“We’re gonna need a bigger boat”. It’s no secret that Astell&Kern’s AK240 is its biggest selling model. Their Australian distributor tells me that the AK240 (in its many incarnations) outsells all other models 3 to 1. Clearly there is no shortage of cash when it comes to going premium with Astell&Kern DAPs – this end of the market has some serious teeth.
Faced with such sales statistics it comes as no surprise that the South Korean hi-fi company has built a bigger boat with which they hope to ensnare the most voracious of appetites.
As of Munich High-End 2015, the AK240 no longer sits at the very top of the tree. This year will see the introduction of the more flexible, more capable AK380 – a high-end DAP expected to retail US$3499.
The most obvious differences to the AK240 are the AK380’s slightly more muscular physicality and a pair of AKM AK4490 converter chips, laid out in true dual mono circuit configuration. Remember: the AK240 uses Cirrus Logic silicon. DSD playback remains native but the AK380 is reportedly Astell&Kern’s first model to support native playback of 32bit/384kHz PCM. That’s a nice bonus if you have such rarefied content.
The AK380 arrives fully furnished with a 4” LCD screen, 256Gb of internal storage and a microSD card slot (that supports up to 128Gb). Its parametic EQ settings move with 0.1db increments over 20 bands compared to the 0.5db and 10 bands of previous models. The home button has been moved off-screen to just below the screen’s lower ridge.
So far so ordinary. But…
…notice the quad of circular contact points on the AK380’s base? They allow for direct connections to other AK380-specific peripherals.
The AK380 dock ($TBC) cradles the player for re-charging and its rear-facing twin XLR outputs allow for direct connection to an amplifier driving loudspeakers. Inking the AK380’s position as a bona-fide two-channel front end is the soon-to-be-released AK Connect app for iOS and Android. It allows for wireless remote control of song selection and playback. The app will also permit streaming of audio from your phone to the AK380.
The AK380 CD-ROM ($TBC) connects to the cradle’s data port and permits CD ripping direct to the AK380 DAP itself – no intervening computer required. That’ll no doubt be popular in Japan where CD sales remain strong.
Then there’s the AK380 amp ($TBC). Slot the AK380 over the amp’s microUSB stump, secure it in place with the corner-located screw mechanism and you’re good to go with more demanding headphones. It’s nice to see an outboard headphone amplifier finally rid the scene of extraneous (albeit short) USB cables and screen-obscuring rubber band lockdown.
Before you ask: no, I cannot tell you how it sounds. An audio show is no place to conduct a review. Serious reviewers must live with a product, go back and forth between it and its rivals over a number of days or weeks, in order get a proper grip on its functionality and sound. That precisely what I’ve been doing with Astell&Kern’s other new model – the entry-levelling AK Jr. (US$499) – since the Munich High-End Show wrapped some ten days ago. Commentary to come.
Further information: Astell&Kern
Munich High-End 2015 coverage sponsored by LH Labs: