When you buy an SR15 you will of course get the DAP delivered in a small cardboard box, which also contains a short manual, two micro SD slot covers and screen protectors. I am a bit disappointed not to see one of the screen protectors pre-applied to the front or back. I hate scratches on the screen, but I also hate applying the protectors as that can be a real pain in the ass. Also supplied with the SR15 comes a micro USB cable and a warranty card.
AK does not provide any protective case for the SR15. Which is a bummer. Sure, you can buy one from AK, but at this price I feel a case should be supplied. I always found AK’s packaging and accessories to be spot on, but with the SR15 I feel they are missing out.
The SR15 is made of a single piece of Aluminium and held in a dark grey colour. I really like the finish of the norma, as the corners are smooth and rounded off. I have been a fan of the design language AK uses. Some people don’t like the angles and corners, I think that is exactly what makes their DAPs so gorgeous.
Astell&Kern has given the SR15 a rather unusual design though. One thing is more than apparent, the tilted screen looks a bit weird at first glance, but when you hold the device in your hand you’ll see the reason for it. When you put the SR15 in your right hand, the screen will automatically align and gone is the strange angle.
The design of the SR15 is outstanding in my opinion and I really enjoy the attention to detail AK’s industrial designers show. For example, when you look at the back plate you will see three dimensional cubes. Look a little closer and you’ll see that the cubes all consist of separate lines, and aren’t just areas. The most noticeable detail of course is the beautiful volume wheel. I love its design and wave-lines. It is also perfectly implemented and has excellent tactile feedback.
On the left side of the unit you have three hardware buttons. Fast forward/next track, play/pause and rewind/previous track. These are very useful when you want to zap through tracks, but don’t want to take the SR15 out of your pocket. On top of the unit you have the headphone outputs. These slightly stand out from the body. The reason for that is, that you won’t have the risk of shorting the DAP with your jacks. Also, you won’t scratch the surface of the SR15 then. Next to the 2.5 mm output there is the on/off button. This also de-/activates the screen when the device is on.
On the bottom, you have the micro-USB B input for charging and file transfer. I hoped for AK to adopt the USB C port, as it offers multiple benefits. The screen is perfectly flushed into the body and the whole build quality is top, just as you’d expect it from a high-end manufacturer like Astell&Kern.
Astell&Kern is using an Android based Operating System. It does not run full Android, so installing Apps via the Play Store won’t happen. Their customized interface however is one of the best out there. Some manufacturers have weird bugs, but AK always seemed to be improving their UI without any issues.
Their interface is well thought out and fast. There are no real hiccups in my opinion, but there also are some limitations. These however are on purpose. AK does not want their customers to mess with their intended sound, therefore things like digital filters are not available. The Parametric EQ seems like a damn mighty thing on paper, but AK limits the effects on +/- 5dB, so changes are minimal. Also, the EQ seems to be better working with smaller sample rates and bit depth. I almost never use the EQ as I am not the biggest fan of EQing, when I do, it is to adjust frequencies on the headphone or earphone I’m using.
Let’s go through the control real fast here. AK has a swiping based UI. That means depending from which corner you’ll slide your finger through, you will get a different page. The quick settings menu is found when you drag it down from the top. A swipe from left to right will bring you to the database, sorted by Artist, Album, Song, Genre, Store (TIDAL, Groovers+) and others. From here on you can browse through your files. I usually go the Artist route and select albums from there.
The main page is the Now Playing screen. Which is the centre of the UI and can be accessed by placing your finger on the little dot on the bottom of the screen. Swiping from the right corner to the left brings you the current playlist. The most recent played tracks are found when going from bottom to top.
In the Now Playing screen you also have access to the playback behaviour. You can set shuffle and repeat when tapping on the album cover. Then you see a few infos about the track as well. Gapless playback, LR balance and other settings can be accessed via the settings menu, which is found on the left page.
On the top end, there is also system information which lets you know the current settings for volume, shuffle, repeat, WiFi, battery status and time. For a quick look this gives you plenty of info’s. Of course, you also have the option for deeper settings and change the UI a bit.
One thing I am always critical about when having a new DAP is the way it handles playlists. I like creating my own on the fly, adding tracks to the current playing songs. The AK staff has managed to get that done right, the only thing I’m waiting for them to implement there is the option to add a song to play as next, with shuffle playing activated. Then it works similar to the Rockbox way, which still is the best in my opinion.
The firmware can be updated via WiFi (OTA), for that you have to be connected to the network and if there is an update available a notification will pop up on the screen. This procedure takes a few minutes and does not erase any stored data on the device.
Future firmware’s will bring the following improvements from what I’ve been told: MQA and side loading APK files for additional streaming services. I’m not sure if the SR15 will also become Roon Ready like other AK DAPs, it would be great though. I hope AK will also allow us to install the Roon Remote App on their DAPs. That would be even cooler.
When using the SR15 the unit will get a little warm, but that’s completely normal. When you use and charge the SR15 at the same time, it will run pretty warm, I don’t recommend doing that. As the additional stress for the battery might not be the best for it.
Sound on the next page.