We are thrilled to bring you the official Music In Motion ASTELL & KERN SP2000 Review. The Astell & Kern SP2000 has been regarded as the best portable digital audio player in the world since its release in 2019. When you hold one in your hands, you’ll notice that it’s not only about the music; it’s about the full experience, from the visual design and materials to the user interface. However, as we get closer to 2022, there have been an increasing number of DAPs nipping at its heels. Is the SP2000 still the king of the hill a year later?
The SP2000 looks and feels like a luxury item from the moment you open the box. The level of craftsmanship and material quality considerably exceeds that of any mainstream consumer technology product, including the most recent iPhone or iPad. The player’s physical components, from the scroll wheel to the side buttons, have a strong, pleasant feel to them.
The packaging itself is quite well-made. A solid, finely produced wooden box sits inside the carbon box, which opens to expose the player. A leather case for the player can be found in the box’s lid. The case’s color is determined by the color of the player you choose, with Astell&Kern choosing colors that compliment the player well. Underneath the player, you’ll find the data/charge cord as well as some screen protectors.
For headphone output, the SP2000 has 3.5mm unbalanced and 2.5mm balanced jacks; the 3.5mm can also be utilized as a line-level output for connecting to another device, such as a speaker system. You can also use a USB OTG cable to output via USB or connect the SP2000 to a computer or phone to use as a USB DAC. It’s worth noting that using the SP2000 as a USB DAC has significant drawbacks in terms of output quality and MQA playback, so it’s not the best way to utilize it.
According to Astell & Kern, the SP2000 contains 512GB of internal storage, which could hold around 8,000 tracks. The microSD card slot can be used to add an additional 512GB of storage, bringing the total storage capacity to 1TB. The battery lasts roughly 8 hours of playback time, so if you load this device up with music, you’ll need to charge it several times to get through it all.
The 5-inch, 720p monitor boasts vibrant colors and is incredibly responsive to input for interacting with the player. The SP2000 is faster and more responsive than other Astell&Kern players I’ve used. The operating system is the same Astell&Kern Android-based proprietary software that runs on the rest of their player lineup.
If you want to utilize the SP2000 to play your own local recordings, transferring data by USB connection or SD Card is simple and quick, and you can start listening right away. You can make or import playlists, and the UI lets you explore and arrange your music in a variety of ways. If you’re going to use streaming services, there’s a little setup required (we have a brief guide on the subject to assist you), but once you’ve got everything set up, it’s really simple to use.
The SP2000 is an Android device beneath the hood, thus configuring features like Bluetooth and wireless internet, as well as installing updates, is done through the familiar configuration screen once you get passed the primary player interface.
While the high-quality materials and luxurious appearance contribute to the $3499 price tag, the music is the true star. Detail? Resolution? Soundstage? The SP2000 is an all-in-one solution. Every note is produced with clarity, speed, and precision, and the output is crystal clear. To match, the tuning is honest and unbiased. The SP2000 is like having a studio reference stack in your pocket when paired with the correct headphones.
Across the frequency band, the SP2000 is beautifully balanced. It has a tight midbass and a low, linear sub-bass extension. Even with very intricate works, the mids are impeccably accurate and crisp, with great delivery of the numerous layers of a recording. The SP2000’s treble is unquestionably one of its distinguishing features, as it provides plenty of air and brightness in the treble without being harsh or sibilant, especially when combined with loud headphones.
From the HIFIMAN Sundara to the Meze Empyrean, and the oBravo Cupid to the Noble Sultan, I tested the SP2000 with a variety of headphones and IEMs. There was no background noise or hiss with IEMs from all over the place. With headphones, the SP2000’s 6Vrms output puts it in the “excellent for 80% of headphones” category, allowing it to power most dynamic and low-impedance planar magnetics with ease, but it will struggle with high-impedance, low-sensitivity headphones.
The SP2000’s crisp, transparent sound, paired with its superb soundstage, will bring out the best in your headphones and music, but your total experience will be limited by how well your original signal and the rest of your gear line up with it. What exactly do I mean? To get the most out of the SP2000, you’ll need high-resolution files and high-quality headphones or IEMs.
We found that the SP2000 sounded fine with CD quality and below streams with an IEM like the Campfire Vega, but it didn’t feel like a $3499 device compared to a $1099 KANN Alpha. It starts to come together once you acquire enough 192kHz 24-bit files. If you replace the Vega with a 64 Audio U12t, you’ll witness how the SP2000 delivers the ultimate portable audio experience.
COMPARISON: ASTELL&KERN SE200 When the SE200 was first released, eagle-eyed audiophiles noted that one of its two channels was practically the same as the SP2000, with the exception that the DAC employed was in a single configuration rather than dual. So, how does it measure up to the competition? To begin, I’d like to point out how similar these two machines sound. I might not notice if you switched my headphone plug in the middle of a listening session. The AKM DAC channel of the SE200 delivers the same fast, clean, transparent, and neutral sound as the SP2000’s.
However, it is not an exact replica of the SP2000. The soundstage, for starters, is near but not quite there. The SP2000 is slightly larger and rounder than the SP1000. Second, the SE200’s treble delivery isn’t quite as polished as the SP2000’s. The SE200 features greater sibilance and some harsh tones than highly detailed IEMs with strong treble, such as the Empire Ears Odin or Campfire Audio Ara.
The SP2000 has all of the treble’s content, but the presentation is more powerful and less harsh. I also felt like the SE200 would occasionally miss the target when it came to providing the correct kind of information. The SE200, for example, offered a stronger taste of the background reverb in numerous recordings whereas the SP2000 exposed the richness and depth of the singer’s voice and inflections.
As I have stated, it appears to be partly a scale issue. The SP2000 outshines everything else the greater the resolution of the audio file and the more detail the headphones can recover and convey to your ear.
The SP2000 is a fantastic product in terms of build and design, and it appears to be well worth the $3499 price tag. Simply defined, the SP2000 is the best DAP in the world in terms of sound, but there are some caveats. You’ll need high-resolution audio and headphones or IEMs that can successfully convey it to really experience the SP2000. The SP2000 isn’t a DAP that tries to squeeze the most performance out of mid-fi or entry-level hi-fi gear; it’s a DAP that brings out the best performance from the best headphones and IEMs to provide a really top-of-the-line experience.
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