Starting in the $700-range, Astell&Kern’s (A&K) most affordable portable digital audio players have never been easy on the wallet, but they have always been packed with top-quality components and features. With its latest entry-level model, the $799 A&norma SR35, that tradition continues with impressive upgrades, some of which have been lifted directly from the company’s ultra-premium models. You’ll be able to buy it at A&K dealers in May.
On the outside, not much has changed from the $749 SR25 II (which is still available while supplies last). A&K has kept the same chunky case, oversized volume knob, distinctive bevel edges, and quirky angled display. The player retains its internal 64GB of storage (expandable up to 1TB via microSD cards) as well as the ability to act as both a Bluetooth receiver and transmitter with LDAC and aptX HD codec support. And you can still use the AK File Drop function to load the player with your favorite songs wirelessly — no USB cable required. That wireless connectivity has been improved, however, with support for both 2.4 and 5GHz Wi-Fi bands.
On the audio processing side, the SR35 has twice as many digital-to-analog converters (DACs) as its predecessor for a total of four Cirrus Logic 43198 MasterClass DACs. Cleverly, the software settings let you choose whether to run just two or all four DACs. Running two (one per channel) can save on battery life, while A&K says that using four (two per channel) stereo separation will be improved and the soundstage will feel wider.
The signal generated from these DACs will now be treated to a premium level of amplification with a new audio circuit design. It’s the same amplifier design as A&K’s flagship A&ultima and A&futura products, and it gives the SR35 what A&K claims is an industry-leading signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of 130dB. The SR 25 II, by comparison, maxed out at an SNR of 124dB.
The player also offers greater control over how that power gets delivered via the three built-in analog outputs (3.5mm unbalanced; 4.4mm and 2.5mm balanced) thanks to a two-step gain level adjustment. If you’re using tough-to-drive high-impedance headphones or in-ear monitors (IEMs), you can switch from normal gain to high gain and take advantage of up to 6 volts RMS via the balanced connections. That puts the SR35 within striking distance of the best portable headphone amp/DACs.
The experience of using the player also gets an update with the fourth version of A&K’s user interface. According to the company, the black-and-red “Crimson Theme” visuals reduce eye fatigue, maximize battery usage, and reduce heat generation. The experience (like so many music services right now) is centered around rediscovering songs that you have forgotten; you can quickly browse through music categories with simple gestures. A search feature along with album art has been added to show CD album covers of your music collection.
The SR35 also becomes the first A&K entry-level player to be Roon certified for use with that popular, audiophile-oriented media software.
As with the SR25 II, the SR35 has comprehensive support for all types of hi-res, lossless audio formats including native playback of DSD256 and 32-bit/384KHz PCM high-resolution audio. It’s a full MQA decoder (whether you’re storing MQA files locally or streaming them from Tidal HiFi) and it can manage all of the usual suspects like WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, and DSF.
In addition to Tidal, the player comes preloaded with apps for Qobuz, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Spotify for a strong choice of streaming music services. As long as you can find a compatible .apk file for Android, additional services can be added by sideloading their apps to the player.
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