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Audio Technica AT-PHA50BT first impressions and review

Backstory:

I have been in the market for a quality portable mobile AMP to use with my Ultimate Ears 18 Pro custom In-Ear monitors. There are plenty of good ones in the market but I was after one specific feature; I wanted it to be wireless! True audiophiles will not use wireless connections for their audio setup. Even for on the go. I know all about aptX and AAC. Their Pros and Cons. I am willing to scarifies that bit of audio quality by going wireless for a little more convenience. I have a very good home setup that I am happy with and just wanted something simple for my on the go. Something as easy as not even having an AMP and just plugging the headphones straight to the phone, or, even have them wireless so I could enjoy the phone on my work commute without any cables attached.

I never had the chance to compare Bluetooth to wired audio before. I have seen many reviews generally advising against Bluetooth. aptX seems very promising. AAC also has a great potential. Even though my iPhone does not support aptX, it does however have support for AAC. The music I listen to through iTunes should theoretically sound as good as a wired connection.

I stumbled upon Audio Technica’s AT-PHA50BT little device that seems to offer exactly what I need. Even though this device was only released in Japan, there are plenty of sellers on Amazon and eBay that are willing to ship it to the US. At the time of writing this review, there weren’t any online reviews that I could find about this product (except for the very few Japanese ones), I decided to write this review hoping that it might help somebody else on the same boat. I decided to try my luck with this little device and let me tell you, I am not disappointed at all.

Unboxing and first impressions:

I bought this AMP from Amazon which shipped from Japan through a Japanese seller. Shipping was really quick. I purchased it on a Monday night, received it that same week Saturday morning! I was really surprised and was not expecting it that quick. Even though the seller did provide me with a tracking number, I honestly did not check on it that same week because I was not expecting it to arrive then.

Besides the front of the box where it shows a high resolution image of the AMP, name, model, and few logos that are in English, everything else is written in Japanese. Nothing else is written in English here. Not even the manual. Using the AMP is really self explanatory and thankfully in my case, the manual was not needed.

When I opened the box, I was really surprised by how small this device is, very tiny. Build quality is really good and solid. Exactly what you would expect from a reputable company like Audio Technica. The volume rocker clicks in place when you turn the volume up or down. It does not make any noise, but it just has a little snap to it to keep the rocker in place instead of freely sliding left or right.

In the box, you will also find a small micro USB cable for charging, a small clip case, and the user manual and a device registration paper.

Looking at the AMP, the power/lock button and a USB charging port are on one side. Four other buttons, effect/call, play/pause, skip forward, skip backward are on the other side. Everything is clearly labeled in English. The front LCD screen is very nice and bright. You can see the battery level of the device, volume level, call history, and icons that show up at the top of the technology being supported with the device it is connected to. In my case, I had it synced with my iPhone 6 so it showed me HFP, A2DP, AURCP, PBAP. You also can see on the screen what is currently playing on the phone, band and song info. Obviously, everything on the screen is in English. The device supports showing names in Japanese. I haven’t had the chance to try that, let alone understanding anything.

Pressing and holding the EFFECT button launches Siri on the iPhone

I have uploaded a PDF version of the manual. It is the exact same version of the one included in the box.

Audio Technica AT-PHA50BT User Manual

Also, as mentioned in the comments below by “ILLES”: – Thanks for the tip 🙂

Sliding the power button to ON and holding it there for 5 seconds puts the device in pairing mode

Did I mention that this AMP is really small? In the pictures here, it is next to my iPhone 6 (not 6+) just to give you an idea oh how small and thin it is.

When connected to my iPhone, it displays the battery level of the AMP at the top next to the battery level of the phone. Even though, on the AMP screen you can still see the battery level of the AMP whether it is connected to any device or not.

Sound Quality

I purchased this little device not to improve my sound quality. I have a pretty good home setup that I am happy with. I only wanted something more convenient for on the go. I was going to be pretty happy and satisfied if it had the exact same quality as plugging in the headphones to the phone directly. Except, having this now I can clip it to my shirt or put it in my pocket while using my phone freely.

When connected to my iPhone and sending music through the AMP, and since the iPhone also supports AAC, the AMP displays “AAC” on it’s screen. I am not sure if it will change the sound quality if paired with a device that does not support AAC or aptX. I also do not have any aptX device at the moment that I could try the AMP with.

Keeping in mind, I only have a small library of music stored on my iPhone. I mainly stream my music from iTunes Radio and xbox Music. When I first tried it, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I instantly became very happy. I kept switching back and forth between the AMP and phone and I could not tell a single difference. Could it be because of taking advantage of the AAC feature?

I mainly listen to modern and classic Rock and some classical music. Classical music sounded slightly little more crisp when connecting to the phone directly without using the AMP. I had to switch back and forth few times to be able to tell a difference. Then finally deciding that connecting to the phone has a slight more crisp sound to it. It’s not big, maybe only better by 5% when connected to the phone and not using the AMP. Definitely not a deal breaker. Also, I really didn’t notice the difference at first and took me many tries back and forth to be able to tell.

The AMP also has built-in sound effects engine. It uses AM3D that has four modes “Flat” which is the normal/pass-through mode without making any changes to the sound, Acoustic, Vocal Boost, Bass Boost, and Virtual Surround. I don’t like any of the sound effects and just keep it on Flat the whole time.

Overall, sound quality is really as good as connecting the headphones to the phone directly using AAC. I would love to try aptX one day and see if that makes any difference when listening to classical music over AAC. Will update this review if that happens.

Dislikes

One thing I really dislike is having two independent volume levels. The AMP does not control the phone volume. The AMP has its own volume and when turning the volume up or down, it only changes its own volume and not the phone. Also, there is no way to see the AMP volume level BEFORE starting to play your music. Not sure who came up with that idea.

When not playing Music, the volume rocker accesses your phone book call history instead.

Just make sure to turn down the phone volume all way when playing music, then you can adjust the volume level on the AMP and go from there by turning the phone volume up and turning the AMP volume down. A bit annoying but still not a deal breaker.

Final Thoughts

I am very happy with this purchase. I could not have asked for more out of this little device. Solid build quality, lightweight (only about 29 grams), lots of features, very small and easy to commute with, and sound quality is as good as plugging my headphones to the phone directly. Charging the battery barely takes 3 hours and play time is about 8 hours. I definitely recommend this if you are looking for a small adapter for the purpose of making your wired headphones wireless. The AMP also has built-in microphone for making phone calls if your headphones do not have a mic.

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Hi, my name is Ali. I am a Systems Engineer. I live in the beautiful Evergreen state. I have a Bachelor degree of science in Information Technology with a handful of accompanying I.T. certificates. I also have a degree in Computer Networking. I am an Apple Certified Technician, Microsoft MCITP and a Linux expert.

6 Comments

  1. Illes · September 29, 2015

    Hi,
    Thank you for your great review. I give this amplifier a try based on your positive experiences. I just received it but I can not figure it out how could I pair it via bluetooth.Unfortunately I do not understand the Japanese manual. I have a Samsung phone but I would assume that does not count. Your brief pairing instructions would be greatly appreciated.
    Best Regards,
    illés from Budapest, Hungary

    Reply
  2. illés · September 29, 2015

    Hi,
    I finally managed to pair it to my phone. I found a picture of the on/of/hold button + a “5” in the Japanese manual which helped.
    Power on swich has to be hold for 5 secs while the amp is turning on. Some arrows are flashing and it is become visible for the phone then. Thank you again for your review. Maybe this pairing tip would be useful for future buyers. 🙂
    Kind Regards,
    illés

    Reply
    • Ali · September 29, 2015

      I’m glad you found this review helpful. I don’t have this little device anymore. But, I have added your tip to the article 🙂 Thank you and enjoy

      Reply
  3. Andy · November 23, 2015

    Hi there – great review!

    i was just wondering, why did you get rid of this, and what did you replace it with?

    Reply
    • Ali · November 24, 2015

      Thanks Andy. I got rid of it because I got myself a pair of Earin headphones for commute. Obviously a small sacrifice in sound quality, but a huge advantage when on the go.

      Reply
  4. mangochutney · December 29, 2015

    Thank you for this first impressions review.
    It got me to order this little gadget.

    I’ve been looking for a good bluetooth receiver to drive an old set of good-sounding waterproof speakers and a set of good desk speakers in my office. There’s a lot of crap on the market and this is the first product that I think will meet my expectations.

    The fact that it’ll be able to drive my Westone UM3X as well, is an added bonus.

    Cheers!

    Reply

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