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Astell&Kern SR25 MKII DAP Music Player Review

A Comparison with the Original SR25: HARDER BETTER FASTER STRONGER (kind of)


I called the SR25 DAP the "Mighty Mouse of Music Players" in my review of the device back in September. The might of the device is not so much in its power output as it is in the number of features and high-performance specifications for an entry-level player. Apart from the smaller screen size, the only real downside to the DAP is the power output. It's not surprising really, considering the fact that if you're an aspiring audiophile or just wanting a smaller portable music player to take on the go with you, you're probably (hopefully) NOT trying to use $4000 power-hungry headphones with it. Is the SR25 underpowered? Some would say yes - I would argue either way - but I think the targeted audience for Astell&Kern's entry level music player isn't going to run into problems most of the time with powering some of the biggest and best headphones on the audiophile market.

Yet again, I was surprised to find out that they released another version of the SR25 - the mark II. An upgrade? A new version? Well...I'm not quite sure. But we'll figure it out by the end of this review. Read on to see if it's a V2.0, or more like a V1.0.0.156.

Riff Notes

Riff Notes Logo

Pros:

  • Better sound than the SR25
  • More input options
  • Improved efficiency and design features

Cons:

  • Still small
  • Fat finger people keep away
  • Not enough upgrades for existing SR25 owners

Materials, Quality, & Comfort

So right off the bat you're not going to notice much difference with the original SR25 stylistically. Astell&Kern products are often compared to art sculptures, with colorful faces and angles that are not found in other devices. Much of the credit for the stunning designs can go to the years of perfecting their proprietary machining process for their products. “In order to produce the unique style Astell&Kern is famous for, five-axis machining is performed instead of traditional three-axis machining used in general machining. All metal must be processed at once without interruption. In additional to five-axis machining, Astell&Kern has perfected its crafting of metal through thousands of hours of trial and error. Only after mastering these techniques that Astell&Kern has developed, can the beauty of the metal shine through.”

“The vibration-free processing machines used by Astell&Kern are the same ones used by expensive Swiss luxury watch manufacturers. This is reflected in the crafting of the volume wheel which is processed precisely like the crown of a luxury watch for the best operating feel. Astell&Kern products are designed to achieve perfect integration at every angle. The aluminum body on the SR25mkII provides maximum sound quality while suppressing noise as much as possible. The use of laser ground extension technology gives you the best sound possible, without interference or distortion. Astell&Kern combines these small parts to make a big difference in the quality of their products that no other manufacturer can match.” In other words, the aluminum body that Astell&Kern utilize in their music players are not just for aesthetics, but also serves a function of blocking external noise and interference. Combined with gold-plated connectors, you can be assured that you're listening to your music and only your music, without outside factors contaminating your listening experience. It’s no lie: the machining on the Astell&Kern music players is astounding. Every single one I pick up I have to admire for a short time before getting to the music. The milled aluminum is sleek and precise. The devices always have a nice weight to them, lending to the overall quality that Astell&Kern instills in their crafting process.

I’m giving extra points to the SR25 MKII in the comfort department. The small size hearkens back to a day where you could easily navigate your phone with one hand and thumb, instead of trying to gallivant all over creation on the behemoths we call cellular devices today. It reminds me of the first iPod in size. It’s quaint, and that’s exactly how I prefer my devices, especially in a standalone music player that promotes the portability factor. The angled screen is also a nice touch that sets the SR25 audio player apart from not just the rest of the Astell&Kern DAP lineup but other hi-res music players on the market. The contours of the device place it perfectly in your palm, and with the natural angle of the offset screen, you can easily navigate the entire real estate with a single thumb. It’s nostalgic, it’s comfortable, and it just works. If I’m going portable, I’d take this over the KANN Cube any day.

That’s the trade-off for portability in this case. The SR25 MKII has a 3.6-inch 720x1280 touchscreen. Personally, I didn’t have much of an issue with it. A typo here and there, but that’s just par for the course with devices nowadays. I like the small screen, but it’s going to be a love or hate thing for most people. You pick. Otherwise, I found it much more responsive and snappier than some of the older generation Astell music players. I hesitate to call it HD as they designate it, but at 3.6-inches it looks sharp at the set resolution.

The biggest differences for the mark II version of the SR25 lies in the button layout and port options. The volume knob and the play/pause and track skip buttons remain in the same location, however, the mark 2 moves the power button from the top of the unit to the left side above the play and skip buttons. This is to make room for the added headphone input jack on the top, giving the user 3 options total. These include a: 3.5mm (unbalanced), a 4.4mm (balanced), and a 2.5mm (balanced) headphone jack for a variety of configurations. The original SR25 only had the 2.5 and 3.5mm options, and the addition of the 4.4mm is always a welcome one. We love the more sturdy balanced connector option over the 2.5mm any day of the week. You'll find the USB-C charging port and the microSD card slot on the bottom of the unit just like the original SR25 music player.

The other main difference is that Astell&Kern went with a darker color for the mark II model. The gray is slightly darker than the regular aluminum color on the original SR25. Think of it like the regular silver color versus the "space gray" color options on Apple products. The other small improvement made is the volume knob. The original SR25 knob has very fine grooves, making for a smoother (tactile) scrolling experience. Astell made these ridges deeper and wider for more texture and grip with the new mark II. It's a subtle but refined improvement on the overall user experience. The engineering on the buttons and knob are the premium-quality that Astell&Kern is known for.


Sound Quality

One of the most perplexing things (to me) about this new device is the fact that it utilizes the same dual DAC chip setup as the previous SR15. The SR15 sounded great, don’t get me wrong, but you would think they would take this opportunity to upgrade the DAC chip in a newer model with newer technologies available, right?

The SR15, SR25, and now the new SR25 MKII implement dual Cirrus Logic CS43198 DACs. The biggest draw for this is not only the “MasterHIFI” designation, which is tuned specifically for high-resolution audio, but also the fact that it is a low-power chip that allows for great performance while maintaining battery life. According to Cirrus Logic, “Products with the MasterHIFI designation meet the company’s highest standard in high-fidelity audio playback. MasterHIFI products deliver the very best performance in sound clarity and pure, euphoric audio listening just like the artist intended. The devices should not unintentionally ‘color’ the audio but should maintain the ‘brightest’ sounds expected from a recorded track.”

“MasterHIFI performance standards focus on specific thresholds that indicate true high-fidelity audio. The engineers at Cirrus Logic have specifically focused on the performance of smart codecs and D/A converters. These products use a unique and patented “clock clean up” technology to negate the effects of system clock jitter on the audio path. This means the audio performance is not affected by modulations on the clock, giving the best audio experience irrespective of the system in which they are implemented.”

 

-cirrus.com/our-technology/audio/hifi/

Sound-wise, Astell&Kern pitches the SR25 MKII to sound different from the original SR25, stemming from their latest audio architecture. They say the new architecture delivers more detail, clearly defined upper and lower ranges, and a deeper, more rounded sound. And.....? I can hear it. I think this holds true for the most part. Queuing up "Walk All Over You" by AC/DC the intro guitar and drums hits sound similar enough, but the changes really stand out when the entire band comes in. The bass IS beefier and resonates slightly more than the SR25. There is more definition all around, with the cymbals and attack on the electric guitars sounding crisper with a little more sizzle. You can hear the added depth in the gang vocals on the chorus with the guys singing "Walk all over youuu..." The layering is noticeable in this section.

It's not night and day. It's nuanced. The SR25 MKII does sound better than the original SR25, but it's not like jumping from an SR25 to the SE200. These design changes with the architecture provides slightly more detail, depth, and definition to be sure, just don't expect a revolutionary overhaul and boost in performance and sound quality.

Apart from these minor sound enhancements, the tuning of the SR25 MKII remains similar enough to the original. For more impressions on the overall sound of Astell&Kern's entry-level sound, head over to our review of the SR25 DAP Music Player HERE. Being an entry-level player, the device is going to make your music sound infinitely better than your phone or computer. I mean, it's not even comparable. Rock music is going to sound more energetic, jazz and classical are going to be immersive yet personal at the same time, and even bass-centric music will sound tighter and more defined. Audiophile-grade DAC chips make a world of difference to your music, as audiophiles already know, but Astell&Kern doesn't target just the newbies with the A&norma line. Music lovers of all levels can benefit from the SR product line due to its amazing portable size. You might want to put all your money into a desktop hi-fi system but want something a little better than your phone. The SR25 MKII represents being able to take GREAT sound with you in a small package and not have to blow your entire paycheck or more to do so.

AC/DC Hightway to Hell
The Monkees Stepping Stone
Foo Fighters Echoes Silence Patience Grace
Angels and Airwaves We Don't Need to Whisper

Albums/Songs

Walk All Over You by AC/DC (Highway to Hell)

(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone by The Monkees (Anthology)

The Pretender by Foo Fighters (Echoes, Silence, Patience, Grace)

Valkyrie Missile by Angels & Airwaves (We Don't Need to Whisper)


Features

Apart from the minor sound enhancements, the new MKII music player continues this performance boost to the features as well. The latest addition of the 4.4mm balanced pentaconn connection is a welcome option, providing for a more robust and stable connection than a 2.5mm in our opinion. Sound-wise some might argue that the 4.4mm actually sounds better than the 2.5mm connector, but that's not an argument for here and now. We can argue however that balanced connections provide improved dynamic range and bass response, supports a wide soundstage, offers clear imaging, and captures more subtle details than their unbalanced counterparts.

Wireless HiFi Sound through BT Sink - The newly introduced BT Sink function connects the SR25 MKII to an external device via Bluetooth, similar to connecting a smartphone with a BT speaker. Music from an external device, such as a smartphone can now be played back in high-quality on the SR25 MKII using the BT Sink function.

Silver Plating Shield Cans - AK DAPs apply shield cans so that noise and electromagnetic interference, which occur when the countless parts are in operation, do not affect the audio block. Introduced with the SP2000T the new MKII has likewise applied highly conductive silver plating on the existing shield cans for improved shielding and doubles to compliment the excellent sound performance.

AK File Drop for Wireless Transfers - The new AK File Drop function in the SR25 MKII makes files transfers easier and more convenient. Using AK File Drop, you can freely transfer files wirelessly through a PC, smartphone, or FTP program located on the same network. Music file management is now possible with a wireless solution.

ReplayGain - ReplayGain, which adjusts sound sources with different volumes to an identical level, has been applied. Now, enjoy your own playlists seamlessly through the ReplayGain feature on SR25 MKII. The A&norma SR25 MKII inherits the overall design identity of the A&norma SR25 model, highlighting the rhythmic freedom of music through the harmonious combination of design elements. The top and bottom edges of the bezel are angled, giving the impression of a smaller rectangle floating freely inside the chassis. The pattern on the side is designed to draw attention to the volume wheel while conveying an impression of sound.


Dragon Cables

The dual DAC design in the SR25 MKII audio player lends an incredible amount of clarity and neutrality to your music. That being said, using the Black Dragon cable is going to add warmth and musicality to an already robust sound. Of course, your headphones are also going to play a huge factor in the overall sound signature, so that’s another factor you’ll need to consider when assessing the overall sound you are aiming for.

For my testing setup, I paired the SR25 MKII with the Black Dragon and the Focal Stellia headphones. The MasterHIFI Class CS43198 is a neutral sounding chip that doesn’t add any coloration to your music. I wouldn’t say it’s analytical sounding, but some added warmth is a good option for any genre with this DAP. The Black Dragon is going to add that extra body and added depth in the low end. It’s something I didn’t really think I needed until I heard it. That MasterHIFI class DAC chips are great for what they do – finding that balance between accuracy, fidelity and power efficiency, but taking that extra step with the Black Dragon really helped my music have an added weight and presentation. For reference, the Black Dragon cable had a similar effect on the original SR25 music player, and you can read more about those sound impressions and similar tuning in our written review.

Of course, feel free to Contact Us with your personal headphones or system and we'll be happy to make a personalized recommendation based on your existing gear.


Verdict

The SR25 MKII is a great sounding first step into the larger rabbit hole of audiophilia. Like the original SR25, the SR series product line embodies the perfect balance of value and performance. It's hard to imagine getting more features for the price with any other premium DAP manufacturer, and the mark II improves upon an already outstanding music player.

The improvements to the SR25 MKII bring the music player up to speed with some of the latest tech in Astell&Kern's products, like BT Sink, File Drop and Silver Plating shielding, but sound improvements don't merit a new purchase for owners of the SR25. The signature changes ARE noticeable, but I would have liked to see a DAC chip upgrade to go along with the faster CPU to really make this a generational leap for Astell's entry-level player. Micro-upgrades are great for those coming late to the game, but Astell&Kern has spoiled us with some really great feature upgrades and enhancements lately with their music players. So I guess there's no need to complain about minimizing the gap between entry-level price points and premium-quality features and sound.

Bottom line, this isn't an upgrade for existing SR25 owners. Rather, Astell&Kern is providing even more to those wanting to take their first step into the Audiophile world, with enhanced value and features.


Featured Products

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What's in the Box

  • SR25 MKII DAP Music Player
  • Screen Protectors
  • USB-C Charging Cable
  • Paperwork/Manual

Videos

Astell&Kern SR25 MKII DAP Music Player Openboxing Video (Coming Soon)

Astell&Kern SR25 MKII DAP Music Player Video Review


Specifications

Technical Features
  • Model: SR25 MKII
  • Body Color: Mercury D. Silver
  • Body Material: Aluminum
  • Display: 3.6inch HD (720 x 1,280) TFT LCD
  • Supported Audio Formats: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, DFF, MQA
  • Sample Rate: PCM: 8kHz ~ 384kHz (8/16/24/32bits per Sample) / DSD Native: DSD64 (1bit 2.8mHz), Stereo / DSD128(1bit 5.6MHz), Stereo / DSD256(1bit 11.2MHz), Stereo
  • Output Level: Unbalanced 2Vrms / Balanced 4Vrms (Condition No Load)
  • CPU: Quad-Core
  • DAC: Cirrus Logic (CS43198 x2 (Dual Dac)
  • Decoding Support: up to 32bit / 384kHz Bit-to-Bit Playback
  • Input: USB Type-C input (for charging PC & MAC)
  • Outputs: Unbalanced Out (3.5mm), Balanced Out (2.5mm, only 4-pole supported)
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz)
  • Bluetooth: V4.2 (A2DP, AVRCP, Qualcomm®aptXTM HD, LDAC)
  • Dimensions: 2.5" (63.5 mm) [W] x 4.26" (108.3mm) [H] 0.63" (16.1 mm) [D]
  • Weight: about 6.26 oz (about 178 g)
  • Feature Enhacements: Firmware upgrades supported (OTA)
  • Opeating Temperature: 0*C ~ + 40*C (32* ~ 104*F)
Audio Performance

Fequency Response: ± 0.014dB (Condition: 20Hz ~ 20kHz) Unbalanced / ±0.011dB (Condition: 20Hz ~ 20kHz) Balanced ±0.10dB (Condition: 20Hz ~ 70kHz) Unabalanced / ±0.12dB (Condition 20Hz~70kHz) Balanced
Signal to Noise Ratio: 122dB @ 1kHz, Unbalanced / 124dB @ 1kHz, Blanaced
Crosstalk -138dB @ 1kHz, Unbalanced / -144dB @ 1kHz, Blanaced
THD+N: 0.0006% @ 1kHz, Unbalanced / 0.0005% @ 1kHz, Balanced
IMD SMPTE: 0.0004% 800Hz 10kHz(4.1) Unbalanced / 0.0003% 800Hz 10kHz(4.1) Balanced
Output Impedance: Unbalanced Out 3.5mm (1.2ohm) / Balanced out 2.5mm (1.8ohm), 4.4mm (1.7ohm)

CLOCK SOURCE
Clock Jitter: 25ps(Typ)
Reference Clock Jitter: 70ps

BATTERY
Capacity: 3,150mAh 3.7V Li-Polymer Battery
Continuous Storage Time: about 20hous (Standard: FLAC, 16bit, 44.1kHz, Unbalanced, Vol. 50, EQ Off, LCD Off)
Charge Time: about 2.5 hours (5V 2A General Charging)

MEMORY
Built-in Memory: 64GB [NAND]
External Memory: microSD (Max. 1TB) x1
OS
Supported OS: Windows 8,10 (32/64bit), MAC OS X 10.7 and up


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