The A&norma SR15 is Astell&Kern’s latest entry level DAP and the spiritual successor of the AK70 MK2. Today we’ll find out how it performs.
Disclaimer: Astell&Kern provided the SR15 for this review at no cost. It is a loaner and will be returned to Astell&Kern. AK is not a site advertiser and in no way affiliated with Headfonia. Many thanks for the opportunity to review the SR15.
Astell&Kern is a South Korean high end brand for digital audio players (DAPs). Astell&Kern is a branch of Korea’s iRiver, which actually is the first company to ever build a portable audio player. Astell&Kern was launched with the mission to offer the absolute best where money is no object. Ever since their launch, they have redefined what is possible from portable devices. With the AK100 they introduced their first product in 2013 under the A&K brand.
Astell&Kern has pioneered a few things we know of today. They were the first to build a DAP with two DAC chips inside – AK120. AK was the first brand ever to introduce native DSD playback in a portable device – AK240. The AK380 was the first ever digital audio player that came with a Parametric Equalizer.
Just recently AK has introduced what they call Teraton. This is an audio module that contains their digital and analogue design. This module can be implemented by third party brands in order to get closer to the AK sound. The first product has already been released that utilizes Teraton – the Activo CT10.
AK also cooperates with many other industry leading brands. In partnership with brands like Beyerdynamic, Final Audio, Jerry Harvey Audio or Crystal Cable, Astell&kern has brought out many different products under their name. Together with JH Audio they have released a good number of different universal In Ear Monitors. Just recently we have reviewed one of said creations – the Billie Jean.
About A&norma SR15:
Astell&Kern splits their DAP portfolio in three lines. The over-achieving, luxurious A&ultima, the less expensive and high performing A&futura and the accessible entry level A&norma line. The SR15 sits firmly in the norma line, as a matter of fact, it’s the only unit in there currently. The SR15 is regarded as Astell&Kern’s cheapest audio player and comes with a price tag of 699 USD.
It features a dual mono construction with two CS43198 DAC chips. AK is well known for their balanced output implementation. They have always used a 2.5mm headphone port, if you think of it, they were the ones who made balanced outputs popular in DAPs. The SR15 has an internal memory of 64 GB, which is about double their competition usually offers at that price. If they offer any memory at all. On top, you can also put in a micro SD card to have even more memory. As far as I know there is no size limitation for the external storage.
When you connect your SR15 to your PC or Laptop it registers as an Android device using the Media Transfer Protocol. For Windows machines that’s no biggie, but if you’re a Mac user, this might cause you some headache. There are a number of programs available which make your AK accessible then, like Android File Transfer (Freeware) or Commander One. The MTP protocol also is limited in actions, so you shouldn’t transfer files and play from the SR15 at the same time. This might damage the files. This has actually happened to me when I had my AK380 a while back.
With the SR15 you will get a 24/192 capable audio player. It does play DSD files up to 128 as well, but downsamples DSD128 to PCM sample rates. DSD64 is handled natively. It plays pretty much any format except for ISO and MQA. I know many people would like to see MQA support too, and from what I’ve heard AK seems to be working on an implementation. Personally, I am not a fan of MQA for a number of reasons, but I can see why people would like to see it supported, as it does have benefits when it comes to streaming.
When we look at the specifications of the SR15 we will see, that it has a 3.3” TFT touch display. The unit itself has a good form factor for my taste. It measures 57.5 x 99.7 x 16.1 mm (WHD). It is not too big to carry around and it has a good weight. Coming from the SP1000, which has a 5” screen, I found myself accustomed to the smaller size very fast. Sure, there is quite a difference in font size but you get used to that.
The SR15 packs WiFi, Bluetooth (aptX HD), a 3.5mm and a balanced 2.5mm output. The output impedances vary slightly from 1.1 Ohm (3.5mm) to 1.6 Ohm (2.5mm). These are still relatively low impedances and should make no problems when using multi driver IEMs.
Astell&Kern’s DAPs can also be used as USB DACs. All you have to do is enable the function in the settings menu and connect it to your PC (drivers required). I have not tried this function myself as I used the SR15 purely as DAP on the go. Another function AK has given their products is the option to use them as digital transports. The SR15’s micro USB port can be used as an output to external D/A converters. This does work well with the Mojo and Hugo2.
What most people don’t know, or miss, is the fact that each WiFi enabled AK DAP can also be used as an UPnP endpoint (Renderer). This means you can access your SR15 (or any other AK DAP for that matter) with your smartphone, tablet or PC. AK provides for this purpose an App called “AK Connect”, which runs on iOS and Android devices, but also on the AK DAP itself (pre-installed). With this App, you have access to all network attached storages in your network. This works pretty well.
The SR15 also brings a number of streaming services to the table. There of course is a native implementation of TIDAL, but also Groovers+. Depending on your location, there might be more. AK also just announced that they will support side-loading APK files to offer support for more streaming services (such as Spotify, Qobuz, Deezer, …) with a future firmware update. This then also enables you to download files for offline listening.
The A&norma SR15 has a battery capacity of 3150 mAh, which holds a charge for about nine to ten hours. Depending on the type of files you’re listening to and what headphones you’re using.
A detailed list of specifications can be found here:
The review continues on page two.