Astell & Kern A&ultima A&K SP2000

Pair up.

I decided to make Pair Up section a little different in this review.  For every pair of earphones or headphones I compared the sound performance between SP2k and SPK and indicated the volume level in ().

Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd (Tesla, full size, BAL)

SP2k (70) vs SPK (76) – in both pair ups the sound has a balanced sig with a smoother, warmer, more natural tonality.  With SP2k the soundstage is wider, bass is tighter and punchier, and I hear a little more clarity in mids/vocals, especially upper mids.  Treble is the same.  Except for a noticeable difference in soundstage and bass, the rest is just finetuning.

Audio-Technica ATH-R70x (470 ohm, open back, SE)

SP2k (110) vs SPK (115) – in both pair ups the sound has a balanced sig with a more neutral smoother tonality.  With SP2k the soundstage expansion is wider, bass is punchier and faster, mids and treble sounds nearly identical in tonality, but overall SP2k has a tighter sound with a blacker background where details popping up faster and with a little more clarity.  Again, a lot of this is finetuning, while soundstage and bass difference are more noticeable.

MEZE Empyrean (planar magnetic, BAL)

SP2k (83) vs SPK (90) – in both pair ups the sound has a balanced sig with a more natural organic tonality.  With SP2k the soundstage is wider and more holographic, and the bass is faster as well.  Not necessary with more punch, but the speed is faster due to faster attack and shorter decay.  Also, I noticed more clarity in vocals when paired up with SP2k, which makes SPK sound a bit congested in comparison, especially when it comes to vocals.

VE Zen ZOE (320 ohm, earbuds, BAL)

SP2k (85) vs SPK (90) – balanced signature, and thicker sound with a warm smooth tonality.  With SP2k the soundstage is just a little bit wider, while bass and treble are nearly the same as with SPK.  The biggest difference here is in mids, where paired up with SP2k I hear ZOE mids/vocals having more clarity and better retrieval of details.

64 Audio U18t (18BA, BAL)

SP2k (51) vs SPK (60) – a balanced signature with a slightly more forward mids presentation, more revealing natural tonality.  I do hear soundstage to be wider with SP2k, and also bass being just a little tighter, faster, and more articulate.  Also, mids have a little more clarity, and faster and tighter, I can actually hear a blacker background with SP2k.  With U18t the difference is more subtle, where SP2k finetunes rather than drastically changes the sound.

64 Audio Fourte Noir (DD/3BA, BAL)

SP2k (55) vs SPK (61) – a balanced signature with a little extra emphasis on lows and overall more natural revealing tonality.  The sound difference here is less drastic as well, similar to U18t.  The soundstage is wider with SP2k, and the sound is a little tighter, sharper, and I can hear blacker background with SP2k, but it’s a subtle change with a more noticeable difference in soundstage and detail retrieval which are improved with SP2k.


SP2k (54) vs SPK (61) – a balanced signature with a little extra emphasis on lows, and more natural revealing tonality.  The difference here is more noticeable between SP2k where the soundstage is wider, bass is tighter and faster, and retrieval of details and separation of sounds is noticeably better, making pair up with SPK sound more congested in comparison.  Especially the difference in mids is quite noticeable.

Campfire Audio Andromeda (5BA, BAL)

SP2k (37) vs SPK (44) – interestingly enough, with SPK the sound sig is leaning more toward being slightly v-shaped, while with SP2k the sounds sig is more balanced where mids/vocals being more forward relative to SPK.  Soundstage is a little bit wider with SP2k, and also bass has more rumble and a little faster/tighter with SP2k.  Mids/vocals clarify is improved, and I hear blacker background.  I was a little surprised here since the difference was more noticeable.  Also, a slight waterfall hissing when idling with both DAPs.

Campfire Audio Solaris (DD/3BA, BAL)

SP2k (36) vs SPK (43) – in this comparison with Solaris, both DAPs have a balanced signature with a more vibrant natural revealing tonality.  The soundstage width difference is more noticeable here, with SP2k being wider.  I also can hear more sub-bass rumble and overall bass being tighter and faster with SP2k, but it’s not a night and day difference.  SP2k mids have a slightly more forward mids/vocals and I hear slight improvement in retrieval of details.  But overall, the differences are more subtle in this comparison.  And also, I can hear waterfall hissing when idling.

Empire Ears Wraith (7BA/4ESTAT, BAL)

SP2k (37) vs SPK (46) – the sound signature here is more balanced with a neutral natural tonality. The difference in soundstage width is quite noticeable with SP2k being wider and more holographic.  Also, SP2k has more sub-bass rumble and slightly more punch in mid-bass.  Mids have more clarity in SP2k as well, but still the tuning of Wraith calls for a smoother, more natural tonality.  Both have a similar slightly rolled of treble.  And in both cases, Wraith has a noticeable hissing which you can hear not only when idling but also during lower volume listening.

Empire Ears Legend X (2DD/5BA, BAL)

SP2k (59) vs SPK (67) – in this comparison the sound sig is not exactly the same.  While the bass is lifted in both pair ups, the sound sig with SPK is more L-shaped with duller upper mids/treble while with SP2k the sound sig is closer to being balanced with more bass emphasis, more clarity in mids, and a touch more sparkle in treble.  The changes in mids/treble with SP2k is most likely due to bass being slightly less overwhelming which gives mids/vocals and treble some room to breathe.  No hissing with this pair up.


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 hardening but romantic ..very pleased . I have a sp1000M to compare ..
    Fantastic ..


  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


    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.


  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 !


  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.



      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


      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.


      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.


  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…


  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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