Astell & Kern A&norma A&K SR25

GUI.

Some ask me why I go into so much details describing the GUI.  I review a lot of products, including many DAPs, and often being asked numerous questions after the review, days, weeks, and many months later.  Sometimes I don’t have DAP in front of me at that moment, and it’s easier to reference my review if I don’t remember off top of my head.  Also, you can think of this GUI section as a user guide, to make sure you didn’t miss any hidden gems.

Once you press the Power and after waiting for about 20sec as you are greeted with “A” symbol, you arrive at the Main Playback screen of SR25 which is identical to SPK and SP2k, and also accessible by pressing a touch Home button at the bottom of the screen.  What is interesting, SR15 with a smaller screen had a slightly different playback screen layout, but thanks to a large display of SR25, there is more room now to have the same familiar layout as SP flagship models.  The embedded artwork (with cover art) window occupies top half of the screen, tapping on it expands the view and shows lyrics if one is available.  Swiping artwork window left/right skips to prev/next song in your playlist.  Above it you get a summary of song format (file type, bit depth, and sampling rate), with a link to Now Playing (where you can edit/modify from within) in the upper right corner and a link to Navigation Menu in the upper left corner.

Right under the artwork window there is a thin strip of transport control to fast forward/back by swiping through the song.  Of course, you can also do that by holding Next/Prev touch buttons or physical playback control buttons, but I have a feeling majority of users will probably prefer to take advantage of touch-swiping through the song.  While this control strip is narrow and requires user to be careful where you tap, A&K came up with a clever way for you to see the current song position as you swipe by turning the whole artwork window into semi-transparent transport control and literally expanding the swipe area to the entire screen when you touch and hold it.

In the lower half of the screen you have a row of controls with a left arrow (taking you back to the current folder you are in, along with a storage info), ‘+’ to add to the playlist, ‘…’ with a link to a detailed ID tag song info, and two right-most icons to control the playback by selecting play all, repeat, repeat one, play through and random.  The playback section also gets reflected in notification bar area of the DAP, all the way at the top.  Below this row of controls, you have a song name with an artist and album name, and 3 playback touch buttons with Play/Pause in the middle and Skip Next/Prev on the sides.  The buttons are large and adequately spaced so it’s easier to tap them.

The Navigation menu, accessible by pressing “A” in the upper left corner, takes you to a list with various Sorting option (song, album, artist, genre), Playlist, Folder view, MQS, CD library, Services, and Settings.  You can also access this screen by swiping display to the right from the main Playback screen, where you can also swipe to the left and get into Now Playing screen.  Under every sorting option you have other options to add songs to playback queue, different layout to view album (single, double, or triple columns), view artist with every album under each name, genres according to id tags, and my favorite Folder browsing which also gives you extra info about internal storage.

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Settings menu is very important, but you can also access some of the shortcuts by swiping the screen down to see what’s available in Notification area where you can toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, EQ, USB mode, external usb, AK connect, Line Out, Car Mode, Wheel lock, and shortcut to the main Settings menu.  Many of these toggle options don’t just enable the functionality, but if you long press on it – will take you to the menu of that functionality.  In the main Settings screen you have Wi-fi, Bluetooth, AK Connect, then Equalizer, Gapless, Line Out, L/R Balance, Playback setting (location where you add the songs in now playing and other options to add a song), Notification Panel (to customize shortcuts in notification bar), CD ripping (for external AK unit), usb mode (MTP or USB DAC input), usb audio (DSD converted to PCM or DoP), S/PDIF conversion (upon connection, enabling selection of bit depth and sample rate), and Car Mode (enabling).  Other options are DAP related, like brightness setting, date & time, device name, language, keyboard, Power settings (power, screen, sleep setting).  And of course, Update, System Info, and Default settings reset.

Typical of all A&K models, access to DAC filters is not enabled.  Would have been nice, but A&K is very specific about sound tuning of their DAPs.  Another thing is EQ.  One Normal EQ preset is available and no other genre specific presets, but you can create your own ones.  EQ interface is very polished and has two modes, Main and Advance.  In the main mode you have standard Paragraphic EQ sliders covering 20 bands (30, 45, 60, 90, 120, 180, 250, 380, 500, 750, 1k, 1.5k, 2k, 3k, 4k, 6k, 8k, 12k, 14k, and 18k) where you can either slide the bar or use a more precise 0.1 adjustment of the gain, as well as scrolling through available frequencies. And as you adjust, it gets reflected in the lower right corner, showing you overall shape of the EQ.  Switching to Advance, turns EQ adjustment into Parametric EQ with a full GUI view of the EQ shape where underneath you have FREQ band selection (a choice of 20), Gain selection in 0.1 and even 0.01 micro adjustments, and Q bandwidth selection in 0.1 increment adjustments.

This PEQ interface looks great and has a perfect layout, AND the actual adjustment has a more noticeable effect on the sound.  I can only speak of SPK and SP2k where PEQ still had a subtle effect, so I was very pleasantly surprised that in SR25 the parametric equalizer actually more usable!!!

The whole interface is intuitive, and very easy to read and to navigate.  I like the bigger display of SR25 (vs SR15) with its intuitive touch control buttons and easy to read menus.  I like Home touch screen button which always takes you back to the main playback screen, and I like the notification bar at the top with all the available info (volume setting, playback setting, enabled controls, battery icon with percentage indicator and time display), and I like shortcuts to the main controls once you swipe the notification bar down.

And of course, the Floating Back button is another plus, though it can be easily disabled by dragging it to the middle of the display or enabled/disabled in the Settings menu under Input Method.  The button itself is floating and could be moved to anywhere along the left/right sides of the screen.  You still have a Home touch button in the center under the visible part of the display, and when browsing A&K menus and settings you will find Back button at the top to go to the previous screen.

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Open APP Service.

Since Open APP Service is now implemented in all of their Android based DAPs, such as SP1000 SS/CU, SP1000M, SE100, SR15, and SP2000 SS/CU, SR25 is no exception. More info could be found here where Astell & Kern goes into details about how to install and to use it.

When you start dealing with Android apps, in many cases you do need a Back button for navigation, and now you have one which going to come in handy when dealing with streaming apps.  While Astell & Kern offers a built-in Tidal service (without off-line storage support), for a long time their customers been asking to add Spotify, Qobuz and other streaming services.  A&K latest DAPs do run on Android, but it’s a heavily modified closed OS without access to Google Play.  In a way, it’s a blessing for a manufacturer to keep DAP performance optimized since you don’t have to worry about customers installing and running other unstable apps.

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Now with Open APP Service you have more freedom, but the list of allowed apps is reasonably limited to about 21 apps now.  And when you decide to install a non-blacklisted app, you need to download APK file (use a site like https://apkpure.com/), copy it to Open Service Folder located on internal storage, go to Services on the DAP, and when you see the app being recognized and listed in there – click to install it.  Keep in mind, for example, you will have to install Tidal apk if you want off-line downloads.  Also, installed apps will not be updated automatically since you are not running Google Play.  You will have to keep track of app updates and manually download and install new versions.

I installed and used without a problem Qobuz streaming app and was able to download off-line content in Qobuz just like I would on my smartphone.

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Page 4 – Sound Analysis and Comparison to other DAPs.
Page 5 – Pair up, Wired & wireless connections, and Conclusion.

37 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.

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    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 🙂

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    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

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    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

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      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.

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  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.

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    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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