Tech

There’s a tiny tube amp in this super pricey Astell & Kern music player

Astell & Kern’s latest portable music player is as high-tech as it is extravagantly expensive. The $2,399 A&ultima SP2000T releases in October, and it stands out from the brand’s previous models like the Kann and Kann Cube with a new triple amp system. These things are never affordable, and the price might seem especially out there if you’re content with listening to music from a streaming service on your phone. But there’s some real engineering swagger in effect here.

Astell & Kern managed to fit a tiny tube amp inside of this device. Specifically, it uses a Korg Nutube 6P1, which conceptually operates just like larger tube amps, only it’s small enough to fit in a device that can go in your pocket. To avoid any interference that the resonance of the tubes might generate, Astell & Kern says it developed a modular structure on the PCB just for the tubes, fixing them with silicone to minimize vibrations. The best part of the press release is that it says its design “uses magnetic forces to float the amp in the air to reduce internal noise.”

Audiophiles reading this have every right to be skeptical that Astell & Kern can reproduce the effect of a tube amp with such minuscule hardware, but it at least deserves some credit for trying. Check it out in action below.

When you’re using the A&ultima SP2000T, it’ll let you switch between its OP-AMP setting for “ultra-clarity and a dynamic playback,” the tube amp mode for a “uniquely warm” sound, and a hybrid mode that blends the best of both modes into one. Additionally, this model has an ESS ES9068AS quad DAC for further enhancing the way your music sounds. This is apparently Astell & Kern’s first player to feature a quad DAC, as well as the Replay Gain utility, which adjusts the volume of all of your music (up to 24-bit / 192kHz) to the same level, so one song isn’t quieter than the other.

Astell & Kern A&Ultima SP2000T

Image: Astell & Kern

Now, for some specs. The player is compatible with 2.5mm, 3.5mm, and 44.mm plugs. It has a five-inch 1080p touchscreen, which might be the least impressive thing about it. You can charge it and transfer files via its USB-C port. It’s also Wi-Fi ready, supporting the company’s AK File Drop utility that lets you transfer files wirelessly via PC, phone, or even an FTP on the same network. You’ll obviously get the best sound quality with a set of high-end, wired headphones or earphones, but it also supports Bluetooth 5.0 with 24-bit aptX HD and LDAC codec support. Lastly, it has 256GB of flash storage built in, but it supports up to 1TB via microSD. It has a 4,200mAh battery, which the company says will get you about nine hours of FLAC playback.

For people with the sort of budget that allows this kind of purchase, this seems like something you may want to try before you buy. It’s possible that Astell & Kern created something great that defies its pocket-sized stature, but it’s just as likely that this has some overly ambitious first-gen quirks to iron out. You’ll be able to find out yourself when it releases in October.

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