Portable Au­dio Player of the Year

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Astell&Kern is the high-end portable di­vi­sion of iRiver, and if iRiver didn’t quite in­vent the con­cept of an au­dio­phie portable de­vice, it was right in amongst the first of them, and has since taken the art to its ex­tremes - cur­rently ex­pressed in the $4999 SP1000, which is tagged, a lit­tle oddly, ‘A&ul­tima’. The tag for our 10cm-high award-win­ner, the more af­ford­able $999 SR15, is the still-odd but rather less in­spir­ing ‘A&norma’. Who wants to be nor­mal, or in­deed Norma? We’d say the player is far be­yond nor­mal, given its use of dual Cir­rus Logic CS43198 DAC chips in a mo­bile de­vice, with which it sup­ports up to 24-bit/192kHz high-res PCM files (and vari­ants in var­i­ous loss­lessly com­pressed for­mats), and DSD64 na­tively. It will also play 352.8 and 384kHz con­tent, but scales them down to 176.4 and 192kHz (we sus­pect you may not no­tice). Like­wise, it’ll han­dle DSD128, but con­verts this to 176.4kHz PCM for de­cod­ing.

Stor­age? It has 64GB of stor­age built in, which isn’t a vast amount in th­ese days when a sin­gle high-res al­bum might fill sev­eral GB, but it sup­ports a sin­gle mi­croSD card of up to 400GB for more.

To en­joy the fruits of its con­ver­sion you can plug head­phones into the stan­dard 3.5mm mini­jack stereo out­put, but it also of­fers the in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar 4-pole 2.5mm out­put for bal­anced head­phones. And when you’re back home, you can switch it to line-out mode and play through your hi-fi, or use its Mi­cro-B USB port into an ex­ter­nal DAC for even more su­pe­rior con­ver­sion (if you’re lucky enough to have it). It sup­ports the On-The-Go stan­dard. The Mi­cro-USB can also be used for charg­ing the unit and trans­fer­ring mu­sic.

You can also lis­ten us­ing wire­less head­phones, as the SP15 has built-in Blue­tooth, with sup­port for the aptX HD codec, should your re­ceiv­ing head­phones also sup­port this codec; sim­i­larly it will use the orig­i­nal aptX codec for head­phones with­out the HD ver­sion. The orig­i­nal aptX is a mildly lossy codec de­liv­er­ing some­where be­low CD qual­ity; aptX HD is a mildly lossy codec squeez­ing in up to 24-bit/48kHz. There’s also Wi-Fi for firmware up­dates and mu­sic down­loads.

Con­trol is via an 84mm touch-screen at a funky an­gle on the front, about as sen­si­tive and easy to use as a typ­i­cal phone, while within is a locked-down, heav­ily cus­tomised ver­sion of An­droid. On the right side is a ro­tary vol­ume con­trol. At the top there’s a power but­ton; on the left small but­tons for for­wards, back­wards, play/pause.

Enough of the specs, how’s the sound? Un­im­peach­able, we thought, de­liv­er­ing su­perb de­tail and an im­pres­sive driv­ing qual­ity, the SR15’s out­put level eas­ily suf­fi­cient to drive even dif­fi­cult head­phone loads to thrillingly high lev­els. Noise and dis­tor­tion lev­els are en­tirely be­low au­di­ble lev­els (for full mea­sure­ment info, see the re­view in our Oct-Nov is­sue of Sound+Image).

If you’ve lusted af­ter A&K but can’t reach to the high­est mod­els, the SR15 may be what you’ve been wait­ing for.

More info: www.bu­sisof­tav.com.au

“So much high­per­for­mance high-res tech in a 10cm-long player! Astell&Kern may call it ‘norma’, but we call it ‘ex­cep­tiona’.”

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