brainwavz AP001 with both my iPhone 5S and Fiio X5.  In the limited time I have spent with the AP001, I have noticed no change to the overall sonic presentation (I do not believe in 'night and day' burn-in).  I will respect others choice if they believe in physical burn-in, but I am yet to experience it.
     
    This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience.  Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.
     

    THE REVIEW

    PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES
     
    The unit arrived in a compact all plastic outer retail package.  The front is quite plain with just the name and picture of the product.  The rear has a clear window showing the AP001.  Below that is a list of its features and specifications.
     
    AP00101.jpg AP00102.jpg
    AP001 retail package - front
    AP001 retail package - rear

     
    Removing the outer packaging exposes a simple plastic tray housing the AP001 and 2 cables (charging and interconnect).
     
    AP00103.jpg AP00104.jpg
    AP001 inner tray
    Ap001 with charging cable and interconnect

     
    The micro USB charging cable is quite short (about 22 cm plug tip to plug tip), but appears well made.  The interconnect (3.5mm to 3.5mm) is approx 12 cm in length.  The actual cable is very thin but very flexible.
     
    Overall, quite a spartan but practical offering – especially when you consider the price point.
     
    TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
     
    The table below lists most of the available specifications.  I have asked Audrey for the impedance measurements for the headphone out, and will post those once she comes back to me.
     
    Playback time
    12+ hours fully charged
    Charging interface
    Micro USB port (cable supplied)
    Input
    Single 3.5mm line in (cable supplied)
    Output
    Dual 3.5 mm headphone out
    Output Impedance
    To be advised
    Frequency Response
    10 Hz – 100 kHz (really ???)
    Suggested Headphone Impedance
    16 – 150 ohms
    Built In Battery
    120 mAh
    Dimensions / Weight
    38 x 38 x 12.87mm / 15.5g
    Warranty
    1 Year

     
    Unfortunately there is no information on output voltage, distortion, SNR or channel separation.
     
    BUILD / DESIGN
     
    The build quality is generally very good.
     
    AP00106.jpg AP00109.jpg
    AP001 clean but unique design
    Source socket 3.5mm

     
    The outer body appears to be a hard plastic and it is pretty solid – and very light weight.  The front plate however seems to be some sort of alloy. Despite the square form factor, the edges are not sharp. 
     
    The casing itself is square with a center notch.  I’m honestly not sure what this design is for – the only thing I can think of is that you can slot the interconnect cable through it so it stays with the unit when not in use – the plug seems to be sized for it anyway.  Edit - apparently it's so you can wind the cable of your IEMs around it to keep it tidy - or at least that's one of the possible uses anyway.
     
    AP00107.jpg AP00108.jpg
    USB charging socket
    Dual headphone outs

     
    The unit has 4 ports or sockets – all clearly labelled.  At the bottom is the 3.5mm socket for the line-in (or source).  On the left hand size is the micro USB socket for charging.  On the top of the AP001 are two 3.5 mm headphone sockets.
     
    All of the sockets are relatively firm, and appear to do their job nicely.
     
    There is no volume control, or EQ control.  What you see is what you get.
     
    BATTERY / INDICATORS
     
    Charging is done via the supplied micro USB cable.  When plugged and powered (charging), the light inside the center glows amber.  When fully charged the light goes out.  Charging takes somewhere between 1.5 and 2 hours.
     
    AP00105.jpg AP00112.jpg
    Amber light - charging
    Blue light - amp in use (with Fiio X5 and Fidue A83) 

     
    Battery life is quoted at 12 hours – and I have been using it for 6-8 hours at a stretch with no signs of depletion, so those numbers look solid.
     
    When in use (audio signal engaged), the central light glows blue.  It is possible to have the unit charging and playing at the same time – and both lights are shown.
     
    AUTO ON / OFF
     
    The design of the AP001 is switchless, so when an audio signal is recognised, it switches on. When the audio signal stops, it goes into a timed shut-off mode, and switches itself off after a preset time.  Sounds very good in theory, and most of the time it works well – but there is a caveat which I discovered, and it is one of the most annoying things about this unit.  The auto on/off is not sensitive enough.  When I was using it with my T1’s (high impedance – requiring plenty of volume), the AP001 turned on with no problems, and ran with no problems over the space of several hours (sounded really good too).  But when I ran sensitive earphones (my Fidue A83) with the Fiio X5 as source, I had issues to get the AP001 to turn on (had to either “hot-plug” it to create a static pop loud enough for the device to turn on, or boost the volume enough for the device to recognise the audio).  I’m a relatively quiet listener – so with the Fidues, actually keeping the unit playing was another issue. After the preset shut-off time, and in the midst of my listening, the unit would simply click-off.  This happened with theX5 with my A83 and Altone200.  The Dunu1000 needed just a little more power, so they were OK.  Strangely, it also played better with the iPhone 5S (as far as recognition of audio goes), than it did with the X5.  Anyway – it was pretty annoying.  It was good when working – but caveat emptor for those with sensitive IEMs and low listening habits.
    Edit : the issue with low volume from source has been confirmed by Raz at MP4Nation.  It appears the X5 isn't the ideal source for this particular amp, so I'm amending the review up 1/2 a star, as they'll bring out a list of compatible devices eventually.  So far it has worked well with the iPhone 5S.  The additional 1/2 star simply because I shouldn't be downgrading based on the X5 not being an ideal source.
     
    OTHER ISSUES / NOTES
     
    The other issues that need to be mentioned are"
     
    A loud static pop (mainly on sensitive IEMs) when plugging or unplugging the source plug from/to its socket.  It’s loud enough with less sensitive gear, but with IEMs like the A83, it’s actually almost pain inducing.  Again caveat emptor – you can avoid it as long as you know it’s there.
     
    Also it seems to be prone to some EMF – not all the time – but when it strikes it’s annoying.  It had been clear with the X5, but at work yesterday plugged to my iPhone, and sitting close to a phone and PC, I could clearly hear static from time to time.  Moving it away from the PC helped.  I haven’t had the same issues at home, so I’m wondering if it’s just the basic poorly shielded budget work PC.
     
    And a note of interest – this amp is not actually a Brainwavz design – but rather an OEM generic design. Hopefully it is a direction that Brainwavz expands upon (by introducing their own designs in future), as we know what they are capable with earphones of their own design.
     
    SONIC COMPARISONS / IMPRESSIONS / POWER
     
    AP00111.jpg
     
    OK – that’s my little gripes out of the way – how did it sound?
     
    To me it was relatively clear, and just seemed to add some mid and sub-bass to the base sonics of whatever I used it with.
     
    One of the first things I tested when I got the unit was the actual amplification circuit, and location of the bass boost (using test tones and an SPL meter).  This is not going to be hugely accurate – but should give us an idea.  I didn’t go lower than 100 Hz (was too difficult to measure accurately – my meter is not that sensitive), but what I did find was volume boost as follows:
     
    100 Hz
    + 10 dB
    150 Hz
    + 5 dB
    200 Hz
    + 4 dB
    300 Hz
    + 4 dB
    500 Hz – 10 kHz
    + 3 dB

     
    So it’s clear that the actual amplification supplied by the amp is subtle (specs say 120% increase of audio – but that’s not what I’m measuring – unless you take that measurement in the bass area).  And the bass boost seems to be centered around the 100 Hz area – which is why it’s adding a nice thump to headphones that need it – and not bleeding into the mid-range.
     
    Pairing the AP001 with my Altone200 and Dunu1000 was bordering on too much bass for me.  It added a darkness to both IEMs that simply did not gel with my tastes. The A83 was much better (apart from the sensitivity issues – on/off conundrum), and so was the Alfa Genus from Rockjaw (with the black treble filters fitted).
     
    I also tried a couple of portable headphones. My son’s Momentum On-ear was pretty good – I find it a little thin for my tastes - and the AP001 helped, although it did become slightly boomy, and on a couple of tracks it was distorting slightly.  I also tried the UE6000 and this made an already relatively balanced (but warm) headphone quite bassy and too dark again for my tastes.
     
    The real surprise for me was with my T1.  I know an iPhone can’t power it properly – it gets loud enough, but ends up anaemic in the bass.  Adding the AP001, and the beautiful mids and detail were still present, and this time the AP001 was able to supply what was missing in the bass from being underpowered.  It was probably the only combination I really enjoyed during my time testing the AP001.  It wasn’t just good, it was very good.
     

    CONCLUSION

    So, we’ve come to the end of my few days with this unit – what are my thoughts?
     
    The AP001 may appeal to people on a very restricted budget, who need a modest volume increase to their portable set-up, who want a permanent bass boost, and who might like to share their listening with another person via the dual headphone outs.  Mainly I suspect it will be sold to the curious (it’s cheap enough to take a risk on).
     
    But for the reasons I listed in the review, I wouldn't really recommend it to anyone I know.  In this case I don’t think it’s particularly good value.  No volume control, a weak amplifier, EQ always on, and a sometimes iffy (in my case) auto on/off.  For the same money you can get a Fiio E6 which is a similar size, but has better amplification, volume control and a switchable EQ.  The only thing that I can see as a plus over the E6 would be the dual headphone outs.  And if you can stretch the budget to $60 you can get a real amplifier in the E11K, or a CMOY.
     
    Two and a half stars from me.
     
    AP00110.jpg
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