This stylish portable music player is for true audiophiles with deep pockets

by Haadi Bakar
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Once upon a time, portable media players (PMPs) were highly popular devices. Almost everybody wanted a Walkman and an iPod.

Today, PMPs are mainly reserved for the serious music collectors and audiophiles, as many of us now rely on our smartphones to listen to music.

The portable audio market isn’t what it used to be. A lot of PMP manufacturers are now pushing advanced audio tech, luxury design and great sound quality to make their products really stand out from the smartphones.

Hi-res audio is also the portable audio makers’ latest sales pitch to lure the audiophiles and music lovers to their products. With a high sampling frequency (usually 96kHz or 192kHz at 24-bit), Hi-res audio formats tend to sound superior than the standard mp3 or streaming audio most people are accustomed to today.

Astell&Kern (AK) is among those audio companies that still makes high-end portable audio players for a seemingly niche market. The brand’s latest outing, the A&Ultima SP1000, looks set to be a serious contender in this year’s hi-res PMP selection with its stylish design and impressive specs.

Coming in either a stainless steel or luscious copper finish, the SP1000 looks premium from top to bottom. AK said the overall design of the SP1000 is inspired by finely cut and polished precious gemstones.

The front of the player is entirely touchscreen. It’s an edge-to-edge 5-inch display that pumps out 720p. AK has revamped its graphical user interface for the Sp1000 with an intuitive menu that puts music playback front and centre.

There’s also a “watch crown-style” multi-function control wheel on the right side o the player for power on/off and volume control.

The SP1000 features dual DAC (digital-to-analogue converter) chips (each employed for the left and right channels) for better stereo separation and wider soundstage.

The hi-res player runs on an Octa-Core processor that ensures lag-free audio playback for hi-res tracks up to 32bit/384kHz. It also supports native bit-to-bit DSD playback up to 11.2MHz.

Internal storage is 256GB, but the SP1000 also supports expandable storage for up to 512GB with a microSD card. That’s a lot of room for an audiophile’s Hi-Res music collection.

The SP1000 uses USB 3.O for fast data transfer as well as fast charging (full charge in two hours). Battery life on this device is rated at 12 hours of playback time.

But like most audiophile gear, the SP1000 is an expensive piece of tech dedicated for those with really deep pockets. It retails for a staggering US$3,499!

At such a high price point, this device isn’t for the masses when it’s on sale next month, but it’s interesting to see a product designed for a very specific audience that are frustrated with the limitations of smartphones, one being the slow death of the headphone jack.

Even if you think you’ve the money to get one of these, keep in mind that you won’t be getting the most out of it if you’re only going to listen to compressed audio files and using Beats headphones most of the time.

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