Astell&Kern

Astell&Kern, part of the iRiver group, originally came onto the portable audio scene with the first truly-audiophile-targeted digital audio players, their A&K 100 and 120, featuring touch-screen interfaces combined with tactile volume-controls, lossless/high-resolution file support, optical input/output and, for the time, optional high-end dual Wolfson (8740) DAC support (on the AK120), with enough power to drive many popular “proper” headphones.

Since then they’ve released several complete line-ups of high-performance digital audio players (DAP), and are well known for highly distinctive industrial and aesthetic design, a penchant for special edition versions of their players (sometimes for select markets), and are often considered to be the “Leica” of the portable audio world.

They’ve expanded into producing IEMs and headphones, via partnerships with other notable industry players, including Jerry Harvey Audio, as well as a complete eco-system of components including CD-rippers, desktop amplifiers, and so on.

This is the spot to discuss the Astell&Kern brand …

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From the moment I saw my first A&K photo, I knew wanted one. The look, the feel, the hi-hes capability, it was such an upgrade from a smartphone. I had not owned a dedicated portable music player since, what, maybe the discman. Every MP3 player out there was garbage. But, the A&Ks were stratospherically expensive. Like I really could never justify it ever. After keeping up to date with the DAP market and the on going hi-res trends, I just kept an eye on the many models from the many manufacturers. Then, just before A&K released these newest models, which look amazing, they unloaded a boatload of older models at real savings. Even some of the special edition ones were good values. So, I jumped on the AK240 Blue Note, loaded with tunes and I am thrilled. The AK Connect works seamlessly with the DLNA NAS set-up. It has Tidal and Qobuz and those clients work perfectly with wifi. It won’t ever have Roon or MQA, but, 24/192, DSD64, DSD128, I am so thrilled and with Shure 425s and Audeze LCD-XCs with all balanced connects, It’s not the most recent generation, but, I think I am set for a while at those hi-res rates. I am literally in heaven!

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It was a built gulp-inducing when I bought my original AK120. Especially as I was mostly a 2-channel speaker-rig/desktop headphone listener at the time. I did wind up picking it up new for $999 rather than the original $1,299. But I also grabbed an RSA Intruder (because the native output on the AK120 didn’t synergies that well with the IEMs I had in mind) and a set of Shure SE846 at the same time, so it still stung a bit!

I was seriously tempted by the Blue Note package on the AK240. Even just for the music alone, since there’s no other way to buy that package, I’m still somewhat tempted to buy one. And I see picking up the Maria Callas collection here in a few …

One thing that has been a constant with A&K for me has been the fact that their software/firmware is consistently far more solid, and befitting of products at their asking prices, than almost every other DAP brand I’ve tried (which is most of them at this point).

I won’t name-names for now, but some other major DAP brands have products that have been out for 1-2 years and still aren’t delivering the features/capabilities promised at launch. And yet A&K and Sony are both continuing to add new, never-promised, features, nearly two years into a given product’s life-cycle.

I questioned the A&K value proposition for a long time after their original players, and especially with the various different materials/finishes offered on their 3XX series, but this latest generation has definitely lured me back.

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https://www.astellnkern.com/eng/content/shop/features.asp?mcg=CG110000&mpos=0&scg=CG210210&spos=3&tcg=&tpos=0&gcode=SC35560

KANN Cube. 5 pin mini XLR?

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Well that is just ridiculous lol… I just can’t seem to get on board the DAP train… probably because I don’t have enough FLAC files… streaming is sooo much easier…

How is your new DAP? How does Spotify or other streaming services work with it?

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Spotify and Tune-In Radio work just fine, which, along with FLAC files gives me access to everything I need. A full-fledged Android device (like my Pioneer) would be nice for any app I want, but the A&K SR15 has the essentials in the right size/shape and feature set for me. The sound quality is excellent so far. Best sounding DAP I’ve tried, but I’ve only tried a handful DAPs up to about this price point and majority in the under $300 range. I have not tried anything over $1000 except for in-store demo of the Sony beast.

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The SR15 stands up very well against the competition.

For me … on sound, I’d put it even, or ahead, of the Sony ZX300, depending on your preferences, ahead of the original KAAN (which is close, but has some bass-bloom which isn’t to my taste), the WM1A is just ahead on resolution and image, but otherwise is a little dry in comparison (the WM1A might be a bit more honest, but isn’t quite as enjoyable for me … which was part of why I switched to the WM1Z).

I preferred the SR15 to the QP2R, which is (or was) a $1,295 unit … dynamics on the Questyle were excellent, as was resolution, but overall it was a bit too finicky noise-wise to use with some rather popular IEMs and not quite powerful enough for some of the more common full-size cans. Though it was fabulous with the Focal and Fostex stuff. In particular the SR15 UX really shows up the HiBy-derived interface of the Questyle player.

I much preferred the SR15 to the FiiO and iBasso stuff I’ve had/heard (I’ve not heard the or seen the M11 in the flesh yet). The super-low-noise (utterly silent) background on the A&K player is immediately noticable. And the firmware on the A&K seems a lot better sorted.

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Among other things … A&K just announced a new flagship DAP - the SP2000:

Looks to be very similar in form-factor and mass to the SP1000; notable changes include:

  • Dual AKM 4499EQ DACs
  • 50% More Output Power than SP1000
  • 512 GB internal storage
  • Dual-band WiFi (2.4 & 5 GHz)

Fundamental features seem to be the same.

One major difference between the 4497 and 4499 DAC chips is that the 4497 is a voltage output (doesn’t need an external I/V converter), where as the 4499 is a more typical (for DAC chips) current-mode output. It’ll be interesting to see how the external I/V stage affects the 4499’s measurements relative to the 4497.

Still no 4.4mm socket …

Wonder whether they’ll be able to do an “M” version of this, and if so whether it’ll come down to the same size as the SP1000M.

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Ooo very nice. If I had the cash I’d love to sample a high end Dap. Even my humble Pioneer XDP-300r has been one of my best purchases.

Of potential note, RME used the 4490 because it didn’t feel anything after it was worth it, but they did say the 4499 showed promise.

I’ll take that as an omen that the SP2000 will be solid. I’ve been vaguely looking at DAPs for a while and this might be the one.

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I must stop reading these A&K threads, I drool over them and will never be able to afford one because I keep having to change cell phone due to the drooling!! :smile:

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At the point RME designed the ADI-2 the per unit prices of the 4497 would have pushed their products MSRP up by about $500 (DAC) and $1,000 (Pro).

It also would have required a different architecture as both the 4490 and 4499 are current output devices and the 4497 is voltage out (and requires a much more elaborate handling of all the discrete supply stages than the 4490.

The performance difference between 4497 and 4499 is minimal.

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Some impressions of the SP2000 are that they hear no difference between the SP1000 and the SP2000. Maybe some more subbass with the CU version and more controlled bass overall because of more power, but that’s it. Let’s say that’s true (at least for easy to drive hp like the Stellia), would you (@Torq) say that the Cayin N8 still wouldn’t be beaten soundwise by the new AK flagship?
I‘m just thinking, because buying such an expensive DAP should also be an investment into the future, and the AK has (probably) MQA decoding, it has Qobuz streaming, (I don’t stream, but maybe one day I will?!), it also has 512gb internal memory etc. but on the other hand „sound“ is most important to me, so it’s hard to choose … (or I should say: It would be hard to choose, if I had the money)

Impossible for me to say, since I’ve not heard the SP2000 yet.

I don’t know about them being an investment. And I don’t know of any DAP (nor in general any other audio product, except perhaps BTO boutique tube-amps) that doesn’t loose a substantial chunk of it’s value the moment you open the box. But in terms of delivering a long period of excellent sound, they will do that.

Bear in mind that there’s a immense level of hyperbole in regards to the differences between iterations of competent DAPs and even different versions of the same thing.

For example, with blind comparisons between the different versions of the AK380 (Cu, SS, aluminium) I could never tell any difference in sound between them. I couldn’t measure any difference either, even below audible thresholds.

I suspect the biggest difference between the SP1000 and SP2000 will be in the output stage, and that’s more about power than anything else.


If you want something more future proof, then the Cayin N6ii is modular (you can replace the entire audio-board, with two modules available right now), and can do streaming. And it’s much less expensive than the N8 or the SPx000.

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But you would hear the difference between the SP1000 and the N8 I guess (and prefer the N8)? Ah, if the N8 just would look better!!

„Investment“ … haha, yeah, you’re right :wink:

Yes, there are some audible differences between the SP1000M and the N8. In solid-state modes they’re very small and you’d have to listen for them, with suitably revealing transducers and appropriate source material to really appreciate them. If you’re not listening critically, then I doubt anyone would notice.

Put the N8 in tube mode, and they’re quite different (as it is vs. the N8 in solid-state mode). And that’s how I mostly listen to it. That combined with the Verite is a particularly decadent experience with fantastic synergy.

While the N8 edges out the SP1000M in technical terms even in solid-state mode, it is fair to say that if the N8 didn’t have the tube output option it is likely that I would not have bought one. The SP1000M has a better user experience, is significantly smaller and lighter and can stream from all of the major services and has more useful (parametric) EQ, among other things.

As it is, I like having the SP1000M for travel and streaming, and the N8 for listening around the house/on the deck/transportable purposes. But if anything changes there it’ll be me swapping the SP1000M for an SP2000 (or M) as a pairing with the N8.

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@Torq have you tried streaming Qobuz/Tidal over LDAC from your phone to the N8? Any thoughts on that? More curious than anything else :slight_smile:

Nope, mostly because my phone is an iPhone and does not support LDAC.

The N8 only supports SBC, aptX, LDAC and UAT … no AAC nor aptx HD (etc.), which means from an iPhone it will only do SBC … which isn’t worth it.

Can’t drive the N8 from the iPhone as a wired USB DAC either, without a lot of screwing about, as it always wants to be in charging mode when connected via USB so draws too much power and throws an error.

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Do you also think (or know) if the SP1000 (not the M version) is on par with the solid state output of the N8? Or are there neglectible (or no) sonic differences at all between the flagship model and the „M“ version?

And my second question would be: Is the tube output of the N8 also the best pairing with the Stellia or would you say that they even have a better synergy with the solid-state output (of the N8 or the AK)