When it comes to A&K DAPs user interface, once you get familiar with one, you will feel like at home using all of their DAPs. Basically, they all share the same interface, even SR25 with its smaller display uses the same GUI, scaled down to fit its smaller screen. I was a little surprised after powering up 2kT because I expected the same Navigation Bar as in SE180, but it was back to a typical SP2000 display layout, including a touch home button underneath the screen. But one new addition I noticed while running apps, when you swipe down Notification bar you will see open apps and can control the playback from there. The Floating Back button is still here as well and can be easily disabled by dragging it to the middle of the display or disabled in the Settings menu under Input Method. The button itself could be moved to anywhere along the left/right sides of the screen.
Once you press Power button, you are greeted with “A” logo and arrive to the main Playback screen. 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 it. And in the lower half of the screen, you have a row of controls, additional song info, and playback touch buttons.
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 (streaming), 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 id3 tags, and my favorite Folder browsing which also gives you extra info about internal storage.
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 bar area where you can toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AMP mode, USB mode, External usb, AK connect, EQ, Line Out, ReplayGain, and shortcut to the main Settings menu. Many of these toggle options don’t just enable the function, but if you long press it will take you to the menu of that function. In the main Settings screen, you have Wi-fi, Bluetooth and Codec selection, AK Connect and File Drop, then Equalizer, Gapless, Line Out, L/R Balance, Playback setting, ReplayGain, Notification Panel, AMP mode, CD ripping, USB mode and audio, S/PDIF Conversion, Car mode, DAC filter (3 digital filters), and lots of other settings including Double-Tap Screen to Wake enable and LED config on the back
With EQ, you have one blank EQ preset and no other genre specific presets. EQ interface has two modes: Main and Advance. In the Main you have standard Paragraphic EQ sliders for 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 precise 0.1 adjustment, as well as scrolling through available frequencies. As you adjust, it gets reflected in the lower right corner, showing the overall shape of EQ. Switching to Advance, turns EQ adjustment into Parametric EQ with a full GUI view of EQ shape where underneath you have FREQ band selection (a choice of 20), Gain selection in 0.1 and 0.01 steps, and Q bandwidth. Since bands frequency is fixed, I consider this to be semi-Parametric EQ. The interface looks great and the actual adjustment has a noticeable effect on the sound.
While Navigation playback bar (like in SE180) wasn’t available in 2kT, there are a few other goodies added in this new SP series DAP. You get ReplayGain, though for now applicable only in 24bit/192kHz or less format, which could be set across either Tracks or Albums. Obviously, AMP Mode setting will give a choice of which mode you want to use, but no selection of normal or high gain. And my favorite, Double-Tap Screen to Wake, which is quite effective when 2kT is on the desktop and you don’t have to reach out for a power button to turn the display on to skip or navigate.
Open APP Service.
Open APP Service is implemented in all A&K Android based DAPs, including SP1000 SS/CU, SP1000M, SE100/180/200, SR25, and SP2000 SS/CU, and of course SP2000T. 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, so Floating back button 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, Amazon 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.
If 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.