I found out about this product a couple of weeks ago and was firstly really surprised to hear that Astell&Kern, known for their highend portable products, would be entering the highend audio market, secondly I was really surprised by the price at £8999, this was going to have to be really good.
Luckily for me, the Astell&Kern distributors in the UK, Computers Unlimited, had the only model in the UK and unbelievably they kindly agreed to lend it to me to play with and have a listen to. Firstly this is an extremely well built product that really is far heavier than it looks, the styling is certainly interesting but there is going to be a matching power amp with a dedicated stand that will finish the look off.
So what exactly is it? Well in short, it is a highend cd ripper, network player and pre-amplifier, basically just add a power amp and you are ready to go, saying that it has a headphone out so you could use it as a stand alone desktop solution. This version comes with a 1TB SSD drive built in, so that will add to the price significantly, there will also larger drive options going forward. Where this product really wins though is that it has its own internal battery which in theory will improve the sound quite dramatically, much like the Chord Hugo, I can see this approach being adopted by many more products going forward. The battery can be charged whilst the unit is being played but this isn’t recommended as it will degrade the sound slightly, you have the option in the menu to either charge when being played or when in standby.
Also there is the touch screen which works very well indeed, if you have used any of the recent AK portable players you will be straight at home with the interface, we ripped a couple of CD’s to WAV, to be fair this did take quite a while but it is no effort to just let it rip whilst you are listening to something else. It is also seen as a server so other streamers can access the music, we used our Naim NDS to play some music from it and also you can access music stored on other servers from the AK500N, so it really is an extremely versatile product.
We hooked it up to a pair of Bryston 7B SST2 Mono Blocks and a pair of PMC Twenty.26’s to see how it sounded, needless to say that it was very good indeed, I used a variety of music and the same signature sound came through, very open and detailed but with a nice touch or warmth to give it that slightly analogue sound, apparently there will be an app coming shortly which will make the user experience a little better as at the moment you have to go up to the screen to use it.
So to sum up it is a great product if a little quirky looking and expensive but for people that are looking for the ultimate network player then this really should be listened to as with some innovative features like the battery power, Internal SSD storage and excellent pre-amp it really could offer a great solution to many audiophiles out there.
We will have it here until January 2nd if you’d like to come and have a listen, please find a few specs and pictures below -
[*]Cirrus Logic CS4398 x2 (Dual DAC)
[*]One click CD-ripping
[*]Easy DLNA-based networking
[*]PCM to DSD
[*]4 BAY SSD
[*]Uses a built-in battery for noise isolation
[*]Multiple input and output connections