The A500 is one of Behringer's newer products, and it's their only standalone amplifier aimed at the recording and post-production market. Sporting 2 x 230 Watts of power into 4 Ohms and a fanless, 2U-height rackmountable chassis, we were keen to put it to the test. The first thing we noticed was how solid the unit feels. It's very well put-together and seems extremely durable; we'd have no problem hauling it around on a regular basis. The only exception is the plastic face; it's flimsy, and the clear plastic protecting the signal-strength display pries out easily. The inclusion of metal handles sticking out from the rear of the unit is a nice touch; it helps with portability and also provides some protection for the rear-panel connectors. The top of the unit is vented, and it gives a nice view of the toroidal transformer that's mounted dead-center inside the unit. With heat fins protruding from the side of the unit, we never had a problem with heat dissipation even with the top of the unit partially covered.
Connections at the rear panel include RCA, TRS, and XLR inputs for each channel. 1/4'' jacks and binding posts are provided for connecting your speakers. This flexibility proved useful, and particularly the inclusion of RCA inputs means that the amp is easy to use in many different setups. Finally, the large dual volume knobs on the front of the unit are detented, which make precise adjustments much easier.
And the big question... how does it sound? Bottom line, it's not a $700 amp. Compared to my NAD 317, a well-regarded, entry-level audiophile amplifier with all- discrete circuitry, the Behringer was less detailed and less coherent. Classical and string-based music brought out a touch of harshness in the mids and highs, as well as some loss of imaging; rock music wasn't as dynamic, and I sensed muddiness and limited bass separation. But keep in mind that the 317 is three times the cost of the A500, and NAD's chassis construction is definitely consumer- grade. With the A500, we're talking $180 street for a noise-free studio amp with internal overload (thermal) protection, a full complement of I/O connectors, decent metering, and a well-built case.
Here at WMBR, we're using the A500 to drive multiple sets of studio headphones, oftentimes at ear-splitting levels. Given the portability, it's a good choice for small PA's. The value in this amp is in bang-for-the-buck, and because of its comprehensive set of input and outputs, it's a good choice for any situation that requires a solid, affordable amplifier. ($229.99 MSRP; www.behringer.com)