Astell & Kern AK240 HD-audio player Review
The iPod is the ubiquitous portable player of any budget, and has the lower end market pretty much sealed up.
But what if you are a discerning audiophile that wants to have go at something that plays your lossless music with the same resolution and definition you are accustomed to at home?
For those in this position, there are many options that will cost many times the price of that iPod, and will need better cans or IEMs than those commonly associated with the iPod, but here we have one of the more premium ones in the form of the Astell & Kern AK240 HD-audio player.
First the technical blurb:
It offers DSD playback, a micro SD slot, 256 Gb of hard disk space, and a balanced output as well as the usual 3.5mm headphone out. The DAC uses a Cirrus Logic CS4398 chip.
It retails for around 2000 Euros or under $3300…
For that you are probably expecting some serious fidelity, and it’s quite a device, with a hewn from a single piece of metal heft, and it looks a little like a pocket camera when you first pick it up.
It supports FLAC, WAV, ALAC, AIFF, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, DFF, and DSF music formats. There’s a touchscreen for naviation as well as play, volume up and down buttons and a wheel if you don’t like the touchscreen.
I used it with some basic cans like the Sennheiser HD 414, UE Superfi and later tried it with the Beyerdynamic DT 880 and others.
It performs well with the less demanding cans and IEMs but it had some difficulty driving the DT 880, and you won’t be using this combination on the road anyway.
The impression was that of a very neutral sound, with an even tone, and no emphasis of any part of the frequencies, and will go well with warm to neutral systems. You get plenty of details and personally I am fond of open cans rather than IEMs, and it’s pretty nice with the expanded soudstage and details. IEMs will do nicely on the move though, and you get some very decent bass extension.
I also compared it to the headphone stage of my Marantz PM 11 and NA 11, and there was little to choose between them, with the two Marantz systems more capable of driving tough to drive cans, and a slightly warmer sound.
The interface is simple, but it does not work with the iTunes / Apple environment, so beware if you are coming from an iTunes setup.
So will you part with more than three grand to get this? It depends a lot on who you are and how demanding you are of your portable music listening experience.
Most of the average Joe consumer won’t understand the need for such high fidelity, but the discerning listening with higher demands will enjoy this and find that the money was well spent.
The noise level is very low, and you can get a decent run from the internal batteries (about 10 hours) and you really eke every ounce of music out of that recording, allowing you the luxury to take your collection of music on the road.
But the main caveat is the word luxury I guess… it’s as expensive as 10 iPod Classics, and does it sound ten times better? Well, not really, but that’s life in the world of diminishing returns in high end music.
If the price doesn’t deter you, this is one very solid piece of equipment, the Rolls Royce of portable players...
I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.