Review: Astell&Kern A&norma SR25 – The Walkman is Dead
Back before the name of everything cool in technology started with the letter ‘i’, there was The Sony Walkman.
It was the 1980s and for the first time your music was portable. That favourite mix-tape could be played on an endless loop – apart from every time you had to turn the tape over (until Auto Reverse came along).
Today we have music anywhere we want and we have an almost unlimited supply of any music ever recorded. It’s sometimes overwhelming. So when an audio player like the Astell&Kern A&norma SR25 comes along that is just about providing a pure and exceptional music experience – it’s time to stop and enjoy.
Astell&Kern is a Korean company founded just under a decade ago. Their mission is to provide the world with “natural and original sound” as it was designed to be heard – without distortion. They make exquisitely designed and engineered music players and equally impressive earphones and headphones.
Most of us can’t tell the difference between good sound and distortion-free sound, but that’s a bit like saying all cars are the same. Listening to music on the A&norma SR25 through the AK T9iE earphones is like driving a BMW M5 on a beautiful piece of road.
When music is recorded in a studio it is at its highest quality. Then the microphones and equipment in the studio reduce that quality just a little. By the time that music is “mastered” it has lost a little more quality. Then the various copies are made for individual files (.mp3 or .wav) and on to streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Music.
Astell&Kern are all about retaining as much of the MQS (Mastering Quality Sound) as possible.
This is where the SR25 portable music player strides ahead of everything else. It is stunning to look at and with the MQS philosophy, it will drown your ears in beautiful music.
The A&norma SR25 is akin to a male model. It’s all chiselled angles and very few completely horizontal or vertical lines. The cut surface of the rear glass meets the triangular shapes that surround the volume wheel perfectly.
The aluminium body is very well proportioned and weighs only 178g. The WVGA touch-screen provides a near-perfect UI to the Android 9 operating system running on a Quad-Core CPU that will support up to 32bit / 384kHz Bit-to-Bit Playback. The 64GB [NAND] internal storage will be more than enough for most audiophiles. If you need more, then a microSD slot provides up to an additional 1TB of music access.
The internal battery will support over 20 hours of playback and 2.5 hours recharging from a standard 5V/2A plug via the USB-C port.
The SR25 is also packed with connectivity options such as 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz) and Bluetooth V4.2 (A2DP, AVRCP, aptXTM HD, LDAC). The WiFi is extremely handy for OTA firmware upgrades.
Music playback is available via 2x audio plugs. An Unbalanced Out (3.5mm) / Balanced Out (2.5mm, only 4-pole supported).
The best hardware feature of the SR25 is the volume knob. With it’s notched edge it’s super easy to use and provides precision when you need it.
The Android 9 OS is very good on the SR25 even for a regular iOS jockey like me. I did find that it took me a while to get my head around the SR25 being just a music player and not a smartphone. It’s funny how conditioned we are today!
The WiFi and Bluetooth connections mean that getting music onto the Astell&Kern A&norma SR25 is super easy. There is access to services like Tidal and Deezer for those of you that are really determined to get the most from the SR25.
The Audio Experience
This is what you really want to know about and I can tell you that it’s mind-blowing. Naturally, being an 80s throw-back device, I loaded it up with VH1s 100 Greatest Songs from The 80s that were 320kps / 44.100 kHz files.
Each track burst from the SR25 into my ears with astonishing fidelity.
Now I am more of an over the ear headphones kind of guy so the AK T9iE earphones were a bit wasted on me. However, there was a very clear step-change (down!) in audio quality when I switched from them to my everyday headphones. For US$1,100, those earphones are eye-wateringly expensive, but if you can stomach that, you’ll really get your money’s worth.
The combination of the Astell&Kern A&norma SR25 portable music player and the AK T9iE earphones is eye-opening to what’s possible when a passion and dedication to the purity of sound is persued.
It’s also an exercise in product pricing gone mad.
RRP: US$1,398 for the Astell&Kern A&norma SR25 and US$1,100 for the AK T9iE earphones from Astell & Kern.
- Stunning design
- Beautiful UI/UX
- Robust engineering and feel
- Almost unmatchable portable audio quality
- Equally high-quality ($$$) headphones are recommended to get the most from the SR25.