Review – Camille Thurman “Inside the Moment” on Chesky Records, 1More Quad Driver In-Ear Headphones, Astell & Kern AK Jr Digital Audio Player – Part Three of a Three-part article

It’s easy to forget that Astell & Kern has only been around since 2012, so prevalent is their impact on the field. The Astell & Kern AK Jr Digital Audio Player is their entry level model, which is sort of like saying the Tesla Model S is Tesla’s entry level automobile. So, to begin with, while the AK Jr lacks many of the bells and whistles of their other models, such as the ability to play streaming audio, its audio quality is extraordinary and that's kinda the point. Because the GUI’s approach to the creation of play lists wasn’t happening for me, I was happy to stick to playing albums, which I tend to do anyway. But, GUI issues aside, you have an Astell & Kern model for one reason, audio quality. And audio quality is one thing that the AK Jr has in spades. It can drive just about any earphone of headphone you throw at it, and in addition to the 1More Quad Drivers, I listened to the Thurman title with a variety of headphones and earphones including the Oppo Planar Magnetics PM-3 headphones, Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7 headphones, Etymotic ER-4 SR and XR earphones, and the Astell & Kern AK Jr handled them all with aplomb.

The AK Jr benefits from the use of one of their dedicated cases, as the unit is smooth and angular aluminum, with some sharp edges, so the case not only protects it, it protects your clothing as well. It’s a tiny device, 4.6 x 2.2 x .35-inches, and only 3.3 ounces. There are three buttons on the left side for playback control, a nice rotating dial for volume, and a power button on the top right. The GUI is the only area where the AK Jr feels it could use some sprucing up, and while it works, it’s pretty basic. The other area that could use attention is the instruction manual and support. Minimalism is great for some design goals, but for learning how to get the best from your AK Jr, more is better than less.

As you might expect the AK Jr supports WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF AIFF formats, as well as 2.8MHz DSD files via PCM conversion. It comes with 64GB of built-in memory which can hold quite a few albums, but we recommend adding at least another extra 64GB (it can take a 256GB card) via a microSD card. Like many similar units, you can also use it as an external 24-bit/96kHz DAC (it uses the Wolfson WM8740 DAC chip) when connected to a PC or Mac via USB. No need for special drivers, it really is plug and play. It has Bluetooth, but doesn’t have aptX, so while you can use Bluetooth if you want, but with a unit at this level of audio performance, why? Ok, maybe a party with a Bluetooth speaker, but for quality, stick to cables!

When I demonstrate the AK Jr to colleagues and friends, they are often astounded at the combination of precise soundstaging, precision of transient attack, and ability to reproduce music of all genres without getting in the way. That the AK Jr easily fits in your pocket, can hold a large music library, and is essentially weightless, all speak to a product that makes the audiophile experience something that is both easy to use, easy to carry, affordable, intimate, and without any suggestion of audio compromise.

When it came to reproducing the high-resolution 192/24 HD Tracks version, there were no hints of coloration or strain. The bass that drives “Inside the Moment” is solid and warm using the 1More Quad Drivers, and the highs are clear and precise. A tour de force of Chesky’s Binaural recording technique, this is a recording that invites a good set of headphones, earphones, and DAC. It sounds great on speakers, but I think it’s really only fully realized via headphones or earphones. At $199 for the Quad Drivers, 1More forces anyone serious about quality audio on a budget to carefully consider them. And 1More products are even showing up on the website, so obviously breaking past the niche audiophile community. I thought both the Triple and Quad Drivers coupled with the (especially with the recent price reduction to $269) Astell & Kern AK Jr Digital Audio Player make a wonderful on-the-go audiophile kit, clearly belying each components affordable price point.

Camille Thurman “Inside the Moment” on Chesky Records, 1More Quad Driver In-Ear Headphones, and the Astell & Kern AK Jr Digital Audio Player all come Highly Recommended.

Harris Fogel, with editorial assistance from Nancy Burlan, posted 5/18/2017

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