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Thursday, November 26, 2020

Astell&Kern A&norma SR25 Review

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Goh Beng Yeow
Goh Beng Yeow, the Founder / Editor at Porta-Fi™, is a recipient of the IT Youth Award in Singapore. Twice nominated for EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, Beng Yeow has previously founded startups such as PDALive.com, Coded Pixels Consultants and was a Tech writer for TODAY, a national daily newspaper under MediaCorp.

Since 2017, he has been writing, editing and producing commentaries, interviews, news and reviews on Porta-Fi™. In 2019, Beng Yeow was appointed Advisor to LHDC™, the industry's latest low latency and high-definition Bluetooth audio codec.

If there is one word to use on the A&norma line of Digital Audio Players (DAP) from Astell&Kern (AK), it has to be the word consistency. With a lineage dating back to the AK70, the brand’s entry-level offering has always impressed, with each generation exhibiting more qualities than the previous. Succeeding the SR15, which was introduced in 2018, the Astell&Kern A&norma SR25 is no different.

Astell&Kern A&norma SR25

While one would be quick to point out that at USD 699 (SGD 1,099), the SR25 is hardly priced as an entry-level DAP. That is true, simply because it does not target the same market as the entry-level offerings from FiiO or Sony. AK has always positioned its entry-level offering to deliver top-end specifications, priced at the mid-tier market. Something that it does very well, the success of the AK70 to the most recent SR15 is testimony to that. For the purpose of this review, the SR25 will be reviewed as a mid-tier DAP.

Design & Build

Aesthetically, the SR25 maintains the A&norma’s design identity, which was first put in place by the SR15. The design features layers of various-sized rectangular surfaces angled to reflect the brand’s traditional trapezoid-design approach, finished with rear glass, which allows the rhythmic pattern to exhibit unique patterns at different angles. The team also retained the angled screen, which gained acceptance after the initial debate on its usability when introduced with the SR15.

Measuring in at 63.5 mm (W) x 108.3 mm (H) x 16.1 mm (D), the SR25 is approximately 20% bigger than the SR15 due to an increase in width and height, the thickness (depth) of the device remains at 16.1mm. The DAP also sports a 3.6-inch touch-screen, which is 0.3 inches bigger than its predecessor with a 720 x 1,280 dpi display resolution, increasing the Pixel Per Inch (PPI) by about 44% while maintaining the aspect ratio of 3:5.

Encased in aluminium, the SR25 gained 24 g in weight. Fortunately, the increase in dimensions and weight does not make it any less portable. If anything, one would appreciate the larger and higher-resolution screen, which I thoroughly enjoyed during the review process, and yes, fewer typo mistakes due to fat fingers.

The brand has always been proud of the design of its products and, in particular, its DAPs, which have gained accreditation from different International Industrial Design Awards. These designs often provide challenges to engineering processes needed to realise them. Often compared to artistic sculptures, the precise design work of the SR25, for example, could only be achieved through precision machining of an aluminium block using a five-axis CNC machine, no thanks to its collection of layers of various-sized rectangular surfaces.

Astell&Kern A&norma SR25

One would find the 3.5 mm single-end jack, the 2.5mm balanced jack, and the Power button from left to right at the top of the device; on the left are the three physical buttons facilitating playback control for Previous Track / Rewind, Play / Pause, Next Track / Forward in top-down order; embedded on the right is the knurled tactile volume knob which is also machine milled and made possible by the vibration-free CNC processing machines used by AK, the very same ones used by Swiss luxury watch manufacturers; at the bottom a USB-C port for charging and for data when transferring audio files from an external device or when using the DAP as a USB-DAC as well as a microSD card slot which supports external storage of up to 1TB which is the largest capacity microSD card available at the time of this review.

If one has a meticulous eye for detail, it wouldn’t be difficult to notice that the SR25 not only put one in awe with its build quality and finish but also its overall screwless design. The DAP is available in ‘Moon Silver’ and “Oynx Black.’

Part 1: Introduction, Design & Build
Part 2: Usability
Part 3: Sound Quality
Part 4: Product Specifications
Part 5: Review Ratings, Summary

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