Astell&Kern SP2000 Review

Astell&Kern SP2000

Vs SP1000

 

 

For this part of the review, I streamed the same songs and albums over Tidal, to make sure the exact same file quality was used. Too bad we don’t have the SP1000M or the AK380 here with us anymore to compare the SP2000 to.

There’s quite a number of people who find/found the SP1000 to sound a bit light. With the SP2000 this no longer will be the case and you now get a more full, bodied sound from top to bottom. At the same time the SP2000 elevates the technical performance in all possible regions, while maintaining that great musicality. I do find the SP2000 to sound even more musical than the SP1000, especially when listening in balanced mode.

Bass in the SP2000 has more body and reaches down lower with more sub rumble. There’s also a bit more detail but it’s especially the layering which is more impressive and apparent.

The SP2000’s mids are more wider and more spacious and share the same excellent separation. What has improved here is the note decay and naturalness of the timbre. As said, the vocals in the SP2000 are a bit more to the front compared to those of the SP1000.

The treble section of the SP2000 is more extended and has a more spacious presentation with even better depth and layering. To me it also sounds more lively and energetic, but that’s perfectly fine as it that ways matches better with the characteristics of the (new) lower region presentation.

Astell&Kern SP2000

Astell&Kern SP2000

So yes, for me it’s a step up and the difference is easily audible. At the same time it’s not so that the SP1000 has no more value. It’s till in incredibly good and awesome TOTL DAP, and I bet there’s a whole group of listeners out there that prefers the sound of the original SP of that of the latest release. Like I said, I also still use both, so that for sure means the SP1000 is special on its own.

Competition

There seem to be a few camps when it comes to high end portable players. You have those who prefer Astell & Kern, a second group which is all over the Sony WM1Z, a third group which prefers the Lotoo PTG and finally a niche group which adores the Luxury&Precision “music before usability” philosophy. Of course there are many more camps but I just want to point out that there’s a perfect DAP out here for everyone. It’s not because someone says the SP2000 is the very best on the market, that this is the same for you preference.

The Sony WM1Z ($3,199USD) and the SP1/2000 probably are the most popular on the high end market. In balanced mode the WM1Z sounds fuller from bottom to top and a lot smoother and warmer. The clarity and energy which is so apparent in the SP2000 is not present here. The Sony is more about smoothness and musicality but also with excellent detail retrieval. For me the sound stage width and the extension is quite a bit better on the SP2000. Compared to the AK, the WM1Z sounds slower and less tight, but it is more romantic. The Sony has the upper hand on the vocals though, which sound more realistic and addictive. Treble fans will prefer the AK rendering over that of the Sony, as it it’s more energetic, dynamic and alive.

The Luxury & Precision LP6 – which we reviewed a couple of weeks ago – is selling for $4,399USD and it to me combines the best of the SP2000 and the WM1Z. You get all the detail, energy, dynamics, precision and extension you ever dreamed of, while the music is always delivered in a musical and natural way. The LP6’s sound stage width and depth is impressive, as is its layering. It takes the strong technicalities of the SP2000 and combines it with the smoothness, musicality and warmth of the Sony, without them interfering. If you only think about sound, the LP6 to me probably is the best DAP on the market. Of course at his price point, it absolutely has to be perfect as well. The downside of the LP6 is that you can’t stream from any app or even from your NAS. It can only use the internal memory, but if you do that it blows you away. Imagine what it would be like if it could offer the same functionalities as the AK players. And then there’s the P6 DAP which is coming up, and which is supposed to sound even better…

Astell&Kern SP2000

Astell&Kern SP2000

A direct comparison to the Lotoo PTG will be added in about two weeks when we will have both of these units in the office.

USB DAC / Digital out / Line Out / AK Connect

At my day job’s office I unfortunately don’t have all my desktop gear I have at home and so I use more transportable gear there. When I’m listening with full sized headphones, I usually will choose the Chord Electronics Hugo 2 as my to-go-to DAC/AMP but when I listen to IEMs however, I prefer to hook up the SP2000 as a DAC/AMP over USB-C. All you need to do is install the Windows drivers et voilà.

I have to say that I hardly ever use the SP2000 as a source only in combination with an external DAC. Therefor the DAC inside the SP2000 is just way too good to not let shine. So yes, it means that I at home when my laptop is not available, use the SP2000 as a source/DAC with one of my desktop (tube) amplifiers over the line-out. If you have an incredibly good DAC at home and want to use the SP2000 as a digital transport like the Xduoo X10tii, you could of course. But I doubt anyone will buy it specifically for that. When I don’t feel like looking for my laptop and don’t have the SP2000 available I tend to use the AK KANN CUBE as digital transport and I use that with the optical output going to the Flux Lab Acoustic Atlas‘ DAC input.

Astell&Kern SP2000

Astell&Kern SP2000

Where I with the older AK units used AK Connect quite a bit, I don’t do so anymore with the SP2000 as I now have a streamer available in my living room. It still works nicely though and all you need is your phone. A lot of people forget about this tool, but I feel many people would use it if only it was better explained.

End Words

The Astell&Kern SP2000 is the best sounding portable player the South-Korean brand has built so far. No it doesn’t come cheap but you in return get a DAP with an innovative design, extreme usability and most important of all: a top level sound where the technicalities are king.

On top of that you can use it as a portable source with the Line Out, as DAC/AMP or just as digital carrier. And then there’s streaming, APK install capability and AK Connect if that wasn’t enough already.

In short, the Astell&Kern SP2000 is one of the very best all-round High-end portable players on the market. It replaces the SP1000 on our BEST DAP list where you can find all of our recommended portable players. Well done!

 

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

4 Comments

  • Reply May 12, 2020

    MhtLion

    As always, a great review. You are the best headphone reviewer to my eyes.

    • Reply May 12, 2020

      Lieven

      Hi. Thank you for the nice words. It’s appreciated

  • Reply May 15, 2020

    Claudio

    Good review. I always check your reviews when I buy my equipement. Regarding to A&K product I have to say that they offer premium DACs with great sound. It’s a pleasure have this product, the sound and the contruction are great. I only have a concern, a big concern. The have one of the worse customer service that I ever experimented. I have sr15 and the KANN (old one). I was one of the user affected by the new firmware that crashed the software and I have to sent my KANN to corea. When they sent me back my KANN to Chile I checked that everythin was ok but when i connect my grado sr80 to the 3.5 output for headphones I realized that it wasn’t working. It only sound in one side. I usually use the 2.5 output and the line out and i have this Kann less than an year. I have wrote several messages to the web page (the only way that you can talk with them directly) and I have no answer from them. I know this is a review for other product but i think a product comes with everything not only the DAP. The customer service is very important, even more that the final product because a good service customer will always give you the security that the brand will solve any problem. In this case A&K generate the problem and them gave me more problems because some guy probably made a mistake and broke something in my KANN but the sad part is that they are not answering so my recommendation is to try to check how is the customer support before to buy any expensive DAP because of they don’t take care of any issie you will have a trash that cost more than USD 1.000.

  • Reply May 23, 2020

    tunnel rush

    Thank you for this review, very helpful information!

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