Disclaimer: Astell&Kern Korea kindly loaned AK380 Demo Unit #0014 (sweet!) for the purposes of this review. The Astell & Kern AK380 goes for about 3500$ USD. You can read all about it here: The evolution of a masterpiece, AK380.
DAC: AKM AK4490 x2 (Dual DAC)
Storage: 256GB, expandable by 128GB (Micro SD)
Supported formats: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE(Normal, High, Fast), AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF, PCM
Decoding: 32bit / 384 kHz B2B
Bluetooth: V4,0 (A2DP, AVRCP)
Wi-Fi: 802,11 b/g/n 2,4GHz
Material: Aircraft Grade Duralumin
BTW, duralumin, aka duraluminium, is the fancy (and archaic) word for a trademarked aluminium alloy that’s been in use for over a hundred years. It’s better to just call it aluminium; or, if marketing verbosity’s got the best of you, aircraft-grade aluminium. Even then, there’ve been dozens of configurations of aircraft-grade aluminium in use. It would have been better if A&K had mentioned what grade they used. For instance, my cheap OR bicycle used 6000-series aluminium; many wannabe-steel bicycles use 7000-series. Astell & Kern’s copy editing, as always, reads like a committee meeting. The AK380 is pretty cool. It deserves far better.
If you want flat-out top performance for outboard gear, the AK380 is ahead of the AK240 by a good margin, and with the possible exception of the Cowon Plenue 1, the best-performing DAP out there. The AK380 makes wonderful use of the spectacular 32-bit AKM AK4490 DAC (of which it sports two), and supports all the important file types.
It breezes through DSD playback, nearly nails gapless, and has balanced output to boot. That said, once you load that output with earphones or headphones, its performance drops precipitously. Its single-ended output handles loads of any sort much better, but still suffers minor aberration.
Notable is its nearly hissless circuitry, its excellent blending of button/touch screen interfaces, and its precise machining.
By all definitions, the AK380 is striking. And it is strikingly precious. Around it, Astell & Kern are building a modular home system, which, if properly marketed, should keep interest high and ensure good resale prices. Supplying equally striking, and ostentatiously self-branded accessories is key to establishing a marque for which people are willing to invest their bones.
For that, I say: nice.
But if I were to spend 3500$, I would want something designed to use, rather than to look at. What I mean by that is outlined on the next page: Design and hardware interface