Astell & Kern A&ultima A&K SP2000

Sound Analysis.

The sound analysis of SP2k was done using 64 Audio U18t, playing a selection of the test tracks, such as Agnes Obel “The curse”, Sandro Cavazza “So much better” (Avicii remix), C-Bool “Never go away”, Ed Sheeran “Shape of you”, Counting Crows “Big yellow taxi”, Galantis “Hunter”, Alan Walker “Darkside”, Iggy Azalea “Black widow”, Indila “Boite en argent”, Robin Schultz “Oh child”, David Elias “Vision of her”, and Michael Jackson “Dirty Diana”.

Since I only had a chance to test Stainless Steel model, I won’t be able to offer any comparison to Copper model.  Please keep in mind, all the sound description is based on listening to SP2000 SS.

I already hinted in the intro of this review that we are looking at the refined version of SP1000.  What I found very interesting is that a level of this refinement varied depending on which earphone or headphone I was pairing SP2k with.  Because of that, I spent extra time and included more details in Pair Up section of this review to give you a better idea of SP2k sound.  So, you can consider this section of the review as a summary of my finding, but for more in-depth analysis please refer to follow up Comparison and Pair Up review sections.

The first thing you notice when start listening to SP2k SS is the width of the soundstage.  Sounds like deja vu from my SPK review, but in their previous flagship the soundstage always had a good depth with a sound being more out of your head.  When it comes to width, the original SPK changed between early fw updates.  A few people did argue with me about fw changes, I guess we all hear things differently, and it will depend on headphones and your hearing level.  But the original fw version of SPK (1.06) was super wide, then it shrunk a bit with follow up updates.  SP2k width captures that original L/R spread I remember from SPK (1.06).  As a result, the soundstage of SP2k SS is very spacious, on 3D holographic level, which also leads to an imaging with a very precise placement of instruments and vocals.  The limiting factor here will only be your IEMs or headphones and how wide they are tuned to deliver the sound.

The tonality of SP2k is neutral with a sound being quite transparent and very resolving.  When it comes to bass, the original SPK felt more neutral in comparison to SP2k which has more emphasis (in both sub-bass rumble and mid-bass punch) and more articulation where bass is faster and tighter.  The quantity of the bass in SP2k is not over-emphasized or boosted, but you can hear a nice tight well controlled punch with many IEMs and headphones.  Mids are very clear, layered, transparent, without adding any coloring to your IEMs/headphones outside of their own “stock” tonality.  The mids of SP2k SS are not too cold or analytical, and at the same time don’t contribute too much of extra body to the sound.  To my ears both SPK and SP2k have a little smoother treble which gives the sound a more natural tone without compromising extension and airiness.

I know that for some SNR spec numbers are meaningless, but I can correlate it with an improvement in dynamics of the vertical sound expansion due to a lower noise floor.  And after spending a long time listening closer to SPK vs SP2k, I can hear the latter one having a blacker background.  With blacker background, I also hear an improvement in faster transient response where details pop up with more clarity, especially in the mids of SP2k.  Though the difference is subtle, it is noticeable to my ears with more revealing IEMs.

I hate to speculate about SP2k CU and will certainly update this section of the review when I get a chance to hear it, but I would expect Copper version to have more body in the mids like it did with SPK.

2.5mm vs 3.5mm

With U18t, to match my regular listening sound level, I had volume at 62 (3.5mm) vs volume at 52 (2.5mm).  Quite often people ask me about the difference in sound between single ended and balanced outputs of the DAP.  Here, I definitely noticed a more powerful output of balanced HO which you can see in volume setting difference. In terms of sound difference, balanced output is just a touch wider and with a little blacker background. Not exactly night’n’day, but noticeable when using more resolving earphones.  Otherwise, these ports were close in sound when compared to SPK ports.

ak_sp2000-33

Comparison.

In every comparison I used U18t IEMs, volume matched while listening to the same test track between DAPs.

SP2k vs SPK – not just with U18t, but across many different earphones and full-size headphones I found a common difference of SP2k having a wider soundstage, and also a bass with a little more emphasis and articulation and faster speed due to faster attack and shorter decay.  A more subtle difference was noticeable in SP2k having a blacker background and some improvements in layering and separation of the sounds as a result of more clarity in mids/vocals.  But the most noticeable change was in soundstage width and speed and punch of the bass.

SP2k vs HiFiMAN R2R2000 Red w/iEMatch – relative to U18t, I had to use iEMatch with R2R2k, otherwise tonality would have been completely off.  Comparing SP2k to R2R2k I hear a lot of similarities in terms of sound signature, resolution, layering and separation of the sounds, and even soundstage expansion. The only sound difference I hear is in tonality with mids being a little more revealing and slightly brighter in Red vs a little smoother and more organic in SP2k.  Of course, got to keep in mind this is relative to U18t.

SP2k vs Sony WM1Z – a lot of similarities in technical performance between these two as well, both having a dynamic layered sound with excellent retrieval of details and great layering and separation of sounds.  When it comes to soundstage, they are similar as well, but I hear SP2k having a little wider soundstage expansion.  Also, usually WM1Z has more bass impact, but here the SP2k was able to match it.  But when it comes to treble sparkle/brightness, WM1Z was crisper while SP2k was smoother, more organic.

SP2k vs Lotoo PAW Gold Touch LPGT – in this comparison a found a few subtle differences in technical performance of each DAP.  Both have a wide soundstage expansion, but SP2k pushes the width just a touch wider, making it more holographic, but the difference is not exactly night’n’day.  Also, LPGT bass is a little more neutral in comparison to SP2k having a slightly tighter punch.  In terms of tonality, mids/vocals are very similar revealing, neutral, but LPGT has more air and sparkle in treble while SP2k is a little smoother in comparison.

SP2k vs iBasso DX220 w/AMP8 – a lot of similarities in this comparison as well, but also a few differences.  The soundstage is wider in SP2k, expanding a little more between Left and Right sides.  Technical performance has a lot of similarities, the same dynamic layered sound with a good separation of instruments, but I do hear DX220 w/amp8 to have a stronger bass impact and a touch more sparkle in treble.  Punchier bass is a typical signature of AMP8, but everything else is not too far off.

SP2k vs Cayin N6ii – Some difference in this comparison, with SP2k soundstage being wider, while N6ii having a little smoother tonality.  Both have a nice and strong mid-bass punch, perhaps with N6ii being a little tighter, but it’s close enough.  N6ii smoother tonality is more noticeable when comparing mids where I hear more body in N6ii while SP2k is a little brighter and more transparent (in relative comparison).  Treble is very similar between these two.

ak_sp2000-44

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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