One, Two, Three!
PROS: triple-amp mode with variation in tonality between Solid State and Tube amps, solid build, hi-res 5” display with double-tap to wake, 2.5mm/3.5mm/4.4mm phone outputs, MQA, DSD512, LDAC Bluetooth (both Tx and Rx), 256GB internal storage.
CONS: larger size, battery life, some EMI interference in tube mode while streaming.
The product 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 Bloom Audio.
The previous A&K release of SE180 with a modular dac/amp design caught everyone by surprise, though it made perfect sense as the next logical step after SE200 dual dac/amp design. It was also great to see 4.4mm BAL and LDAC making its permanent stay. Then, in anticipation of what could be next, some were speculating about the next A&K flagship. But nobody in their wildest dreams predicted the release of SP2000T (2kT).
Actually, 2kT announcement created a bit of a confusion for some because Astell & Kern usually adds a suffix letter to their model numbers with different chassis material or scaled down version rather than all new design like this “T” variation. Here, we got One DAP with Two amps and Three amplifier modes: a Solid-State amp, a Tube amp, and a Hybrid with a mix of both. And as the cherry on top, the price is $1k less than original SP2000.
Now, after spending the last two weeks testing SP2000T, here is what I found.
Unboxing and Accessories.
2kT unboxing experience is identical to other flagship SP DAPs. Don’t expect big surprises, though it is still impressive to see a premium quality “cigar” wooden storage box emerging from an all-black cardboard outer box. The outer box cover had a signature bold red “A” letter on the top and a detailed spec printed in 10 languages on the back.
Everything was packed neatly inside of that wooden storage gift box. And I still encourage to hold it from the bottom when lifting the top because there are no latches or hinges for the cover to keep it securely attached. Inside you have a foam cutout under the cover where you will find a leather case, 2 screen protectors, quick start card, and a warranty card. The foam cutout inside the main part of the box holds 2kT and USB-C cable.
Inside, I also found a storage card with a pocket and microSD card slot cover (plastic dummy microSD card), though another one was already inside 2kT, a bit of an overkill since the leather case already covers the slot. The included standard USB-C high speed cable for charging, data transfer, and usb DAC functionality is high quality, thick, with a durable shielding, and adequate gauge wires. With a fast charge mode support, it’s important to use a quality cable for high-speed charging at higher voltage.
Just like with other flagship SPs, A&K included a premium quality leather case for 2kT model. This one had “aged” yellow mustard color. The case fits like a glove, with an opening for usb-C connector at the bottom, covered play/pause/skip buttons on the left, generous opening for phone ports at the top, covered power button at the top right, and generous cutout for volume wheel on the top right-side. The leather case design was updated where DAP slides from the left, and the side flap tucks in securely inside, providing a better protection from the top and corners. The case gives this large size dap a more secure grip when handling it. The only thing is microSD card slot being covered at the bottom, so you have to remove the case to physically access it.
Despite being the biggest SP-series DAP, with dimensions of 141.1mm x 78.1mm x 17.5mm, 2kT in onyx black finish with aluminum chassis is one of the lightest (309g) among full size SP2000 and SP1000 units, not counting SP1000M smaller version of SP1000. While being 100g lighter than SP2000 SS/CU, the use of aluminum really does help in comparison to heavier Stainless-Steel and Copper versions.
SP2000T vs SP2000 SS
The focus of the design is still around the large 5″ touch screen occupying the front view, with a touch home button below the visible display area – a great feature to get back to the main Playback screen from any other screen, especially since Navigation playback bar (like in SE180) is not available here. The front view of the DAP is slightly asymmetric due to uneven sculptured bevel sides, and a crown-patterned volume wheel. Unlike other SP models, volume wheel here doesn’t have power button functionality. Instead, a power button is at the top on the right side, like in SE180 and SR25, with a short press to turn the screen on/off and a long press to turn the power on/off followed by confirmation to shutdown which requires touch screen acknowledgement.
The volume wheel is easy to turn using one finger, though it’s not loose and has some resistance with a click action felt with every rotation turn of 150 volume steps. And while it was convenient in SP2k where you didn’t have to take your hand/finger off the volume wheel after the adjustment if you want to turn the display on/off, 2kT implemented double-tap to wake up screen. The design of the volume wheel has a detailed crown pattern, typical of a wristwatch. It certainly adds to the appeal of the DAP, since even inside of a leather case the wheel is still visible. The design pattern of the 2kT wheel is different from SP2k and other A&K models.
On the left side you have Play/Pause and Skip controls, three identical small rectangular buttons located in the upper part of the left side. They do have a nice tactile response and spaced evenly with enough room in between to avoid pressing an adjacent button by mistake. Since majority of users will have 2kT in a leather case anyway, buttons will be covered, and stock leather case has their imprinted functionality label for easier ID. I’m sure we are probably going to see other aftermarket leather cases soon.
The top of the DAP has access to 3.5mm phone output port which also used for Line Out and Optical out. Next to it, you have 4.4mm and 2.5mm balanced phone ports that could also be configured for corresponding Line Out. All the way to the right you will find a power button. At the bottom to the right, you will find a spring-loaded microSD card slot. In the middle, there is USB-C port, used for charging (including Fast Charging), data transfer, USB DAC connection, and USB OTG external device connection for digital audio out. If you are using stock leather case, as already discussed, you will have to remove it to access microSD card.
The back of the DAP also has a typical A&K asymmetric design with about 3/4 of the back panel covered in aluminum chassis and the top quarter having a carbon fiber inlay under the glass. But as soon as the power is on, you will see a multi-functional and multi-colored long LED strip in the top area, shining through CF. In Setting, you can configure LED to display playback mode (red – 16bit, green -24bit, orange – 32bit, purple – DSD) or AMP mode (red – normal, orange – tube, blue-green – hybrid).
It is always cool to see multi-colored LED implementation in A&K DAPs, and the design of the case has a cutout on the back for a clear visibility. When I first saw that LED, I thought to myself maybe it was related to NuTube lights. Then, I realized it was a whole LED strip, and when I have 2kT on the desk next to me, I can’t see it anyway. And even when carrying 2kT with me, I don’t normally flip it over to look at LED light. It’s a cool design element, but its placement on the back hides the visibility under a normal use.
Under the hood.
After the last year AKM factory fire and current shortage of chips, a lot of manufacturers started to implement other DAC chips. In 2kT design, A&K implemented 4 separate ES9068AS ESS SABRE 2-channel audiophile DACs. This way they have full control and separation of balanced and single ended outputs. And if you look closer at the design diagram shared by A&K, you will see that 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced outputs have separate paths, routing the signal with a number of audio switches. The single ended 3.5mm PO has output impedance of 1ohm and max output of 3Vrms, while balanced 2.5mm and 4.4mm, each have output impedance of 1.5ohm and max output of 6Vrms.
The touch display is 5” HD with a higher than SP2k resolution of 1920×1080 and impressive 441 PPI with 16.7M colors. The interface is relatively fast, thanks to octa-core CPU, but it is not on the same level as some of the recent Android DAPs with 660 SoC. Still, 2kT has plenty of processing power to do flawless audio decoding while supporting all the popular lossy and lossless formats, such as WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, and DSF, with PCM rates up to 32bit/384kHz and DSD rates up to 22.58MHz (DSD512). Also, MQA playback support, covering Tidal Masters, Local files, External USB, and MQA-CD (ripped).
And for high resolution files you have plenty of storage with internal 256GB of NAND flash storage and microSD external memory expansion up to the latest largest capacity card (A&K tested with 1TB). Furthermore, USB-C OTG supports external hard drive storage or usb stick expansion. The battery life is OK, not bad considering quad ESS DAC design and NuTubes. With 4200mAh (3.8V LiPo battery), you can expect up to 9hrs from unbalanced output and normal solid-state amp. Going to balanced and switching to hybrid mode will decrease that and going to more demanding DSD will reduce it even further. But with fast charging, you can be up on your feet within 3.5hrs.
To support fast charging and to speed up data transfer, 2kT uses USB 3.0 Type-C interface for charging, data transfer, and USB DAC functionality. WiFi is dual band, supporting both 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Along with that you have OTA firmware update support and of course streaming of many popular apps. Furthermore, Bluetooth is up to 5.0 with a wireless support of not only aptX-HD but also LDAC protocols, plus both Bluetooth Rx and Tx.
Of course, dual amplifier configuration is the key feature of 2kT design which gives you 3 amplifier modes. 2kT has solid state amp, called OP amp which has the same config as SP2000 DAP. Then, you have Tube amp which utilizes a single Korg NuTube 6P1 module that goes to all three phone outputs (3.5mm, 2.5mm, and 4.4mm). The third mode is Hybrid, a combination of both OP and Tube amps. You can vary the amount between OP and Hybrid and also between Hybrid and Tube.
Page 2 – GUI overview, and Open APP Service.
Page 3 – Sound Analysis, Comparison, Pair up.
Page 4 – Wired/wireless connections, and Conclusion.
18 thoughts on “Astell & Kern SP2000T”
Hi, thank you for a very thorough and detailed review for SP2000T. I am wondering if a DAP has reached a level like a stand alone DAC to play music files from computer for instance in the same level of Chord Hugo 2 or maybe Hugo TT2? I think SP2000T deserves to be compared to other DAC since it has 4 chips and NuTube and hybrid mode. Thank you again for your review!
Though I don’t have access to Chord products, you did bring up a very good point. Indeed, daps are reaching that level.
I have a Hugo 2 and the SP2000. While the latter is really, really good, it is still not as good as the H2.
Perhaps 85-90%, subjectively speaking.
Nick, have you tried SP2000T yet? I bet the hybrid/tube mode will sound good with your RA 21 😉
Hi, Thank you for your very detailed review. Just struggling whether to upgrade my N6ii with R01 board or go for SP2000T. Ans recommendation and comparison to help?
Thank you for your attention
Tbh, either one will be great. R01 will be cheaper as an upgrade vs buying a new SP2kT. Plus, N6ii is fully open Android without restrictions like closed system SP2kT. But at the same time, hybrid mode of SP2kT sounds so good. Tough decision.
I’ve been looking for this review all over the internet! Thank you, although it doesn’t help me decide whether to get this as my SR25 upgrade this summer or wait for the SP3000…
If you would have to make a decision right now on the spot, it is no brainer as an upgrade from SR25, unless you really want to keep that small form factor. SP3000 hasn’t ben even announced, not even speculation or rumors. So, who knows. But Head-fi’s CanJam NYC is coming back in Feb of next year, and a lot of manufacturers planning their big announcement around that time 😉
Do you get the tube sound signature of the SP2000T when connect Line out to external amp?
LO bypasses the internal amp, outputs only DAC.
Hi- I’m curious about your take on the SP2000T vs. the SP1000SS. I’m running a EE Zeus w/1960 cable out of mine and am curious if you think I might gain a bit of warmer mids/lower end without sacrificing the clarity of the upper-mids and treble if I switched over to the T.
SP2000T was only on loan, I sent it back right after the review, so can’t do direct A/B comparison with SPK. But by memory, I can tell you that yes, Zeus should benefit more from SP2kT hybrid mode. When you switch to tubes, you might loose a bit of resolution, but hybrid mode is the way to go.
It’s very interesting to see Sony’s flagship DAP as one of the most rivaled device even today. My question is: have you tried the MrWalkMan’s One firmware when you did the comparison? (I think the neutral version is the most suitable one). Let me know, thanks for your consideration
He contacted me on head-fi to try his fw, but I never got around trying it. Always kept wm1z stock for comparison. Might have to try it one day, especially since Sony about to announce the new flagship dap in 6 days 🙂 and the rumors it could be wm1z replacement.
DAP by itself doesn’t have a “sound”.
You always say that and I am confounded. DAPS totally have their own sound. My M8 is slightly warm, detailed and musical.
Steve, I think we are talking about two different things. Your source and your earphones/headphones will have their own sound sig, and the final sound you hear is the result of pair up synergy between these two. But the actual sound doesn’t come from your DAP, instead, it is “shaped” by your DAP. The actual sound comes from a transducer (driver) that pumps/vibrates air into your ears. And in general, people usually start by picking IEMs with a particular sound sig that suits their taste. Then, you find a matching source to finetune the the sound, along with other contributing factors, like cable and eartips.
I got you. Thank you for that clarification!