Listening to music while being mobile requires three things: the mobile device being used as the audio player, a digital audio file and a pair of headphones that can play that audio into one’s ears. But the only way you can get truly spectacular sounding music is for that digital file to be high resolution (and so containing a wide range of the frequencies that make up the music) and for the headphones to be of sufficient quality that they can take and play what that Hi-Res file has. The problem is that the mobile digital player — be that smartphone or tablet or audio player — doesn’t have the sufficient power to “drive” the headphones. So many go about thinking that the inferior level of audio they’re hearing is good enough or as good as it gets. That needn’t be the case, because of Audio Technica’s AT-PHA100 Portable Headphone Amplifier.
The AT-PHA100 isn’t tiny, but it is small enough to carry around because its about the size of a standard smartphone. Which is why two rubber bands and a rubber mat are included for binding it to a phone’s back. And thanks to rechargeable battery technology, it doesn’t require being plugged into a wall outlet in order to function. Just give it about 10 hours to come to a full charge first.
Now what’s inside its aluminum chassis is all high end components — from the 2.2GHz CPU, to the pre-amp, to the op-amp suppressing distortion, to the DAC (digital to analog converter) sampling 384kHz/32-bit PCM and DSD audio sources at 2.8/5.6MHz. Not to leave out the special circuitry designed to enhance the resolution throughout the frequency range. The end results being what can be heard and, so as not to bore, lets just say everything works together against harmonic distortion and to provide a frequency characteristic of 10Hz – 100kHz (-1dB).
So the inside is complicated for sure, but using it is not — which is typified by the outside being kept simple. There’s a high/low gain switch, a volume knob also machined out of aluminum so as to provide for a nice grip and a 5-stage sampling indicator. A USB socket is there to charge the battery and 3.5 mini-jacks are there to take the audio cables connecting between it, the audio source and the headphones. Want to use a digital input instead of the analog? Then plug a laptop into the USB input instead (this is also where charging of the battery takes place). The most apparent difference now affects the battery: lasting for up to 14 hours when the signal is analog and up to 6 hours when it’s digital.
So it should be obvious that there’s no way you’re ever going to be using this with $10 earbuds or a cheap pair of wired headphones — you need high quality over-the ear-headphones so as to be able to capture the high resolution sound now being pumped out.
What this all comes down to is that, for mobile users, now you can load up with high resolution music and actually hear what’s there, rather than having to put up with compressed and frequency deficient versions. Once you hear what you’ve been missing, it’s pretty much impossible to go back without being aurally aggravated. But that’s why you got the AT-PHA100 Portable Headphone Amplifier in the first place. And was happy to spend $549.00/retail for it.