Astell & Kern AK240
First a caveat: We realize $2500 is a crazy amount of money for a souped-up iPod. That said the Astell & Kern AK240 is no run-of-the-mill music player. An angular, aircraft-aluminum case encloses a 3.31-inch AMOLED display, and an included leather case helps smooth out the hard edges of this surprisingly hefty device. The look, although striking, pales in comparison to the ultra-high-end sound, which rivals the best home component audio systems. The secret is a dual DAC (digital to analog converter) chipset that separates audio channels completely so no sound bleeds from the right to the left.
Of course, this means just uploading MP3s from iTunes is not going to cut it. But if you're willing to plop down $2,500 for an ultra hi-fi experience, you probably won't balk at having to download all new lossless tracks. For uncompressed audio, we turned to HDtracks.com. Yes, you'll pay a premium, (about $15 to $25 for an album), but listening to these high-resolution tracks on the AK240 will take you to all new sonic heights. It will also take up a whole lot of storage space, but there is an extra-large 256 GB hard drive on board, and a microSD slot for adding even more.
We tested to the AK240 with a pair of mid-range Studio Beats and to make sure we covered a few genres, we downloaded Van Halen's 1984, Prince's Purple Rain, Billie Holiday's Body and Soul, and Stravinsky's The Firebird. Not only was the audio crystal clear and minutely detailed – with every drumbeat separated from every guitar note, and every violin bow distinguished from every trombone pull – but it was also perfect at any volume. In fact, we found ourselves listening to the music much louder than we would on a phone or pedestrian player. All this may not necessarily justify the price tag, but it would be tough to call yourself a true audiophile without at least considering one.