• Sat. May 14th, 2022

The A&K SR25 is a perfect digital music player for audiophiles

For anyone who really loves their music and appreciates premium sound, a smartphone simply won’t make the mark. Most smartphones do not contain Hi-Fi grade dual DACs (digital to analog converters) and they also do not support some of the higher quality Bluetooth codecs, especially iPhones which only support the codec. AAC. At the high end of the market, Bluetooth audio codecs such as LDAC and apt-X HD have dramatically improved sound quality and made wireless headphones a viable option.

If you want to listen to music on the go and are used to playing Hi-Res music files at home, your only viable option is to invest in a really good DAP (digital audio player). These players cost at least as much as a good smartphone, but they play music at a level you can get from a high-quality home audio setup. But which model to buy? There are many DAPs on the market such as Sony, Onkyo, Pioneer and Astell & Kern – or A&K as the company is more well known. This leading Korean manufacturer of portable audio devices has always proven why it is probably the first choice for audiophiles when listening to music on the go.

The A & norma SR25 is A & K’s entry-level DAP and it’s packed with upgrades and additional features to make it a truly serious choice for even the most discerning audio freak. Despite being A & K’s entry-level player, the SR25 inherited many features from its predecessor, including its sharp design, impeccable build quality, and slightly quirky styling with an asymmetric display at the bottom. ‘before. But before we start lighting up this little sonic beauty, let’s take a quick look at its features and benefits, and see why this pocket player might be the perfect travel companion for serious music lovers.

About the same size as an old-fashioned audio cassette case, the SR25 features a superbly clear TFT display that is mounted askew of the aluminum body by about 15 degrees. A knurled volume wheel is integrated into the right side of the player as an oversized watch winder, while three buttons for music controls are tucked away on the left side of the SR25’s Moon Silver case.

On top of the SR25 is a power switch and two headphone jacks. One jack is 3.5mm unbalanced, while the second is 2.5mm balanced output. There is no provision for the new balanced Pentaconn 4.4mm output, but it is a standard not yet widely adopted. Meanwhile, on the base of the SR25 is a USB-C port for charging the player’s battery, and it doubles for transferring audio files from a computer, or when the use of the SR25 is used as a high-quality external DAC . Finally, there is a slot for a MicroSD memory card with a maximum capacity of 1TB.

The rear of the SR25 is made mostly of glass and is encrusted with an attractive holographic pattern that changes its appearance when tilted in the sun. The housing is precision milled from a block of aluminum using a 5-axis milling tool. A&K uses the same vibration-free milling machines that Swiss watchmakers use to create their luxury watch cases. The build quality and finish of the case is simply impressive, no screws are visible. The device is incredibly strong. Weighing 178 g (6.27 oz), the SR25 doesn’t feel too heavy but strong enough to have a luxurious feel.

Inside, the SR25 has been significantly beefed up compared to its predecessor SR15. A&K kept the Cirrus Logic CS43198 Master Hi-Fi DAC chips, but engineers tweaked the performance of the DACs by using ultra-low noise filters that eliminate the preamp hiss that can sometimes be heard on audio players and smartphones. The SR25 can also play native DSD256 files as well as files up to 32-bit / 384kHz without the need to down-sample. This upgrade will delight fans of high-res music and means the SR25 can handle almost any music anyone is likely to throw at it.

Most people will probably want to use a pair of high-quality wired headphones to listen to the SR25, like the Grado SR325e open-face headphones I used for this review. However, for those who want to use wireless Bluetooth headphones, A&K has included support for Qualcomm’s LDAC and apt-X HD audio codecs so that music will sound as good as possible over a wireless connection.

In addition to being able to play audio files and music stored on the 64 GB of internal memory of the SR25 or on MicroSD cards up to 1 TB of capacity, the player is even more versatile because it is based on the system of Android 9.0 operating. This means that users can download a whole range of streaming apps from the Open APP platform. There are apps for streaming TIDAL, Qobuz, Deezer and other platforms are supported. For TIDAL subscribers, there is a built-in MQA codec that can decompress TIDAL Master music files in all their high-resolution glory.

The SR25 supports 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi and connecting to a wireless network is really easy and only needs to be done once. The Wi-Fi connection is used to play music from streaming services. Thanks to the SR25’s 720 x 1280 TFT touchscreen, powered by a Quad Core processor, navigation on the SR25 is blazingly fast. All of the album artwork displays beautifully on the responsive screen and A&K did a good job tidying up the player interface to make it a bit more intuitive to use than the SR15.

And so, to the most important part of the review: the sound quality. There is a slight improvement in sound over the SR15 and the tone is now beautiful, with clarity and balance that can really get you into music by presenting a realistic and spacious soundstage. It’s as engaging and enveloping as any classic hi-fi setup you might have heard at a similar price. It’s so nice to be able to listen to music almost anywhere without compromising on the quality that you might be used to hearing on your home system.

I listened to the excellent Sara Correia Chégou Tão Tarde as I was going through one of my periodic fascinations with fado. The SR25 beautifully separates the six-string guitar and the Portuguese guitar without losing any of the acoustic reverberations produced by the instruments. Correia’s rising voice is handled superbly by the SR25’s DACs, and super-low noise filters mean there is never a hiss in the pauses, even at higher volume levels. This song is an excellent test of the dynamic range of an audio player. It’s also beautifully recorded and well worth a listen.

The SR25 never falters in the way it handles music. Whether it’s the old Pentangle compilation I was listening to on TIDAL’s Masters, or Van Morrison’s latest album which has vocals bordering on overrecording. Whatever music the SR25 plays, it does superbly, never losing control of the music and having plenty of volume to spare.

If you happen to own a pair of high-end headphones that are less efficient and could do the trick with a separate headphone amplifier, you might find the SR25 struggles a bit. I have tried the excellent Grado Gs3000e, sure they are big open back headphones with drivers that need a solid source. Despite this, the SR25 does extremely well, although I had to turn up the volume high enough to get enough sound. But rest assured, that’s just not the case with regular headphones or earphones. If you have a balanced pair of headphones, the SR25’s 2.5mm headphone jack will be welcome.

Verdict: This entry-level A&K player might seem a bit eccentric, but it’s beautifully built and almost a work of art. The housing fits well in the hand and the excellent touchscreen makes using the SR25 really easy. I love that not only can the A&K SR25 be used to play locally stored music, it can also work with all popular music streaming services. For anyone who doesn’t want to compromise on sound quality, the A&K SR25 is the perfect companion for listening to high quality sound while away from home. The sound is sublime and the engineers at A&K have done a fabulous job tweaking these Cirrus DACs to create sound without hiss or distortion. If you are looking for a DAP with pedigree, you can’t go wrong with the A & norma SR25 from Astell & Kern.

Price and availability: The Astell & Kern A & norma SR25 is available now and costs $ 699 / £ 649

More information: us.astellnkern.com

Characteristics:

  • Body material: Aluminum
  • Body Color: Moon Silver
  • Dimensions: 2.5 (63.5mm) [W] x 4.26 “(108.3 mm) [H] x 0.63 “(16.1 mm) [D]
  • Weight: 6.27 oz (178 g)
  • Display: 3.6 inch (720 x 1280) touchscreen
  • Supported audio formats: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF, MQA
  • Sampling frequency: PCM: 8 kHz ~ 384 kHz (8/16/24/32 bits per sample) / Native DSD: DSD64 (1 bit / 2.8 MHz), Stereo / DSD128 (1 bit / 5.6 MHz ), Stereo / DSD256 (1 bit / 11.2 MHz), Stereo
  • Output power: 4V balance, 2V unbalance
  • Processor: quad-core
  • DAC: Cirrus Logic CS43198 x2 (dual DAC)
  • Decoding: Support bit-by-bit playback up to 32-bit / 384kHz
  • Input: USB Type-C (PC and Mac)
  • Outputs: Unbalanced output (3.5mm) / Balanced output (2.5mm, only 4 poles supported)
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11 b / g / n (2.4 GHz)
  • Bluetooth: V4.2 (A2DP, AVRCP, aptX HD, LDAC)
  • Battery capacity: 3,150mAh 3.7V Li-Polymer battery
  • Internal memory: 64 GB
  • External memory: microSD (max. 1 TB)


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