Astell & Kern A&ultima A&K SP2000

Wired and wireless connections.

Besides being a portable DAP, you can expand SP2k functionality as a transport to drive external DAC/amp, to use external AMP, or to turn the DAP into usb DAC.  And of course, you don’t have to be limited to wired headphones, and can take advantage of Wireless Bluetooth connection.  And, while you have plenty of internal storage and micro SD expansion, you can also connect other external storage or use A&K own Connect server app to stream from your computer.  Let’s take a closer look at some of these options.


Bluetooth Wireless with B&W P7 Wireless – SP2k paired up with P7W within seconds and had the acknowledgement message on the screen that it was connected using aptX codec.  I was able to change volume from SP2k and from P7W, as well as control the playback and skip tracks remotely.  Wireless connection worked about 55ft away from SP2k in open area.  The sound was typical of P7W with L-shaped signature where bass is dominating the sound while you can still hear clearly mids and treble.  I also compared it to pair up with my Galaxy S9, and surprisingly under the same aptX codec the sound had a little stronger bass that was a bit overwhelming.  This always makes me wonder since in theory digital wireless protocol should be the same, but I still find some variations in sound, maybe due to different BT chipsets.  Either way, the bass was strong in both pair ups (SP2k and S9), but I found it more tolerable with SP2k.


Line Out.

Connected to FiiO E12A, I had to select Line Out from notification bar and was able to control the volume from both external amp and SP2k.  The sound was a little more on a warmer/smoother side and soundstage was not as wide as the original output of SP2k, suggesting how much SP2k internal amp contributes to its sound quality.  Taking the opportunity to compare SP2k vs SPK line out (DAC outputs), with the same E12A external neutral amp and the same pair of IEMs, I found SP2k to have a slightly wider soundstage and the tonality to be a little warmer with a fuller body while SPK was a little thinner and more transparent.


USB Audio Out.

Connected to micro iDSD BL using USB-C OTG adapter cable.  In notification bar of SP2k have to tap on External USB to select USB Audio mode.  Volume was fixed on SP2k at 150, and I can adjust it from iDSD.  Very clean and transparent sound based on sound characteristics of iDSD BL DAC/amp while using SP2k as a digital transport.


Optical Out.

Everything worked as is once I connected iDSD BL optical SPDIF input to SP2k 3.5mm port output using optical cable.  SP2k was set to a fixed max volume (150) and I was able to control output from iDSD BL. The sound was a little richer in tonality when compared to SP2k/iDSD connection using USB Audio out.



Recognized right away by my ThinkPad T480s (Win10Pro).  In notification bar of SP2k have to tap USB Mode to select DAC.  Volume can be adjusted from Laptop or SP2k.  Playing the same song directly from SP2k or using it as USB DAC connected to my laptop, the sound was nearly identical, perhaps with a touch more warmth using it connected to laptop.  But the difference was very minor.



Without a second thought, the latest SP2000 flagship is A&K best DAP to date.  And why wouldn’t it be?  They finetuned and perfected the sound and updated some of the features from their previous flagship which was already at the top of its game.  The internal storage is doubled to 512GB, the support of lossless hi-res formats went up to 32bit/786kHz and DSD512, more streaming apps supported, new flagship AK4499 DAC is implemented, the output power is increased, and even the SNR performance is improved.  So, when it comes to choosing between SP1000 and SP2000, it’s a no-brainer which one to get, especially since the price is the same.  And, you can’t complain anymore about A&K being the most expensive DAP because in the last few years a number of other flagship releases from competitors caught up and even surpassed A&K in price.

But I think a question still remains if you should upgrade from SP1000.  When I received SP2k and posted a few teaser shots on Head-fi and FB, the #1 question I received was from the current SPK users who are trying to decide if they should sell it and upgrade to a new model.  It’s not an easy question to answer because everybody has different requirements.  For example, some might want to stick with SPK if they need more power and want to use docking AMP module (which no longer supported in SP2k), or if you prefer a longer battery life.   The sound has improved, but more on a level of refinement.  But overall, if you are diehard A&K fan and would like their latest and greatest, SP2000 with its holographic soundstage expansion and layered resolving sound will be the way to go!

25 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


  7. Hi there,

    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.

    Thank you


    1. 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.


      1. 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.


      2. 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 into SP2000 thread and ask people if anybody using these headphones and how do they like it? Worth a shot!


  8. 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
    LPTG Titanium
    Plenue L
    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


  9. Hi Twister!
    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.



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