I tested this superb hi-res player and now music on my iPhone just sounds beige

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII on black background
(Image credit: TechRadar)

I'll get straight to it: I just tested the Astell & Kern's A&norma SR25 MKII hi-res digital audio player (or DAP, as audiophiles tend to call them) and it delivered a stone cold sonic masterclass to my iPhone 11, Samsung Galaxy S21 and older iPhone 7 (audio reviewers often have two or three phones on the go and that's totally not weird). 

To call it the best MP3 player at this level is actually to do it down, too – saying the A&norma SR25 MKII is a good MP3 player is akin to saying Karim Benzema is good at kicking balls or that Patrick Mahomes is good at throwing them. 

And it's not even the sublime sigh-inducing audio quality that makes me love it so much – although we'll come back to that later.

Don't get me wrong, there's still a spot in my bag that can only be filled by my trusted vintage iPod Classic. Its ease of use, abundance of storage and, I'll be honest, rich seam of albums from a disquiet youth – My Chemical Romance, Pennywise, Anti-Flag, I keep you close to my heart; I keep you here – make it irreplaceable. 

But months invariably turn to years and in truth, the sands of time engulfed the humble iPod years ago – even Apple's last surviving player, the iPod Touch (7th Generation), has now gained its wings

Welcome then the A&K A&norma SR25 MKII. I emphatically want you to know about it even though I realise that at $749 / £699 / AU$1,099 many will overlook it – and I get that. Smartphones are the non-negotiable essential to keep us connected to the world at large and handily, these also serve as Walkmans. So base covered, right? 

Not for me. Not when I know that portable music can sound so, so much better. 

Opinion: A&K's player will reignite your love of listening

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII with Radiohead playing, on white background

Listen to Radiohead's OK Computer and tell me this A&K player isn't the best in its class  (Image credit: TechRadar)

Consider that a new iPhone 13 will set you back around $799 / £779 / AU$1,349 for the 128GB model. Yes, this cost is often split into monthly instalments as part of your network-provider contract (and let's not forget initiatives such as Apple Pay Later) but it's proof that such a fee is palatable even in the current financial crisis – and is currently being paid by most of us, with interest. 

Now, this A&K player. If the company's May-issue Kann Max proves why the iPod had to die, the A&norma SR25 MKII I've just spent the week with proves that you don't need to cough up $1,300 / £1,199 / AU$1,899 for a worthy replacement. You actually only need to cough up half that to get much of the same tech, still in a handsome Astell & Kern jacket and crucially, with Astell & Kern's sonic wizardry baked right in. 

Gone are the days of hooking your fussy player up to your PC and waiting hours while DSDs load too; this little player has AK File Drop (first introduced in the pricier A&futura SE180 player) for easier wireless file transfers, plus Wi-Fi for access to platforms such as Tidal's streaming and downloads, all without encroaching on your phone's data allowance. 

But the thing that will change most for you, should you purchase one, is that you will make more time for music. You will revel in this. And while that does have much to do with how good it sounds, it arguably has more to do with the lack of distractions when listening to it. 

Ask yourself this: do you really enjoy music on your phone? Do you play an album right through from beginning to end, noting the concepts or musical passages that might be echoed between tracks? Or do you try to stream a track on Apple Music then realise your 5G connection is dodgy? Or do you get distracted by a WhatsApp thread, or a calendar notification, or an incoming call, or the … that Lossless streaming is killing your data allowance? 

That won't happen here. And that's before we even get into how easy it is to get hi-res music onto the thing for offline listening – and how good said music will sound. 

If you love music on the go, at least let these words roll around in your head for a bit. Yes, times are far from easy, but I'd argue that is when we need music more than ever – and where bringing music to your ears is concerned, this product is A number one, top of the heap. Start spreadin' the news…

Becky Scarrott
Senior Audio Staff Writer

Becky is a senior staff writer at TechRadar (which she has been assured refers to expertise rather than age) focusing on all things audio. Before joining the team, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.