Astell & Kern AKJR Review
I know what your thinking an entry level AK player still isn't exactly going to be a budget offering and you would be right. The Astell & Kern AK Jr high-resolution DAP costs more than a lot of peoples smartphones. Despite being the cheapest offering from the luxury arm of iRiver it still costs a fair chunk of cash.
So how much advantage can this thing give you over an iPhone or another smartphone which no doubt already occupies the space in your pocket? How does it stack up against other budget offerings from other manufacturers? and should you buy it?
What is the AK Jr?
The Jr is Astell & Kerns entry level audio player designed to bring high-resolution audio into your pocket and provide a stand alone music device similar to yesteryear’s iPods....just that this thing is supposed to sound a whole lot better.
It is focused to cater to the needs of people that are serious about audio quality and features a software and hardware functions that hopefully enhance the listening experience.
DAP (Digital Audio Player) usage has surprisingly been on the rise recently despite an initial fall off after people moving from ipods and similar product to using there smartphone as a primary listening device. The problem there was that smartphones didn’t really sound that good and had some trouble driving higher end headphones.
Astell and Kern certainly were not the first company in this space but the have certainly set the standards by which other manufacturers products are measured.
The spec sheet of the AK Jr is pretty long to say the least so its best to just lay it all out and then cherry pick those that stand out.
DSD via conversion to PCM. This means you will be able to enjoy some of the highest quality mastered tracks in an extremely small device.
Touch screen controls- We found it to be surprisingly responsive and a hassle free way to navigate files and settings on the device.
Wolfson 8740 DAC - It would have been nice to see dual DAC's but given the price and the physical size of the player we can see why the opted for the popular Wolfson unit.
External memory support up to 64GB cards for a total of 128GB storage when used with the internal memory
Articulated volume control
Exceptional build quality and styling.
The Look and the feel
In my opinion this is Astel & Kerns best looking music player. It's also by far the most pocketable and for that reason I have to give it the thumbs up in the design portion of this review. The fit and finish are excellent as is the choice of materials. Everything just feels so solid in the hand that you would have simply no fears in the potential for its ability to withstand some rough treatment.
The ergonomics also feel good with all the buttons being placed in the right spot so as to allow one-handed operation. I do have one grip though and that that the edges would be a lot nicer if they weren't so damn pointy.
The best bit is the volume control knob on the right hand side, it gives a really nice tactile feedback and just generally feels much nicer to use over a volume rocker or button system. I also really liked how easy it was to adjust the volume from inside my pocket.
Look im not going to sit here and wax all poetic about how great the AKjr sound. Its sound good OK but it doesn't sound better than many other far cheaper players from the Chinese budget audiophile variety. Or far that matter it doesn't sound better than if you were to buy a B&O Hifi Plus and hook it up to your phone (that will set you back next to nothing btw).
What it does do is sound clean, clear with ample soundstage and imaging to enjoy listening to high resolution files on the go. Its capable of driving some very good portable headphones and does so with little to no background noise. In truth its overpriced when it comes to pure sonic performance and put against the competition but that really not the point. This a player that performs at the level of something like an Xduoo X10 but makes up for everything else ie build, design, aesthetics etc.
The AKjr is a good little player that gets the job done in one of the most attractive packages I have seen so far. The build is outstanding and its pretty easy to live with for the most part without being the most advanced thing on the market.
While it sounds on a level with those budget audiophile players it just makes the whole experience more enjoyable to get that sound.
As usual Astell & Kern have made a quality product but priced it in their usual gouging fashion. If you are happy to live with the cost then its a great little player but just know you can get technically better performance for far less money.