Mis à jour le 20 October 2023.
As the entry ticket to the DAP specialist’s world, the Astell&Kern A&norma SR35 gives users a taste of the South Korean manufacturer’s sonic excellence for less than €900. This model follows the popular A&K SR25II, but adds a quadruple 32-bit/384kHz, DSD and MQA DAC, as well as technologies borrowed from high-end models in the A&ultima and A&futura series. The amplification is more powerful, while the operating system has been fine-tuned to provide a more user-friendly and smoother experience.
Astell&Kern A&norma SR35: packaging & accessories
The Astell&Kern A&norma SR35 DAP comes in a cardboard box with a black sleeve bearing the model name. It is accompanied by a USB-C to USB-A cable for recharging and file transfer, as well as a quick start guide.
Astell&Kern A&norma SR35: presentation
The Astell&Kern A&norma SR35 DAP has the same extravagant design as its predecessor, with a screen that is slightly off-center. The tilted display can be a bit disconcerting, but you quickly get used to it. You therefore enjoy an HD 720p screen with soft colors and decent brightness. However, the brightness isn’t always sufficient outdoors, especially due to the fact that the screen is very reflective, which reduces the legibility. Moreover, its size of 3.6” (9.1cm) means that text is small and that the keyboard isn’t very practical. The keys are narrow and small, sometimes resulting in typing errors.
The many-sided chassis brilliantly reflects the South Korean manufacturer’s visual identity. Each facet is precision-machined from a single piece of aluminum, with no trace of assembly. The resulting angular design makes this player pleasant to hold and gives it a premium finish, like a sculpted diamond. A work of art that can be easily placed in a pocket thanks to its compact format (6.4cm wide, 10.8cm tall and 1.6cm thick). Lastly, the DAP’s weight of 184g means that you soon forget about it in your pocket.
With its well-thought-out ergonomics, the A&K A&norma SR35 DAP allows you to access the various controls on the sides with just one hand. The left side features four buttons to turn the player on, start playback and skip tracks. Finally, a continuous rotation volume knob is situated on the right side. It allows you to precisely adjust the volume from 0 to 100.
Astell&Kern A&norma SR35 DAP has the same Cirrus Logic CS43198 converter as its predecessor, but it is mounted in a quadruple DAC architecture. This new configuration means two DACs are used for each left and right channel to increase conversion precision and reduce distortion by limiting interference. A high-precision internal clock ensures the correct timing of data to make the most of Hi-Res tracks up to 32-bit/384kHz, as well as MQA and DSD files up to DSD256. These tracks can be saved to the device’s 64GB internal memory, or stored on a micro SD card (1TB max).
Unbalanced and balanced output
The Astell&Kern A&norma SR35’s amplification stage uses proprietary technologies that have been tried and tested on the high-end A&ultima (Astell&Kern A&ultima SP2000T and Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000) and A&futura (Astell&Kern A&Futura SE180 et Astell&Kern A&futura SE200) DAPs. Without going into the technical details, the manufacturer states that the player can deliver a very high power while effectively eliminating noise. The figures testify to this, as the A&K SR35 is capable of developing up to 6 Vrms and offering a signal-to-noise ratio of over 130 dB. Enough to ensure transparent, highly detailed sound.
To better enjoy this power, the A&K A&norma SR53 player is equipped with an unbalanced 3.5mm mini-jack output and two balanced outputs: one 4.4mm jack and one 2.5mm mini-jack. A wide range of connectors allows you to easily associate any hi-fi headphones or in-ear monitors with this DAP. Moreover, the Astell&Kern A&norma SR35 has an adjustable gain to match the output power to the characteristics of the paired system.
At a time when Android DAPs are becoming the norm, the Korean manufacturer continues to rely on its in-house operating system. Often criticized for its lack of user-friendliness, it has been given a complete overhaul. The AK File Drop feature is now more practical, enabling music to be transferred wirelessly to the player from a computer, smartphone or FTP app. The new interface ensures more intuitive use of the various apps, including those of streaming services such as Qobuz, Tidal and Spotify. The system sometimes lacks fluidity with resource-hungry apps.
aptX HD and LDAC Bluetooth
In addition to its several headphone outputs, the Astell&Kern SR35 DAP benefits from a Bluetooth controller to simplify streaming to Bluetooth headphones or True Wireless earbuds. This controller supports aptX HD and LDAC Bluetooth codecs to increase transmission quality. Naturally, the SBC and AAC codecs are included to ensure perfect pairing with any Bluetooth device.
20-hour battery life
The Astell&Kern SR35 DAP features a 3150 mAh rechargeable battery. The manufacturer promises up to 20 hours of autonomy with CD-quality sound and volume set to 80%. This was confirmed during our test, except when the player was used in WiFi and balanced mode where the battery life dropped by about 15 hours. When the battery is flat, the device is charged using the USB-C port. Conveniently, the latter can also allow you to use the Astell&Kern SR35 as a USB DAC with a Windows or Mac computer.
Astell&Kern A&norma SR35: key specifications
- Quadruple DAC
- 32-bit/384kHz and DSD
- Streaming services
- Balanced and unbalanced outputs
- 20h battery life
- Dimensions (WxHxD): 64 x 108.3 x 16.1mm
- Weight: 184g
Astell&Kern A&norma SR35: listening conditions
For our review, we used the Astell&Kern A&norma SR35 DAP with the Focal Elegia, Focal Celestee and Meze 99 Classics closed-back headphones, as well as the Meze 109 Pro open-back headphones. We listened to FLAC and DSD Hi Res audio files, stored on a micro SD card. We also installed the Qobuz app to enjoy the 24-bit/192kHz tracks available on the streaming platform.
Astell&Kern A&norma SR35: listening impressions
The moment we began to listen to the Astell&Kern A&norma SR35 DAP, we were immediately aware of its level of sophistication and the brand’s expertise. The sound signature of previous models was once again evident, with an extremely transparent and smooth reproduction. Spatialization was grandiose, establishing an extensive, airy and perfectly layered soundstage. Everything was nuanced and each instrument was naturally positioned, without being overlapped. The soundscape was multidimensional, thanks to the A&K SR35’s ability to let each element shine without overshadowing the others.
The A&K SR35 player demonstrated imperturbable balance. On AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, Angus Young’s electric guitar was strikingly clear, but never shrill. Note attacks were razor sharp, with high notes that soared. Cymbals became aerial, adding a touch of brightness without being aggressive. The sound was projected forward slightly, giving us the impression of listening to a hi-fi system with two speakers positioned in the room. Brian Johnson’s gravelly voice took center stage with authority. Every scratch and intonation was reproduced with astounding accuracy.
By exploring a mellower sound with Simply Red’s Sunrise, the A&K SR35 DAP demonstrated its ability to adapt to the track being played. The singer’s suave vocals soared with warmth and presence. It unfolded effortlessly, yet stood out from the rest of the soundstage. The deep, round bass underpinned the melody with palpable accuracy. The percussion, discreet but perfectly timed, punctuated the song without ever overpowering it. The track was full of emotion.
Astell&Kern A&norma SR35: compared to…
Shanling M6 Ultra: this Shanling DAP uses a quadruple AK4493SEQ DAC for Hi-Res playback of tracks up to 32-bit/768kHz, as well as DSD512 and MQA files. It has the advantage of being equipped with an Android operating system that is more stable and responsive than that of the SR35. Soundwise, the Shanling device is more analytical and transparent, favoring a more neutral reproduction. The A&K SR35 is rounder and smoother when needed.
Astell&Kern A&norma SR35: who is it for?
The Astell&Kern A&norma SR35 DAP is the perfect device to discover the Korean manufacturer’s enchanting universe. Its compact format allows it to be easily placed in a pocket to enjoy high quality sound on the go. It will appeal to those who love natural, smooth and balanced sound. Perfect for use with hi-fi headphones or in-ear monitors, the Astell&Kern A&norma SR35 DAP is equally at home with high-impedance models as it is with highly sensitive ones, thanks to its high power handling and precise gain control.
Astell&Kern A&norma SR35: conclusion
Steeped in the technical expertise of the South Korean giant, the Astell&Kern A&norma SR35 player is a must-have reference for under €900. It offers a sound that is as close as possible to the manufacturer’s most prestigious models for a lower cost. Songs played through this DAP are a feast for the ears, full of finesse and nuance. Each tonal range is carefully reproduced, with a remarkably precise spectral hierarchy. However, the redesigned OS is slower and less intuitive than recent Android-based portable players. Is this the price to pay to accommodate exceptional components and an architecture focused primarily on sonic excellence?
- The compact format
- The natural and balanced reproduction
- The sense of detail
We would have liked:
- An Android OS
- Better responsiveness
- A larger screen