If you’re an average music lover, then you might be content with listening to music through Spotify and regular earphones. However, audiophiles who are extra particular about sound quality might want something more detailed and precise. As a result, many audiophiles use Astell & Kern products to satisfy their need for both sound quality and portability. Which ones are the best for you? Let’s find out.
What Is Astell & Kern?
If you’re not particular about your music listening experience, then you might not have heard of Astell and Kern before. Perhaps you’re just now getting into high-fidelity (Hi-Fi) music, and you’re beginning to look for a portable solution. Well, you’ve come to the right place (and the right brand). A&K is here to give you exactly what you need.
To put it simply, Astell & Kern produces modern portable music players, similar to MP3 players of the past. However, what makes it different from old MP3 players is that it prioritizes high-quality sound. You see, the MP3 format might be convenient to save storage and keep music portable. However, it loses a lot of detail, ambiance, and resolution because it compresses files. With Astell & Kern audio players, you don’t have to make that sacrifice.
That’s because Astell & Kern has found a way to bring Mastering Quality Sound (MQS) to you through a portable package. Its media players are small enough to carry in a bag but powerful enough to give you studio-quality music. With it, you can listen to music from your Kern library sounding the same as how they were recorded.
What Is Hi-Fi Music?
If you’re new to Hi-Fi music, then you might not have even heard of the term before. You might have seen an Astell & Kern AK120 review and have come to wonder what the term means.
Simply put, Hi-Fi music is music with excellent quality audio that makes it sound like you’re “with the artists.” It delivers high-resolution uncompressed audio, so you don’t lose any detail, no matter how small, when you listen. As a result, Hi-Fi sounds way better than music made with cheap equipment or what you hear on the radio. Additionally, it has very low distortion, nearly no noise, and provides dynamic spatial and channel separation.
The catch with Hi-Fi music is that it isn’t always easily accessible. Average streaming services like Amazon, Spotify, or Apple Music don’t exactly deliver hi-res quality. On the other hand, some high-resolution streaming services like Tidal or Qobuz might do the trick.
Moreover, listening to Hi-Fi music also requires good equipment, such as high-quality ear monitors that can deliver lossless quality. Cheap, regular earphones and headphones (or even more expensive ones like Apple’s AirPods Max) won’t cut it. In addition, most smartphones don’t offer high-res quality out of the box. That’s where having a separate portable music player, like Astell & Kern, comes in.
Best Astell & Kern Portable Music Players
With all that said, which Astell & Kern portable music player is the best in the business? Here are our top picks for the best Astell & Kern products in 2021.
Astell & Kern is one of the most prominent music player brands in the industry — and it’s no surprise why. It delivers top-notch sound quality in a portable package and often provides great price-to-quality ratios. The Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 is a great example of one such product.
With the SE180, you get incredibly immersive sound quality, convenient features, and a great user experience. It has a modular design, allowing you to be flexible about your choice of digital-to-analog converter (DAC) modules. Hence, if you’re the type who likes to experiment with your sound quality, it’s the perfect model to get.
In addition, the SE180’s modularity also benefits folks who have a wide variety of headphones. That’s because it can support 2.5mm, 3.5mm, and 4.4mm outputs to cater to all kinds of listeners. Moreover, the device also sports 256 GB of built-in storage (expandable up to 1 TB via microSD). With it, you’ll have ample space for high-quality audio files ready to go.
Apart from these, the Astell & Kern SE180 also provides many other features. These include direct support for Wi-Fi, streaming apps, a wide variety of file types, and a USB-C connection. Moreover, it’s also intuitive to use and doesn’t take much to get used to. Perhaps the only downside is how incredibly expensive it (and its extra DAC modules) cost. That’s because it costs almost $1,500 on Amazon.
Another one of the more expensive models on this list is the Astell & Kern A&future SE200. Like the SE180, it features tons of customization features that can help you personalize your listening experience. For example, you can choose the kind of DAC you want and fine-tune your music using the various audio filters.
Moreover, the Astell & Kern SE200 also provides dual chips: one from ESS and another from AKM. With both, you can choose which kind of sound performance you prefer without buying a separate player.
Apart from these flexibility features, the Astell & Kern SE200 also provides all the basics you’d want in a music player. For example, it has 256 GB of storage with expansion capabilities via microSD. The player can go for 14 hours on a charge and has a decent build overall. Lastly, it’s also easily accessible if you don’t know where to buy Astell & Kern products. That’s because you can go on Amazon and purchase the SE200 from $1,800 to $2,200.
Flagship and higher-end Astell & Kern products may have tons of convenient features. However, the price of those products alone might be enough to deter even the most particular audiophiles. If you’re looking for something that costs less than $1,000, we recommend the Astell & Kern AK70.
With the AK70, you get all the basics you’d need from an Astell & Kern portable music player. These include built-in 64 GB of storage (with microSD expandable storage) and a naturally balanced but accurate sound. Moreover, it also has great headphone/speaker connectivity and even supports Bluetooth devices.
In addition, it’s also incredibly flexible as it can double as a DAC and even supports Wi-Fi connectivity. The AMOLED touchscreen is also amply bright and crisp, providing great visuals to accompany the precise sound. Moreover, it also has an intuitive interface that Android users will undoubtedly be familiar with.
However, the AK70 isn’t perfect as it is somewhat of a budget Astell & Kern product. You can see this in the low 64 GB baseline storage it provides, which isn’t much if for high-quality audio files. Moreover, it isn’t exactly fun to hold as the model features sharp edges and corners. Nonetheless, if you want great performance without a flagship smartphone price, the AK70 is tough to beat.
The Astell & Kern AK Jr is one of the best alternatives to premium-level Astell & Kern devices. It delivers no-nonsense features and is relatively straightforward to use. With it, you get all the necessities, including support for several file types, expandable storage, and high-resolution audio. Moreover, all of this is delivered in a classy, beautifully designed body.
Unfortunately, because Astell & Kern Jr is a budget-friendly device, the company did cut some corners here and there. For example, you only get 64 GB of baseline storage which isn’t enough, even for modern smartphones. Moreover, the touchscreen isn’t super responsive, and the battery life is subpar, providing only 9 hours of listening time. Lastly, it doesn’t have a built-in Wi-Fi connection despite having Bluetooth on board.
Nonetheless, if you want something that sounds good but won’t cost a lot, the AK Jr is a good choice. The interface is pretty user-friendly, and overall, it’s enough to give audiophiles a great experience. Moreover, since Astell & Kern products are built well, you can save money and still use them for a long time.
Another great, budget-friendly product from the A&K brand is the Astell & Kern A&Norma SR15. With it, you can access the most important components of a portable music player without breaking the bank. These include a user-friendly interface, high-resolution audio file support, and the ability to be used as a preamp or DAC.
Most importantly, the Astell & Kern SR15 sounds beautifully clear without feeling too overpowering. If you want something that’s lightyears ahead of a regular smartphone’s audio quality, then the SR15 is a solid choice. Moreover, you can most likely find it at discounted prices because the model already has a successor.
Unfortunately, being a budget-friendly product does come with downsides. These compromises come in shorter battery life and smaller base storage (64 GB, expandable). In addition, the design of the Astell & Kern SR15, quite frankly, looks unappealing. Nonetheless, if you’re willing to work with the trade-offs, it should last you years more than your smartphone.
The SR15 is a great budget-friendly product and should suit the tastes of many audiophiles. However, if you want something a little higher in quality, we recommend the Astell & Kern A&norma SR25. With it, you get better sound, longer battery life, and an improved UI that adds to the quality of life.
Of course, a lot of these improvements are incremental compared to the SR15. For example, the Astell & Kern SR25 now uses USB-C instead of micro USB and provides a 21-hour battery life. Moreover, it also sports a larger and better display overall.
However, what truly makes the SR25 stand out is that its audio quality has improved tremendously over the SR15. According to What Hi-Fi?, it’s more “expressive and eloquent” and sounds much better than any other smartphone. Hence, it’s something we can easily recommend to those who want the best possible sound at a relatively low price.
Granted, the Astell & Kern SP1000M isn’t the newest AK player. However, it still holds up as a premium device with excellent quality and a beautiful build. It’s small, lightweight, and easier to carry around compared to other Astell & Kern products.
Apart from these, the SP1000M also sports 128 GB of baseline storage. You can expand it up to 1 TB, which should be enough for most of the music you’d like to play. Moreover, the sound quality is clear, noiseless, and detailed enough to justify the price tag. In fact, you can hardly find anything wrong with the music quality regardless of what you listen to.
Unfortunately, it does come with some quirks that we’d rather not have. For example, the controls are somewhat finicky despite the premium build. Moreover, the Astell & Kern SP1000M is extremely expensive and wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice. That is unless, of course, you’re incredibly rich.
Lastly, this Astell & Kern product could use a larger battery. We understand the thing is portable, but it’s a bit inconvenient with the battery lasting only 10 hours. Nonetheless, if you want only the best sound and can afford the ridiculous price, the SP1000M is an excellent choice.
The Astell & Kern SP1000M might sound insanely wonderful, but it’s more expensive than even a desktop computer. That’s why we recommend the Astell & Kern Kann for those who want high-quality music at a reasonable price. Of course, that affordable price sits somewhere between budget Astell & Kern products and its high-end flagships.
With the Kann, you get a great set of features at a smartphone-level price. It sounds balanced and detailed, provides excellent support for file types, and can last 14 hours on a charge. There’s no doubt that this thing can showcase what Hi-Fi truly is, whether for you to appreciate or show off.
However, when it comes to the design, the Astell & Kern Kann might be a little peculiar. It’s certainly much chunkier than other Astell & Kern products, so it’s not exactly the most appealing. Moreover, it only provides 64 GB of baseline (with dual-SD expandable) storage. Nonetheless, if you want great power, performance, and an accessible price tag, it’s a strong contender.
Lastly, we have the Astell & Kern Kann Alpha, one of the best in sound quality that provides premium features. It has most of what you’ll want, including faultless sound quality, Bluetooth 5.0, and a powerful headphone amplifier. Moreover, it’s smaller than the Kann with even better power (albeit with a slightly higher price tag).
If you search the internet, you’ll find no shortage of Kann Alpha reviews. Much of these are positive, and we can understand why. After all, its main selling point, the sound quality, can be tough to beat. It provides punchy bass, incredible detail and feels expansive as you’re listening to music. Hence, you can’t go wrong with this choice if you want to truly immerse yourself in high-res sound.
In addition, the Alpha also provides great features. For example, it supports tons of high-res file formats and even supports several wireless codecs. Moreover, the 14.5-hour battery life is ample, and it can even stream music from various services via Wi-Fi.
However, the Kann Alpha isn’t perfect and does have some cons to it. For example, the streaming service compatibility feature can be a little wonky, so it isn’t the smoothest experience. Moreover, while the Alpha has expandable storage, it only provides 64 GB of baseline storage. Nonetheless, if you have a little more money, we’d recommend the Kann Alpha over the Kann for better overall quality.
What to Look For in a Portable Music Player
There are all kinds of portable music players in the industry. You have “cheap” ones that cost less than $500 and top-of-the-line flagships that can cost over $3,000. Nonetheless, regardless of what you get, there are a couple of considerations you have to think of before hitting “purchase.”
The first, and arguably, most important consideration is certainly the price. Most, if not all, of these Astell & Kern devices deliver premium audio quality that should be good for most people. Of course, some sound better than others, but they’re all miles ahead of regular smartphones. Hence, you must narrow down your purchasing decision based on your budget first.
Second is the specs and features that the Astell & Kern music player provides. Check everything: the sampling rate, file formats supported, audio jacks included, DAC capabilities, etc. Carefully consider which features are most important to you. Afterward, narrow down your list based on a handful of must-have features and specs.
Third, we have the build quality. Of course, most Astell & Kern music players are built to last for a long time. In fact, they should last longer than your average smartphone if you’re careful enough with them. However, it’s still important to check reviews for faults or tendencies a model might be prone to.
Lastly, we have the design. Admittedly, most of these Astell & Kern devices aren’t pretty to look at. They’re all pretty chunky, blocky, and loud compared to the modern, sleek & slim trend. However, there are some products on the list that look a bit more modern and classy. Moreover, some are smaller, making them more portable (with a few trade-offs).
While it mostly depends on personal preferences, using an audio player sure has many advantages compared to streaming music on your smartphone. Astell & Kern definitely delivers the best in sound quality, usability, and design. So, take your pick from our selection above and start listening to high-quality music today!