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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