Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII: One Minute Review

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and one man's trash is another man's treasure. Anyone who invests in hi-res portable audio, for example, is sure to see the Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII as something of sonic and visual beauty; the mere sight of an A&K player emerging from its owner's pocket signifies its elevation to a very select group of music lovers.

To others, the shifted screen, the endless name, the slightly sharp edges, the somewhat unnecessary unmarked buttons, and the prohibitive price may seem like a hindrance, though for Astell & Kern, that's budget territory.

  • Astell & Kern A&ultima SP2000T at Walmart for €2499 (Opens in a new tab)

Whatever your opinion of the above, the level of features, connectivity, file support, and sound quality that are built in here is, as Jem once said, the dynamic cartoon heroine of the '80s, really, really. , scandalous.

What you need to know is that the music you hear from your phone or laptop will sound constricted, distorted, compressed, and completely beige after listening to music on it. And even if you're familiar with the original (and very talented) SR25, this model sounds a bit better and as such has become one of the best MP3 players on the market.

The A&K A&norm SR25 MKII Digital Audio Player takes and celebrates virtually any size or type of digital audio file, and will now happily accept balanced headphones with 4,4 or 2,5mm headphone jacks, as well as “regular” unbalanced models. ” 3,5mm.

Elsewhere, the touchscreen is bright and responsive and the battery life, at 20 hours, runs the company's A&ultima SP2000T just 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 will rekindle your love of music. And unlike many of the company's more expensive players, this one is small enough to slip into a pocket and will let you stream, ping, or download once-cherished songs, just to see what you do with them.

If the current financial climate makes it even easier to think of such a purchase, this talented little player will not disappoint.

Astell & Kern A&norm SR25 MKII on black background

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

  • Posted in November 2021
  • $749 / £699 / A$1099

The Astell & Kern A&norma SR 25 MKII is available now with a starting price that could change rapidly due to current cost of living challenges. Still others can stop by to learn more, because unlike most Astell & Kern books, it doesn't cost thousands of dollars.

In the UK, a pound sells for less than €700. American patrons hoping to catch one will need to reserve $XNUMX bills and a fifty dollar bill, while in Australia you're looking for more than one large.

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

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

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

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII: Specifications

  • Supports 24-bit LDAC and aptXHD Bluetooth wireless codecs
  • High resolution cuts fully wired to DSD256 and PCM 32bit/384KHz
  • Replay Gain automatically adjusts the playback volume of sound sources up to 24-bit/192kHz

The features we need to go over here give even the best MP3 players a hard time, so buckle up.

Astell & Kern says that all the aspects their customers admired about the original SR25 are retained here, but this new model improves the audio performance even further. How? With its latest audio architecture, it is, promising more detail, clearly defined upper and lower ranges, and a deeper, rounder sound. (More on this later).

What is not new is the implementation of two Cirrus Logic CS43198 DACs, as this is the same dual DAC chip configuration as the previous SR15, which is now a few years old. Once again this player was great sonically and if it didn't break etc.

In addition to a new 4,4mm headphone jack, the MKII unit also features a new Replay Gain function to smoothly adjust the playback volume of sound sources up to 24-bit/192kHz. You also get AK File Drop (first introduced on the more expensive A&futura SE180 player) for easy wireless file transfers; BT Sink function for easier connection of the SR25 MKII to an external Bluetooth device (essentially music from an external device like a smartphone can be played in high quality on the SR25 MKII using it) and extra silver internal shielding to protect against EMI , first seen on the three times more expensive A&ultima SP2000T.

While not shouting, browsing through the SR25 MKII's settings also revealed four interesting and quite different-sounding new DAC filters, which will work if you're listening to PCM 24-bit/192kHz or less (although they won't work on MQA formats). and DSD) and without a doubt they add value and the possibility of customizing levels.

As with the first generation model, the SR25 MKII easily handles a wide range of hi-res music formats and sample rates, including support for native DSD256 playback and PCM 32.bit/384KHz Hi-Res Audio.

And if you want to listen to your favorite hi-res music wirelessly (and why not, given the great wireless headphones available these days?), the SR25 MKII features high-quality LDAC and aptX technologies. HD Bluetooth wireless codecs too, as well as wi-fi for accessing streaming services, including Tidal, which is eagerly awaiting discovery under the "services" tab.

I tested the SR25 MKII with several compatible true wireless earphones for the price, including Cambridge Audio's NuraTrue and Melomania 1+ (both support aptX) and found the Bluetooth connection to be rock solid.

In terms of wired connections, the power output here is standard rather than exceptional, although the SR25 MKII drove my heavy Austrian Hi-X55 audio admirably through an unbalanced (regular 3,5mm) connection.

Astell & Kern A&norm SR25 MKII Review: Design

  • Bright and responsive touchscreen
  • Angular but very pocketable.
  • A&K glorious brand rotary volume dial

Astell & Kern is known for its brutalist aesthetic and there's no doubt that it will be changing course anytime soon. Therefore, the A&norma SR 25 MKII has all sharp angles and points, some of them glassy. Look at it and you'll know it's made by A&K.

The angled screen may be a bit jarring to some (yes, if the screen matches the measurements, it could have been bigger), but it does allow for the inclusion of a nice clickable rotary volume dial in the top right corner, for the which all Astell & Kern players are now known for. This one is bigger than the one its predecessor sported and looks even more like a puffy Swiss chronograph watch face, but we mean that in the best possible way.

There are four unmarked pill-shaped buttons along the top left edge of the player when looking at the screen, which manage (from top to bottom) power, track skip backward, play/pause, and skip to the next track. . Although they are not marked, they are intuitive and once you know it, you know it; again, if you don't like it, A&K doesn't care.

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

The touch screen can be a bit fiddly for those with larger fingers - it may take a few tries to enter your Tidal password, for example - but it's worth persisting as the trade-off is a nimble, happy, talented little player who you can really put it in your pocket without feeling like you've been pushed aside.

The new slightly darker “Mercury Dark Silver” color scheme is another improvement over the previous model, which is lighter in terms of finish. Our only minor gripe with the build is the glass panel on the back of the device; although it is supposed to resist fingerprints, we find that it picks up ours.

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII play button detail

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

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

  • Open and spacious soundstage
  • Guaranteed time and many details.
  • Enthusiastic and fun presentation.

Give the A&K your music, sit back and relax. It only takes a cursory listen to Radiohead's OK Computer (in 24-bit FLAC) to realize this is one gifted little DAP. Throughout Airbag, the SR25 MKII seems to separate and celebrate each item and sonic inflection, but never to the detriment of the track as a whole. Bass passages that other musicians can't reach are offered like musical delights on a shelf to savor on the go, while synths and jingles soar in the upper registers.

Moving on to Tidal, Coheed and Cambria's Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness is packed with detail through an incredibly open three-dimensional soundstage, from the opening strings surrounding us. to the boy quietly playing near our right earlobe as the guitar joins in the middle.

Low frequencies are deep, lively, and held firmly in a cohesive, controlled mix. Media comes to life when we listen to Melissa Etheridge's No Souvenirs, realizing that her textured, soulful, vibrant voice has rarely sounded so expressive and present.

The time and dynamic construction here are both balanced and safe; the SR25 MKII takes every recording you give it, passes it on faithfully, dutifully and with a smidge of extra detail both rhythmically and across frequencies but - and this is where other players of this ilk often fall - it manages to hold jealous of the overall sound experience. energetic and fun...

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