Astell’s A&norma SR25 takes on a slightly different approach to hi-res media players, with an angle on pricing and design that might leave OCD people turning their head.
Hi-res audio and phones don’t always play nicely, which is why portable hi-res players exist. Some phones can do high-resolution audio, though others can’t, and ideally you want a high-res media player to support big headphones, with a reasonable amount of volume and decent audio chips.
That means if you’re thinking of getting into the world of what is essentially portable vinyl and high-res audio, you’re possibly eyeing a high resolution media player, what is basically an iPod on steroids.
Often bigger and more expensive, and built for people who don’t mind spending a little more, hi-res media players can play the traditional lossy MP3s, but also handle bigger lossless media, such as FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, and DSD, all of which can offer the full audio without any loss. No loss means the full range of what was recorded, edited, and eventually mastered, and depending on the media, a higher bitrate, too. Most music is CD quality at 16-bit, but vinyl measures more like 24-bit, and so some high-res recordings can hit that, too.
Finding the audio files is hard enough at the best of times, particularly if you’re in Australia, though there is at least one online service that delivers them over Android — Tidal — which means if you have a high-res media player with Android and Tidal, you can get the full experience, once you have the headphones.
Getting the headphones is easy, but finding the media player, not necessarily so. High-res media players with Android typically command prices above the $1500 mark, and edge closer to the $2K and $3K price points, largely because of what goes into them.
But there are options, and Astell&Kern has a new variant this month, the A&norma SR25. It offers a smaller screen than your typical phone, with a 3.6 inch HD screen inside of a metal and glass body that’s a bit thick at 16.1mm, almost twice the thickness of recent phones. In fact, at around 178 grams, the A&norma SR25 is about the weight of recent phones, though also isn’t a phone.
While it has WiFi — and only 802.11b/g/n — it includes the ability to decode up to 32-bit sound with as high as 384kHz supported, plus LDAC over Bluetooth, with file support including DSD64, DSD128, and DSD256, plus all the other knowns: ALAC, WAV, FLAC, APE, AIFF, and Master Quality Authenticated “MQA” files. MQA is a fairly recent one, and while it’s supported by some services, you’re typically relying on Tidal for this one.
Fortunately, Tidal is supported by the Astell&Kern A&norma SR25, because it’s an Android device, based on Android 9 Pie, which means it supports 16-bit services such as Spotify and Apple Music, as well as HD services such as Tidal, as well as 24-bit services available in other countries, like Qobuz.
Android media players aren’t a new thing for A&K, however the A&norma SR25 is a little different, thanks to the cost: at $1199, it’s Astell & Kern’s least expensive take on an Android media player.
Astell & Kern calls this the most affordable product in the A&K media player range, which is true right now, but wasn’t always true. Years ago, Astell&Kern offered media players including the AK Jr and AK70, both of which delivered a high-res media player without Android for file access under the thousand dollar mark.
While the price is likely the part that will turn heads, the design could cause folks with OCD a little head twitch. You only need to glance at the orientation of the screen to see the display on its side, something that we suspect folks with obsessive-compulsive disorder will raise an eye brow at, before forcing their head to one side.
Granted, it’s not going to be for everyone, with people keen to dabble in high-resolution audio the focus here, but if that’s you, the Astell&Kern A&norma SR25 is available in select retailers in early May for $1199, with a leather case for $109.