Review: Astell & Kern AK Jr
4.3Overall Score

Price (RRP): $699
Manufacturer: Astell & Kern

You might think that media players are dead now that the smartphone has taken over, but if you like your audio high quality with support for 24-bit, there’s still something else you might want to buy.

Astell & Kern is one such company building these devices, and while this company’s efforts in mobile media players tends to result in some very expensive and very heavy devices, the AK Jr is pocket sized and wallet friendly. Relatively, anyway.

Features and performance

Not everyone needs an iPod, and these days, as most of us have migrated to a phone for all of our media playback needs on the go, few of us than ever truly “need” an iPod or media player at all.

But if you fancy your audio to be of the grade akin to digital vinyl, you need something more than a standard phone can dish out.

In fact, if you need high quality audio, you basically need a media player capable of delivering support for high-resolution audio, with playback support for 24-bit audio and higher.

Just as a heads up, there are a few smartphones capable of doing this, and Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Edge can do it, but it has fixed storage, which can be turned to nothing when you figure that one 24-bit 192kHz album is a good gigabyte in size.

Fortunately, there are phones that can play these massive lossless audio files and let you upgrade the storage, including the LG G4 and 2014’s phone of the year (for us, anyway), the Sony Xperia Z3, but as good as all of these are, they don’t necessarily have the amount of volume all headphones need.

Basically, if you plan to plug in a pair of cans that generally need an amplifier to work, you may need to look to something bigger and made for the purpose of proper audio playback, not just a phone with support for this 24-bit sound technology.

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And so we’re back to the media player field. You thought you were done with it, but there’s really no escape, especially if you love high-end audio and have to have it.

Astell & Kern is one of those brands that has sat in this category for quite some time, and in the AK Jr, we’re talking about a player that isn’t totally geared for the normally high price tag the company associates with its electronics.

In fact, compared to the big and bulky AK series, the Jr is what the name suggests it will be: a junior and pint-sized brother to the large AK players, providing just enough of an entry level to people who think that a thousand bucks is too much to pay to start your way down the world of FLAC, ALAC, DSD, and so on, the formats of the lossless high-res world.

For what it’s worth, by the way, we agree: a grand is way too much money to start this path, so we couldn’t wait to get the Jr out of the box.

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In the hands, it’s hard to deny the AK Jr as anything other than what it is: a solid piece of electronics that puts to shame most of the media players we’ve ever seen.