What can we say about Astell & Kern's admirable catalog of portable hi-res music players? Luxury meets innovation? True, across the board. That the South Korean class leader's oeuvre includes some of the best MP3 players in existence? Also correct.
And now, there's a new kid in town, an update to the fantastic Astell & Kern A&ultima SP2000T – namely, the SP3000.
Featuring what A&K tells us is a "reimagined user interface", the A&ultima SP3000 is also the world’s first portable player with watch-grade 904L stainless steel body and the latest high-performance audio circuitry. Essentially, 904L stainless steel is a premium-grade metal that has never been used on a portable player – until now.
Although this particular beast has been crafted from metal beloved of luxury watchmakers for the first time ever – yes, it's extremely durable and yes it is resistant to corrosion – like its older siblings, it’s still an object of brutalist beauty.
A&ultima SP3000 is also the world’s first digital audio player with independent Dual Audio Circuitry. This complete separation of balanced and unbalanced output boasts "the purest possible sonic reproduction" – as you can see, A&K isn't being bashful about this one.
It’s also the first player to use the new flagship AK4499EX DAC chip from Asahi Kasei, used in the innovative HEXA Audio Circuitry structure that separates digital and analog signal processing.
Other spec highlights include 256GB native storage that's expandable to 1TB with the microSD memory card slot, three headphone ports (3.5mm, 2.5mm and 4.4mm), USB-C charging (A&K says you'll get about 10 hours from it) plus a Qualcomm Snapdragon 6125 Octa-Core processor and support for high-resolution aptX HD and LDAC wireless streaming.
Opinion: this is the player dreams are made of – and that's before we even get to the new screen…
The SP3000 can play just about any hi-res file format going, with support for all key formats (including MQA, Native DSD 512) and streaming-service connectivity. Oh, and it’s Roon Ready too. Even though it fits in your hand, I'm quite sure it could become the talented hub of your lounge hi-fi system.
But perhaps the most striking new feature is that A&K's staple, gorgeous watch-style crown rotary dial now joins a new 5.46-in full high definition display and a new-generation on-screen interface, which should make it easier than ever to find and enjoy favourite tracks, including via Tidal and Apple Music, my go to streaming services when hi-res audio is on the menu.
Astell & Kern’s unique Teraton Alpha technology has been further refined for the SP3000 too. The tech combines effective power noise removal, efficient power management and unwavering amplification, alongside a fully converted audio output interface. The Hexa DAC structure and independent dual audio circuit, implemented for the first time in the SP3000, are paired with the Teraton Alpha sound solution to boast incredibly authentic sound here – all of which will make audiophiles around the world sit up and take notice.
And to top it all off, the SP3000 comes with a premium leather case to protect and highlight the beauty of the 904L stainless steel body. It's made by Alran, a company that has been hand-crafting leather since 1903 in Tarn, France. Said case is developed with Alran's unique Hand-Boarding technology, which apparently involves rubbing the leather in various directions using wooden planks, so the user can feel the texture of the surface.
The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 is available to pre-order now. Get ready for prices (and get saving for Christmas) though, because they are: $3,700 / £3,799 / AU$5,499 / NZD$6,499.
Oh, and if you really want to invest in hi-res portable audio, A&K has collaborated with the high-end in-ear monitor company, Empire Ears, to produce Odyssey, possibly the most beautiful next generation IEMs I've ever seen.
Billed as the perfect in-ear partner for the A&ultima SP3000, the Odyssey is a handcrafted, high-performance wired in-ear monitor that combines a shimmering, multi-lamination design with the latest audio technologies from both esteemed brands to promise a clear, precise and powerful sound through its 10-driver Quadbrid system… yes, all in one earpiece.
You're getting twin W9+ subwoofers, five balanced armature drivers, dual electrostatics and a W10 bone conductor, with a seven-way synX crossover network and EIVEC MKII engine that apparently harmonizes all 10 drivers for perfect coherence and timing throughout a remarkable 5Hz-100kHz frequency response range.
The Odyssey are priced at $3,400 / £3,499 / AU$4,999 / NZD$5,799.
We haven't heard these objects of high-resolution audiophile-grade beauty – yet. But watch this space…