Astell & Kern have primarily been known for producing high performance DAPs, even long before Pono made its way into the spotlight. Their recent flagship called AK240 is currently one of the best sounds I’ve heard for plugging IEMs directly into and even produces line level output that gives many other high end sources a run for the money.
At CES, Astell & Kern decided to step up their “high end source” game to another level with the introduction of the AK500N audio player. Before we do a deeper dive into specs, I think its appropriate to mention two facts first: 1. The design elements, like the rest of the AK line is sexy as all hell (in this reviewer’s opinion) 2. The AK500N comes with a weighty price tag of $12,000 for the server end alone.
Fortunately, unlike some rare cases of $10k+ audio gear, the unit actually looks and feels like a piece of high society. The angular faceplate is very design forward and appears to have a unique visual presentation in different lighting situations. Aside from ascetics, in AK500N’s guts pack a wide array of features appropriate for its asking price. The main power supply comes courtesy of a noise isolating battery feed and the CD slot provides one-click ripping for your collection to either WAV or FLAC. Album art and meta data are imported courtesy of Gracenote’s database. The new device’s dedicated DSD chipset even can convert any incoming PCM file to DSD64 in real time. The streamer plays nice with DNLA, NAS servers, PC, MAC and its own AK DAPs.
Outputs abound aplenty from the AK500N including 3 types of digital ins and outs and both fixed and variable balanced and singled ended connections. The 500N also offers a USB type B for data transfer and a USB type A for external storage. With the additional of an SD card slot and its own display screen, the new server has pretty much any rig setup covered. The chipset is the same Cirrus Logic CS4392 used in the AK240, set up in a 2X dual DAC formation.
To complement the server (which should become available in the next few weeks), AK also is producing a matching 100W amp called the 500A (approx. $5k) and a separate 500P power supply (price TBD).
Connected to the 500N/A/P setup at CES was the same outstanding Castor Diamond bookshelf loudspeakers we saw demoed last year in addition to a new svelte combo appropriately named Moon III.
It looks as though Astell & Kern are hot on the trail of chasing down an ideal to produce the best execution within every product category they attach themselves to. It is always exciting to see any audio company chase the dragon in such a manner and I, for one, can’t wait to see what direction they decide to go next.