Astell & Kern is a company renowned for their audiophile-quality DACs and headphones but until now have never ventured into the Bluetooth speaker market. Given the stigma surrounding Bluetooth and quality sound that is not surprising but they have now taken on the task of producing a Bluetooth speaker with a sound that will please even the pickiest audiophile.
The new Astell & Kern ACRO BE100 is a solidly built Bluetooth speaker that includes a customised 32-bit DAC designed to preserve the quality of the source audio. Along with the DAC, it includes support for aptX HD and LDAC 24-bit codecs, meaning that quality is possible with this Bluetooth speaker.
What’s in the box?
Inside the box is the most basic of elements – the speaker, an AC adapter along with various other country AC plugs, a quick start guide and a warranty card and that’s it. There is no FM radio antenna which to be honest is quite disappointing given the cost of the speaker and the fact that there is a port for it on the rear of the device.
Build and design
On the outside the speaker feels extremely premium with a faux leather covering the top and sides of the speaker. The front speaker grill is a funky shape, giving it that out-of-the-ordinary appearance. The quality of the build gives the impression that Astell & Kern have been doing this speaker thing for a while – which they have.
The top of the speaker includes a volume wheel which could be a bit more (or is it less) sensitive – I found myself having to turn it quite a bit to turn the music up. With the volume wheel and levels going from 0 to 100 it is not surprising that it could take a bit to wind it up or down. That also allows you to be very specific with your volume and the sound that the speaker produces. The volume wheel is also the power button which you press and hold to turn on or off.
Joining the volume wheel on the top are a few soft buttons including play/pause and skip buttons, a Preset, Treble and a Bass button. These buttons are obviously used to adjust the bass and treble but also to put the speaker into pairing mode, the audio source and control the radio station.
The rear of the speaker houses the auxiliary port (3.5mm jack) for the FM antenna and to plug in an audio source etc. The power socket is also located here with the power plug a right-angled plug meaning you can position the speaker close to the wall if you wish – for best quality sound don’t put it too close to the wall though.
The speaker clocks in at 3.2kg so it is definitely not a portable speaker and it does not have an inbuilt battery so you won’t be taking this to the beach.
So what’s inside?
For an audiophile company you would expect Astell & Kern to include decent woofers etc inside and you’d be right. There is a 4-inch Kevlar woofer along with two 1.5-inch Silk Dome Tweeters capable of 55W D Class amplifier output. This speaker and amp combination produce a quality sound I have not heard in a Bluetooth speaker before.
The combination of the included woofer and tweeters along with support for the high end aptX HD and LDAC 24-bit Bluetooth codecs along with the usual AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs. If you own an iPhone though you are out of luck getting the full Bluetooth experience given that they do not support aptX HD nor LDAC 24-bit codecs at this stage. All the Android phones I tested with did though. The ACRO BE100 not just supports Bluetooth but also a wired connection directly into the AUX 3.5mm jack on the rear of the speaker but for the purpose of this review we focused on the Bluetooth connection.
Testing speakers can be tough given my penchant to hate on anything that isn’t metal or hiphop but for the greater good I suffered through a variety of music genres. I also compared the ACRO BE100 side by side with my Sonos One speaker – the only other high end Bluetooth speaker I had on hand.
First things first, the ACRO BE100 sounds amazing. Simple as that. Not only is it super loud but the sound is crisp and clear at the same time – and that is for all music, not just my favourites (I borrowed my wife’s phone for the pop and other genres to not affect my YouTube Music algorithm – I am finally at a point where I am no longer affected by Miley Cyrus etc recommendations from my daughter’s pre-teen years and I’m not going back there again).
The detail in the music was something to behold with even the smallest snare drum having its own signature sound – this is music how the artist designed it to be. If you like bass you won’t feel left out with the ACRO BE100 producing an amazingly deep, punchy bass on all songs from Bob Marley to Fear Factory, RATM and Ice Cube.
Non-bass heavy songs such as a bit of classic George Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue is where the ACRO BE100 excels. These songs have so much going on that cheaper speakers will usually miss some of the sounds these maestros produce. The full range of sounds are projected and are projected just how they are designed to be — without any drowning out of any of the various frequencies and each instrument separated from another.
To help with the sound you can adjust the Treble and Bass with the soft buttons on the top of the speaker from 0 to 5. I found five to be too much for both of these, especially the bass but three was the sweet spot for me. The sound signature is a pleasant experience though and does not require much adjustment at all which is just as well as there isn’t much else you can do without an app included.
Comparing the speaker to the Sonos One weas night and day which surprised me. I’ve always thought that the Sonos One speakers were of high quality, and they are – just not in the same stratosphere as the Astell & Kern ACRO BE100. The ACRO BE100 had a much deeper bass while also producing a full range of crisper sounds across the entire sound spectrum.
Here is where the speaker is a little disappointing. Although the speaker is designed to produce the highest of quality sound it seems that Astell & Kern may have been worried about the quality of other connectivity options such as Wi-Fi and have not included it. There are no smarts to this speaker, no in-built digital assistant, just a plain old fashioned Bluetooth speaker – but it’s a Bluetooth speaker better than any other I have ever seen, heard, or used before so there’s that.
There is also no Astell & Kern app to control the equaliser of the speaker which is surprising considering they include one for their new wireless earbuds but in the end it’s not required. You play the audio you want, and the speaker will reproduce it how it is sent to it (based on your bass and treble settings on the speaker that is) — isn’t that what a good Bluetooth speaker should do? Reproduce the signal sent to it.
Should you buy one?
No matter how you paint it, the Astell & Kern ACRO BE100 is not a cheap speaker. At $549 you would expect to get amazing sounds with great styling — and you do. The quality of sound from the ACERO BE100 is far and above any other Bluetooth speaker I have used before and I dare say has ruined me for other Bluetooth speakers for the foreseeable future.
If you like great quality music and want a speaker that produces said quality music but also want a speaker with the flexibility of Bluetooth connectivity but also having the option to directly plug in your audio source to it then the Astell & Kern ACRO BE100 is for you. It is available in both Black and White colours for $549 from various high end audio retailers including Addicted to Audio here in Melbourne.