The Astell & Kern AK500N is an opulent audiophile network music player

It would be difficult for the expert audio designers at Astell & Kern to top their efforts from last year’s AK240, a high-resolution portable music player loaded to the gills with features and premium components. So this year at CES, Astell & Kern didn’t even attempt it. Instead, the company displayed the latest premium sound machine in the AK family, the AK500N, a top-of-the-line high-res media streamer that hit the market at a cool $12,000.

The AK500N is premium in every way: From its bold cube design, cut with sharp angles to mimic the Matterhorn mountain scape, to the onboard tablet-style control pad, the AK500N is a true visual spectacle. But more importantly, this gorgeous box has all the sonic skills you’d expect from a company that has helped shape the high-resolution audio industry.

Inside the AK500N is a 1 Terabyte hard drive able to store and stream high resolution audio files up to 24-bit/192kHz, as well as single and double-rate DSD files, and virtually any other file format. More importantly, the system packs dual Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC chips, the very same chips that shot the sound of the AK240 portable audio player into the stratosphere. The chips allow individual audio output for each channel, shaping the binary signal of digital files into analog sound that nears perfection.

The system runs on an internal battery that auto charges whenever it isn’t playing. This novel feature ensures users will never hear an inkling of hum or ground buzz from the power supply, no matter where they plug the AK500N in. The system also streams lossless audio over Wi-Fi via DLNA from PCs and NAS storage devices, and the Android-based operating system can be controlled by the on-board control pad, or from an iOS or Android app on a smartphone.

The AK500N sounds just as excellent as you might expect. It provides a bounty of buttery rich bass tones, a midrange laden with a wide expanse of dynamic inflection, and sparkling detail in the treble. Is a $12,000 media streamer exorbitant? No doubt. Do we want one? Absolutely.

If you’ve got a love for all things audio and money to burn, good news. The AK500N is on sale now.

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