So many DAPs in the world, only very little in my collection. My fancy has never really been tickled when it comes to other players as the AK’s. One other manufacturer can currently be found in my inventory – Luxury&Precision. The indirect Colorfly offspring has left quite an impression on me. Their L3 Pro and L5 Pro are the only non-AK DAPs found in my apartment.
It has been a little while since I had the AK70 MK2, and I usually am not a fan of making comparisons based on memory, but I think many people are interested in learning the differences between them. Please take the following with a grain of salt. The SR15 has higher clarity in its sound, throws a wider and deeper sound stage and generally improved in terms of resolution and instrumental separation.
Luxury&Precision – L3 Pro (549$)
When comparing the two products from a hardware perspective there are a few differences. The AK has 64 GB on board storage, whereas the L&P has only 32 GB. The SR15 offers a much more convenient handling of micro SD cards. There still are some filesystem limitations on the LP. The L3 Pro comes with a coaxial output, which the AK does not have. The AK however has digital USB output and accepts OTG storage too.
The most obvious difference though is the far superior user interface of the Korean DAP. The Luxury&Precision products have always been flawed by their rudimentary and especially lacking software. From a user experience standpoint, the AK wins by a good margin.
Sound-wise the two are not too different though. Both have a smooth and detailed presentation. Especially the balanced output of the L3 Pro is very competitive to the one of the SR15. To me the SR15 has higher resolution and bests the LP in terms of sound stage dimensions, imaging and separation. Both have a musical tonality and good details, but the AK to me seems more effortless.
Astell&Kern – A&ultima SP1000 SS (3499$)
There is no denying the SP1000 is far superior, sonically and hardware wise. Some people might still want to know how the entry level fares up against the best of the best. The SP1000 has higher resolution, a wider and deeper stage with better imaging and layering. The SR15 is smoother, but the SP is cleaner and more accurate. One thing that I love about the SP is its incredible treble section. It’s not just rich and energetic, but also smooth, silky and a pleasure to listen to. The SR is more relaxed in that regard, with a warmer base. The bass of the SP extends further into the deep regions, with better control, higher resolution and superior texture. The SR15 has smoother mids, while the SP is more transparent and open, has higher emotion levels and just is more lifelike.
The obvious advantage of the SR15 is portability. While I have been running around with the five inch SP1000 for over a year now as my daily driver, the change from the solid steel DAP to the lightweight and super compact SR15 has been more than welcome. The first days were a little strange, but now I fully enjoy having the A&norma in my left pocket. For on the go listening the sound quality and form factor are perfect.
Since my Astell&Kern journey began almost four years ago, I have been hooked. I have made my way through numerous models of their line-up, and AK has kept getting better and better. The SP1000 is my personal choice for best DAP, but it has downsides when it comes to portability.
The SR15 is an excellent example of AK’s engineering expertise. The sound quality is top and the size and weight are just spot on for an everyday carrier. I might have found my companion for walking through the busy streets of Vienna when going to work and back. The SR15 is a very enjoyable and easy to love device that does everything right.
The only things I would like to see changed are USB C (including fast charging), pre-applied screen protectors and a case. There is a new firmware in the works that will include a few improvements, such as side loading Android APK files to the internal memory. This will give you the option to install different, AK signed off, streaming services. A lot of people have requested this, and AK has listened. In my books the A&norma ticks all the boxes: sound, build, features, design and software.
This definitely is the best performing product in AK’s range in relation to price.
Overall, the SR15 offers a very good package, despite it’s very few shortcomings, it is a solid recommendation.
UPDATE (Oct. 30th, 2018):
Astell&Kern sent me the latest beta firmware (version 1.10) for the SR15 to try out, which has the Open Service feature. With this you can easily load additional Android APK files on the internal memory. It works like this. You update the firmware (once publically available) and download the installation files from here: https://apkpure.com/
Then you take the downloaded file and copy it to the folder “Open Service” in the internal memory of the SR15. Once that’s on there you go to the Services section in the UI and install the files. After that you can use Spotify, Bandcamp, TIDAL and many other services. Unfortunately Roon Remote isn’t whitelisted by AK.
The above photo shows the A&futura SE100, I tried taking a few shots of the SR15 running TIDAL and Bandcamp, but my phone doesn’t seem suitable for nice photos. Or it’s me. It’s probably me…
I installed TIDAL (for offline playback), Spotify, Bandcamp and Qobuz. All worked very well and it’s a wonderful feature added. I’m really glad to see AK listening to their customers and implementing this to their players.