Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 and The Odyssey: the $11,000 portable audio rig

Chasing portable audio nirvana comes with a hefty price (tag).

by Justin Choo

If you’re looking for a portable audio rig and you say the world’s sexiest magic words, “money is no object,” then you’re in luck. Astell&Kern just launched A&ultima SP3000 digital audio player (DAP) and the Odyssey, a “next-generation” in-ear monitor (IEM).

I kid, of course, but you certainly need money-is-no-object moolah for this ensemble. The SP3000 costs a cool $5,799, while The Odyssey is priced a little more modestly at $5,299. If you throw in a high-end cable like Effect Audio’s Centurion, then that’s another USD 4,999.

The SP3000 is encased in 904L steel a la luxury watches. | Image: Astell&Kern

When it comes to the price of a high-end, portable audiophile kit, it seems that the sky’s the limit. But could you say the same for the sound? The answer is: maybe? The law of diminishing returns applies when it comes to audio quality, and yet, there often isn’t a cheaper way for certain processes. In the case of the SP3000, milling the case from a high-quality block of 904L stainless steel adds a lot to the price tag, for example, and that’s just the start.

Astell&Kern’s new offering is also the world’s first DAP with independent Dual Audio Circuitry. The design enables a complete separation of balanced and unbalanced output (HEXA Audio Circuitry Structure), which Astell&Kern says allows for the “purest possible sonic reproduction.” The DAP also features a new flagship DAC–the AK4499EX from Asahi Kasei. 

Alongside the HEXA DAC is Astell&Kern’s unique and updated TERATON ALPHA technology, which combines effective power noise removal, efficient power management and unwavering amplification, and a fully converted audio output interface in order to get the sound to be as close as possible to the source recording.

The SP3000 is built around a Qualcomm Snapdragon 6125 Octa-Core processor that also supports aptX-HD and LDAC wireless streaming; alas, no aptX Lossless here, but LDAC is quite decent as it is. The DAP also supports MQA and can process Native DSD 512 file formats.

The Empire Ears collaboration IEM is eye-catching to say the least. And it’s not just the price. | Image: Astell&Kern/Empire Ears

The Odyssey is the result of a collaboration between Astell&Kern and Empire Ears, a unique 10-driver ‘Quadbrid’ IEM that features Empire’s own Dual Conduction Architecture. 

It’s hard to miss it even when across the room, thanks to its handcrafted, one-of-a-kind dichroic faceplate. The plates consist of nine individual polymer layers in three proprietary lamination steps, resulting in unique colour transitions according to the viewing angle.

The 10-driver ‘Quadbrid’ features twin W9+ Subwoofers, 5 Balanced Armatures, dual Electrostatics and a W10 Bone Conductor. It all comes together via a seven-way synX crossover network and EIVEC MKII engine that harmonises all drivers for perfect coherence and timing throughout the whopping 5Hz-100kHz frequency response range.

The unique design also uses both air and bone conduction to transmit sound and helps maximise listener immersion with a sound that you can hear and feel.

Here’s what a tiny fortune in your pocket looks like. If you had a really big pocket.

The $5,799 Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 and comes with an ALRAN leather case that has been hand-boarded to emphasise the texture of the leather. The Odyssey retails for $5,299. Both are available exclusively at AV One. 

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