Today, Astell&Kern is the standard for high-quality sound that you can take with you and place in your pocket. The portable sound that generations have dreamed of. The price tag for players of this brand may seem somewhat unreasonable, but all doubts are dispelled already from the first chords of your favorite album, downloaded in FLAC format. Listen and very soon you will find something familiar and close in the sound of Astell&Kern… And this acquaintance was preceded by a revolutionary line of players from the South Korean brand iRiver. Hi-End sound originated there. From iRiver to Astell&Kern The history of the brand, which after just a few years of its existence will revolutionize the portable player market, began with personnel changes of the South Korean giant… Samsung. In 1999, six employees left the corporation. Six people who overnight chose to create their own multimedia product. Six engineers who understand that portability and quality are the key criteria for the 21st century consumer market.
That same year, a newly created staff of “three star refugees” (Samsung is Korean for “three stars”) founded ReignCom. The post of CEO is occupied by Duke-Yun Yang, who specializes in semiconductors. Having concluded a number of necessary agreements with suppliers, wasted no time in deciding on the location of production facilities, and managed to pull out a lucky ticket in the form of a design “originally from Palo Alto”, the ReignCom administration decides to build the entire production cycle of future products on an outsourcing basis. iriver iMP100 The company’s first creation was the iMP-100 portable CD player, released at the end of 2000. Its main feature was the playback of discs with tracks recorded in MP3 format. In the early 2000s, this gadget opened up new opportunities for music lovers. The success of the model was so stunning that the company decided to rebrand. The improved iMP-250 player is coming to the consumer market. It was released first under the name SonicBlue, and then SlimX. In just one year of sales in the portable multimedia market, iRiver becomes the “No. 1 player.” At the end of 2001, after Apple announced the iPod line of players, the company’s plans changed dramatically.
In 2002, the first iRiver players based on flash memory entered the market. Wanting to take Apple’s place in the sun, iRiver continues its offensive. Three years later, the U10 model was presented, the first player whose display responded to touch. iRiver U 10 Despite the revolutionary ideas that talented engineers continued to generate, iRiver was unable to regain its previous market share. Marketing attempts to prove the superiority of the sound of the South Korean brand (which, meanwhile, managed to establish its headquarters in the United States) did not affect sales in any way.
The portable player front has been taken over by a Silicon Valley native. To get out of the shadows, a new bridgehead was needed. It took more than 10 years to find it, and a qualitatively new rebirth of iRiver was embodied in the emergence of a separate sub-brand Astell&Kern. End of 2012. A new category of players with Hi-End sound is bursting onto the market. 32 GB of memory + double port for MicroSDHC memory cards made it possible to get up to 96 GB of space. Catchy design, support for an impressive list of formats: APE/MP3/WMA/OGG/FLAC and indescribable 24-bit/192 kHZ sound quality, which was provided by the high-quality WOLFSON WM8740 DAC; the presence of an optical input and the ability to use the player as an external sound card. AK100 This is the first-born of the Astell&Kern brand on the audiophile compact market – Astell&Kern AK100. Having paid a considerable sum of $700, the buyer received a product with a complete absence of software “embellishments”. When using high-quality headphones, the Astell&Kern AK100 reproduced sound with minimal distortion and maximum clarity. The new product from iRiver could not be compared with any of the players on the market in 2012. He wasn’t the only one. He was different.
Astell&Kern did not have a chance to be a black sheep for long. Several brands have entered the market with ready-made offers of “audiophile sound”: HiFiMan, iBasso, Colorful. And the company has prepared a worthy response. In May 2013, the AK120 player was announced, an improved and modified model in the line of devices capable of reproducing MQS studio-quality sound. AK 120 Without changing traditions, the engineers installed the WOLFSON WM8740 chip, but now there were two of them and each reproduced an independent signal per channel, like high-quality equipment. This solution allowed us to achieve incredibly deep and clear sound with a minimum level of distortion. 64 GB of internal memory and the now generally accepted double port for memory cards gave the player 192 GB. The weight increased by 30% and the improved signal-to-noise ratio also influenced the final price of the Astell&Kern AK120. $1300 sounded like a death sentence.
But its predecessor proved that a true music lover is willing to pay money for sound without distortion. So at the beginning of 2014, another newcomer made it to the CES 2014 consumer electronics exhibition, held in Las Vegas – the Astell&Kern AK240 player. AK 240 His motto: “there should be a lot of good music.” The maximum available memory capacity breaks new records: 320 GB, of which 256 GB is built-in memory. Keeping up with the times, Astel&Kern installs a dual-core processor in the player. Now you can forget about delays and interruptions during playback of “heavy” formats.
The outdated WOLFSON WM8740 has been replaced by the new Cirrus Logic 4398 DAC. Support for DSD files has become not a welcome firmware update, but a basic feature. Support for WiFi networks has also been added to the Bluetooth wireless protocol. During the presentation of the new product, the CEO of Astell&Kern described the new player in just a few words: With the release of the AK240, the company has once again raised the bar in the world of HD audio. The $2,400 price announced for the updated Astell&Kern AK240 has become prohibitive not only for beginners, but also for advanced fans of Hi -End sound. 1.5 years of research allowed the company to make HD sound accessible. In April 2015, the budget (by audiophile standards) player Astell&Kern AK JR entered the market. AK JR Player for the price of good headphones? Yes, but you need both. At $500 per unit – this is exactly the cost of the elegant and different AK Jr. model. Taking the success of the first-born AK100 as a basis, Astell&Kern increased the output signal level by 14%; equipped the model with a large 3.1-inch screen and turned the “heavy wrestler” into a “graceful bodybuilder.” The Astell&Kern AK JR model houses the familiar Wolfson WM8740 DAC, which is responsible for both channels.
Character is set from childhood. iRiver not only strived to be first, but also supported its leadership in every possible way. In the world of Hi-End players and the history of the Astell&Kern sub-brand, another page of history was written in May of this year. Page of the unattainable, venerable and unique player AK380. AK 380 This is exactly what a flagship should look like, and the Astell&Kern AK380 has every chance of remaining that way not only in the life of its parent, but in the entire field of Hi-End players. What is professional sound? This is the sound coming from the depths of this player. 32-bit/384 kHz encoding, DSD support, 20-band equalizer with 0.1 dB sensitivity…
It would take forever to list the capabilities and advantages of this particular model or describe the innovative solutions that allowed Astell&Kern to take portable sound to a whole new level, but talking about sound using letters is not an easy task. But music is created to be heard. And Astell&Kern is undoubtedly one of the noble musicians.