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
Angles & Kinks 😉
You got it.
The best (& longest, probably) review done by Nathan. Brutally honest; plus WTF-rich content. Couldn’t be better for sure!
PS: I’m an audiophile & I listen to Armin Van Buuren, Dash Berlin, Tiesto & co. here and there. 😉
I am in good company, then. I think it is my longest review, and I hope it is as honest as possible. One thing for sure: spending a long time with a very expensive (and to its target market, nice) DAP has made me appreciate my iPhone 4S a lot more.
And mate, what do you think of post-700 episode ASOT? Dash are always running in my studio.
I had to hop on Spotify – Apple Music doesn’t have the complete list of ASOT. (meh). Post 700? I somewhat prefer pre-700. Post-700 sounds less trance, more big house (some disco). Is he sucked in Guetta & Harris whirlpool? I don’t listen to ASOTs often, anyway; I mainly listen to his albums.
Dash Berlin is good – on par with Tiesto. Sorry, but those 2 can’t match AvB for me. Have you heard Martin Garrix? He looks promising for such young age.
I own 4S & 5S. 4S sounds larger but I prefer 5S. More dynamic & contrast. I can’t help myself yawning listening to trance with 4S.
Yeah, the 5/S is more grippy sounding, which I think sounds better for trance. When I’m in the mood for something else all together, the 4S shows its colours better.
As to post-700: you have to give it time. Until very recently, I was pretty much 300-500, and I love the show because I get into new trance rather than hanging onto my albums. I’ve got all of his albums (thanks honey!) but am perhaps more into understanding contemporary work.
I’ll give it chance but no guarantee. I’m quite a stubborn conservationist in terms of music. But that means I have to jump around 2 streaming services. Competition, exclusives, blah blah..suck. Period.
Anyway, do you think VE6 still the king of EDM CIEM?
Absolutely: the VE6 is still king of EDM/trance, mainly because of its incredibly wide stage, high contrast to bass and highs, but not too much of a V-curve. It’s perfect to get your ears to tell you you are in a chemical groove. Not too much bass to crowd out the feeling.
Quick update: I’m listening to ASOT 729. Really trying not to think that I’m listening to disco music brought by a radio DJ.
Now, into psych limbo…..
A heads-up: external amplifier from A&K released today in Korea for around $750-800 USD.
So, 3500 + ~800 = 4300. Wowzers eh? I would grab the upcoming X7 or something and a Hugo instead but that’s just me not preferring the “ultimate.”
Anyways, a great 5 out of 5 stars review!
Thanks Jeff. I’m pretty stoked by the unloaded output of the AK380. And thus far, AK have yet to produce a great amp circuit. But I’ll hold my breath until I get a chance to touch the new amp.
I tested the PURE II+ with the AK380 at the same volume levels and it suffered none of the same problems with the same earphones.
If/when the AK380 gets an output mod from a good DIYer, it could be perfect for the person that really wants it all (including cuts in their palms).
Personally, I thought that the AK380 was a bit digital sounding A/Bing between it and the Hugo. I’ll demo the amp on Saturday so I’ll be able to find out if it helps the AK380 any. The balanced output’s power is pretty impressive using the amp: 8.1 Vrms I think (this is in high gain mode) (there is a high gain mode and a low gain mode for iems). I guess the amp could help in some ways (but cause more cuts in their palms).
Either way, I think that the AK240 was a real winner for A&K at the time while the AK380’s a monster that’s too expensive, too technical with hype-words like femto-clock, too big & heavy, and becomes even harder to consider it “portable” when it’s attached an additional amp. Granted AK240 wasn’t perfect in terms of SQ, it still seems like it’s got the best ergonomics out of the A&K range to me.
All in all though, it is the ultimate… at least for now.
Hows the line out pairing to the CDM that you reviewed recently? Is the DAC a solid improvement over the AK240 on line out?
Yes to the second question and to the first: great pairing.
You mentioned the Plenue 1. Is there a review coming up? Price and design wise it would be much more interesting to me than this.
I have no idea about the Plenue. I have tried it multiple times (during shoots) and have been impressed. And I’ve received a good number of requests. I will let you know.
Ouch. I guess I was expecting it though.
Like I said, performance is very good, and unloaded, nearly perfect. Its balanced output isn’t great, and loaded, its excellent performance falls a bit. Still, you can’t really top all of it, just that for 3500$, it is about 3x the price of its closest performance competitor. But it is a player that does a LOT more than the Pluenue 1.
I am looking for a way to play CD quality and Hi Res. files on my home stereo system and obtain lifelike performance. I currently have Usher BE-20 speakers with the Diamond tweeters, however I do have the Beryllium tweeters that they originally came with. I use Audience AU24 bi-wire speaker cables and am running them through a Micromega IA400 200W integrated amp. My question is do you recommend the AK380 to load and play my music files through or is a lesser DAP going to offer very similar sonic reproduction of the music on my system? Am I better off going for something like the Sony HAP-Z1ES HDD Audio Player. Help Nathan!
Well, unloaded, the AK380 is impressive. The MSAK100 is nearly as good. A Chord Mojo is measurably far superior to either. If you have a smartphone and a Mojo, you’ve saved hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, and will be able to supply better signal to a pre-amp. If you have a DAC you want to use, the AK380’s digital output is very good. But so is USB.
Nothing can beat CD quality music. If you possess a dedicated audio cd player, e.g., Marantz, nothing like that. However, the next option is to go to Headphonezone only, they have carefully picked gadgets. premium ones at affordable prices..…..reliable advices.
Despite the balanced output being disappointing, is the balanced output still superior to the AK240 and AK120II?
I’ve not tested the AK120II’s balanced output. But compared to the AK240’s the AK240’s is better. That said, I haven’t tested both side-by-side loaded. Only unloaded. And for that, the AK380 is better.
So compared to the AK240, the AK240 is best? 😀
In a sentence/paragraph. What would you say about the 240 vs 380?
I didn’t have them at the same time. From memory (fallible) AK380 is more detailed, the AK240 more smooth. The AK380 tests better, too. But I think at normal listening volumes there is nothing between them.
That plastic screen is nowhere near as nice as a Samsung S6 playing Onkyo HD player out to any of the great portable DACs out there.
Would this be overkill for IEM’s like the SE-5 Ultimate? If it is, I might just go with the DX100 or the A&K AK120 instead.
It is a bit overkill for those earphones, and it may not drive those earphones perfectly. It will sound great with them.
Have you tried the latest Cowon Plenue S ?
I have only briefly. Very nice.
Nothing can beat CD quality music. If you possess a dedicated audio cd player, e.g., Marantz, nothing like that. However, the next option is to go to Headphonezone only…..they have carefully picked gadgets, premium ones at affordable prices…..reliable advices. Tell them your capacity to spend at the particular time, your taste in the music, the size of the music gadget that will suit you etc., you are done possessing a gadget that keeps you happily listening to music.
Created a new Disqus profile just to post these 2 messages.
How is the sound signature of the k70 compared with ak jr?
I am on the Sony ZX2 with shure 846. You guys think there any worthwhile gain to upgrade to this AK380?
Maybe Berkhan can answer this for you
Can someone please explain what is loaded and unloaded that is mentioned for balanced output
It means the amp is driving a load (headphone or dummy) from an output socket.
Tired of waiting
A&K support is super unresponsive. Insane for a high end unit – you’d think they would care about repeat business.
This review was so good, I got the product. Unfortunately after 2 years the battery started swelling and had to be removed to prevent any further damage.
Contacted Astell and Kern locally – sorry the battery is discotinued and A&K will not service the product…. Emailed A&K and no reply.
For a quality / high end product this is incredibly bad service. Sadly I will be looking elsewhere for replacement
I agree and at the same time I can see why they’re saying this. Tech products nowadays unfortunately have a very short lifetime.
That being said, if you open it up and DIY, I’m sure you can replace the battery. But this shouldn’t be the way for high end products, agreed.