Beyerdynamic A20 Review. The Beyerdynamic A20 is a small desktop headphone amp with dual 1/4″ outputs and comfortably handles 600ohm headphones. It is a recommended buy at £510.
Hailing from Germany, Beyerdynamic is certainly one fine brand that totally encompasses that old ’German Engineering’ chestnut. Through the presentation of an entire product range that has, at The Pro Audio Web Blog, earned nothing less than a four-and-a-half star rating, we have been consistently impressed with what has graced our ears.
Finally, after months of waiting for the new younger sister to the award winning A1 headphone amp, we have managed to get our hands on the first A20 to enter the UK. Competitively priced at £510.00, the A20 is noticeably cheaper than the £900.00 A1 beast, but even with this financial differential we can still sonically identify how it may have appropriated some of the blueprint charm of the A1, whilst standing tall with its own modernesque identity.
Cut from the same cloth, the exterior Beyerdynamic A20 packaging is nothing worthy of a news flash. Featuring a picture of the A20 with all the classic Beyerdynamic blue lines, it is rather bleak. However, as we well know, it is a good thing to not go all out with the packaging as it shows a brands confidence in their product, that they are serious, and that they have invested money into the product. Inside, the A20 is more than adequately protected as it hides in a die-cut medium-density foam shell that can sustain quite a fall. Unlike the A1, the A20 does not come with an RCA or suede presentation cloth; instead it simply arrives with a two-meter kettle lead. I would have liked to see the A20 with a carry case, really for no other reason than that its compact form factor, and two ¼” outputs, make it ideally portable. All-in-all though, a fairly standard package with no frills.
Features and Build Quality:
With an exterior that is exceptionally clean, the A20 looks beautifully simple. In fact the cuboid exterior appears to be machined out of a solid ‘uni-body’ block of aluminium that has been lightly textured to inhibit small scratches from easily damaging the continuity of a surface, and this continues on the top of the unit. On the bottom there is four rubber feat that, when combined with the sheer weight of the unit, conveniently inhibit it from moving around on the surface that you place it on.
Now we come to the back of the unit; The A20 features an integrated power supply so there is a detachable kettle lead direct input power line, with a single RCA input, and a dedicated through output. For a unit of this size Beyerdynamic must have mastered the art of shielding integrated power supplies, whilst remaining to be affordable without sacrificing audio quality, but this is something that does not appear to be an issue whatsoever.
On the ‘faceplate’ you will first notice a single rubberised button that when in standby mode is a pleasing orange-red, and lime green when in use or ‘idle’. For such a simple button it feels really very pleasing to push so you may actually find yourself just pushing it for the hell of it. However, next to this satisfying button is not one, but two ¼” outputs for what is probably a ‘his’ and ‘hers’ affair, but alas I have to now admit that this is the Achilles heel of what is such a great unit on its own.
Without going into too much detail regarding the sonic performance, the A20 requires that two of the same headphones, or headphones with the same impedance, connected below 250Ω. Period, when connecting two pairs of headphones there appears to be an immediate loss of power as if it staggers to distribute the power effectively. Perhaps, the secondary output is just hard-line tethered to the first so that there are not really two independent outputs. For this, the likelihood of a user owning two of the same high-quality headphones is so limited that it does not work in a real-life situation. When investigating this issue further to understand what results an end user would experience, I connected two headphones of varying impedances below 250ohms. Unfortunately this turned the ‘full-of-life’ sound, into an insipid pool that, even when adjusting the volume, could not remedy. For this reason alone I cannot reason knocking a full star off because it is an added extra, but still it begs the question of ‘why is it there’ that removes half a star. However, on the other side of the spectrum the volume potentiometer is beautifully smooth; like silk in the fingers, and I love it. It provides a linear response that is slightly similar to that of the A1, and that is never a bad thing!
I believe that with surface mounted circuitry, the A20 has been able to be produced for a more affordable price, and that considering that this product has more ‘modern’ components; it makes it more affordable to produce. These factors make the Beyerdynamic A20 a competitive unit. However, the plot thickens….
Beyerdynamic A20 Sound Quality:
Without sounding rhetorical, this new headphone amp offering from Beyerdynamic does still hold some serious ground of its own. Right off the bat I will tell you that it is no A1, but it is not really trying to be. During our testing procedures we used our usual onslaught of headphones across the entire range, and the A20 appeared to compliment them all. However, the Beyerdynamic T1’s by far sounded the best. This isn’t simply because they are the most expensive, because likewise the T90’s, in my opinion, have the best pairing as they have to sonic jigsaw pieces that easily click into place. Moving across to the performance now it is safe to say that the A20 has much more of a modern sound about it where the spatial dimension isn’t too over the top. This headphone amp has a glistening personal vibe where the sonic footprint is particularly complimented by a top-end that is transparent with a shiny transient edge. Moving on to the finer details… reverb tails that are present in a large hall reverb are accurately represented and come through with graceful realism leading to an engaging listening experience that doesn’t over colour/saturate the transient details.
During playback we found that in the real top end there was some extension that led to some sibilance from female vocals or other sizzling instruments. In some circumstances this can result in premature listening fatigue, but this headphone amp is not designed to shower your ears with dB’s, it is seriously designed to be consumed with modesty. What this means is that if you are a bass head then this is not the headphone amp for you because you will just end up pumping the life out of it, but on the opposite end of the spectrum it is one for clarity. It is not an over ‘linear’ clinical experience in its presentation, and this is what I have found so pleasing; you successfully can experience a sharp sound that doesn’t make you feel lost. During a full listening session you will come to understand that there is a touch of warmth across the mid range that acts almost like glue to bring everything into focus. Generally speaking the A20 will work very well for audiophiles who are looking for an amp in the £500 range.
The Beyerdynamic A20 has an excellent physical presentation that oozes great craftsmanship all over. Sonically a user can experience an immersive sound that’s sonic signature can be defined as ‘modern’ where it has smooth mid-range, extended top, and dynamic bass. It won’t satisfy the needs of the bass-head; this is one for audiophiles. At £510 the A20 feels as if it has been priced sensibly for it to take on some other serious competitors. However, with all of the above noted, and the issues with having two ‘tethered’ 1/4″ outputs and impedance matching leaves us no choice but to award the Beyerdynamic A20 with a 4.5 out of 5.