Powering and sources
Being developed principally to partner with a range of portable devices, the AK T5p V2 is appropriately easy-to-drive at 32-ohms impedance and a sensitivity of 102 dB/mW. My Samsung S9+ smartphone easily gets the AK T5p V2 to ‘too loud’ levels at around 60% volume, and I have to say that it doesn’t actually sound half-bad when played out of a smartphone. There’s a nice sense of percussive dynamics on Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Galapogas‘, and acceptable levels of clarity and separation. This combination is more than acceptable in a pinch, and I did indeed happily use the AK T5p V2 in this configuration when my Samsung happened to be the only player in arm’s reach.
While it’s nice to know that you can extract reasonable levels of performance from your garden-variety Android, you’re not buying a top-of-the-line portable pair of headphones only to pair them with a sub-par source. I was glad to have an A&K DAP on hand to pair with the AK T5p V2 with in the form of their impressive SA700. I did the majority of my listening with the Astell&Kern ‘family combo’, and found it to be an impressive combination in terms of synergy, and being able to adequately power the AK T5p V2 – as expected, really. All the above listening impressions on the previous page (but for the comparisons with other headphones) were performed using the SA700, which comfortably got the AK T5p to adequate listening levels at 80/150 volume increments using the 2.5mm balanced jack. Compared to the Samsung, the SA700 tightened the bass response, and lifted a veil off the dynamics in the top-end, making the S9+ sound like wet cardboard by comparison. What I was interested to see was how similar or different the AK T5p V2 would perform when used with other portable and desktop sources, to see if Astell&Kern players really are the peanut butter to the AK T5p V2’s jam.
An A/B comparison showed the SA700 to have more treble energy and an overall more vivid playback character versus the more laid-back presentation of the Mojo, which is my gold-standard benchmark in the portable hifi stakes. While the Mojo creates a slightly more liquid, smoothed-out presentation, the SA700’s adds a little more aggression at both bottom and top, with more distinct separations between vocal and instrumental parts. The SA700’s presentation is far more suited to the AK T5p V2, whose virtues really are detail clarity, rather than euphony or warmth.
If you’re in the market for a $1,199 pair of portable headphones, then you sure as hell want them to sound good in your desktop set-up as well. Swapping the Mojo out for my reference solid-state desktop amplifier, the Class-A Questyle CMA600i, I set about seeing whether the AK T5p V2 would further ‘scale’ with the addition of additional power and quality of source components upstream. Swapping back-and-forth between the SA700 and the Questyle, the desktop set-up (capable of 2WPC at 32-ohms) showed that the AK T5p V2 was capable nominally better performance when used with powerful, high-quality components. Treble extension and energy was improved over the A&K DAP, as well as low-end control and overall deftness and speed.
Thoughts and conclusions
I like the Astell&Kern AK T5p V2. It’s wonderfully packaged in terms of form-factor, and in terms of sound it’s a decadent, fun and altogether different type of tuning to what I personally enjoy – it’s nice for a change. But we have to look at it in terms of how well it answers the portable ‘brief’, and especially with the $1,119 pricetag looming overhead. From my perspective, The AK T5p V2 will make you very happy if you use it as your portable solution as a part of a collection alongside other headphones – if you can afford it – but it’s technically not up to scratch as a general-purpose audiophile headphone for this asking price if you intend it to be your only pair of headphones. And if you do buy it for strictly portable use, just make note that you’re going to need to figure out how to accommodate them in terms of size within your luggage or everyday carry.
For most people, it’s simply too expensive for what it is to recommend as a good value purchase. But, where the AK T5p V2 becomes a more serious recommendation is for someone who’s fully committed themselves to the Astell&Kern DAP ecosystem and is looking for an ‘endgame’ pair of bass-y full-sized headphone that *can* work well in portable circumstances, or with particular music genres. There may well be 1000 of you out there who will no doubt enjoy it enormously. Have fun!