I love music and I appreciate great sound quality. However, there are people plenty of people who are fanatical and pernickety and will go to any lengths to get the best quality sound possible, even when they are on the move. It’s precisely those kinds of people that Astell&Kern has created its latest model in the Korean company’s A&ultima series.
The A&ultima SP2000T is the latest player from Astell&Kern and the first to feature a Quad-DAC, a Replay Gain function and a new Triple Amp System that enables listeners to switch between the different sonic characteristics of a normal OP-AMP (operational amp) mode, a vacuum tube amo and a hybrid amp mode that combines the warm analog performance of a tube amp with the resolution and clarity of an op-amp.
To get the sonic flavor of a vacuum tube amp, the SP2000T has a portable-friendly, dual-triode KORG Nutube. The amp has an anode grid filament structure that operates the same as a triode vacuum tube or valve. It’s a small component, and consumes far less power than a traditional tube, yet it delivers the same audio with the warmth and richness. The Nutube also offers a reliable continuous playback time of approximately 30,000 hours with support for the player’s onboard 2.5mm, 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphone output jacks.
The culmination of Astell&Kern’s expertise, the new innovative hybrid mode blends the distinctive sound of a detailed op-amp and the expressive tube amp modes, with five options for mixing different ratios of each amp’s sound characteristics to best suit the music being played.
To overcome any resonances generated by the vacuum tubes that might impact sound quality, Astell&Kern’s engineers designed a clever modular structure that physically separates it from the printed circuit board. Firstly, the vacuum tubes are fixed with flexible silicone covers to minimize any mechanical vibration, while the design uses magnetic forces to float the amp in the air to reduce any internal noise.
Further steps were taken to eliminate electromagnetic interference caused when internal components are operating. This is done by applying highly conductive, hyper-pure silver plating on the existing shield cans for extra defence against disturbances that can spoil the sound.
The SP2000T is equipped with four ES9068AS DACs. Two DACs are used per channel and dedicated for decoding. Astell&Kern claims the result is a more detailed and balanced sound with greater depth and spatial realism. This new model is also the first to feature Replay Gain functionality that automatically and uniformly adjusts volume playback from sound sources up to 24-bit/192 kHz, so playlists can be enjoyed without the listener having to constantly reach for the volume control.
The SP2000T is the second model to adopt Astell&Kern’s patented Teraton Alpha Sound Solution. This is designed to deliver audio playback at a level close to the original sound. The onboard DAC is not the only factor that determines the quality of sound from a music player: Power, noise, signal conversion, circuit structure can all affect the sound signature. Only when all these elements are optimized can a player produce sound that’s as close as the music artist and producer intended. Teraton Alpha technology removes power noise and provides efficient power consumption and amplification all the way through to the audio output interface stage where the digital-to-analogue signal conversion (DAC) takes place.
Thanks to a full HD display, the SP2000T can show album artwork in fine detail. The 5-inch touchscreen has a resolution of 1,920×1,080 pixels and can display up to 16.7 million colours and 441 PPI. The advantage of this kind of display is that it looks as good as the screen on a smartphone.
Other new features on the SP2000T include improved dual-band Wi-Fi support with AK File Drop for easier music file transfers over WiFi. Users can wirelessly transfer files through a PC, smartphone, or FTP program located on the same network to make music management more convenient. The new BT Sink function connects the A&ultima SP2000T to an external device, such as a smartphone, using Bluetooth, enabling music to be played back in high-quality on the Astell&Kern player.
Additionally, the A&ultima SP2000T boasts Bluetooth 5.0, providing greater range and a more stable wireless connection to headphones. There’s also support for 24-bit aptX HD and LDAC codecs, offering the highest possible Bluetooth wireless sound quality. There’s also 256GB of on-board storage that can be expanded up to 1TB by using a microSD card, enabling users to carry thousands of hi-res albums around with them.
Pricing and Availability: The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP2000T digital audio player is priced £1,999 / $2,399 / €2,299 and will be available to buy from October.
- Triple Amp System takes portable music listening to a new acoustic level.
- Vacuum tube amplifier compatible with 2.5mm, 3.5mm and 4.4mm output jacks.
- Equipped with an ESS ES9068AS QUAD-DAC for balanced and ultra-detailed sound.
- New TERATON ALPHA Sound Solution technology.
- Replay Gain function uniformly adjusts volume playback from sound sources up to 24-bit/192 kHz.
- Dual-Band Wi-Fi Support for improved wireless connection.
- Internal mechanical design to minimise noise.
- Support for apt-X HD and LDAC Bluetooth audio codecs