Astell & Kern – Haute Audiology tempts Haute Horlogerie!
For a long time I thought it was just a coincidence, that watch collectors surrounded themselves with high quality products, but I now know that many of them share a similar preference, when it comes to high quality devices, clothing and other items.
A brand that can be found more and more among these watch community guys, is Astell & Kern.
Astell & Kern is a fairly small independent Korean audio brand, (specialized in ‘personal audio’) that derived from the iRiver Group in 2012. The brand started with a few high end portable audio players, and became in short time, the leader in ‘High End Personal Audio’, with players like the AK240 and AK380.
Vice President James Lee and Marketing Manager Alex Ann, run the company fairly different from the competition and actually a bit like some of the exclusive watch brands do. The Korean brand keeps in touch with their users by organizing meetings and dinner parties, on a small scale, where products can be seen and tried, questions asked and most important, have a great evening with good wine, food and friends.
Astell & Kern does that quite often, like this party in Ho Chi Minh, that just took place last month. I attended earlier parties in Singapore and Hong Kong and I could taste the passionate atmosphere among the guests. Although not planned yet, I am sure these gatherings will also take place in Europe and in the USA in the near future as these markets are expanding.
Of course, these players will work well with your MP3 downloads, but they really start to show off their true potential when they will be loaded with albums in FLAC or WAV format. I come to that in a minute.
Let’s first have a look how these players are designed and why they’re so different from other players. While most players are packed in a boring rectangle cigarette shaped box, Astell & Kern is about a design that elevates its look and feel. The shape of the 300 series is so eye catching and different, that I can imagine, some folks have to get used to it. This is where design meets functionality. Unexpected lines and angles work together to improve the ergonomic of the case.
The large volume control of the AK380, build into the side of the case, to protect it, speaks to me. It looks like the crown of this Urwerk snugged into the case, or the crown of a Rolex between its crown guards, design with a reason.
Duralumin is often used for the case of Digital Audio Players also at Astell & Kern, but the team decided last year to launch a limited edition of the AK240 model, in stainless steel.
Not because of the looks, but because the stainless steel case solves the problem of grounding. And grounding is an important factor, that can affect the sound of a personal player. The Duralumin version of the AK240 has a limited ground area, due to the material used. Stainless steel, provides more ground points, on a larger area. And that results in an improvement in sound quality. According to the community at the various personal audio forums, the result is a wider sound, deeper bass and more defined mids, than the same model in Duralumin.
An even greater improvement in sound was reached this year, when Astell & Kern turned their top of the line player, the AK380 in a copper version, also build in a very small limited edition, that found its way to the hard core fans, in no time.
Many people have a large CD collection and since it is not easy for everyone to transfer these CD’s into a FLAC or WAV file, the engineers from Astell & Kern came up with a portable CD Ripper, that can be connected to the current line up of A&K players. The Ripper is housed in a case made in Duralumin, of just 15 x 15 cm.
Digital Audio players are often used with smaller headphones or with the so called ‘In-Ear’ phones, but since the real fanatics would love to use their power hungry full-size Audeze, MrSpeaker or other headphones some audio brands came up with portable amplifiers, to be connected with short wires to the player. That sure worked, but it was far from convenient and looks always a bit sloppy.
In case you have an LP collection; their latest development is the Astell & Kern Recorder, that will be clipped on underneath the player, just like the amplifier is clipped on. The AK Recorder is suitable for any and all forms of recording, whether it be a live concert, an interview, a meeting or an analog LP signal.
But this is a truly professional recording device, that does much more than making copies of your elpee collection! It provides studio-quality sound and is a pretty amazing recorder that offers a wide range of features, such as DSD 5.6MHz recording (the first of its kind in a portable recorder), support for professional condenser microphones through independent phantom power, detailed control of microphones and pre-amplifier Gains, an interface that spans both analog and digital, a digital limiter for professionals, a peak hold, a low cut filter, and support for a number of recording options including pre-recording. A superb little machine that can be taken anywhere, to do a great job during a concert, or to do a simple digitization of an elpee, at home on a Sunday afternoon.
Astell & Kern takes music very seriously and their 300 series are the only players on the market today, that offer you, besides the best sound, also ripping and recording possibilities. It’s is one of those brands that understand very well, what people expect, when they’re willing to pay a bit more, to get that one exclusive product, that matches their life style.
More information about Astell & Kern