Stepping out of the Las Vegas Convention Center to visit the high-end audio suites at the Venetian Hotel is one of our favorite parts of CES. There, we get to connect with luxury audio brands like Astell&Kern, which always has some sterling new products to show off that make your mouth water and your ears hum in reverent audio bliss.
This year, AK brought two gorgeous new additions to its expanding collection of Hi-Res portable audio players, including the new AK320 — which at $1,800 is dubbed a “mid-level” device from the brand — and a copper clad addition of its flagship player, the AK380.
AK added some brand new components to the AK320, including new AKM AK4490 DACs (digital to audio converters), stepping away from the Cirrus Logic chips the company has used in the past. And having spent a few minutes with the device, we think that was a good move.
The new chips are arranged in a dual-mono setup for brilliant stereo separation, reams of sonic space, and all the detail you could want. So go ahead: pore over every lip puff and cymbal swell to your heart’s content. What’s more, we found the new chips offer just a golden drop’s worth of extra warmth that really went down smooth for our ears. We got to hear a few remastered Beatles tunes from Abbey Road, and the drums, bass, and guitars were nothing short of luscious, with a touch less bite at the attack. Even the snappy snare of MJ’s Billie Jean was toned down a tad.
As for other features, the AK320 can play back up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM (downconverted to 24/192) and single-rate and double-rate DSD high resolution audio, though DSD files will be converted to PCM. In addition, the AK320 will sit in AK’s new AK380 Cradle docking station, which boasts balanced XLR outs that allow you to use the player as your Hi-Fi hub when not on the road.
Additional features include a 4-inch WVGA screen and 128 GB storage, with an additional 128 GB available by adding a microSD card. The player also features a parametric EQ that can be changed by imperceptible .1dB increments, a machined aluminum body, unbalanced and balanced analog outs, Wi-Fi, and more. Like other AK players, you can also use the device as a USB DAC for your computer.
In addition, Astell&Kern showed off its decadent new copper-cased AK380. We’re not going pretend it isn’t a thing of shear beauty, sparkling in the light like a sweating mug of Moscow Mule ready for the Kentucky Derby. AK says the new design isn’t just for looks, but keeps the player quieter thanks to the material’s conductivity, and the outside is covered in a clear coat to keep the player from tarnishing. The copper casing is also said to help the new player offer a slightly warmer sound than its predecessor.
That said, copper is a soft metal after all, and we noticed some tiny scratches on the bottom. We don’t know how roughly the player was handled before we arrived, but considering that the copper version comes at a $500 premium above the regular AK380 (for a cheek smacking $4,000 price point), users will want to handle this player with care.