Astell & Kern A&ultima A&K SP2000

Design.

A&K new SP2k flagship has a very similar exterior design and size when compared to its SPK predecessor.  With dimensions of 76.3mm x 132mm x 15.7mm, on par with some of the large screen smartphones and a few of my other big size DAPs, I still consider it to be portable, but it might not be as pocket friendly for everyone due to its 411g (Stainless Steel) or 433g (Copper) weight.  This is just part of a tradeoff for having a large 5” high definition touch screen and additional weight associated with either SS or CU chassis.

The focus of the design is still around the large 5″ touch screen occupying the front view, with a touch home button below the visible display area – a great feature to get back to the main Playback screen from any other screen.  The front view of the DAP is slightly asymmetric due to uneven sculptured bevel sides, and a crown-patterned volume wheel on the right which also functions as a power button when you press it.  As a power button it has a typical functionality of short press to turn the screen on/off or a long press to turn the power on/off, with confirmation to shutdown which requires touch screen acknowledgement.

The volume wheel is easy to turn using one finger, though it’s not loose and has some resistance with a click action felt with every rotation turn of 150 volume steps.  You don’t have to take your hand/finger off the volume wheel after the adjustment if you want to turn on/off the display.  The design of the volume wheel has a detailed crown pattern, typical of a wrist watch.  It certainly adds to the appeal of the DAP, since even inside of a leather case the wheel is still visible.  The design pattern of the SP2k wheel is slightly different from SPK model, but there are still many other similarities.

 

On the left side you have Play/Pause and Skip controls, three identical rectangular buttons located in the upper part of the left side.  They do have a nice tactile response and spaced evenly with enough room in between to avoid pressing an adjacent button by mistake.  Since majority of users will have SP2k in a leather case anyway, buttons will be covered, and stock leather case has their imprinted functionality label for easier ID.  And as many would expect, Dignis already released some aftermarket leather cases if you would like to upgrade.

The top of the DAP has fully open access to 3.5mm headphone port which also used for Line Out and Optical out, and 2.5mm balanced headphone port.  The only thing, top also has a black glass cover which blends in with headphones ports, and I had to look closer before inserting the plug.  In SPK, the top had corresponding color chassis material, so it was easier to see black headphone ports.  Also, unlike SPK, you will not find micro SD card slot at the top of SP2k.

The micro SD port (spring loaded) is now on the bottom, to the right of USB-C port which is used for charging (including Fast Charging), data transfer, USB DAC connection, and USB OTG external device connection.  If you are using stock leather case, as already mentioned, you will have to remove it to access micro SD card.  The back of the DAP has an asymmetric design with chassis material (SS in my case) and a carbon fiber inlay triangle at the top.  If you wondering where are the pins for a docking AMP module (like in SPK), it is no longer there since SP2k doesn’t support this option anymore.

 

Under the hood.

While we do know that it’s not the chipset but how you implement it that makes a difference, similar to SPK being one of the first to use AK4497 DAC, SP2k moves forward with introduction of AKM latest AK4499 flagship DAC.  SP2k has 2 of these DACs, using them separately in each independent audio channel between the Unbalanced and Balanced outputs.  A&K didn’t share any further details about the design and the components of the internal headphone amp section, but from the spec the output power was increased with Unbalanced 3Vrms (up from previous 2.2Vrms) and Balanced 6Vrms (up from previous 3.9Vrms).  Also, SNR spec was improved by at least 3dB, with Unbalanced 124dB (up from previous 120dB) and Balanced 125dB (up from previous 122dB).  These number don’t just improve on paper, but you can hear a more powerful dynamic output with blacker background when comparing SP2k to SPK.

The touch display is the same responsive 5” high definition (720 x 1280 resolution) screen.  By smartphone standards this resolution is average, but considering this is audio only playback device, it’s more than adequate.  The interface is relatively fast, thanks to octa-core CPU.  I didn’t notice any lag when navigating or browsing, though there is always a small delay when you press Play.  Looks like SP2k has plenty of processing power to do flawless audio decoding while supporting all the popular lossy and lossless formats, such as WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, and DSF, with PCM rates up to 32bit/786kHz and DSD rates up to 22.58MHz (DSD512).  And MQA playback support was added, covering Tidal Masters, Local files, External USB, and MQA-CD (ripped).

 

And for high resolution files you have plenty of storage with internal 512GB of NAND flash storage and microSD external memory expansion up to the latest largest capacity card (A&K tested with 1TB).  Furthermore, USB-C OTG supports external hard drive storage or usb stick expansion.  The battery life is OK, but with new DACs and higher output power, even increase in battery capacity to 3,700mAh (up from previous 3,400), the playback time drops from 12hrs (SPK) to 8hrs (SP2k), FLAC loop playback with display off.  Going to DSD, it will be reduced even further just like with any other DAP.  Also, SP2k still supports Fast Charging which takes about 2.5hrs from empty to 100%.  You can either use a regular 5V/2A charger or a Fast 9V/1.67A charger.

To support fast charging and to speed up data transfer, SP2k also features USB 3.0 Type-C interface for charging, data transfer, and USB DAC functionality.  WiFi was updated to dual band now, supporting both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.  Along with that you have OTA firmware update support and of course streaming of many popular apps.  Furthermore, Bluetooth v4.1 Wireless supporting A2DP and AVRCP profiles, and aptX and aptX HD protocols.  Also, in addition to 2.5mm BAL output, 3.5mm SE port is multifunctional for headphone out, line out, and optical digital out.

ak_sp2000-29

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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