Astell & Kern A&ultima A&K SP2000

Ultimate Finetuning!

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 other on-line stores like Audio46.


Intro.

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.

17 thoughts on “Astell & Kern A&ultima A&K SP2000

  1. 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 ..
    Fantastic ..

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  2. 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

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    1. 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.

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  3. 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 !

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  4. 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.

    Thanks

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      1. 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

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      2. 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.

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      3. Oh wow. That’s amazing to not have to worry about dtr1 and r2r. Thanks. I hadn’t considered N6ii. Will check it out.

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  5. 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…

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  6. 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

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