Headphone amplifiers are a truly difficult product to review. For many people they will be nothing more than an expensive LED taking up space in their already cluttered audio setup. For others however, they are another step along the endless road to audio nirvana.
- Cheap, enhanced sound
- Not nearly as great as some other amplifiers
As a cheap way to increase the quality of your audio setup, the AT-HA20 is a reasonable alternative. However we would recommend saving your money and investing in a better amplifier later on, as the difference it will make and the scope for upgrading will be vastly increased.
Price$ 299.00 (AUD)
Most people believe an amplifier is something designed to increase the volume of something; this isn't always correct. Amplifiers add their own distinct colouration to the sound. You would have heard us describe different headphones sounds ranging from warm to dark and neutral. A headphone amplifier can exhibit all of these characteristics, thus it is important to pair it well with your headphones.
The AT-HA20 is an entry level amplifier; typically one can expect to pay upwards of $800 for a reasonable quality unit, so the low price tag on this model is definitely attractive. You do however get what you pay for.
Many pairs of headphones require an amplifier, merely to adequately drive them, and whilst we found the AT-HA20 could support most of our test models, some high end pairs such as the Beyerdynamic DT880s were simply too much for it.
What the AT-HA20 is great for is enhancing the sound of headphones that don't require an amplifier; things like the Audio Technica A900s. We found this amplifier to be extremely neutral in that, it didn't greatly colour the sound across any of the registers. What it did do is improve weaker elements of the headphones we used, and enhance the overall sound quality. On the A900s it gave the mid range more prominence (one of our few criticisms of that model) and really increased the resolution and detail. This was the case across multiple pairs of headphones; we found this amplifier gave them a fuller, richer sound.
Design wise, the AT-HA20 is quite nice. It is extremely compact for an amplifier, although probably still too large to be considered portable. It is housed in a solid, silver chassis with a clear Perspex roof allowing you to see the circuitry inside. The insides are illuminated by a funky blue LED, which we liked the look of, but some people may find annoying in a dark room.
It supports both small and large headphones jacks, which is a nice touch. Connection to your CD player or other source is achieved through a standard RCA cable. We would have liked to see optical or coaxial as an option here, but realistically for a budget product, RCA is more than satisfactory.
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