Newport 2014: Astell&Kern and the impossible room











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hiresnewportlogoforwebThe Sunset Lounge at the Atrium hotel is a great space, big, roundish, with high ceilings … with a wall of curving glass. Lots of light, with plenty of room to do whatever. Acoustically … challenging. Turning this room into a successful audio showcase might not be a candidate for Mission Impossible, but let’s say that it probably wasn’t high on the list for in-demand demo rooms. The fact that Astell&Kern actually looked forward to tackling it says more than a few things.

It’s kind of unfair for a personal-audio company to “tackle” room acoustics with headphone displays — that’s just cheating. So, on display was a fully “traditional” system that even had loudspeakers. Sure, there was a big display of the new digital audio players, including the new AK100 II and AK120 II, with a rainbow of leather cases for them, but that wasn’t front-and-center. 

In the middle of the room was a rather curious structure — the new 500N Network Music Player. It’s modular, and customers will be able to go à la carte. At it’s core is a Wi-Fi enabled digital player. There’s a DAC, with a dual-mono implementation of a pair of Cirrus Logic 4398 chips (same as found in the AK240 DAP) that supports up to double-DSD sample rates, a CD-ripper that also can play back SACDs, 1 TB of SSD-based on-box storage, a Micro-SD card and USB 3 connectors, and a 7″ IPS LCD screen. An optional amplifier module and an optional storage module capable of adding up to 8 TB of SSD or HDD storage can also be added to the sculpted tower. That little triangle off to the side? A remote.

Attached to this was a Cube-One, a $13k integrated amp good for 30wpc in ultra linear output. I’m pretty sure those were 300b tubes. Balanced and single-ended connections are available.

The speakers, the $27k/pair stand-mount Castors (stands are included), are stunning. A duralumin chassis with 6-layer carbon-fiber side panels, these speakers also carry a set of Accuton drivers, including a diamond tweeter and ceramic mid/woofer.

The sound coming out of this system presented envious detail and layered imagery, even at low-levels, and the immersive sound was something I was aware of as I came up the stairs, or browsed the side tables. Very impressive sound, especially given the room.

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About Scot Hull 1029 Articles
Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.