Astell & Kern A&norma A&K SR25

The tilted norm!

PROS: neutral balanced signature with a natural tonality, layered detailed sound, durable build, updated hi-res screen, sideloading of popular streaming apps, MQA support, aptX and LDAC Bluetooth, 21hr playback.

CONS: polarizing opinion about the tilted screen, 2.5mm balanced, case is optional.

The product (both SR25 and SR15) was loaned to me for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.

Manufacturer website: Astell & Kern.  Available for sale directly or from on-line retailers like Audio46.


Intro.

When audiophiles hear the name Astell & Kern, the word “budget” or “entry level” is not the first thing that comes to their mind.  But with an exception of two bonus models, KANN (extra power) and SA700 (homage to the classic), the latest line up of A&K portable players is actually partitioned into A&norma (entry level), A&futura (mid-fi level), and A&ultima (summit-fi level).  Relative to A&ultima flagships, A&norma is a budget model where the original SR15 design was noticeably scaled down.  But, would the same hold true with a new SR25?

While being familiar with SP1000, SP1000M, and SP2000 A&ultima flagships which I have reviewed, their A&norma SR series was never on my radar until A&K asked me if I’m interested to hear their upcoming SR25.  I wasn’t familiar with the original SR15 either, but was well aware of its tilted screen which IMHO stood out as being outside of “norma”.  Being intrigued by the design and curious about the sound, I agreed to take a listen, and later extended my curiosity to how it compares to SR15.  Now, I’m ready to share what I found.

Unboxing and Accessories.

I received SR25 without a packaging box, so there is nothing much to write about the unboxing or accessories.  But I have already seen SR25 on-line unboxing, and it looks like a compact basic packaging with a manual, a few sets of screen protectors, and a premium quality charging/data usb-c cable.

No case was included, it’s optional.  Makes sense since this is their entry level model which needs to be distinguished from upper level flagships.

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, Wired & wireless connections, and Conclusion.

56 thoughts on “Astell & Kern A&norma A&K SR25

  1. Nice review as always. Good work!
    I’m debating between Cayin Ni6II e02/t01 bundle and SR25. Currently own andromeda and ier-m9. My taste of music is pretty diverse, I listen to pretty much every genre. Would love to hear your thoughts on these two DAPs. Since you have tried both, which one would you prefer? Looking forward to your reply. Best.

    Like

    1. these are in a totally different categories, your typical apples/oranges 😉 SR25 is a nice little compact dap for IEMs, BT pair up, and streaming of a handful of popular app. N6ii is a full android modular design dap (2x the price, and more if you add dac/amp cards) where you have full access to Google Play to install anything like on a phone, and also the cards are more powerful to drive demanding headphones (E02 is Class AB amp). For Andro and M9, SR25 will be plenty, and AK daps are very quiet with sensitive iems, while N6ii will have some hissing and might be an overkill for you. So, as long as you are not planning to get some high impedance Senns cans or current-hungry planar magnetic headphones, you are OK with SR25 🙂

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      1. Thanks a lot! I will order for SR25 then. Really appreciate your insights.

        Take care and stay safe 🙂

        Like

    1. You will be surprised, considering every week I’m flooded with questions from people asking me which $2k-$3k earphone they should get and then which $1k-$2k earphone cable they should complement it with.

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  2. Bought a Sr25 a, couple of weeks ago and really disappointed with the WiFi. I use Tidal a lot and the WiFi drops out when 3 meters from my router.
    Also major issue with Bluetooth, hard to connect to devices and suffers also from drop outs.
    Sent back to supplier and waiting for their feedback.
    PJA

    Like

    1. Sounds like something is off with your device. Usually, A&K daps have one of the best wifi performance. SR25 Bluetooth signal is not as powerful, I mentioned that in my review. And I think it is due to battery life, they extended it to 22+ hrs (something gotta give). But worth a shot if your replacement will work better.

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  3. I bought one, and am happy with it except for one glaring issue, one that doesn’t seem to come up in any reviews I’ve read so far and its a borderline dealbreaker.
    If you have a MacBook Pro, you have to download Android File Transfer in order to move your music on to the device. This is my first Android device so I’ve never used AFT. It’s buggy, and crashes / disconnects during transfers, to the point it’s unusable. I’ve seen this issue mentioned many times in forums, but not in any reviews. I’m guessing no one reviewing it is using a Mac, so just a caveat to think twice about buying one if you’re using a Mac. Cheers.

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    1. Sorry, I don’t use Mac, Android/Win only, but I heard from many of my readers they use *only* Commander One for MAC to manage their android based devices. It’s a more advance and mature program. Try it.

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    1. In terms of the sound quality they are close when it comes to iems or any easy to drive headphones, but with harder to drive headphones and some iems with EST drivers dtr1 will have an advantage. And of course, in terms of usability, these are night and day.

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  4. Hi

    I just got the SR25 today and I’m having issues with the GUI. Whenever it’s turned on it scans the media which results in lag and when I try to browse music it jumps in and out of the menu and to the main screen. Have you experienced similar issues?

    Regards
    Casper.

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    1. (since your comment got posted 3 times, I only keeping one ;)). No, I haven’t experienced this issue. Did you copy your files to internal storage or micro SD? If micro SD, could be an issue with reading a card? Is your screen wiped clean, just make sure no oil fingerprints causing “ghost” touch screen effects where GUI does random thing. Doing factory reset and also verifying to make sure you have the latest fw – always a good idea. And after you update the fw, do another fw reset. If everything else fails, post this question on Head-fi, A&K rep (Jason) is always there.

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      1. I’m sorry it got posted three times! Haven’t used this WordPress thing before 🙂

        I took my microSD card from my iBasso DX120 and put it in the SR25. It has always worked on the iBasso.

        I have tried to clean the screen and I even took off the protective thingy and it the issue is still there.

        I’ve downloaded the latest fw and I did a factory reset when I encountered the problem first but it still jumps in and out of the menus.

        I’ll try Head-fi, thanks for the answer!

        Regards

        Like

      2. I just put in my 256 GB card and the issues seem to be gone. I’ll try to format the 512 GB card,

        Thanks.

        Like

  5. Thanks for the review.
    And now I’m making decision between SR25 and Lotoo PAW6K.
    I use streaming often but I think the BT DAC will work for me.
    My IEM is 64audio Trio and I prefer a relax sound with wider stage, any advice of the choice? Or any other DAPs to recommend?

    Thanks.

    Like

    1. Paw6k will have more relaxed sound, and overall more refined technical performance. But you are paying 2x for it. SR25 is a better value due to its outstanding battery performance and streaming support.

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      1. Thank you for the quick yet useful reply.

        Here in Chinese market, brand new P6K will “only” cost about 1.5x SR25. Anyway, SR25 seems to be a decent choice. A rarely used one will cost even less.

        If I extend the choice to PGT and SP1000M, do you think the combination can produce the so called “holographic soundstage expansion” with the Trio?

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      2. I just tested side by side trio with PAW6k and SR25, just to refresh my mind. SR25 soundstage is wider and more holographic from 3.5mm output vs 3.5mm PAW6k output (I’m using stock 64audio cable). If you go to balanced, it will be even wider. So, my suggestion to you, go with SR25 and update Trio cable to balanced termination.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. any DAP that supports MQA hardware decoding and has android to run Tidal app. All the latest A&K DAPs (SR, SE, SP) support that. And you also got Hiby and iBasso daps and some Cayin daps (N6ii doesn’t support yet, but N8 does).

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      1. different, not better. In terms of tonality, N6ii with T01 will be closer to SR25. E02 has a more natural analog tonality with a punchier bass, and its Class AB amplifier can drive some very demanding headphones and earphones.

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      2. Ahh… thank you SO much. Just got the MEST and LeonidesII today, and I’m blown away! Using it with SR-25 and loving it, and just wondering if I should take advantage of Musiktek’s 4th of July sale on the N6 w/EO2 MB…

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  6. Hi, i want to buy the Sr25, but I’m concern about one thing: You have this big wheel to adjust the volume – It’s certainly nice, but I intend to put the unit in my front pocket when i will listening to music. I’m afraid that the knob for the volume could accidentally going up or down when i put it in my pocket and when I’m walking – Is it something that can happend frequently ?

    Thanks

    Like

      1. Even when inside the leather case like the new Dignis case? Wouldn’t that case design help with accidental button pressing or hitting the wheel?

        Like

  7. Hello,

    I’m contemplating to get a SR15 or DX160. Currently, there’s a promotion going on where SR15 is having a roughly 50% discount and it’s priced at a price point similar to DX160.

    In my situation, do you recommend me getting the SR15 or DX160?

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      1. Hi. Speaking purely on audio and on power output. Which do you consider better the cowon plenue 2 or the astell & kern sr25. Thank you

        Like

  8. Does the UI for this allow for “favorite” songs or creating playlists from internal storage? my main use for music outside of personal listening at home where i can take my time is “Set and forget” playlists for work over a BT speaker.

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  9. I am currently trying to decide between the SR25 or a used Cube. My old AK70 broke and can no longer drive power to earphones, and when plugged into the car it has become less engaging.

    The new device will be primarily used to drive music to my car. Into the Mark Levision system via 2.5mm.

    I have a few questions:

    1) is the sound stage for the cube much better than the SR25?

    2) as the Cube can physically push more power, will this be a better choice for the car.

    3) I heard the Cube is more focused on mids and low. I am a bit worried as that sounds like you will lose the dynamics of the music.

    Looking forward to your inputs.

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    1. I haven’t heard Cube, but for your car you don’t need high power DAP output, especially since you will be “double amping” the sound. CUBE has higher output power to drive demanding headphones, not really for car audio system. I think you will be better off with SR25. and I guarantee, at some point you will decide to enjoy the sound at home as well, and SR25 is a great little compact DAP, big improvement in sound over your AK70.

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      1. That is a very good point! Plus the Cube is gigantic to carry around. I will go with the SR25!

        I have the Arcam 850 for the home theather. I just need something for the car.

        Thanks Twister!

        Like

  10. Hi Twister,
    I recently bought a CFA Solaris and wanted to update my old AK 70 II.
    Can you advise whether SE200 /SA700 will be significantly better than SR 25? I originally wanted to get Cayin N6 II but concerned about the background hiss.

    I have a diverse music taste – pop, rock, piano, some classics and Jazz. I do enjoy solid bass but don’t consider myself a bass head.

    As you have tested many DAPs, I value your opinion .
    Thanks for your sharing your expertise with me.

    Like

    1. Sorry, zero experience with SE200/SA700, so I can’t tell you if it will sound better 😦 But SR25 is definitely a big step up from AK70ii and SR15. Just make sure you are using 2.5mm balanced output, it is noticeably better than 3.5mm, so I would advice upgrading Solaris cable to 2.5mm termination.

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  11. Hello, very informative review.
    I have a doubt: I bought a FiiO M9 Pro headphones and I was intend to couple with a Fiio M11 or a M11 Pro. In terms of sound quality, Do I loss much if I go with the SR25 instead of some of those Fiio`s?
    In my country (Chile) the SR25 is USD 649 (offer price) and the FiiO M11 Pro is USD 779
    Thanks in advance!

    Like

    1. Not familiar with M9 Pro headphones, thus hard to tell how they will pair up. I prefer M11 pro sound over M11. I can only suggest to take a closer reading at my comparison of SR25 vs M11 Pro and see which one will match your M9 Pro headphones better.

      Like

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