Audio Technica AT-PHA55BT Amplifier Review

Audio Technica AT-PHA55BT Amplifier Review

Taking a break from my daily headphone regimen, today I’m taking a look at the $129 Audio Technica AT-PHA55BT wireless DAC/amp.  With a slim and portable profile, as well as LDAC tech, this nifty newcomer talks the talk.  But does it walk the walk?

Audio Technica AT-PHA55BT Amplifier Review

Audio Technica AT-PHA55BT Amplifier Review

The AT-PHA55BT comes with a charging cable and a plastic clip apparatus.  The unit itself feels incredibly light, thanks to a mostly-plastic design.

Despite the slightly-cheap, toy-like feel, using this portable amp is a absolute joy.  Dedicated controls on the right side of the unit allow user to adjust playback and volume.  The left side of the unit reveals a micro-USB charging port and a power switch.

A unique feature of the PHA55BT, the unit also offers two modes of use – in Mode A, the DAC/amp adjusts for use with dynamic driver earphones.  Mode B, in contrast, offers optimized sound for Balanced Armature drivers.

Pairing is simple, and with a split second of powering on the device, I am already connected and rocking out.

Perhaps the only weak point of the PHA55BT is the battery life; a 3-hour charging period yields 8 hours of continuous playback.  And maybe this isn’t wouldn’t be such a noteworthy fault if this DAC/amp didn’t sound so decidedly polished and present.

Specifications

Maximum Output Level:
50 mW + 50 mW (at 16 ohms, T.H.D. 10%)
25 mW + 25 mW (at 32 ohms, T.H.D. 10%)
2.5 mW + 2.5 mW (at 300 ohms, T.H.D. 10%)
Output Connector: 3.5 mm (1/8″) gold-plated stereo mini jack
Battery: DC3.7 V lithium polymer rechargeable battery
Battery Life:
Max. 8 hours continuous use (100 hours standby)
Charging Time: Approx. 3 hours (for 0-100% charge)
Operating Temperature: 41 – 104° F (5° – 40° C)
Dimensions (excluding protrusions): 79 mm (3.1″) H × 32 mm (1.3″) W × 11 mm (0.4″) D
Weight: 28 g (1 oz)
Accessories Included: 30 cm (1′) USB charging cable, belt clip
Type (Microphone): Condenser
Sensitivity (Microphone): -36 dB (1V/Pa at 1 kHz)
Frequency Response (Microphone): 50 – 8,000 Hz
Polar Pattern (Microphone): Omnidirectional
Input jack: Micro USB Type B
Communication System: Bluetooth Version 4.2
Output: Bluetooth Specification Power Class 2
Maximum Communication Range: Line of sight – approx. 10 m (33′)
Compatible Bluetooth Profiles: A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, HSP
Support Codec: LDAC, aptX, AAC, SBC

Sound

Normally, my critical listening setup includes ALAC files on an iPhone 7 over a wired connection to the FiiO Q5 with the AM3B module with Mackie MP-240 earphones.  The stock Mackie cable has been replaced with an Alo Reference cable with a 4.4 mm balanced connection.

And yet, I am surprised how close the PHA55BT lands in relation to my $900 setup listed above.  Sure, there’s a tiny bit of compression in the lows, but the mids remain accurate and clean.  And the high end may actually reveal more detail on the Audio Technica AT-PHA55BT.  Ouch.

Now, does it have the full resolution of the FiiO Q5 with all those audiophile accessories added on?  No.  But it’s a damn close call.

Audio Technica knocks it out of the park on this one – and not due to any gimmicky feature.  This DAC/amp is a budget device with bodacious sound that just won’t quit.  But it’s not just an enjoyable listening experience – it remains a truly pure listening experience, as well.

There’s no added or over-emphasized bass, which is a godsend.  Instead, this device offers an even-keeled and fairly accurate palette.  There’s also an ample sense of soundstage, with good depth and the illusion of the music surrounding you – to some degree.  That being said, it’s still a $129 DAC/amp, so it’s not completely Chord Mojo territory.

Compatibility

This is a wireless DAC/amp.  There are no inputs for wired sources, so only plan to use this if your device has wireless capabilities.

That being said, this baby really shines with lossless files.  You could run junky MP3 files through here if you really wanted to, but you won’t be taking full advantage of the PHA55BT’s sweet, sweet sound.

Audio Technica AT-PHA55BT Amplifier Review

Other Observations

The lightweight design of this little gem is astounding.  It’s so light I can almost forget I have it on my person.  It’s smaller and lighter than a candy bar, but twice as sweet.  Despite coming with a belt clip, my accident-prone self has already dropped it twice.  But the plastic build holds up, so there may be a solid build underlying that slightly-chintzy-feeling exterior.

Another big selling point comes in the form of the sound quality.  Of course, I’ve already gushed about this facet, but I’ll go on because I get paid by the word.  The PHA55BT delivers a rich but accurate sound with plenty of detail and no major hiccups.  It’s the kind of sound you would expect from a DAC/amp that costs twice or three times as much.  Pair this wee beastie with a higher-end pair of earphones, and some good source music, and you’ll be kissing the sky in no time.

Recommendations

If you must spend more money on your portable listening setup, you can opt for more expensive options from IFI, FiiO, RHA, or others.  And some of these portable devices might sound marginally better.

But no other DAC/amp combo is this cheap and this light and this user-friendly.  I know some people will claim this is just another “Chi-Fi” device, but I’ve got a more accurate summation:  solid bang for your buck.

Now, if you love your wired connections (and lord knows I do), I can see why you might pass up on this unit.  For everyone else, though, this baby is a no-brainer.

Final Analysis

At $129, the Audio Technica AT-PHA55BT is one helluva steal.  If this unit retailed for a solid $250, I would still tell you to buy it and never look back.  Thanks to it’s rich, intoxicating sound, this unit remains a capable solution to anyone in need of a portable listening setup.  Should you listen to it before you buy it?  You could, but considering how good this unit actually sounds, you’d only be wasting precious listening time.  Our take?  GOLD STAR.

Get the Audio Technica AT-PHA55BT for the best price here:

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