Gadget news
Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player review: another huge step forward in energetic, open sound
1:00 pm | June 21, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Portable Media Players | Tags: , | Comments: Off

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T: One-minute review

The Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T is just the latest demonstration of the South Korean manufacturer's best-in-class philosophy in action. Astell & Kern makes no apologies where the pricing of its digital audio players is concerned and, more often than not, its products turn out to be well worth their considerable asking price. 

Fortunately, the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T looks and feels like a premium product should and it’s specified to do the audio business in style, too. There are numerous technical highlights to its extremely thorough specification, but the real stand-out is Astell & Kern’s use of your actual, genuine vacuum tubes in the amplification stage. Thought valve amplification was just for massive, and massively expensive, old-school hi-fi separates? Think again.

On top of its technical credentials, the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T is a lovely item in a fairly substantial way. It’s made from silver-plated stainless steel, for instance. Its controls are beautifully implemented. And its operating system is as stable and logical as they come. 

But the best thing about the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T is the sound it makes. Truly, it is one of the best MP3 players around and then some. Listening to hi-res audio through decent headphones and it just sings – it expertly handles every technical aspect of music reproduction, but without losing sight of the fact that it’s supposed to be entertaining. So it’s a delight in pretty much every respect.  

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T review: Price and release date

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player on a white surface

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)
  • Priced at $2,999 / £3,199 / AU$5,299

The Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T is on sale now, and in the United Kingdom it will set you back £3,199. In America it goes for a marginally more reasonable $2,999, while in Australia it will cost you AU$5,299. 

That’s a lot, isn’t it, for something that (on the face of it) doesn’t do anything your smartphone can’t do?

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T review: Features

The Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player displaying left input stage

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)
  • Bluetooth 5.0; SBC, AAC, aptX HD and LDAC codec compatibility
  • 32bit/768kHz and DSD512
  • Vacuum tube amplifications

Well, it doesn’t take long to show that ‘it doesn’t do anything your smartphone can’t do’ nonsense for what it is, does it? Yes, this is a digital audio player and so is your smartphone – but by this rationale a rowing-boat is the same as a yacht.

Perhaps the obvious sign that this is a device specified without compromise to make your portable music experience as enjoyable as possible is the Astell & Kern's three-mode amplification. The A&ultima SP3000T uses a pair of Raytheon JAN6418 miniature vacuum tubes – actually military-valves – in its amplification stage. Each pair is carefully matched, and then equally carefully suspended in a full-on silicone PCB arrangement to guard against noise derived from vibration or minor shocks to the player's chassis. And then you can select ‘Tube Amp’ mode to enjoy what Astell & Kern calls ‘the natural warmth of a vacuum tube amplifier’. Of course, you could go with the more usual ‘OP Amp’ mode (for ‘expansive soundstage and crystal-clear resolution’) or a mix of the two with ‘Hybrid Amp’ mode (‘the richness of analogue blended with high-resolution clarity’). 

Obviously, you’ll investigate the sonic characteristics of each of these options, but it’s worth pointing out here that if you select ‘Tube’ or ‘Hybrid’ mode, the vacuum tubes themselves glow redly through a little window on the rear of the player. Which is disproportionately satisfying.

The Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player in hybrid mode, with red glowing vacuum tubes

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Elsewhere, Astell & Kern has been just as thorough. The audio circuit configuration, for example, calls for two AKM 4191EQ DACs to act as digital delta-sigma modulators to reduce noise from the input stage on the left and right channels independently before a couple of AKM AK4499EX DAC chipsets process the analogue signals. After all this complicated work has been done, the SP3000T offers a choice of six DAC filters to further finesse the eventual sound.

A Snapdragon 6125 octa-core processor with 8GB of DDR4 memory takes care of user interaction. It promises fast system operation and a stable, smooth user interface and the CPU, memory and wireless communication components are all grouped as a single system-on-chip for optimum efficiency as well as minimal heat and digital noise.

The SP3000T uses Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless connectivity and is compatible with SBC, AAC, aptX HD and LDAC codecs. Dual-band Wi-Fi means the player can be Roon Ready (and also means it’s simplicity itself to install your favourite music streaming service apps). It can support digital audio files of every type, and is compatible with file sizes of up to 32bit/768kHz and DSD512. By using Astell & Kern’s DAR (digital audio remaster) technology, sample rates can be increased in an effort to maximise sound quality – 44.1kHz content, for instance, can be upscaled to 352.8kHz and anything below 96kHz can be converted to DSD128.

The 5050mAh battery is good for around 10 hours of playback - although it’s worth bearing in mind that that figure applies to 16bit/44.1kHz content heard at moderate volume. The figure when listening to properly high-resolution stuff at bigger levels is considerably less. Charging the SP3000T from ‘flat’ to ‘full’ takes a leisurely 3.5 hours or thereabouts.

Internal memory is a useful-but-hardly-spectacular 256GB. Happily, there’s a microSD card slot on the bottom of the player that can accept cards of up to 1TB.

Features score: 5 / 5

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T review: Sound quality

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player playing Chick Corea's Return to Forever FLAC file

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)
  • Spacious and well-defined sound
  • Detailed and dynamic in equal measure
  • End-user options don’t impact performance all that radically

It almost goes without saying that the bigger the digital audio file you listen to the better, and the more accomplished the headphones you use the better, too. But unlike quite a few digital audio players at quite a few price-points, the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T doesn’t hold you to ransom. It just makes the best of the situation in which it finds itself.

And what’s equally noteworthy is just how consistent the SP3000T sounds, no matter how you might try to influence it with your amplification and/or DAC filter choices. There are differences to be heard, of course, but they’re far from fundamental. At its heart, and in pretty much every circumstance, the Astell & Kern is an eloquent, entertaining and absolutely wide-open performer. 

A listen to a 24bit/96kHz file of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever using ‘Hybrid’ amplification and ‘short delay slow roll-off’ DAC filtering allows the SP3000T to really show what it’s made of. It’s a spacious, rigorously defined listen, with a huge amount of dynamic headroom available in order to track the numerous changes in volume and intensity the recording indulges in. It allows even the most complex recordings the space in which to operate and manages to tie every individual element of a recording together in order to present it as a whole.

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player displaying adjustable volume levels

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

The tonal balance – naturalistic and convincing, whether you’re listening to processed, electronic music or analogue recordings of analogue instruments – is beautifully judged, too. Low frequency information is deep and textured, straight-edged at the moment of attack and rhythmically positive as a result. The midrange is similarly detailed, which allows vocalists of all kinds the opportunity to describe their character and attitude as well as their technique. The top of the frequency range has shine and substance in more-or-less equal measure and, just as with every other area of the frequency range, is absolutely loaded with detail. It seems unlikely in the extreme that the Astell & Kern is overlooking any information in your favourite recordings, no matter how fleeting or minor – and it puts them into appropriate context with real positivity, too.

Some alternative players that get all this sort of technical stuff right can overlook the simple fact that music = entertainment, though, and indulge in the sort of analysis that makes them sound more like lab equipment. The SP3000T is having none of that. It’s an energetic, entertaining listen that prioritizes the enjoyment of music over the minutiae of how it’s been recorded. Which is why you’ll find yourself listening for longer than you expected, time after time.

Sound quality score: 5 / 5

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T review: Design

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player showing a knurled volume control with light behind the knob

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)
  • Silver-plated stainless steel
  • 142 x 85 x 18mm (HxWxD)
  • 483g

As is standard Astell & Kern operating practice, the A&ultima SP3000T is pointily angular, and is the sort of weight (483g) and size (142 x 85 x 18mm, HxWxD) that manages to feel expensive without ruining its portability. As long as you’ve a nice strong pocket to put it in, anyway.

The frame of the player is made from 316L stainless steel, plated with 99.9 per cent pure silver, which looks and feels about as luxe as you might imagine. The bottom edge features a USB-C socket alongside that microSD card slot, and the left side has four little playback control buttons. The right side, meanwhile, features the company’s trademark knurled volume control in a deep, interestingly shaped recess. There’s a light behind the control – its colour depends on the type and size of the digital audio file that’s playing. 

On the player’s top edge there’s a power on/off button and all the outputs. There are 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced headphone sockets and a 3.5mm unbalanced alternative which also doubles as a digital optical output.

The front of the machine is almost entirely touchscreen. It’s a big (5.5in) number of 1080 x 1920 resolution, it’s bright and crisp, and it’s responsive, too. Navigating menus, investigation playback options, loading apps and what-have-you can all be done easily and quickly.

It's also worth nothing that – for reasons best left to Astell & Kern itself – the case is made from calfskin. Vegans, and anyone opposed to using animal products in general, should look away now.

Design score: 5 / 5 

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T review: Value

Top of an Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player, showing microSD port

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Obviously this is a madly expensive device by prevailing standards ($2,999 / £3,199 / AU$5,299). And obviously it’s not easy to make a product that is, by necessity, small enough to be realistically portable. But the SP3000T is beautifully made, from premium materials, is specified like there’s no tomorrow and is able to deal with each and every file type and size you might consider listening to. 

And, most significantly of all, it’s an uncomplicatedly delightful listen. Does it represent ‘value’? To those who want the best around and are able to pay for it, the answer has to be ‘yes’.  

Should I buy the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T?

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player aux out ports

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)

Buy it if... 

Don't buy it if... 

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T review: Also consider

How I tested the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000T portable music player side view controls

(Image credit: Future / Simon Lucas)
  • Tested for over a week
  • Tested with streamed and downloaded content
  • Tested with wired and wireless headphones

I installed my Qobuz and TIDAL accounts and I loaded the player with a lot of high-resolution content, too, from 24bit/96kHz stuff up to DSD128. I used expensive over-ear and in-ear headphones via the 4.4mm and 2.5mm outputs, as well as considerably less expensive true wireless earbuds connected via Bluetooth. 

I investigated amplification, DAC filter and EQ options. And then I listened to a variety of music, for several hours a day for well over a week. And then, rather tragically, I had to return the SP3000T to its owners… 

  • First reviewed in June 2024
Mechen M3 review: A jack of all trades digital audio player but a master at none
11:00 am | May 19, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Portable Media Players | Tags: , | Comments: Off

Mechen M3: Three-minute review

The Mechen M3 appears to be feature-rich on the surface but when it comes down to it, it's not the most talented of music players. Because of this, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that Mechen’s engineers were so preoccupied with whether they could do certain things, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

Mechen is a Chinese tech company that sells a small range of MP3 players. If you’ve seen one of them, it’s probably because you’ve found it listed on Amazon alongside a small army of similar low-cost Chinese MP3 players.

Most of the best cheap MP3 players focus on nailing one area: maybe they’ve got great file support for music tracks, or they have a lightweight and easily-portable design, or they have loads of space for music. Mechen’s angle is to go for breadth instead of depth: it’s not just an MP3 player but a portable video player, a mini eReader, a little recording device and more.

However, to return to that Jurassic Park quote from the opening, Mechen has seemingly stuffed in lots of these features without making sure that they’re worth including in the first place.

File format support for both video and e-book functionality is incredibly limited, missing out on most of the standard files you’ll probably have in your library – and then, if you spend ages poring over a file converter to transform your library into a compatible one, you’ll still be viewing these videos or pages on an absolutely tiny display.

Similarly the touch-screen is a neat feature in an MP3 player this cheap, but the interface doesn’t seem to have been designed with a touch-screen in mind. Navigation beyond the main menu is annoying and hard, and in my testing I often just gave up and started listening to whatever music was already in front of me.

That’s not to say that the Mechen M3 is rubbish. It can record your voice and also audio from a device connected via the 3.5mm jack, which could be really handy in certain situations. It also has a design that’s surprisingly premium-feeling for its price.

And at the end of the day, this is an incredibly cheap MP3 player that… well, plays MP3s. So if that’s all you need, it’s fit for purpose – it’s just a shame about all the failed attempts at making it more than that to compete with the best MP3 players.

Mechen M3 review: Price and release date

The Mechen M3 on a tree stump.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Costs $39.99 / £29.99 / AU$59.99
  • Available since January 2024

The Mechen M3 is positioned at the low end of the MP3 player price scale: you can pick it up for $39.99 / £29.99 / AU$59.99, and often for between 10%-25% less thanks to frequent sales on Amazon.

At that price, you’re probably finding this MP3 listed alongside countless similar affordable MP3 players, all with similar feature sets and specs.

It’s a relatively new MP3 player, having only been listed on Amazon from early January, so it’s a little more up-to-date than some rival devices which stay listed on the site for years.

Mechen M3 review: Features

The Mechen M3 being held in a hand.

(Image credit: Future)
  • 64GB memory, expandable to 128GB
  • Offers video playback, eReader, FM radio, images and more...
  • ...but only select file formats, which hampers functionality

There are an absolutely massive number of features offered by the Mechen MP3, including some that’ll have very particular uses for savvy users.

For starters, this ‘MP3 player’ lets you view a range of other file types beyond MP3s, and beyond audio ones in general. From the homepage you can see options for music, video, radio, photos and more.

Let’s start with the radio: if you’re using wired headphones, you can tune into FM radio and even record live radio onto the Mechen. Why wired headphones? Well it’s because they act as an antennae, so you won’t be able to use Bluetooth connectivity for the radio.

The Mechen offers the ability for you to watch videos you’ve uploaded… with the massive caveat that they have to be AVI or AMV file types. That means the most common file formats like MP4, MOV, FLV and WMV are all out the window. I found an AVI file to test, but for some reason it still wouldn’t play on the device.

This same issue affects the eReader functionality. Almost all the standards are out: no PDF, no EPUB, no CBR, no MOBI, obviously none of the Kindle file formats. Instead, all you can read is TXT files, like what Notepad creates – my lengthy eReader library features exactly none of this type of file.

Mechen has also put in a voice recorder into its M3, so you can leave yourself voice notes or record meetings, but it’s expanded that in a neat way. If you connect a music-playing device to the Mechen via a 3.5mm - 3.5mm audio cable, you can record from that other device straight onto the Mechen.

In theory that’s great, though as always there are some kinks. If you’re recording set audio, you need to manually make sure it’s synced up. Plugging the Mechen to your device overrides the audio-out so, if you’re trying to record a call, you won’t actually be able to hear what the other person is saying. Plus, there are plenty of legal questions that’ll depend on your region and app; for example, Spotify bans the recording of songs in this manner.

What’s left on the homepage? There are stopwatch, calendar, alarm and theme-toggling options which all do what you’d expect.

The Mechen has Bluetooth functionality, so you can connect it to speakers, headphones or earbuds if you’d rather use them than wired audio. Curiously Mechen’s website lists the device as supporting Bluetooth 5.0 but Amazon bumps that to Bluetooth 5.3.

By default there’s 64GB on-board storage on the Mechen, which is a decent amount for the price. Using a microSD card you can bump that up by 128GB storage, which allows for loads of music, video or text files.

In terms of battery life, Mechen generally states 500mAh without giving a figure on how much entertainment this actually is; that’s because it’ll depend on what kind of format you’re using. I managed to get through many hours of music streaming without the battery dropping much, but battery use will increase a lot if you’re mainly looking at videos or reading with the display always on.

  • Features score: 2.5/5

Mechen M3 review: Sound quality

The Mechen M3 on a tree stump.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Neutral sound though with some peaking
  • In-box headphones aren't great

The M3 plays a few different file formats including MP3, WAV, FMA and FLAC, all pretty standard options. There’s no on-board equalizer so you’re going to have to listen to what you get.

Your sound will mostly depend on which headphones you decide to use alongside the Mechen M3; as a word of advice I’d tell you to avoid using the in-box ones because they sound absolutely terrible. The M3 also has a built-in speaker but this sounds even worse – don’t use it!

Generally speaking, the Mechen M3’s sound is fairly neutral. It tends ever so slightly towards treble over bass, but not so much that it’ll annoy anyone with particular tastes.

I did notice some peaking across the board, and on headphones that really shouldn’t be exhibiting it, so I imagine audiophiles won’t be impressed by the audio capabilities of the M3.

  • Sound quality score: 3/5

Mechen M3 review: Design

The Mechen M3 on a tree stump.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Small body but heavy
  • Premium design with glass body
  • Five different color options

The Mechen M3 is quite small as MP3 players go – this isn’t a massive smartphone-replacement that’ll burn a hole in your pocket. It’s just 1 cm thick, 5 cm in width and  7cm tall, which makes it roughly one third the size of my smartphone.

I’ve felt lighter MP3 players though. It tips the scales to the tune of 87g, in part thanks to its glass and metal build which feels pretty premium for a low-cost device like this. While glass tech gadgets can be a little fragile, a silicon case included in the box will let the device survive a drop or two.

The earlier comparison to a smartphone stands for lots of the device’s design: it has a small screen on the front with a fairly thick bezel and chin, a volume rocker and power button on the right edge above the USB-C port, a microSD card slot on the left edge and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom. Squint, and this is basically a smartphone.

That display is 2.4-inches across diagonally, with a resolution of 240 x 320, and unlike many same-price rivals it’s a touch screen. It’s not especially bright, but it’s fit for purpose if you’re not using it in direct sunlight.

Mechen offers five color options for the M3: black (as you can see in the review pictures), light blue, pink, purple and red. There’s no difference in these devices beyond the color.

While the premium-looking design sets the Mechen 64GB apart from some similar-priced rivals, the lack of portability consideration like a gap for a strap or lanyard, or a holding clip, does make the device a little awkward to carry around. It’s small enough to totally disappear in your pocket after all!

  • Design score: 4/5

Mechen M3 review: Usability and setup

The Mechen M3 being held in a hand.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Plugs into PC with USB-C cable
  • Main menu is easy to navigate...
  • ...but further menus aren't

The Mechen is pretty easy to set up, but when uploading your files, you’ll need to make sure you have your library in order.

That’s because when you plug the device into your PC, you need to upload different types of file into different areas: eBooks needed to be added to one folder, music to another, pictures to a third and videos to a fourth. You can’t just drag and drop your entire library into one area and expect it to work. It’s not an overly complex task, you just need to make sure your library isn’t one massive list of all the various file formats.

Initially, navigating the M3 is a breeze. Basically everything you need is housed in one of two menu screens, which you can swipe between like the most barebones smartphone in the world. Everything is clearly labelled and easy to find.

It’s when you get into long menus of tracks that things can be a little complicated. Arrows at the bottom let you move one option forward or backward, but if you’ve got hundreds of artists to sift through, that could take a while. Swiping up and down sometimes jumps through pages, but sometimes just didn’t do anything.

If I have another one small gripe, it’s that sometimes the options can be a little small; I’ve got pretty average-sized hands and I often mis-clicked and selected a different option than I intended to.

  • Usability & setup score: 3/5

Mechen M3 review: Value

  • Best considered solely as MP3 player
  • Design feels very premium

Whether you’re just looking for an MP3 player, or an all-in-one mini entertainment device, the Menchen MP3 offers you great value for money.

Despite being very cheap, the Mechen doesn’t feel like a tacky Amazon-filler; it has an impressive number of features for a device so affordable.

  • Value score: 4.5/5

Should I buy the Mechen M3?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Mechen M3 review: Also consider

How I tested the Mechen M3

  • Three-week testing period
  • Pop, rock, classical and spoken word music tested
  • Used at home, in office and on walks

I tested the Mechen M3 alongside several other MP3 players, and it was the last I reviewed, so it enjoyed a three-week testing period.

For the majority of the testing time, I used the Mechen M3's in-box headphones and also the Sony WH-1000XM3s (via Bluetooth and wired). Most of the testing was done listening to music, with a range of genres tested, but I also tried listening to the radio, recording audio from my phone, watching videos and reading eBooks. Not all of these features worked due to file format issues.

As stated I tested the Mechen alongside some of its rival and I have a five-year history of testing various gadgets for TechRadar.

HiFi Walker H2 review: An MP3 player with wide-ranging file support but rough edges
6:00 pm | May 18, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Portable Media Players | Comments: Off

HiFi Walker H2: Four-minute review

The HiFi Walker H2 has carved out a very unique spot itself in the portable media players market. When it comes to MP3 players or digital audio players, the space between the super-cheap Amazon-flooding options and the super-premium bank-account-draining high-end best MP3 players is a no-man’s land. Into that desolate area strides the HiFi Walker H2, which is lovely and premium in some aspects and startlingly rough in others.

HiFi Walker is a Hong Kong-based tech company that, according to its website, only seems to make four products: a bone conduction headphone, an MP3 player carry case, a touch-controlled MP3 player and this, the HiFi Walker H2. I’d put money on the fact that you heard about this device on Amazon, or another shopping website, when looking for a new MP3 player.

So, should you pick up the HiFi Walker H2? Well, that really depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for an alternative to the kinds of feature-flush digital audio player that make up our list of the best MP3 player, then the HiFi Walker H2 might be your best option that doesn’t cost an eye-watering four-figure sum.

The device supports a wide range of audio file types including MP3, WAV, AAC, FLAC and WMA, with a Texas Instruments-made DAC that’s a favorite amongst audiophiles and an on-board equalizer so you can tweak your sounds depending on your tastes and ears.

With two 3.5mm headphone ports, you can plug in headphones or connect the player to your home sound system or vehicle stereo; there’s also Bluetooth compatibility so you can stream wirelessly to other devices or from your smartphone using Qualcomm aptX. The HiFi Walker really ticks as many connectivity options as it can.

If you just care about your listening experience to the exclusion of everything else, then, this is a great device that far undercuts similarly-featured rivals. But that’s at a big expense: in almost every other department, the HiFi Walker is a bit of a dud.

Take the battery life, for example: the device lasts for roughly 10 hours of listening before going flat (a figure which is even lower if you’re listening via Bluetooth). For some people, that’s not even a full working day of listening, and it’s much less than the vast majority of the device’s rivals.

The design is another area that needed a second draft: it’s basically a big bulky block. The glass rear picks up fingerprints quicker than a crime scene investigator and the device weighs down your pocket like a big rock.

Perhaps the most questionable area is the software though, which would be most aptly described as ‘harebrained’. Over the course of my testing the HiFi Walker, I never quite worked out how to get around in a manner beyond ‘pressing random buttons to see what happens’. Sometimes pressing ‘back’ from a song menu will take you onto the music player, other times it’ll take you one step back in the menu list. I could never work out if I should play songs from the ‘explorer’ menu or ‘category’. There are two different settings menus with options randomly scattered between the two.

All of the above is to say, the HiFi Walker H2 has plenty of rough edges, and so it’s really only worth considering if you need great audio and the only cost you care about is the financial one.

HiFi Walker H2 review: Price and release date

The HiFi Walker H2's scroll wheel.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Costs $149 / £129 (roughly AU$230)
  • Not the cheapest, but pretty cheap

The default price of the HiFi Walker is $149 / £129 (roughly AU$230) but you likely don’t need to reach that far into your wallet; at the time of writing, the device is on sale for $120 / £105 (roughly AU$200) and its price seems to fluctuate between these prices, sometimes going even lower.

At that price, this certainly isn’t the cheapest MP3 player we’ve ever tested, and there are options at the mid-two-figures mark that are certainly worth buying if you’re looking for a simple and portable music player.

However some DAPs (digital audio players) on the market go for eye-watering four-figure sums, and a brief perusal of our list of the best MP3 players shows plenty of much more expensive rivals. The HiFi Walker holds its head against some of those, making a decent case as to its place as a budget alternative.

If you see a pricier device on sale, that’s actually the HiFi Walker H2 Touch, a touch-screen version that’s about $20 / £20 more expensive and is different in a few ways. That’s not the device being tested for this review.

HiFi Walker H2 review: Features

The HiFi Walker H2 in a man's hand.

(Image credit: Future)
  • 10-hour battery life max
  • Onboard equalizer is handy
  • Two 3.5mm ports and Bluetooth connectivity options

According to HiFi Walker, the battery life of the H2 is 10 hours of use. Some of you may be wondering something to which the audio-tech-heads already know the answer: no, that’s not very long at all. It’ll be fine for listening at home or on short walks, but don’t expect to take it on long holidays (unless you’ll spend lots of time near a charging port).

I should also mention that users online have reporting a use time that’s somehow even shorter, closer to 8 hours. I tested using wired headphones and 10 felt like a more appropriate estimate, but if you rely on Bluetooth for your listening, this 8-hour figure is probably more apt.

So what features does the HiFi Walker H2 have on board? The first, and perhaps most important, is an onboard equalizer to let you tweak the sound of your music to your ears.

There are various presents including rock, jazz and ‘classic’ (presumably classical), but you can also jump into a custom mode if you dare. This requires an adept understanding of the various navigation hiccups of the H2 (more on that later), but it gives audiophiles a lot of leeway to control their musical experience.

Otherwise, the H2 is distinctly feature-bare. There’s no support for non-musical file formats, no in-device recorder, and relatively little way to customize the device.

The HiFi Walker’s saving grace is its range of connectivity options, which should impress people with lots of gadgets. There are not one but two 3.5mm aux ports, so you can plug in headphones or a jack to connect it to your existing hi-fi systems, and it connects using Bluetooth not just to headphones but to a smartphone as well.

This is done using Qualcomm’s aptX, and it’s meant to let you pull through your phone’s songs onto your HiFi Walker to control it in an extra way… in theory. In practice, the H2 failed to pair with my phone on every occasion, so I never got to test the feature.

  • Features score: 3.5/5

HiFi Walker H2 review: Design

The HiFi Walker H2's ports

(Image credit: Future)
  • Giant black obelisk
  • Heavy, but not too heavy
  • Plenty of buttons across the body

The images that accompany this review aren’t screenshots from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. No, it’s the HiFi Walker H2, which is perhaps cosplaying as the famous monolith, in that it’s a big black rectangle. 

The device measures 5.6 x 1.5 x 8.9cm so it’s about average sized for a DAP: bigger than your cheap MP3 player but not as big as some of the chunky top-end models on the market. However with a weight of 150g it’s really showing its heft; this isn’t gadget you can idly chuck in your pocket or leave on your chest as you doze.

An interesting little design feature is the presence of a gap at the bottom-right of the face of the device, which seemingly looks like it’s for a lanyard or wrist grasp to attach to. One is not included in the box. 

It’s fair to say that the H2 has more buttons in more places than a Bop-It game. The top edge has the power button, the right edge has the volume rocker and an exposed microSD card slot, and the bottom edge has one USB-C and two 3.5mm audio ports.

On the front you’ve got a forward and backward button on the right edge, with a back button below them. To the left you’re looking at an iPad Classic-style scroll wheel with a pause/play button in the middle, and under that is the M button. If you press M during music playback, it brings up a list of options including the equalizer and the option to add the song to your favorites.

The screen measures 2 inches diagonally, with a resolution of 320 x 240. That’s almost fit for purpose – almost but not quite, and so album artwork is generally cropped off for its lower fifth when you’re listening to music. Unlike most rivals it’s not a touchscreen.

Instead, you’re using that scroll wheel to navigate menus. Thankfully it’s nice and responsive, with a little physical ‘click’ at every interval to indicate that you’ve scrolled onto the next option. This may be blasphemous to some, but I think I prefer it to the one on ye olde iPod!

No official IP rating has been provided for the HiFi Walker H2, so don’t take it in the bath with you.

  • Design score: 3/5

HiFi Walker H2 review: Usability and setup

The HiFi Walker H2 memory card

(Image credit: Future)
  • Easy to add files via USB-C
  • Memory card is technically external
  • Confusing interface layout

Adding music the the H2 couldn’t be simpler: you plug it into your computer, drag audio files onto its window and disconnect the device. It couldn’t be simpler!

By default, the HiFi Walker H2 has 64GB memory for storage. I say “by default” instead of “on-board” as there is no on-board storage, and this 64GB is thanks to a microSD card lodged in the side of the device. Remove it and you can’t listen to music; you can swap it for a higher-storage option up to 256GB for more space though.

This could be really useful for people who really want to easily swap between, for example, their jazz cards, or their opera cards, or their pop-rock cards. However for the average user, this is just a potential tiny piece of tech to use — particularly because the card is literally poking out of the H2’s body, and you can eject it by pressing it.

If you find the thought of juggling microSD cards daunting, then maybe click off this review now, because the process of actually navigating the HiFi Walker’s menus is an absolute nightmare.

The user interface layout of this MP3 player is illogical and confusing. It’s easy to sum this up by pointing out one thing: there are four options on the main menu: ‘category’, ‘explorer’, ‘settings’ and ‘system settings’. To make that clear; the first duo are two different ways to scroll through your music library, the second duo are two different lists of settings.

So which of those options do you press in order to explore your library of songs? If you picked ‘explore’ you’re wrong, it’s category. What about to change the system-wide wallpaper? If you picked ‘system settings’, you’re once again wrong, it’s just ‘settings’.

The myriad buttons you have at your disposal are confusing too, not least because they seem to do different things. Sometimes when you’re in a menu, hovering over a song, the M button will add a song to your favorites. Other times it’ll prompt you to start a new playlist, and in some other circumstances it’ll just act like the ‘select’ button. Same as with the back button and foward/backward buttons too.

Honestly, navigation in general is a pain, and it took me a while to figure out how to get around the user interface — after two weeks of testing, I sometimes still get lost. If you own this product, here’s my helpful tip: pressing the power button once just turns off the screen, and you need to press and hold to turn the whole system off.

As a reviewer, I probably shouldn’t also gripe about spelling and grammar mistakes in the user interface… but as a writer, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring that up too!

  • Usability & setup score: 3/5

HiFi Walker H2 review: Sound quality

The HiFi Walker H2 on a metal table.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Neutral sound
  • Plenty of file formats supported

I’m going to give it to the HiFi Walker: this review has been fairly middling, but it’s ticking all the boxes when it comes to sound quality.

The player’s default sound quality is slap-bang neutral: don’t expect any booming basses or shrill trebles here. It’s inoffensive but lovely and balanced.

I say ‘lovely’ because the equaliser is right there: you’ve got a nice blank slate so you can tweak the sound to your heart’s content.

The H2 plays loads of different file formats; whether your library is saved in MP3, WMA, WAV, OGG, AIF, AAC or even DSD, you can play them on this device.

  • Sound quality score: 4/5

HiFi Walker H2 review: Value

The HiFi Walker H2 in a man's hand.

(Image credit: Future)
  • Much cheaper than high-end audio players
  • Pricier than budget MP3 players

If all you care about is listening to a range of audio file types on a range of devices, then the HiFi Walker H2 absolutely offers value for money; its price is a fraction of what you’d pay for many rival devices offering similar feature sets.

However if you just want a simple digital audio player so you can listen to tunes when out and about, the H2’s price just won’t be worth it when you consider all the rough edges in the user interface and design.

  • Value score: 3/5

Should I buy the HiFi Walker H2?

The HiFi Walker H2 on a wooden bench.

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

HiFi Walker H2 review: Also consider

How I tested the HiFi Walker H2

The HiFi Walker H2 power button

(Image credit: Future)
  • Two-week testing period
  • Pop, rock, classical and spoken word music tested
  • Used at home, in the office and on walks

I tested the HiFi Walker H2 using a range of headphones including Bluetooth-connected over-ears, wired in-ears and my running headphones. The testing was done simultaneously to several other MP3 players to give some context to it.

The music I listened to was largely classical but I also tested using rock, pop and hip-hop to get a wide mix of genres. This was mainly done in the H2's default sound state but I fiddled with the equalizer a little too.

I have over five years of experience under the belt testing gadgets for TechRadar which includes, in the audio space, speakers, over-ear headphones, earbuds and radios.

Majority MP3 Player review: one of the best cheap music players to consider
3:00 pm | May 12, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Portable Media Players | Tags: | Comments: Off

Majority MP3 Player: Two-minute review

The Majority MP3 Player shines for its simplicity in a world where MP3 players are trying hard to be your replacement smartphone, radio and Kindle all wrapped into one. 

The Majority MP3 Player is not trying to be the best MP3 player ever invented; it’s trying to be a simple music device for people who don’t have degrees in sound engineering. Created by British audio company Majority, this is basically the cheapest MP3 player on the market that you should seriously consider buying, found on Amazon by searching 'MP3 player' and sorting 'price: low to high'. And it wears that budget badge with pride.

The Majority MP3 is absolutely tiny, and very lightweight too, so it’s not going to drag a hole in your pocket like many of its rivals. Its plastic shell may seem ‘cheap’ to some, but it'll take drops and knocks better than delicate premium options, and contributes to its lovely lightness.

My favorite feature is the sports clip on the back, which firmly clasps the MP3 player to your clothes, bag or anything else. This was so handy for keeping the player held still while keeping it within arms’ reach (ie, not in a pocket), and also means you can take the player for a run or workout and clip it to your clothes, to exercise hands-free.

Design aside, there’s more to like here too: the player is simple to use (well, once you’ve got your head around some user interface quirks) and has a battery life that outstrips lots of the competition.

As you can imagine from the price, the Majority MP3 doesn’t exactly have all the trappings of its pricier rivals. You’re not getting a touchscreen, so you’ll have to rely on a fairly rudimentary button system to get around, and don’t expect to fiddle with an on-device EQ, watch videos or read audiobooks, or download any more than 128GB of music (or 16GB, without an SD card).

However if you’re simply buying a nice lightweight little gadget that lets you outsource your music listening to a non-smartphone device, sometimes you don’t need bells and whistles; you just need simplicity. And simplicity is something the Majority MP3 delivers in spades.

The Majority MP3 Player in a man's hands.

(Image credit: Future)

Majority MP3 Player review: price and release date

  • Costs $35 / £30 (about AU$60)
  • Available since March 2023 (according to Amazon)

As stated in the introduction, the Majority MP3 is one of the cheapest MP3 players on the market at the time of writing. How cheap? Uh – that’s a good question.

At the time of writing, Majority has two separate listings for the device on Amazon UK: £29.95 and £34.95, and I can’t for the life of me tell what the difference between the two is. I’d hazard a guess that there isn’t one. The expert tech minds at TechRadar have come to the conclusion that you should buy the cheaper one.

What about outside the UK? It's available on Amazon US for $35, in mercifully just one entry. There's no Australian availability, but these prices would translate to around AU$60.

The Majority MP3 Player on a wooden bench.

(Image credit: Future)

Majority MP3 Player review: Features

  • 16GB memory, expandable to 128GB
  • Limited list of extra tools
  • 34-hour battery life, lower if using Bluetooth

You can fit up to 16GB of music onto the Majority MP3 player, which the company estimates will take 4,000 songs to fill. If you buy a compatible SD card you can expand that by 128GB which will fit countless hours of music in MP3 format. The only file format officially supported is MP3 – no AAC or WAV support is listed here.

Despite being a simple device, the Majority does have a few extra tools that may come in handy. You can record audio notes, change your background, use a stopwatch or check a calendar (though I couldn’t find a way to add anything to it) and create folders and playlists on the device.

Some features that many other MP3 players have are missing here. You can’t streaming over Wi-Fi, sync with audiobooks services, watch videos, or tune into the radio, so you'll have to rely on whatever MP3 files you manually download. There’s also no way to customize your listening experience, beyond picking your chosen headphones carefully.

There's a 3.5mm jack for wired listening, or you can ditch cables and set up a Bluetooth connection, which lets you stream the MP3 files through some of the best wireless earbuds or one of the best Bluetooth speakers – though it’ll harm your battery life of course.

That battery life is 34 hours by default if you’re using wired audio, which is a fair bit longer than some competitors (many of our favorite MP3 players last between 15 and 20 hours). Charging takes three hours, done with an in-box USB-C cable.

  • Features score: 2.5/5

The Majority MP3 Player on a wooden bench.

(Image credit: Future)

The Majority MP3 Player in a man's hands.

(Image credit: Future)

Majority MP3 Player review: Sound quality

  • Quality depends on audio files and headphones
  • No extra features to improve quality

The Majority MP3 Player isn't one to buy if you're looking for a device that ekes all the sound quality it can out of your tunes.

Unlike some pricier rivals, the device doesn't come with an on-board equalizer and doesn't support higher-quality music file types, so this isn't a portable music player for audiophiles – MP3 only here. You could probably tell that from the price.

Music played on the device will depend a lot more on the files you upload and the headphones you use than the pedigree of the Majority, then.

For what it's worth, I tested with a range of music files and they sounded effectively as good on the Majority MP3 as on pricier audio players, my computer and my smartphone. 

The bass and treble were bright and distinct, though the mid-range was a little lost compared to on some rival devices. The sound quality will best suit runners, but won't impress people who care about high-quality music.

  • Sound quality score: 2.5/5

Majority MP3 Player review: design

  • Tiny and light plastic body
  • Small touchscreen and buttons for controls
  • Plastic 'sports clip' holds 

The Majority MP3 Player is a small plastic rectangle, with a teensie screen and control panel on the front.

The player is absolutely tiny; it’s the smallest of its ilk that I’ve tested by a fair amount. It measures 4.4 x 6.8 x 1.9cm / 1.7 x 2.7 x 0.8 inches (ignore Majority’s website or Amazon, which both offer the dimensions of the shipping box as that of the device itself!). To give you a sense of that size, you’d need to put three and a half in a row to cover up a dollar bill.

It weighs only 33g too, so it’s slight enough that you can pop it in a pocket or on your clothes and forget it’s there. This lightweight form is partly thanks to the small size but likely mainly thanks to the fact it’s plastic, a material that’s often associated with ‘cheap’ tech but is also very hardy. I dropped the MP3 player a fair few times and there’s not a scratch or mark upon it.

A distinctive design feature is the use of a ‘sports clip’ on the back of the body, which you can use to clip it onto anything you want. As per the name, I used it a lot when going for a run so I could go hands-free, and it stayed attached despite all the associated jostling and bouncing. When not running, I also liked to attach the player to my clothes instead of drop it in a pocket, which made for easy access when I wanted to change the tune or turn it off.

Around the edges of the device you’ve got a USB-C port for charging and plugging into a computer, a 3.5mm audio jack (headphones are included in the box but you can use your own), an SD card slot that supports up to 128GB expandable memory, a volume rocker and a ‘hold’ button which deactivates any of the other controls so you don’t accidentally press them. On the front of the Majority is the screen and five buttons: the main selection one, ‘M’ (for ‘music’), previous track, next track and back. These are all you’ll have when navigating the menus.

That screen is 4.8cm across with a resolution of 240 x 240, and it’s bright enough that you can see it in direct sunlight. With those specs, it’s fit for purpose but won’t wow you with its fidelity, so I’m not exactly heartbroken that you can’t watch videos on the device. When you’re listening to music, a clock sometimes appears to tell you the time, but I could never figure out the rhyme or reason for it showing up or the Majority simply defaulting to a black screen; it felt pretty random.

  • Design score: 4/5

The Majority MP3 Player clipped to a blue hoodie.

(Image credit: Future)

Majority MP3 Player review: usability and set-up

  • Plugs into PC using USB-C cable
  • Navigate with physical buttons
  • User interface can be a little confusing

Downloading music onto the Majority MP3 Player is incredibly easy. You don’t need to fuss over different folders or settings; plug the player into your computer, select ‘Transfer’ on the player, and simply drag any of your music you want into the player’s folder. No, you don’t need to put it in a certain place on the folder or upload it in a certain way; throw it all in there and it’ll sort itself out. Easy!

Finding the music on the device itself may be a little trickier. You can use the forward and backward buttons to scroll forward and backward in the list, and the central one to select an option. 

Back, as you imagine, takes you back, but only one menu, so if you want to return to the player’s main menu then you’ll just have to smash the back button loads of times. And want to pause or switch tracks while you’re listening to music? You’ll have to navigate all the way back to the main menu, and then forward into the music options to find ‘Now Playing’, as there’s no simple way to jump to the music player.

I got used to the navigation after a while, but it did take a little learning. Another gripe I had is that the player takes a few seconds longer to turn on or off than I’d have liked (both are performed by pressing and holding the central button). That’s also true of turning on and off the controls hold option; you have to wait a few seconds for an animation to play out, so changing volume or skipping tracks isn’t as quick as you’d hope.

  • Usability & setup score: 3.5/5

The Majority MP3 Player on a wooden bench.

(Image credit: Future)

Majority MP3 Player review: value

  • MP3 player right at the lowest of the low end of the market
  • Does what it promises, and only a little more
  • Faults are easily forgiven at this price

If you’re looking for value for your money, you can’t find a better device than the Majority MP3 Player, and that’s simply because it’s so cheap.

You can spend literally thousands on an MP3 player if you want top-end features and audio, but Majority has gone for the opposite side of the spectrum, and you know what? You still get the same core function of playing MP3 files. 

Being unable to play hi-res music or watch videos really won't be an issue for anyone looking for something this cheap, and the storage is sufficient for its purpose. I really can't fault it for its value.

  • Value score: 5/5

The Majority MP3 Player on a wooden bench.

(Image credit: Future)

Should you buy the Majority MP3 Player?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Majority MP3 Player review: Also consider

Majority MP3 Player review: how I tested

  • Two-week testing period
  • Pop, rock, classical and spoken word music tested
  • Used at home, in office, on walks and on runs

I tested the Majority MP3 Player using its provided headphones (though obviously you can upgrade to some of the best wired headphones for an improvement), and I paired it using Bluetooth to the Earfun Wave Pro and the OneOdio OpenRock S headphones to see how it measured up.

Musically, I loaded it up with a testing playlist of rock, pop and post-rock, and also used it to stream lots of running music and classical. As you can tell I used it on runs as well as when at home, in the office and on walks.

The testing period for the Majority MP3 Player was roughly two weeks, and I was able to compare it directly with two other similar devices: the Mechen 64GB and HIFI Walker.

Astell & Kern A&norma SR35 review: hardly an entry-level DAP, but so, so worth it
6:31 pm | January 29, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Portable Media Players | Comments: Off

Astell & Kern A&norma SR35: two-minute review

If you came here looking to buy into hi-res audio for a song, you’ve come to the wrong place. This may be Astell & Kern’s most affordable digital audio player, but the A&norma SR35 nevertheless represents a significant investment – and, what’s more, an investment that strongly suggests you should spend pretty big on headphones too.

The good news, though, is that it’s completely worth it. The A&norma SR35 is easily one of the best MP3 players on the market (and in terms of file support, even to call it such a thing is to do it a disservice). From the understatedly lavish nature of its build and finish to the in-no-way-understated nature of its specification, there seems no apparent compromise where the SR35 is concerned. 

Quite obviously, Astell & Kern set out to wipe the floor with any and all price-comparable competitors when the SR35 is considered as an overall package – and that’s what it’s done.

This player is nice to hold, simple and logical to operate, and a pleasure to listen to. Sonically, it’s very accomplished indeed, with the sort of all-court game that not only makes your smartphone sound like someone playing music in the next train carriage, but puts some quite well-regarded (but inevitably less expensive) dedicated digital audio players into sharp perspective too. 

Astell & Kern A&norma SR35 held in a hand with headphones, on green background

If the slanted screen doesn't bother you, there's so much to love (Image credit: Future)

Astell & Kern A&norma SR35: Price and release date

  • Priced $799 / £799 / AU$1,299
  • Released May 2023 

The Astell & Kern A&norma SR35 is on sale now, and in the United Kingdom it will cost you £799. It’s yours for $799 in the US, while in Australia you’ll need to part with AU$1,299.

Only in Astell & Kern-land can this be considered ‘entry-level’ – being one of the company's most affordable products in a range is not the same as being authentically ‘affordable’.

For context, the company's flagship offering, the fabulous A&ultima SP3000, will set you back an eye-watering $3,699 / £3,799 / AU$5,499. At the other end of the scale, its November 2021-issue excellent Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII is now available for a little less than the newer SR35, at around $749 / £699 / AU$1,099. The difference in ticket price is negligible, especially when you factor in the age of the SR25 MKII. 

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that the SR35 had better be something pretty special to justify that price-tag…

Astell & Kern A&norma SR35 held in a hand to show the headphone ports

As with the SR25 MKII, there's a 4.4 balanced headphone jack for extra connectivity (Image credit: Future)

Astell & Kern A&norma SR35 review: Features

  • Quad Cirrus Logic CS43198 DACs
  • 64GB of internal memory
  • Three headphone sockets

Like I said, it’s only possible to describe the A&norma SR35 as ‘entry level’ when you’ve digital audio players costing the thick end of four grand in your line-up. Because make no mistake, Astell & Kern has specified this player well in excess of what you might reasonably expect of the ‘entry level’. 

Amplification, for instance, is provided by a new in-house A&K design called ‘New Generation AMP’. Digital-to-analogue conversion is handled by no fewer than four Cirrus Logic CS43198 DAC chips – and if you’re trying to eke out battery life, or listening to less than fully hi-res content, the SR35 can run in ‘dual-DAC’ mode instead. This hardware is part of Astell & Kern’s ‘Teraton Alpha’ platform, designed to minimise noise, maximise performance and offer what the company casually calls ‘ultimate sound’. ‘Teraton Alpha’ has featured in Astell & Kern players before now, but only the much more expensive ones.

There are wired and wireless connectivity options here, of course. Wireless stuff runs to dual-band wi-fi (handily, the SR35 is ready to download and run numerous music streaming service apps like Apple Music, Qobuz and TIDAL – and it’s Roon Ready too) and two-way Bluetooth 5.0 (with aptX HD and LDAC codec compatibility). The USB-C socket on the bottom of the chassis can be used to transform the SR35 into a DAC (if you want to use it to deal with content stored on, for example, a laptop computer), as well as being the way to charge the internal battery.

Battery life is very dependent on how you’re using the player. Listen to 16bt/44.1kHz CD-standard content at moderate volume using wired headphones, and you should expect 20 hours or so of playback. Switch up to some properly high-resolution stuff, at big volumes, using wireless headphones, and that figure will reduce by over 50 percent. Charging from ‘flat’ to ‘full’ takes around two-and-a-half hours.   

Wired headphones can be plugged into one of the three headphones sockets on the player’s top edge. There’s an unbalanced 3.5mm output, of course, and there are 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced alternatives – because, as I said, this device is only nominally ‘entry level’.

Internal memory is 64GB. The operating system eats into this just a little, of course – and if you’re loading in big high-resolution files, it’s not going to be long before that’s all used up. There’s a microSD card slot next to the USB-C on the device’s base, though, and it can accept cards of up to 1TB. Which should last you a little longer.

  • Features score: 5/5

Astell & Kern A&norma SR35 review: Design

  • 108 x 64 x 16mm (HxWxD)
  • 184g
  • Angular and aluminum

No, at 108 x 64 x 16mm (HxWxD) this isn’t the smallest digital audio player you’ver ever seen, and at 184g it’s far from the lightest around. But believe you me, by Astell & Kern standards the SR35 is compact and lightweight. 

Some of this is explained by everything that’s going on inside, of course. But it also doesn’t do to understate Astell & Kern’s desire to ‘design’ all their products to within an inch of their lives. The SR35 is built mostly of aluminium, and its chassis is so complicatedly angular that the device’s 3.6in touchscreen has to sit at an angle to fit between all the pointy edges. 

It’s equally true to say that A&K doesn’t compromise when it comes to build quality either, though. The A&norma SR35 is beautifully made, impeccably finished, and has genuine credentials as a ‘luxury accessory’ almost as obvious as it does as a ‘very nice digital audio player’.

  • Design score: 5/5

Astell & Kern A&norma SR35 on its side, to show the four buttons

An unmarked quartet of brutalist black buttons. But once you know, you know (Image credit: Future)

Astell & Kern A&norma SR35 review: Sound quality

  • Lovely tonal balance 
  • Scale and dynamism to spare
  • Iron fist and velvet glove in equal measure

You may own some downloaded audio files you wish to load onto the SR35’s internal memory. You may be a top-tier subscriber to a properly worthwhile streaming service like Qobuz or TIDAL (or both). You may be the owner of some similarly expensive and appropriately talented headphones. If you are, then you’re good to go. 

And with everything I’ve already said about battery life (and how to maximise it) taken into consideration, it’s nevertheless safe to say you’ll end up needing to recharge the SR35 more often than you anticipate. This is one of those audio devices that will steal your time away, making even the most perfunctory ‘quick listen’ into a long and pleasurable session.

Even though the SR35 thrives on the best standard of content, it’s more agnostic than many alternative players. So while you should ideally be loading up on stuff like a 24bit/192kHz FLAC file of David Bowie’s Word on a Wing via TIDAL, the Astell & Kern is perfectly happy to tolerate a 320kbps Spotify stream of We’re in Love by Boygenius. In both cases, the sound this player makes is deft, musical and entertaining like you wouldn’t believe.

Low frequencies are authentically deep, loaded with texture and alive with variation, and so very well controlled that rhythmic expression is as natural as can be. At the opposite end, treble sounds bite and crunch with real purpose – but they carry plenty of substance along with them, so they’re never splashy or hard even if you like to listen at big volumes. In between, the soundstage the Astell & Kern generates is such that voices in the midrange have an absolute stack of space in which to stretch out and express themselves – and detail levels are such that every facet of a vocal performance, its attitude and intention, is made completely plain. 

The tonal balance is every bit as pleasant; it’s natural and convincing, and utterly smooth in its emphases from the bottom of the frequency range to the top. Detail retrieval is little short of epic, and the SR35 is able to identify and accurately contextualise even the most minor, most transient occurrence in a recording. It has the sort of barrel-chested dynamism that means the quietest moments in a recording contrast with the loudest in the same way night contrasts with day. And it’s just as attentive to the spaces and silences in a recording as it is to the sounds themselves – and it makes sure the silences are pitch-dark, too. 

‘Musical’ may seem like a redundant term when talking about a digital audio player, but not every DAP deserves the description. This one, though, is musical and then some.  

  • Audio performance score: 5/5

Astell & Kern A&norma SR35 held in a ahnd to show off the rotary volume dial, on colorful background

The rotary volume dial: still a winner  (Image credit: Future)

Astell & Kern A&norma SR35 review: Usability and setup

  • 3.6in 720 x 1080 hi-res touchscreen
  • Adapted Android interface
  • A few physical controls too

The A&norma SR35 sees the first appearance of Astell & Kern’s new crimson-and-black user interface – and the company is right when it says it’s easier on the eye and more straightforward to understand than the rather more sudden interface it replaces. And that’s just as well, because at 3.6in this is far from the biggest touchscreen around; users with fingers like His Royal Highness will need to be very careful indeed.

Astell & Kern is to be congratulated for not just porting over the full Android interface – after all, why take up valuable memory and processing power duplicating functions your smartphone is perfectly capable of dealing with? So this interface is familiar, but far more focused on what’s actually important.

This means that as well as the nuts-and-bolts of installing your preferred music streaming services, you can adjust the player’s audio output via a 20-band equaliser. You can rearrange the layout of playback controls. You can adjust screen brightness, set a volume limit, and toggle the USB mode between ‘media player’ or ‘DAC’. You can audition four different DAC filters and a few amp settings. And you can do plenty more besides – so if you’re the sort of end user who likes to get fully involved, the SR35 has you covered.

There are a few nicely implemented physical controls here too. The top right of the chassis features Astell & Kern’s trademark jewel-like volume control – it moves with very pleasing weight and resistance. On the top left, meanwhile, four little buttons take care of ‘power on/off’, ‘play/pause’, ‘skip forwards’ and ‘skip backwards’. A&K doesn't mark these buttons, that would upset the aesthetic. But you'll be listening so often, you'll soon get the hang of it. 

  • Usability and setup score: 5/5

Astell & Kern A&norma SR35: Value

  • A&K's entry-level player – but 'entry-level' is questionable at best
  • Tech from models much higher up the food chain
  • A&K's premium players cost quadruple the price, but still 

In absolute terms, the A&norma SR35 represents, at best, questionable value for money. 

That it is well-made and sounds excellent is not up for question, and it’s hard to argue with the user experience it offers too. But there’s no doubt you’re paying a premium for the industrial design that always sets Astell & Kern products apart.

  • Value score: 4.5/5

Astell & Kern A&norma SR35: Should you buy it?

Astell & Kern A&norma SR35 held in a hand, scrolling the volume up to 120

This plucky player was driving the huge, open-back FT5 headphones at the time and – doing a marvellous job (Image credit: Future)

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Astell & Kern A&norma SR35 review: Also consider

Astell & Kern A&norma SR35: How I tested it

  • Myriad styles of music
  • Lots of different file types and sizes
  • A long listen (although not as long as I would have liked)

I plugged balanced and unbalanced headphones into the A&norma SR35, as well as wireless alternatives, and I used both in-ear and over-ear models. I listened to music from Arvo Pärt to Aretha Franklin and all points in between, and I listened to big, uncompressed FLAC files as well as indecently compressed stuff from Apple Music. 

Overall, I listened for what must have been a week or so – although it seemed much less than that when the time came to return the player to Astell & Kern… 

  • First reviewed January 2024
Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000 review: a high-end hi-res digital audio player
6:00 pm | December 24, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Portable Media Players | Tags: | Comments: Off

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000: One-minute review

The Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000 is the most expensive digital audio player in a product portfolio full of expensive digital audio players. It’s specified without compromise (full independent balanced and unbalanced audio circuits? Half a dozen DACs taking care of business? These are just a couple of highlights) and it’s finished to the sort of standard that wouldn’t shame any of the world’s leading couture jewellery companies.

Best of all, though, is the way it sounds. It’s remarkably agnostic about the stuff you like to listen to, the sort of standard of digital file in which it’s contained, and the headphones you use too – and when you give it the best stuff to work with, the sound it’s capable of producing is almost humbling in its fidelity. Be in no doubt, this is the best digital audio player – aka best MP3 player – when it comes to sound quality you can currently buy. Which, when you look again at how much it costs, is about the least it needs to be. 

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000 review: Price and release date

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000

(Image credit: Future)
  • Priced at $3,699 / £3,799 / AU$5,499

The Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000 (which I think we should agree to call ‘SP3000’ from here on out) is on sale now, and in the United Kingdom it costs a not-inconsiderable £3799. In the United States, it’s a barely-more-acceptable $3699, and in Australia you’ll have to part with AU$5499.

Need I say with undue emphasis that this is quite a lot of money for a digital audio player? I’ve reviewed very decent digital audio players (DAP) from the likes of Sony for TechRadar that cost about 10% of this asking price – so why on Earth would you spend ‘Holiday of a Lifetime’ money on something that doesn’t do anything your smartphone can’t do? 

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000 review: Features

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000

(Image credit: Future)
  • Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX HD and LDAC
  • Native 32bit/784kHz and DSD512 playback
  • Discrete balanced and unbalanced audio circuits

Admittedly, when Astell & Kern says the SP3000 is “the pinnacle of audio players”, that seems a rather subjective statement. When it says this is “the world’s first DAP with independent audio circuitry”, that’s simply a statement of fact.

That independent audio circuitry keeps the signal path for the balanced and unbalanced outputs entirely separated, and it also includes independent digital and analogue signal processing. Astell & Kern calls the overall arrangement ‘HEXA-Audio’ – and it includes four of the new, top-of-the-shop AKM AK4499EX DAC chipsets along with a couple of the very-nearly-top-of-the-shop AK4191EQ DACs from the same company. When you add in a single system-on-chip to take care of CPU, memory and wireless connectivity, it becomes apparent Astell & Kern has chosen not to compromise where technical specification is concerned. And that’s before we get to ‘Teraton X’... this is a bespoke A&K-designed processor that minimises noise derived from both the power supply and the numerous DACs, and provides amplification that’s as clean and efficient as any digital audio player has ever enjoyed. 

The upshot is a player that supports every worthwhile digital audio format, can handle sample rates of up to 32bit/784kHz and DSD512 natively, and has Bluetooth 5.0 wireless connectivity with SBC, AAC, aptX HD and LDAC codec compatibility. A player that features half-a-dozen DAC filters for you to investigate, and that can upsample the rate of any given digital audio file in an effort to deliver optimal sound quality. And if you want to enjoy the sound as if it originates from a pair of loudspeakers rather than headphones, the SP3000 has a ‘Crossfeed’ feature that mixes part of the signal from one channel into the other (with time-adjustment to centre the audio image) in an effort to do just that.

Features score: 5 / 5

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000 review: Sound quality

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000

(Image credit: Future)
  • Insightful, engaging and convincing sound
  • Not too fussy about file sizes
  • Only slightly fussy about headphones

Some digital audio players are quite picky about what goes into them and how it comes out again - but happily, the SP3000 is not among them. Obviously it performs to its fullest when given big, information-rich digital audio files to work with and is connected to appropriately talented headphones – but it’s not about to have a hissy fit if that’s not the case.

So no matter if you listen to a big 24bit/192kHz FLAC file of Old Man by Neil Young or a bog-standard 320kbps MP3 file of Cool About It by boygenius, the SP3000 is unflappable. It doesn’t matter if you connect £50-worth of Final Audio E3000 via the 3.5mm socket or a pair of £1299 Sennheiser IE900 into the 4.4mm socket, the Astell & Kern will make the best of the situation.

In each and every circumstance, the SP3000 is an uncomplicated pleasure to listen to. Its overall presentation is almost instinctively correct, positive without being pushy, and utterly convincing. 10 hours of battery life looks perfectly adequate when written down, but in practice it’s nothing like long enough. I could listen to this Astell & Kern almost indefinitely.

Detail levels are high in the same way that The Shard is tall. No element of a recording is too minor, too peripheral or too transient to elude the SP3000 - it extracts every scrap of information from a digital audio file and organises it confidently. There’s nothing uptight or fussy about the way this player puts you in the picture, though – everything is contextualised and serves only to ensure you’re fully informed. 

Control, from the top of the frequency range to the bottom, is unarguable. The attack and decay of bass sounds, in particular, is so well-managed that rhythmic expression is completely natural and momentum is maintained in all circumstances, despite the considerable weight and substance of the low end. There’s similarly well-supervised attack at the top of the frequency range, and in between the Astell & Kern communicates eloquently through the midrange.

Dynamic headroom is extensive, so big shifts in intensity and/or volume are made plain. Lower-key dynamic variations in voices or harmonics are made absolutely plain, too. Tonality is never anything but balanced and naturalistic, and the SP3000 knits the whole frequency range together smoothly. The soundstage it’s capable of generating is well-defined and expansive – even dense or complex recordings have more than enough elbow-room to let every element express itself without hindrance. And the SP3000 achieves this without losing sight of the fact that it’s presenting a performance – the unity and togetherness of its presentation is direct and unequivocal.    

You can fiddle around the edges of the way the Astell & Kern performs by investigating your DAC filter options, sure - but in broad terms, its methodology doesn’t really change. It’s precise and meticulous, but it's no dry tool of analysis. It hits very hard through the low frequencies, but it never gets bogged down under its own weight. It’s spacious and open, but it’s seamlessly unified. 

Sound quality score: 5 / 5

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000 review: Design

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000

(Image credit: Future)
  • 904L stainless steel chassis 
  • 493g; 139 x 82 x 18mm (HxWxD)
  • 1080 x 1920 touchscreen

‘Portable’, of course, is a relative term. The SP3000 is not the most portable product of its type around – it weighs very nearly half a kilo and is 139 x 82 x 18mm (HxWxD) – but if you can slip it into a bag then I guess it must count as ‘portable’. Its pointy corners count against it too, though – and while it comes with a protective case sourced from French tanners ALRA, the fact it’s made of goatskin is not going to appeal to everyone. 

To be fair, the body of the SP3000 isn’t as aggressively angular as some A&K designs. And the fact that it’s built from 904L stainless steel goes a long way to establishing the SP3000’s credentials as a luxury ‘accessory’ (in the manner of a watch or some other jewellery) as well as a functional device. 904L stainless steel resists corrosion like nobody’s business, and it can also accept a very high polish - which is why the likes of Rolex make use of it. I’m confident you’ve never seen such a shiny digital audio player.

The front and rear faces of the SP3000 are glass - and on the front it makes up a 5.4in 1080 x 1920 touch-screen. The Snapdragon octa-core CPU that’s in charge means it’s an extremely responsive touch-screen, too.  

On the top right edge of the chassis there’s the familiar ‘crown’ control wheel - which is another design feature that ups the SP3000’s desirability. It feels as good as it looks, and the circular light that sits behind it glows in one of a number of different colours to indicate the size of the digital audio file that’s playing. The opposite edge has three small, much less exciting, control buttons that work perfectly well but have none of the control wheel’s visual drama or tactile appeal.

The top of the SP3000 is home to three headphone sockets. There’s a 3.5mm unbalanced output, and two balanced alternatives – 2.5mm (which works with four-pole connections) and 4.4mm (which supports five-pole connections). On the bottom edge, meanwhile, there’s a USB-C socket for charging the internal battery - battery life is around 10 hours in normal circumstances, and a full charge from ‘flat’ takes around three hours. There’s also a micro-SD card slot down here, which can be used to boost the player’s 256GB of memory by up to 1TB. 

Design score: 5 / 5 

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000 review: Value

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000

(Image credit: Future)

In absolute terms, of course, $3,699 / £3,799 / AU$5,499 for a digital audio player is nonsense. The law of diminishing returns is at work here as surely as it is anywhere else - and you can get a big serving of the SP3000’s talents by spending less than half of its asking price (mostly, but not exclusively, by spending it with Astell & Kern itself). But if you want absolutely, positively the best-sounding DAP around, and you are fortunate enough to be able to justify the cost to yourself, well, this player is currently number one in a field of one.

Should I buy the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000?

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if... 

Don't buy it if... 

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000 review: Also consider

How I tested the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested for over a week
  • Tested indoors and out
  • Tested with wired and wireless headphones

I loaded the internal memory of the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000 with quite a lot of high-resolution digital audio files, and I also installed the Tidal app – so ultimately I was able to lot of different types of music via a lot of different audio file types and sizes. 

I listened to the player in my home and while out and about (listening outdoors made me quite anxious at first, I don’t mind admitting – it’s an expensive device, after all). And I listened to it using a selection of wired and wireless headphones – generally, headphones able to do some justice to the SP3000’s unarguable quality. I mostly used the Sennheiser IE900 via the 4.4mm balanced input and the Bowers & Wilkins’ Px8 via Bluetooth. 

  • First reviewed in December 2023
Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII review
7:47 pm | June 16, 2022

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Portable Media Players | Tags: | Comments: Off

Editor's Note

• Original review date: June 2022
Launch price: $749 / £699 / AU$1,099
• Target price: still $749 / £699 / AU$1,099

Update: February 2024. The Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII is still the revered hi-res audio specialist's most entry-level player – and emphatically still one of the best MP3 players in existence – but it's important to note that in November 2023 it was superseded by A&K's newer (and slightly more expensive) Astell & Kern A&norma SR35. The nitty gritty of it is this: the SR35 is now billed as A&K's entry-level option and under intense review the newer player edges it (just), but you'll need to pay a $50 / £100 / AU$200 surcharge for that newness. Now, one could argue that if you're prepared to shell out $700 for a dedicated hi-res audio player, you may as well throw another $50 or so down, but I'm not so sure. Honestly, if this is where your budget maxes out, A&K's second-generation November 2021-issue SR25 remains an excellent option. Deals owing to its relative age? Unlikely, this is Astell & Kern, not Amazon. That said, it's not unheard of… 
The rest of this review remains as previously published.

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII: two-minute review

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and one man's trash is another's treasure. Anyone invested in portable hi-res audio, for instance, will surely view the Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII as a thing of beauty both sonically and visually; the very sight of an A&K player emerging from its owner's pocket signifies their ascension to a very select group of music lovers. 

To others, the off-kilter screen may seem a hindrance, the name long-winded, the edges a little sharp, the unmarked buttons somewhat unhelpful and the pricing prohibitive – even though for Astell & Kern, this is budget territory. 

Whatever your opinion on the above, the level of features, connectivity, file support and sound quality incorporated here is, as the dynamic '80s cartoon heroin Jem once said, truly truly truly outrageous.

What you need to know is that the music you've been playing from your phone or laptop is going to sound constricted, muddied, compressed and altogether beige after you've heard music on this. And even if the original (and very talented) SR25 is well-known to you, this model sounds that little bit better – and as such, it just became one of the best MP3 players on the market. 

The A&K A&norma SR25 MKII digital audio player takes and celebrates virtually any digital audio file size or type, and it will now happily accept balanced headphones with 4.4 or 2.5mm headphone jacks as well as 'regular' 3.5mm unbalanced models.

Elsewhere, the touch-screen is bright and responsive and the battery life, at 20 hours, walks all over the company's A&ultima SP2000T at only 9 hours. And did we mention how expressive, detailed, regimented and faithfully neutral it sounds? 

The A&norma SR25 MKII is a gifted digital audio player and it will reignite your love of music. And unlike many of the company's more pricey players, this one is small enough to put in a pocket and will keep you streaming, pinging or downloading once-treasured songs to it, just to see what it makes of them. 

If the current financial climate still facilitates your consideration of such a purchase, you won't be disappointed with this talented little player. 

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII on black background

The A&K's rotary volume dial is a thing of beauty (Image credit: TechRadar)

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII review: Price and release date

  • Released in November 2021
  • $749 / £699 / AU$1,099

The Astell & Kern A&norma SR 25 MKII comes with asking price that may have some moving swiftly on given the current cost of living challenges. Others may still pause to hear more though – because unlike the majority of Astell & Kern's ouevre, it doesn't actually cost thousands. 

In the United Kingdom it sells for a pound short of £700. American customers hoping to snag one will need to put seven hundred-dollar bills and one fifty aside, while in Australia you’re looking at over a grand. 

Can such a product make a case for itself outside of the niche audiophile world when good-quality music streaming and downloading capabilities are so readily available on contract smartphones? If you ask us, yes. 

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII detail of headphone ports on black background

A&K has added a 4.4 balanced headphone jack for extra connectivity (Image credit: TechRadar)

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII review: Features

  • Supports both 24-bit Bluetooth wireless codecs LDAC and aptXHD
  • Comprehensive wired hi-res chops to DSD256 and 32-bit/384KHz PCM 
  • Replay Gain automatically adjusts volume playback from sound sources up to 24-bit/192kHz

The features we need to get through here give even the best MP3 players a run for their money, so strap in. 

Astell & Kern states that every aspect its customers admired in the original SR25 is retained here, but that this new model improves on the audio performance even further. How? With its latest audio architecture, that's how, which promises more detail, clearly defined upper and lower ranges, and a deeper, more rounded sound. (More on this later.) 

What is not new is the implementation of two Cirrus Logic CS43198 DACs, because it is the same dual DAC chip setup as the previous SR15, which is a few years old now. Then again, that player was excellent sonically and if it ain't broke, etc…

As well as a new 4.4mm headphone jack, the MKII unit also boasts a new Replay Gain function to uniformly adjust volume playback from sound sources up to 24-bit/192 kHz. You're also getting AK File Drop (first introduced in the pricier A&futura SE180 player) for easier wireless file transfers; BT Sink function for simpler connection of the SR25 MKII to an external Bluetooth device (essentially, music from an external device such as a smartphone can be played back in high-quality on the SR25 MKII using it) and extra internal silver-plated shielding to protect from electromagnetic interference, first seen in the thrice-the-price A&ultima SP2000T.

Although it hasn't been shouted about, upon going through the settings of the SR25 MKII, four new, interesting and quite different-sounding DAC filters also present themselves, which will work if listening in 24-bit/192kHz or less PCM (although they won't work in MQA and DSD formats) and they certainly add value and scope for customization at the level. 

As with the first-generation model, the SR25 MKII easily handles a huge array of high-resolution music formats and sample rates, including support for native playback of DSD256 and 32-bit/384KHz PCM high-resolution audio

And should you want to listen to your favourite hi-res music over a wireless connection (and why shouldn't you, given the excellent wireless headphones available in this day and age?), the SR25 MKII features the high-quality LDAC and aptX HD Bluetooth wireless codecs too, plus wi-fi for access to streaming services including Tidal, which is happily waiting to be discovered in the 'services' tab. 

I tried the SR25 MKII using several true wireless price-compatible earbuds, including the NuraTrue and Cambridge Audio's Melomania 1+ (both of which support aptX) and found the Bluetooth connection rock-solid.

In terms of wired connections, the power output here is standard rather than exceptional, although the SR25 MKII drove my hefty Austrian Audio Hi-X55 over-ears over a (regular 3.5mm) unbalanced connection admirably. 

  • Features score: 5/5

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII review: Design

  • Bright and responsive touch-screen 
  • Angular but nicely pocketable
  • Glorious trademark A&K rotary volume dial

Astell & Kern is known for its trademark brutalist aesthetic and it’s not about to switch tack any time soon. So the A&norma SR 25 MKII is all angles and pointy bits – some of them glassy. Look at it and you know it's made by A&K. 

The slanted screen may be slightly jarring for some (yes, if the display simply fit the measurements, it could've been bigger) but it does allow for the inclusion of a lovely clicking rotary volume dial in the top right corner, for which all Astell & Kern players are now known. This one is bigger than that sported by its predecessor and it looks even more like a blown up Swiss chronograph watch dial – but we mean that in the best possible way.

There are four unmarked pill-shaped buttons along the top left edge of the player as you look at the screen, which handle (from top to bottom) power, track skips backwards, play/pausing and forwarding to the next track. While unmarked, they are intuitive and once you know, you know – again, if you don't like it, A&K does not care. 

In terms of dimensions it's a fair bit deeper than your smartphone but thinner and shorter and, at 178g it actually weighs 26g less than the iPhone 13 Pro (and 62g less than the iPhone 13 Pro Max). 

The touch-screen may be a tad fiddly for those with larger fingers – it may take a few goes to key in your Tidal password, for example – but it's more than worth persisting because the trade off is a nippy, happy and talented little player that you can actually put in your pocket without feeling like you're listing to one side. 

The slightly moodier new 'Mercury Dark Silver' colorway is another improvement on the older model, which is lighter in terms of finish. Our only slight gripe with the build is the glass panel on the back of the unit; even though it's supposed to resist fingerprints, we find it collects ours. 

  • Design score: 4.5/5

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII playback button detail

Unmarked, brutalist buttons. But once you know, you know (Image credit: TechRadar)

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII review: Audio performance

  • Open, spacious soundstage
  • Assured timing and oodles of detail
  • Zealous, fun presentation

Give the A&K your music, sit back and relax. It takes only a cursory listen to Radiohead's OK Computer (in 24-bit FLAC) to understand that this is a gifted little belter of a DAP. Throughout Airbag, the SR25 MKII seems to separate and celebrate each sonic article and inflection, but never to the detriment of the track as a whole. Bass passages other players cannot reach are offered like musical treats on a shelf to be enjoyed in passing, while synths and jingles soar through the upper registers. 

Switching to Tidal, Coheed and Cambria's Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness brims with detail thanks to an incredibly open and three-dimensional soundstage, from the initial strings coming in all around us to the child playing quietly over by our right earlobe as the guitar joins centrally.  

Lower frequencies are deep, snappy and held resolutely in a cohesive and controlled mix. Mids come alive as we listen to Melissa Etheridge's No Souvenirs, realizing as we do so that rarely has her textured, emotive, belted vocal sounded so expressive and present.  

Timing and dynamic build here are both poised and secure; the SR25 MKII takes every recording you give it, relays it faithfully, dutifully and with an extra ounce of detail both rhythmically and across the frequencies but – and this part is where other such players often fall down – it manages to keep the overall sonic experience zealous, energetic and fun rather than analytical to a fault. 

Any negatives? Really, no – although if you scale up to A&K's A&futura line you'll see a step up in terms of power and detail yet again. But for this money, the A&norma SR25 MKII cannot be beaten sonically. 

  • Audio performance score: 5/5

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII with Radiohead playing, on white background

The angled screen may not suit larger fingers (Image credit: TechRadar)

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII: Value

  • A&K's entry-level player – if $749/£699 is 'entry-level' to you
  • Tech from models thrice the price 
  • For a premium player, this is the least you'll pay

This is a tricky one, because you can pick up a portable audio player made by Sony for a tenth of the price of this hi-res player. That said, this is upper echelon territory; Astell & Kern's top-tier Ultima model sells for $2,399 / £1,999 / AU$3,599. 

Astell & Kern actually calls the SR 25 MKII a "true mass premium product", which just about sums it up. To clarify, for this money you're still getting A&K's core (and frankly, 'cor!) values: exceptional audio performance for a diverse range of musical tastes and that trademark brutalist build, plus tech such as AK File Drop, access to streaming platforms, DAC filters and the BT Sink function trickled down from the company's flagship players, but without the four-figure price tag. 

Will most of us still need to pass on "mass premium" players given the cost of living crisis? Perhaps. But that is a shame, since this one really does represent value for money – if you have it, and expressly want to spend it on a dedicated, talented, hi-res digital audio player. 

  • Value: 4.5/5

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII: Should you buy it?

Astell & Kern A&Norma SR25 MKII USB-C port and SD-card slot detail

It's all angles and edges, but with its SD card slot (and supplied cover) you can level up the storage, too (Image credit: TechRadar)

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII: Also consider

  • First reviewed June 2022