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AK500N The Ultimate MQS Network Audio Player

05-24-2015 | By Robert H. Levi | Issue 78


I would have called this a Quicky, but lets bump it up to a First Look in honor of Astell&Kern's top effort to date to create a network server, ripper, and ultimate headphone station and more! This powerful digital device has graced my big reference system for two weeks and here is what I heard.

The Reference System

Interconnects were single ended and balanced Kubala-Sosna Elation! and Emotion. Preamp is the E.A.R. 912. Amps are the E.A.R. 890 mono-blocks. Speakers are the Marten Birds with Diamond Tweeters. Plus REL Stadium III sub-woofer xover at 22Hz.

As a CD ripper/player, switched to Normal ripping speed with bit error repair engaged, the CD is replicated to perfection. I did not hear any imperfections real or imagined. Mission accomplished. The sound is rich, ambient, smooth and without any digital artifacts. 

Using the SD Card loaded with 24/192 material, the sonics are improved over regular CD sound and pop with power and smoothness. The days of digititis are 99% over with this server. I could live with its performance on high rez PCM until the end of time.

Singe DSD and double DSD are more fleshy than the best PCM. You do not know the difference until you hear it, but wow, what beautiful sound. Very powerful and even smoother, sounds like a master tape with most material. Takes up a lot of bit space, but the 500N has plenty!

Headphone performance is grand. None of my headphones had any trouble with the 500N. I tried the Audeze LCD-X, my reference, and the Grado PS1000e... both superb. Great sound this. My Alpha Dogs even had more alpha than usual with the 500N.

Overall, a majestic effort by Astell&Kern, and a cut above the wondrous sonics of the reference AK240. Not surprising since this is a machine that fills much more real estate with high tech goodies I will never understand.

Astell&Kern has built a network player to envy. Perfect for the audiophile who demands the best. There will be many reviews about exactly what it does which is a lot! This First Look is about the music!

MSRP $12,000


Contact Owen Kwon

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