Cozoy Astrapi Review: Despite its micro size, the Astrapi is an excellent plug-in-and-go budget breakout audiophile DAC/Amp iDevice that sounds outrageously good and easily has enough power for most portable IEMs/Headphones – a seriously worthy contender of your hard earned cash!
Having founded in early 2015, Cozoy is a fresh-faced Chinese brand that you’ve probably never heard of before. However, with the same design team that brought us the affordable class leading Shozy ‘Alien’ WAV/FLAC only DAP at the helm, you can bet your bottom dollar that Cozoy has set their sights set at building upon the success of this Head-Fi hit wonder. With big boots to fill, enter the [physically] teeny tiny ‘Astrapi’…
Whilst ‘Astrapi’ may be one of the smallest devices that we’ve ever seen, ‘Astrapi’ is a highly flexible intelligent hybrid USB 2.0 compliant, MFi (made for iPhone 5 and above), and USB OTG (Android compatible devices) DAC/AMP device that pretty much follows Moore’s Law and destroys the ‘size = quality’ theory. Astrapi is such an exciting little device, so let’s jump right in the review…
Unboxing, Build Quality, and Features:
With minimalist Applesque aesthetics, and a strong sliding physical construction, Cozoy have gone to great lengths to instil a sense of quality right off the batt with the Astrapi. As we slide off the lid this premium aesthetic further continues with the device sub-mounted in a laser cut foam plinth. Unfortunately something which I can immediately notice is the lack of operating manual or specifications sheet, although a prompt ‘Warranty & Terms’ sheet is included. Whilst the Astrapi is a fairly intuitive device I still do feel that the inclusion of such a sheet would benefit the consumer and ultimately be of some useful reference.
JCozoy Astrapiust like the external packaging, the Astrapi design also appears to look very slick. Astrapi’s tiny external enclosure measures 53mm x 16mm x 6mm, similar to a USB thumb drive, and is formed from matt aluminium with a brushed aluminium top and ‘Cozoy’ brand detailing paired with a simple, yet elegant, matt spring clip on the back to conveniently attach the device to an item of clothing during use. The mechanism appears study, but I wouldn’t apply too much pressure otherwise the mechanism can bend the soft aluminium where the spring-bar secures to the enclosure like mine has done. If we not turn our attention to the end of the device, where the input and output connections are, Cozoy have finished the Astrapi with mirror finish plastic end-caps which have been screwed into the body with pantalobe security screws. Potentially, as time goes on, this mirror finish will tarnish, although it’s not a deal breaker and I don’t see this plastic distorting or obstructing the input or output connectors.
If we come back to the actual unboxing now, Cozoy have generously saved you both the trouble and financial burden by including all the cables to use the Astrapi right out of the box. Whilst these cables certainly won’t win any ‘outstanding’ awards as individual units, at least all of the cables appear to be solidly made and I have no doubt that they will stand you in good stead. With this said, it’s important to firstly clarify that the Astrapi only accepts a Micro USB input from the host device and secondly that the list of cables includes; A single 30cm Micro USB to Lightning cable (iPhone 5 and above – in white), one 30cm Micro USB to Micro USB (Android USB OTG Compatible Devices – in white), and finally a black 1m Micro USB to USB cable. Something that is interesting is that Cozoy have said that the Astrapi ‘may’ be compatible with the old 30-Pin style Apple iDevice connector, however they do not recommend it and you will need to purchase a 30-Pin to Micro USB to check its capabilities. Unfortunately we don’t have any old 30 connector devices here so we cannot confirm this to be true. However, if we do subsequently discover that 30-pin devices are compatible, then we will come back and amend this review.
Having spent some time with the Astrapi connected to my iPhone 5s, I feel that the cable length is a little too generous. Whilst I completely understand that it’s important to harbour the Astrapi away from your iDevice to protect the finish, and that the clip on the rear of the device is meant to allow the device to attach to the top of your jeans, I have found that the extra cable length seems to flutter about and, during brisk walking, the Astrapi can have a habit of disconnecting. Depending on the garment, this factor may or may not come to play, although if the Astrapi is kept in a coat pocket you should not experience any disconnection/length issues. What could possibly stop this from happening would be if Cozoy included a silicone sleeve that wouldn’t allow it to scratch your expensive device and would really help eliminate this minor connection issue, or even make the Astrapi’s case out of plastic. However, something more pressing that I would like to comment is that the included 1m Micro USB to USB cables length appears to be totally impractical. The reason for this is that, during use, the tiny (practically weightless) 10g micro-device has a habit of getting lost and falling down all over the place like a snake, which really isn’y ideal. Anyway, the included cables do appear to be adequate for the job so I cannot condemn this product based on this minor grievance. But, as a final note for curiosities sake, the included Micro USB to Lightning cable will not work with other audio devices – it appears as if it does not have the necessary handshake chip capabilities as the Apple Lightning Camera Connection Kit.
Leading off from the above, something that is important to take into consideration is that the Astrapi is connected to a computer system it will only function when connected to a USB 2.0 port. Considering that USB 3.0 is increasingly becoming the universal standard, and the fact that many computer systems now only include USB 3.0 ports (we’re looking at you Apple), it is hugely disappointing that the Astrapi cannot function under this protocol… on top of this it’s best not to hold your breath for a remedy ‘software update’, the Astrapi is not capable of being user updated. But, whilst you could argue that Cozoy built the Astrapi to be a portable device accessory, the truth is that it is marketed as being compatible with a USB 2.0 computer system and, considering that the Astrapi is priced towards the ‘audiophile on a budget’ area, I would expect the target consumer to want the Astrapi to be a ‘catch all’ device… or at least it should be without having to actively prioritise what port you connect it into, so it is for this reason why I have removed half a star from the award rating.
If we return to the positives now, if you were previously unaware, Cozoy’s Astrapi does not require any batteries to operate, neither does it require charging, or even a dedicated Windows or Mac driver for it to work. The reason for this is that the Astrapi is a ‘simple’ plug in and play device that follows ‘standard’ audio device principles and draws all the required power from the host device – which is 1.8v to 3.3v (±10%) depending on the output level (up to 10mW). Some may see this as a blessing and some may see this as a drawback because it does mean that it will drain your iDevices battery faster, although this design is responsible for why the Astrapi is so portable, and therefore convenient. Interesting though, Cozoy note within the specifications that the Astrapi has the capacity to drive headphones from 16Ω to 100Ω without an external amp, yet they do not actually mention the output impedance. Based upon the ‘8x impedance’ rule of thumb I would imagine that the Astrapi’s output impedence is less than 2Ω, although our independent testing has confirmed this likelihood with multiple balanced armature devices and headphones performing equally well across the 20Hz-20kHz bandwidth without any odd artefacts or translation issues, although with very sensitive IEMs I detected some very very low background noise for the five seconds after a track has finished. However, in order to test the Astrapi’s capacity, I did decide to push it to its very limits by using headphones past the 100Ω limit, which is where I found that, particularly with my 250Ω Beyerdynamic T90 circumaural headphones, the sound quality was insipid, lacked body, and had very little bass – a true sign that something was not right! So, if you do aim to use the Astrapi with headphones above 100Ω, it’s best to look elsewhere or pair it with an external amp.
If we come onto the internal circuitry, Cozoy have been very quiet about what DAC they chose to use as Astrapi’s heart, and they have even gone to great lengths to grind off the brand name and chip identifier. Whilst at first this may seem a bit sneaky, it’s actually not that uncommon. The reason why it’s a smart move for Cozoy is just so that they can protect the Astrapi from Chinese copycats who will go to great lengths to reverse engineer it and bring out a clone device. Regardless, the Astrapi internally appears to be a very well engineered device that is free of any obvious manufacturing flaws and, despite it being such a compact device, in use I cannot even detect any microphonics issues. On the other hand, something that is a little annoying is that the Astrapi doesn’t appear to have adequate RF Sheilding as, when used with a mobile/cell device, the activity of the radio antenna does interfere with playback to the point where it can be very annoying. I guess this is just another reason as to why you need to keep the Astrapi as far away from the device as possible… hell, maybe the length of those 30cm cables have just become more relevant?
Considering that the Astrapi drawers all the power that it requires from the host device, Cozoy have employed a couple of interesting power saving abilities. The first of which relates to the 3.5mm output jack, because this connector actually acts as a hardware switch to physically turn off and on the power supply. Essentially if you haven’t connected any headphones to the Astrapi it will not operate or continue to deplete your portable devices battery – very handy considering that a full days battery is hard to achieve nowadays. However, the second intelligent power saving mechanism lies within the Astrapi’s software. When the Astrapi detects that the digital input signal has been lost for a period of five seconds it will place itself into low power mode until the signal is restored by the host device. In fact continuing on our power saving descriptive, I have to say that I haven’t ever felt the Astrapi get hot – even after extended periods of listening. What this suggests to me is that the device is much more energy efficient than you might expect, and it also means that the device completely safe and won’t leave you with any burns if placed in your pocket. But, if we come back to the device switching on with the insertion of a pair of headphones for a minute, I have annoyingly noticed that the Astrapi does, without fail, send a click and a pop into your headphones every time it turns on. Fear not though, this really isn’t in the same leagues as the original Schiit Asgard headphone amp, and with this information Cozoy urge users to connect the headphones to the Astrapi before connecting to the device. Perhaps something that could have completely eliminated this problem would be to switch the 3.5mm auto sense leaf switch for more convenient physical on/off switch… anyway, it’s not a mega issue… it’s more annoying than anything.
Considering that the Astrapi is such a tiny little thing, it’s capabilities are rather surprising. For instance, it has the ability to playback all audio formats supported by the host device between 16bit to 24bit and 44.1kHz to 192kHz, and can even play back DSD files… although it is important to mention that this is through software as the Astrapi is not true hardware capable. But, if this hasn’t surprised you enough (you must be a Grinch), the Astrapi has been designed so that it can deliver both a headphone output (HO) and a line level output (LO) for it to be used in a larger system. When the Aatrapi is connected to the host device it provides 16 gain levels in 3dB/Step increments, which is used for headphone playback, however when the volume is set to maximum the Astrapi will disengage the headphone amplifier section to deliver a clean line level output straight from the DAC itself – super impressive!
Various Lossy and Lossless Tracks 16bit-24bit – 44.1kHz – 192kHz, Apple ‘iPhone 5s’, Motorola ‘Moto G’, ’Onkyo HF’ App, Apple ‘MacBook Air’, Sonic Studio ‘Amarra’, Fujitsu Barebones PC, Lynx ‘Hilo’, Dynaudio ‘DM6a’ MK2, Various Van Damme Cables, Chord Electronics ‘Scamp’, The Chord Company ‘Sarsen’, Audiofilia ‘AM-SM1’, Sony ‘MDR-7506’, Apollo Audio Lab ‘X1’, Noble Audio ‘FR’, Final Audio Design ‘Pandora Hope VI’, Heir Audio ‘8.0’, Heir Audio ’10.A’, Musical Fidelity ‘MF-100’, Audio Technica ‘WS99’, Beyerdynamic ‘T90’, and the Cozoy ‘Astrapi’.
To get the most out of the Astrapi with your iPhone, it’s best to download the Onkyo HF Player which is available through the App Store. The Onkyo HF App allows you to transfer files to the iPhone that are not supported, for example FLAC, and outputs the file at its true resolution. For Android devices it’s best to take a look at Neutron.
Whilst I didn’t have much trouble with connecting the Astrapi to any of the devices within the above list, I did sadly experience difficulties connecting the Astrapi to my high resolution playback software – Sonic Studio ‘Amarra’. No matter what I did it just would not connect and just yielded the beach ball of death symbol.
Sound Quality and Suitability:
With many of us using our mobile phones as an all-in-one portable communications/multimedia solution, you may wonder what the improvement will be for you over the standard headphone output, and whether an extra device to carry around is worth the benefit. To this I would have to say that I, personally, believe that the sound quality of Astrapi vs a standard iPhone 5s output demonstrates a moderately marked textural improvement which, when combined with it’s it’s minuscule footprint, makes this ‘one-for-all’ device an ideal affordable candidate over such devices as the well known A200p. Granted, the Astrapi doesn’t quite touch the A200p, but it is an ideal intermediate replacement to help you understand whether you want to take the plunge on a higher end DAC/Amp device for the simple reason that this teathered ecosystem will work for some, and not others. With this said, if you are someone who is using a higher end portable device with a good headphone output maybe you won’t appreciate the moderate improvement by using the Astrapi, but where this device really excels is when paired with a low or mid-range Android device. I generally found that, when used with the Moto G, the Astrapi provided a refreshing and totally elevated listening environment that was worth every bit of its $129.00 price tag.
All in all the Astrapi provides a warming, rich, friendly, and fun (somewhat) U shaped frequency response that provides a deep very moderately slow full low end presence, a similarly moderately bold low-midrange texture, a relaxed sweeping mid-midrange, a transparent forward high-midrange, and a dreamy transparent and very smooth treble presence that doesn’t overly extend or ever reveal any sibilance issues. What I was quite surprised to find was that the Astrapi doesn’t typically suffer from any audible distortion in the low-end or even at the high end, because I really would have expected to find some on a device of this caliber, but all I could detect was very very small amounts at higher volumes with tracks exhibiting sparser spatial surroundings, although generally nothing to warrant any specific attention. In terms of the dynamic range, in the bass to low-midrange area I have found that, even though there is still a good degree of contrast, the Astrapi has a habit of crushing the dynamics somewhat in favour of a fuller, less solid, bass presence, whereas the high-midrange to midrange-treble area is much more transient rich – ultimately removing the veil from both female and male voices to become a much more tangible true to life performance. At the higher end there is, typically, less dynamic contrast, however it delivers a refined respectable naturalesque performance that cannot be snubbed. If we come onto the lateral imaging now, the Astrapi delivers a well knitted presentation where, on this X axis, the soundstage was accurately judged, naturally modest in size, and presented without any frequency bunching or artificial expanses. Ultimately the two words that sonically befits the Astrapi is ‘relaxed’ and ‘natural’.
With everything considered, the Astrapi delivers a worthwhile natural sonic improvement over most low to midrange mobile devices. The fact that it is so small, in combination with it’s power and many features, makes it an ideal candidate for your hard earned cash. The Pro Audio Web Blog awards the Cozoy ‘Astrapi’ with a four and a half star rating.