Published on June 14th, 2014 | by Greg0
beyerdynamic A2: A Twinkling Starlet Of An Amplifier
Rarely do we find something at a convention or online that we yearn for at first sight, and even less often do we find something that fulfills or exceeds those expectations when we get a chance to really test it out. At a showcase or a web preview, demo models can be shiny and new, and it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. Months later, gear can have changed dramatically- or even in subtle ways- that can affect every aspect of a product, not to mention the press of time and competition.
All of this is an especially long-winded way of saying that we were excited for the fully discrete beyerdynamic A2 Desktop Headphone Amplifier from the time it was announced, marking this flagship as one of our items to keep an eye out for and beg for the chance to test. Winner of a Red Dot Design Award- one of the first amps we’ve ever seen receive that honor- it features a classic aluminum chassis with an eye-catching glass panel on top that shows off the warm reddish glow of lights inside. Uncased from the box, it looks similar to if a bit more modern and fully-featured than it’s smaller brother, the A20 Amp.
The company brags that this is “currently the only device on the market that provides separate adjustments for the impedance and sensitivity of the connected headphones as well as different levels of the audio sources”- and this is a very handy feature, perfect for those with a few different types of cans in their closet. We warmed up the unit and burned it in for about forty hours before testing it with a pretty wide range of our audiophile headphone collection- from over-ears like the MrSpeakers Alpha Dogs and Audio-Technica ATH-700s, to on-ear headphones from Bowers and Wilkins, Sennheiser, Focal’s Spirit Ones, and beyerdynamic’s own T51i and T51ps we’ve reviewed in the past. We even got a chance to test with two exciting ZMF models (reviews coming soon). For each set, we tweaked the settings a bit from 16 to 600 ohms, finding that some dialing in was necessary before setting in. The vast majority of amps pair well with a select, limited number of headphones, typically outputting high impedance and when using low impedance headphones leaving the low-end muddy and indistinct. This is the first one we’ve seen that is so adjustable, and it really does work on both ends, and everything that we tested in between, with plenty of power. Plus, we never faced crackling noise during power on or source switching, something many amps are guilty of but was eliminated here.
Outputs are unbalanced unlike, say, the Yulong DAC we tested earlier this week. But there are two separate inputs and outputs, allowing you to share the music with a friend, and switch between sources without having to mess around connecting and switching cables. Only RCA inputs are available, which should be enough for most people, and we recommend using a DAC when possible in addition. Outputs are 1/4 inch, though mini-jack adapters work easily if needed. The included remote looks and feels fairly similar to those for the Apple TV, small and handy with only a few options like power, volume, and source controls- few headphone amps that we’ve seen offer one and it’s definitely a nice addition. While we’re at it, so is the other nifty accessory, a rugged aluminum headphone stand that keeps your chosen set at the ready. Everything feels polished, sturdy, and refined.
If it’s clarity you seek, whether for analog reproduction or for high-resolution or high-definition audio files, the beyerdynamic A2 is a bold, distortion-free sound machine. It’s offers a fairly cool tone, never harsh, and is fast without ever seeming clipped. There’s plenty of space, especially at the low end, and every part of our test songs felt bigger, broader, and wider. Bass on Kanye tracks was properly boomy, and Portishead’s challenging PNYC album was ethereal and encompassing, if slightly too chipper on the high notes. The A2 is brand new, and just becoming available, but expect to spend around $1700. Elegant, configurable, and very well-built, the beyerdyamic A2 is probably the best overall headphone amplifier that we’ve seen, offering everything a discerning listener could want, no matter their equipment.