Astell&Kern AK240 – Expert Review
- Fashionable touchscreen operation
- Very solid build quality
- Large 256Gb internal memory
- Audiophile grade sound
- Very connectable
- Charges by USB
- Supplied with high quality leather case
- Angular design looks better than it feels
- Current maximum MicroSD accepted is 128Gb
- Touchscreen response slower than smartphone equivalent
- Player feels vulnerable if worn in pocket
- Volume control feels a bit flimsy
- Power up a bit slow
A uniquely designed high-resolution player that is generally well made. Sound quality is is up there with the best digital audio players available and has plenty of connectivity options. Some may find the touchscreen a little old fashioned with a relatively slow response time.
Astell&Kern needs no introduction as a leading brand of high end portable players, and many fans of top-notch sound quality hold the players they produce in high esteem. So their flagship model, the AK240, has its work cut out!
The AK240’s touchscreen encompasses a lot of possibilities and intuitive control features; for example it’s very simple to fast forward through a long track as the position marker can be dragged as fast as the user’s finger is moved. Also, changing volume can be done on the screen; but beware if you have sensitive IEM’s! Luckily there’s a dedicated volume control for those without steady hands.
Connectability is there in spades; the AK240 has a bluetooth capability so suitable wireless headphones can be used with it, any compromise with sound quality will have to be weighed up with the convenience that bluetooth headphones provide. Also Wi-Fi is featured so music can be sent streaming around the house, and files/folders can be read from and added wirelessly.
Also, the AK240 has an optical output which allows the user to send music data to an external DAC if preferred, and a balanced output for those who will accept no compromise where sound quality is concerned.
The Astell&Kern AK240 player looks like a piece of modern architecture at first glance; the screen is partly framed by two very angular bevelled edges which act like an optical illusion of some kind. This does lead to some problems gripping the AK240; care is needed when picking the player up off a flat surface as the right-hand side is relatively thin. The AK240 is supplied along with a high quality leather case, which will go some way to improving this.
Once safely in one hand, the user will likely need the other hand to operate the AK240 as the touchscreen control demands accurate direction by an attentive finger, also the touchscreen requires the user to see what is displayed in order to operate the unit. Volume can be altered by the dedicated control on the right side; this does feel a bit flimsy but offers no trouble during operation.
Once a track is playing, the cover art (if available) is displayed along with the usual artist/track information making a pleasing visual display, until of course the auto-hold feature renders the screen blank. A quick press of the power button brings the display and control capabilities back of course, and this feature can be configured as the user sees fit.
The AK240 does take a couple of minutes to read the contents of a freshly inserted Micro SD card before continuing, so if you’re chopping and changing with multiple cards don’t expect to be listening to your music immediately.
For the asking price, there are going to be some very demanding end-users with some very exacting requirements. We’re happy to say that the AK240 addresses these with aplomb. Any drawbacks mentioned are relatively minor and we mention these as we understand the stringent expectations prospective users may have at this high-end level and price point.
It would have been preferable to have a player which feels as good as it looks. Certainly the AK240 is visually striking but beauty is only skin deep. The attractive sheen may wear thin as the player is used on a day-to-day basis, due to the way it feels in the hand; there is an unyielding quality about it which may alienate some after a while.
Needless to say, the sound quality is stunning. But in order to gain a bit of perspective we put the AK240 up against a similar high-end player, the Lotoo PAW Gold. The general concensus is that the Astell&Kern AK240 reaches a bit lower and provides a little more ‘rumble’ in the bass department, while the Lotoo PAW Gold has a bit more up top making the tape hiss on Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ a bit more apparent.
The feeling was that the AK240 gives a little more atmosphere and space; it’s a very natural and effortless sound. Acoustic and classical tracks are very immersive, with separation which is second to none in terms of portable players. Things seem a little more reined in and controlled when dealing with dynamically compressed pop music. These differences are very subtle of course, and are only mentioned to give the reader a more meaningful explanation of the player’s capabilities rather than those of the headphones used.
Power is plentiful too – the Beyerdynamic T1 was driven very well, the only time more headroom was required was with quieter classical passages with of course no dynamic compression applied within the production.
In terms of sound and functionality, it may come as no surprise that this is perhaps the best player available. The connectivity and versatility really make the Astell&Kern AK240 special; however not everybody likes a touchscreen and this may dampen the enthusiasm of some. Operating the unit may require it to be drawn out of the pocket, and any accidental swipes may lead to some frustrating moments.