Astell&Kern


#1

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 …


#2

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!


#3

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.