Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII review

A thing of brutalist beauty and a joy to listen to

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII on white background
Editor's Choice
(Image: © TechRadar)

TechRadar Verdict

The Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII portable music player boasts a rock-solid brutalist beauty, outstanding sound quality and extensive features


  • +

    Expressive, expansive, decisive sound

  • +

    Bright, vivid screen

  • +

    Impressive 20-hour battery


  • -

    Can easily be considered expensive – even though it isn't

  • -

    Angled screen may not suit all viewers

  • -

    The glass back can collect fingerprint smudges

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Editor's Note

• Original review date: June 2022
Launch price: $749 / £699 / AU$1,099
• Target price: still $749 / £699 / AU$1,099

Update: February 2024. The Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII is still the revered hi-res audio specialist's most entry-level player – and emphatically still one of the best MP3 players in existence – but it's important to note that in November 2023 it was superseded by A&K's newer (and slightly more expensive) Astell & Kern A&norma SR35. The nitty gritty of it is this: the SR35 is now billed as A&K's entry-level option and under intense review the newer player edges it (just), but you'll need to pay a $50 / £100 / AU$200 surcharge for that newness. Now, one could argue that if you're prepared to shell out $700 for a dedicated hi-res audio player, you may as well throw another $50 or so down, but I'm not so sure. Honestly, if this is where your budget maxes out, A&K's second-generation November 2021-issue SR25 remains an excellent option. Deals owing to its relative age? Unlikely, this is Astell & Kern, not Amazon. That said, it's not unheard of… 
The rest of this review remains as previously published.

Becky Scarrott
Becky Scarrott

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII: two-minute review

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and one man's trash is another's treasure. Anyone invested in portable hi-res audio, for instance, will surely view the Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII as a thing of beauty both sonically and visually; the very sight of an A&K player emerging from its owner's pocket signifies their ascension to a very select group of music lovers. 

To others, the off-kilter screen may seem a hindrance, the name long-winded, the edges a little sharp, the unmarked buttons somewhat unhelpful and the pricing prohibitive – even though for Astell & Kern, this is budget territory. 

Whatever your opinion on the above, the level of features, connectivity, file support and sound quality incorporated here is, as the dynamic '80s cartoon heroin Jem once said, truly truly truly outrageous.

What you need to know is that the music you've been playing from your phone or laptop is going to sound constricted, muddied, compressed and altogether beige after you've heard music on this. And even if the original (and very talented) SR25 is well-known to you, this model sounds that little bit better – and as such, it just became one of the best MP3 players on the market. 

The A&K A&norma SR25 MKII digital audio player takes and celebrates virtually any digital audio file size or type, and it will now happily accept balanced headphones with 4.4 or 2.5mm headphone jacks as well as 'regular' 3.5mm unbalanced models.

Elsewhere, the touch-screen is bright and responsive and the battery life, at 20 hours, walks all over the company's A&ultima SP2000T at only 9 hours. And did we mention how expressive, detailed, regimented and faithfully neutral it sounds? 

The A&norma SR25 MKII is a gifted digital audio player and it will reignite your love of music. And unlike many of the company's more pricey players, this one is small enough to put in a pocket and will keep you streaming, pinging or downloading once-treasured songs to it, just to see what it makes of them. 

If the current financial climate still facilitates your consideration of such a purchase, you won't be disappointed with this talented little player. 

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII on black background

The A&K's rotary volume dial is a thing of beauty (Image credit: TechRadar)

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII review: Price and release date

  • Released in November 2021
  • $749 / £699 / AU$1,099

The Astell & Kern A&norma SR 25 MKII comes with asking price that may have some moving swiftly on given the current cost of living challenges. Others may still pause to hear more though – because unlike the majority of Astell & Kern's ouevre, it doesn't actually cost thousands. 

In the United Kingdom it sells for a pound short of £700. American customers hoping to snag one will need to put seven hundred-dollar bills and one fifty aside, while in Australia you’re looking at over a grand. 

Can such a product make a case for itself outside of the niche audiophile world when good-quality music streaming and downloading capabilities are so readily available on contract smartphones? If you ask us, yes. 

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII detail of headphone ports on black background

A&K has added a 4.4 balanced headphone jack for extra connectivity (Image credit: TechRadar)

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII review: Features

  • Supports both 24-bit Bluetooth wireless codecs LDAC and aptXHD
  • Comprehensive wired hi-res chops to DSD256 and 32-bit/384KHz PCM 
  • Replay Gain automatically adjusts volume playback from sound sources up to 24-bit/192kHz

The features we need to get through here give even the best MP3 players a run for their money, so strap in. 

Astell & Kern states that every aspect its customers admired in the original SR25 is retained here, but that this new model improves on the audio performance even further. How? With its latest audio architecture, that's how, which promises more detail, clearly defined upper and lower ranges, and a deeper, more rounded sound. (More on this later.) 

What is not new is the implementation of two Cirrus Logic CS43198 DACs, because it is the same dual DAC chip setup as the previous SR15, which is a few years old now. Then again, that player was excellent sonically and if it ain't broke, etc…

As well as a new 4.4mm headphone jack, the MKII unit also boasts a new Replay Gain function to uniformly adjust volume playback from sound sources up to 24-bit/192 kHz. You're also getting AK File Drop (first introduced in the pricier A&futura SE180 player) for easier wireless file transfers; BT Sink function for simpler connection of the SR25 MKII to an external Bluetooth device (essentially, music from an external device such as a smartphone can be played back in high-quality on the SR25 MKII using it) and extra internal silver-plated shielding to protect from electromagnetic interference, first seen in the thrice-the-price A&ultima SP2000T.

Although it hasn't been shouted about, upon going through the settings of the SR25 MKII, four new, interesting and quite different-sounding DAC filters also present themselves, which will work if listening in 24-bit/192kHz or less PCM (although they won't work in MQA and DSD formats) and they certainly add value and scope for customization at the level. 

As with the first-generation model, the SR25 MKII easily handles a huge array of high-resolution music formats and sample rates, including support for native playback of DSD256 and 32-bit/384KHz PCM high-resolution audio

And should you want to listen to your favourite hi-res music over a wireless connection (and why shouldn't you, given the excellent wireless headphones available in this day and age?), the SR25 MKII features the high-quality LDAC and aptX HD Bluetooth wireless codecs too, plus wi-fi for access to streaming services including Tidal, which is happily waiting to be discovered in the 'services' tab. 

I tried the SR25 MKII using several true wireless price-compatible earbuds, including the NuraTrue and Cambridge Audio's Melomania 1+ (both of which support aptX) and found the Bluetooth connection rock-solid.

In terms of wired connections, the power output here is standard rather than exceptional, although the SR25 MKII drove my hefty Austrian Audio Hi-X55 over-ears over a (regular 3.5mm) unbalanced connection admirably. 

  • Features score: 5/5

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII review: Design

  • Bright and responsive touch-screen 
  • Angular but nicely pocketable
  • Glorious trademark A&K rotary volume dial

Astell & Kern is known for its trademark brutalist aesthetic and it’s not about to switch tack any time soon. So the A&norma SR 25 MKII is all angles and pointy bits – some of them glassy. Look at it and you know it's made by A&K. 

The slanted screen may be slightly jarring for some (yes, if the display simply fit the measurements, it could've been bigger) but it does allow for the inclusion of a lovely clicking rotary volume dial in the top right corner, for which all Astell & Kern players are now known. This one is bigger than that sported by its predecessor and it looks even more like a blown up Swiss chronograph watch dial – but we mean that in the best possible way.

There are four unmarked pill-shaped buttons along the top left edge of the player as you look at the screen, which handle (from top to bottom) power, track skips backwards, play/pausing and forwarding to the next track. While unmarked, they are intuitive and once you know, you know – again, if you don't like it, A&K does not care. 

In terms of dimensions it's a fair bit deeper than your smartphone but thinner and shorter and, at 178g it actually weighs 26g less than the iPhone 13 Pro (and 62g less than the iPhone 13 Pro Max). 

The touch-screen may be a tad fiddly for those with larger fingers – it may take a few goes to key in your Tidal password, for example – but it's more than worth persisting because the trade off is a nippy, happy and talented little player that you can actually put in your pocket without feeling like you're listing to one side. 

The slightly moodier new 'Mercury Dark Silver' colorway is another improvement on the older model, which is lighter in terms of finish. Our only slight gripe with the build is the glass panel on the back of the unit; even though it's supposed to resist fingerprints, we find it collects ours. 

  • Design score: 4.5/5

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII playback button detail

Unmarked, brutalist buttons. But once you know, you know (Image credit: TechRadar)

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII review: Audio performance

  • Open, spacious soundstage
  • Assured timing and oodles of detail
  • Zealous, fun presentation

Give the A&K your music, sit back and relax. It takes only a cursory listen to Radiohead's OK Computer (in 24-bit FLAC) to understand that this is a gifted little belter of a DAP. Throughout Airbag, the SR25 MKII seems to separate and celebrate each sonic article and inflection, but never to the detriment of the track as a whole. Bass passages other players cannot reach are offered like musical treats on a shelf to be enjoyed in passing, while synths and jingles soar through the upper registers. 

Switching to Tidal, Coheed and Cambria's Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness brims with detail thanks to an incredibly open and three-dimensional soundstage, from the initial strings coming in all around us to the child playing quietly over by our right earlobe as the guitar joins centrally.  

Lower frequencies are deep, snappy and held resolutely in a cohesive and controlled mix. Mids come alive as we listen to Melissa Etheridge's No Souvenirs, realizing as we do so that rarely has her textured, emotive, belted vocal sounded so expressive and present.  

Timing and dynamic build here are both poised and secure; the SR25 MKII takes every recording you give it, relays it faithfully, dutifully and with an extra ounce of detail both rhythmically and across the frequencies but – and this part is where other such players often fall down – it manages to keep the overall sonic experience zealous, energetic and fun rather than analytical to a fault. 

Any negatives? Really, no – although if you scale up to A&K's A&futura line you'll see a step up in terms of power and detail yet again. But for this money, the A&norma SR25 MKII cannot be beaten sonically. 

  • Audio performance score: 5/5

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

The angled screen may not suit larger fingers (Image credit: TechRadar)

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII: Value

  • A&K's entry-level player – if $749/£699 is 'entry-level' to you
  • Tech from models thrice the price 
  • For a premium player, this is the least you'll pay

This is a tricky one, because you can pick up a portable audio player made by Sony for a tenth of the price of this hi-res player. That said, this is upper echelon territory; Astell & Kern's top-tier Ultima model sells for $2,399 / £1,999 / AU$3,599. 

Astell & Kern actually calls the SR 25 MKII a "true mass premium product", which just about sums it up. To clarify, for this money you're still getting A&K's core (and frankly, 'cor!) values: exceptional audio performance for a diverse range of musical tastes and that trademark brutalist build, plus tech such as AK File Drop, access to streaming platforms, DAC filters and the BT Sink function trickled down from the company's flagship players, but without the four-figure price tag. 

Will most of us still need to pass on "mass premium" players given the cost of living crisis? Perhaps. But that is a shame, since this one really does represent value for money – if you have it, and expressly want to spend it on a dedicated, talented, hi-res digital audio player. 

  • Value: 4.5/5

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII: Should you buy it?

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Astell & Kern SR25 MKII
FeaturesProbably the most fully-featured DAP available at this level5/5
Sound qualityUnrivalled, unless you're prepared to spend double and even triple this money5/5
DesignIt won't suit all tastes but to us, it's beautiful4.5/5
ValueWhether or not you consider the pricing strategy affordable, you can't buy anything else as good for this money4.5/5

Astell & Kern A&Norma SR25 MKII USB-C port and SD-card slot detail

It's all angles and edges, but with its SD card slot (and supplied cover) you can level up the storage, too (Image credit: TechRadar)

Buy it if...

You want premium portable audio for mid-level money
Honestly, the SR25 MKII is about to walk all over the sound your smartphone or tablet can deliver

You have a Tidal HiFi subscription
Other platforms can be accessed using A&K's Open APP Service, but Tidal feels the most integrated and enjoyable – and its MQA format is truly celebrated here

You want something truly portable
Unlike certain DAPs (many of them also made by Astell & Kern) this player will slip neatly into the pocket of your jeans and barely affect your silhouette 

Don't buy it if...

You think £700 is too much for a dedicated portable player
It's a small-ish product and, while angular and intrinsically pleasing, it isn't gold or particularly bling-y. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. 

You have particularly large fingers
The 3.6-inch HD (720x1280) touchscreen here is lovely and bright, but it's size and situation might be an issue

Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII: Also consider


FiiO M11S
The FiiO M11S is a more accessible buy than the Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII. It’s a fair bit more affordable, it’s similarly specified and the sound is undeniably great. It’s not the premium object Astell & Kern players are, though, and the control you have over its sound is nowhere near as comprehensive. Read more about it in our FiiO M11S review


Astell & Kern A&norma SR35
It's A&K's marginally more expensive but crucially newer entry-level player and the new red interface is hard to ignore. And if you want a player that landed in May 2023 rather than November 2021, this is that item. Is it that much better though? It's a closely run thing, which you can read about in our also five-star Astell & Kern A&norma SR35 review

  • First reviewed June 2022
Becky Scarrott
Audio Editor

Becky became Audio Editor at TechRadar in 2024, but joined the team in 2022 as Senior Staff Writer, focusing on all things hi-fi. Before this, 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.