Astell & Kern's new hi-res audio player and IEMs promise exceptional audio

The new SP3000T and NOVUS in-ear monitors mix old and new to excellent effect

Astell & Kern SP3000T
(Image credit: Astell & Kern)

If you're looking for the glow of old-school tube amps and the precision of today's cutting-edge audio tech, Astell & Kern has you covered: its new SP3000T hi-res audio player brings all the benefits of the best digital tech alongside the joys of tube amplification. And there's an equally impressive set of IEMs to go with it, the new Astell & Kern NOVUS.

The SP3000T uses the firm's Triple Amp system, which enables you to choose between tube amplification, a digital op-amp or a mix of the two. It has 2.5mm, 3.5mm and 4.4mm outputs, and it's encased in a gorgeous stainless steel body with silver plating.

Tube amplification is famous for its warmth, which is why you'll still find it in everything from high-end guitar amplifiers to high-end hi-fi. It's not so much that it's better than other kinds of amplification; it's that it's different, and with some kinds of music, more engaging. I think it's a nice idea to have it available alongside digital amplification not just as a binary choice but as something you can dial in to get the best of both worlds.

The tubes here are twin Raytheon JAN6418 MIL-SPEC vintage vacuum tubes, which Astell & Kern says "create a uniquely warm and soothing tone". I bet it's not warm and soothing if you're listening to Cattle Decapitation, though.

The Empire strikes back (in your ear canals)

The new NOVUS IEMs are Astell & Kern's second collaboration with Empire Ears, the high-end IEM maker. The first, the Odyssey, was well received by high-end hi-fi reviewers and the new NOVUS promise to be better still. They've been designed specifically for the SP3000T, although of course you can use them with any other compatible audio source too.

Nobody's going to mistake these IEMs for budget headphones: they're encased in "diamond-like carbon" aluminium shells with 24K wet gold-plated faceplates and sapphire glass. Inside there are dual, purpose-built W9 dynamic drivers to produce a claimed "unparalleled in-ear audio experience".

The limited edition NOVUS IEMs will go on sale later this month from Astell & Kern and retailers such as Selfridges, and the RPP is £4,999 / $4,999 / €5,799. And the SP3000T is available now from the same outlets, with a recommended retail price of £3,199 / $2,999 / €3,599.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (