PROS: holographic soundstage, layered resolving sound, SS & CU chassis (the same price), build like a tank, large 5” touch screen, sideloading of popular streaming apps, DSD512 and MQA support, 512GB internal storage, fast charge, leather case.
CONS: price, weight, no longer supports docking AMP module, subtle PEQ adjustment.
The product was loaned to me for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Manufacturer website: Astell & Kern. Available for sale directly or retailers like Bloom Audio.
When I had a chance to review SP1000 (SPK), I expressed how Astell & Kern have come a long way since my review of their AK120ii. In my follow up SP1000M (SPKM) review, I noted how its new updated software paved the way to enable many popular streaming apps on A&K DAPs with introduction of Open APP Service. Now, two years since SPK introduction, A&K unveiled their new flagship model, SP2000 (SP2k) which is available again in either Stainless Steel (SS) or Copper (CU) versions. And to my big surprise, the price of SP2k remained the same as SPK SS/CU.
A new flagship release from A&K, one of the companies that pioneered the concept of high-end DAPs, is guaranteed to get the attention of audiophiles around the world. But in today’s saturated market of portable audio players, you never know what to expect. A few years ago, new flagship releases from different manufacturers had a more noticeable incremental improvements in both the design and the sound. Today, many are already at the top of their game. So, where do you go from there? You go for a Refinement! And that’s exactly what I found while spending the last 2 weeks with SP2000 SS. Here is more about it.
Unboxing and Accessories.
SP2k unboxing experience is identical to SPK. No big surprises here, though the sight of a large premium wooden storage box emerging from an all-black paper outer box was still very impressive. That outer box cover had A&K signature “A” on the top and a detailed small print spec in 10 languages on the back, but my focus went straight to the wooden giftbox.
Everything was packed inside of it with Astell & Kern name on the top cover. Still, there is no latches or hinges for the cover to be securely attached, thus make sure to hold it from the bottom when opening the top. Inside you have a foam cutout under the cover where you will find a leather case, 2 sets of front/back film screen protectors, quick start card, and a warranty card. The foam cutout inside the main part of the box holds SP2000 and USB-C cable.
Right away I noticed the absence of A-logo micro-SD tray pin (found in SPK) – SP2k uses spring loaded mechanism for its flash card. Multiple sets of screen protectors were thoughtful to have in case if you mess up during installation. The included standard USB-C high speed cable for charging, data transfer, and usb DAC functionality is high quality, thick, with a durable shielding, and adequate gauge wires. With a fast charge mode support, it’s important to use a quality cable for high speed charging at higher voltage.
Just like with SPK, A&K included a quality premium leather case with SP2k model. This one was green color. The case fits like a glove, with a generous opening for usb-C connector at the bottom, covered play/pause/skip buttons on the left, a fully open top (where you slide the DAP in), and uncovered upper right corner going from the volume/power wheel and all the way up. Inside the case you have a soft suede material to protect DAP from scratches. The case looks rich and gives this large size dap a more secure grip when handling it. The only concern is micro SD card slot being covered at the bottom, so you have to remove the case to access it.
Page 2 – Design, and Under the hood.
Page 3 – GUI overview, and Open APP Service.
Page 4 – Sound Analysis and Comparison to other DAPs.
Page 5 – Pair up with IEMs and Full-size headphones.
Page 6 – Wired and wireless Connections, and Conclusion.
29 thoughts on “Astell & Kern A&ultima A&K SP2000”
What about the difference, only un terms of sound quality, with the DETHONRAY Prelude ?
I will look into that and reply back to you when I get to it!
I listen exclusively via my Nagra main setup ..The holografic wide bandspread is Obvious..no hardening but romantic ..very pleased . I have a sp1000M to compare ..
it was interesting to see the comp. bet the DX228. I hope in the future we could compare it w/ the DX228ex mod. Thanks for the great review , as always…
Thanks for the informative write up. Was a proud owner SP1K ss and in the midst of deciding whether to buy the SP1K amp or SP2k instead. Wondering if u have tried and compares them both. I have tried SP2k in my local headphone store and your writeup accurately described my listening experience (the higher power output delivered a better dynamic + a touch wider soundstage) which is a pleasant surprise. But unfortunately they dint carry the amp thus was uncertain if they improved the sp1k ss SQ. Sorry for the long writeup and question. Bt ur kind answer will be deeply appreciated
Sorry, I didn’t have a chance to try SPK amp. But that is a very good question. I have read comments from other people who found SPK + amp to drive demanding headphones better than sp2k. But adding amp to SPK makes it very heavy and bulky. Perhaps, SPK + amp is a good option if you have harder to drive full size headphones. But if you have many iems and want a high res portable setup, sp2k will be a better solution.
Hi Twister6. Thanks for the great review. I am planing to buy the SP2000 to go with my W80 (Ref8 cable, 2.5mm). You seem to know well the W80. I would like to you thoughts where I should get the SS or CU version to pair with W80. I can’t demo them where I live sadly and I would like to buy the one that pairs the ”best” with W80. Thank you for your time !
Of course, it’s a matter of a personal taste, but in my opinion W80 benefits more from SS sound signature which brings up more details in sound.
Hi Alex, great review and good set of comparison DAPs.
Can you help me to understand a certain sound difference. So i’ve tried many DAPs recently in my search. Fiio, A&K, iBasso. I disliked the sound of all of them and was convinced I’d need a desktop DAC to get the sound i’m chasing. This sound is both clear (which i find comes most from a re-clocked USB source) and organic. It’s the organic piece I’m chasing the most – i’ve heard most prominently from a Schiit Gungnir/Mjolnir stack where Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car for example sounded so resonant, natural, organic and just down-right effortless. There’s good instrument separation but vocals always sit just above the instruments (where i feel they should be). I’ve been chasing this signature ever since. So i tried all the mid-level offerings of the above DAP makers and heard nothing but flat, distant and lifeless signatures. Then the shop owner suggested the SP2K and voila, there it was! Note this was the SS version, i also heard the CU version and didn’t find it there. So now my search has expanded and at that sound quality it makes sense to pool cash into maybe a single SP2K SS instead of 2 desktop systems (home and work) which is what i though i’d have to do to get this sound.
So my question is ‘which other DAPs have this sound signature i’m chasing?’ Given the Schiit stack reference which use an r2r, is the Hifiman R2R2000 Red the answer or maybe Black. What about LPGT, Cayin N8 or DTR1 even sounds promising. My main use is local flac files but OTG USB functionality is useful too. Or is there anything i’m missing?
Appreciate you work here and any direction you can give.
What headphones or earphones are you using? Do you care about streaming? Touch screen? Battery life? 2.5mm vs 4.4mm balanced?
I’ve got 64Audio a12t customs.
10/10 need is this organic and easy sound
10/10 need is local flac files
6/10 need is that it’s reasonably portable
5/10 need is ability to use DAP as a USB DAC
3/10 need is for balanced
0/10 need is for good battery life
0/10 need is for touch screen
you can cross DTR1 and R2R off your list. Those are nice DAPs to have in addition to your main dap, but you will get very frustrated with their user interface, not to mention both of these daps will make your A12t hiss like SOB. N8 is great, but not as portable, especially with those knobs/controls. It’s a great DAP for sure, so maybe keep it under consideration, but only for its tube output. SP2k might be your best choice, but also you should consider N6ii with new E01 dac/amp card which has 2 modes, Class A and Class AB where Class AB makes sound more revealing, while Class A adds a touch of smoothness you desire.
Oh wow. That’s amazing to not have to worry about dtr1 and r2r. Thanks. I hadn’t considered N6ii. Will check it out.
I finally heard the 2000cu at Canjam and I was shocked at how good it was. I used my Cleopatra and Valkyries, the were taken to a whole different level…
Twister6 , Thanks so much for the detailed product description , very useful
could you tell us more about the differnce between steel /black steel and copper , thanks a lot
Only had SS on loan for a short period of time. Have no idea about sound difference with CU. Sorry, bud.
understood , thanks Twister6
enjoy your review a lot
Love your review.
Based on those DAPs you used, do you know which one has the similar power output as the SP2000? I tried to look at the sound level, but could not get the consistent result. Let me know what you think. Because I’m trying to see if the SP2000 have enough power for some headphones I may want to buy.
Do you have SP2k already or are you thinking about buying it to drive your headphones? Sorry, I’m not quite sure about your question. Sp2k has plenty of power, but if you have very demanding hard to drive headphones, look into R8 I recently reviewed. Sp2k SS is more resolving, so has a little better technical performance, but R8 in turbo mode outputs over 1W of power.
Thanks for getting me back this quick. I just brought a SP2K yesterday, and currently is on the way here. I kind of regretting my choice because after some research, I realized that their output number(3vrms SE, 6vrms BAL) is under no load condition, which is different than other DAPs’ number. So I can not see what actual mw it can do. That’s why I was asking if you feel other DAP you reviewed may have similar power output as SP2k, so that I can have some direct numbers and know what it can do.
My main setup was using Hugo2, with my headphones collection( LCDi4, TH900, Z1R, STELLA and HD800S). But I lost it last week, and trying to get a DAP to replace it.
it’s a hard question to answer. SP2k will drive all of these loud enough, but will it be to their full potential? As you probably know, I don’t have too many full size headphones to answer this question. Maybe go on head-fi.org into SP2000 thread and ask people if anybody using these headphones and how do they like it? Worth a shot!
Twister6 we all love your reviews on Head-Fi you are an asset to the community!
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Nice review. I am thinking of buying a dap. My iem is campfire audio solaris. My headphone
is meze empyrean. My preference is pure sound quality.
Chord hugo 2 + 2go
Luxury and precision p6 pro
Ibasso dx220 max
In the above, which one provides natural, 3d holographic sound without hissing for iems and enough power for headphones. What is ur ranking of the above in terms of pure sound quality? Thanks
I have an SE200 DAP and wanted to usb USB Audio to a external DAC/AMP. When connected from USB-C (DAP side) to USB-B (DAC/AMP) I do notice that the External USB icon on the A&K changes to “Audio Out” but no sound is being picked up by the DAC/AMP.
Anything wrong I am doing here?
DAC/AMP model: RME ADI-2 FS.
Are you using USB C to USB B otg cable? It has to be OTG cable since A&K is android dap. Also, sorry, I don’t have RME dac/amp to test.
I have a cayin n6ii you think it is worth changing to the sp2000
What differences do they have in the sonic part
N6ii is 2+ yr old dap that is at the end of its support line. R01 dac/amp card was a nice addition, but still, both of these daps are old and soon to be replaced. I would wait till after the new year, unless you found a killer 2nd hand used dap deal.
I understand but if we go only to the sound quality, what would be their differences, thanks for the answers
There are different dac/amp cards you can use with N6ii that going to change its sonic characteristics from more revealing to a more smooth natural sound. Plus, every card has a slightly boosted bass impact. SP2k is more micro-detailed, with a more neutral bass quantity when compared to N6ii. Tonality will depend on the amp card used, but technical performance is of a higher caliber with SP2k and their implementation of flagship AK4499 DAC (which sadly already discontinued). So, in general, you can draw the conclusion of SP2k having a higher sound quality with a better extraction of more delicate details and better separation and layering of the sounds. But if you are going to invest $3.5k, might as well wait for SP3000 (or whatever the next flagship going to be) or Cayin upcoming N8ii new flagship dap.