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Astell & Kern PEE51 Headphone DAC Review

Astell & Kern PEE51 Headphone DAC Review

Author:Andy.EF

DAC Chip: Cirrus Logic CS43198 (Dual)

Decoder: 32-bit/384 kHz, DSD256, SNR: 118dB @ 1kHz, THD+N 0.0004%, Power: 2 Vrms, USB Type-C Male, 3.5mm SE (Microphone: NO), 17mm x 50mm x 10.3mm, 25g, All Metal Chassis, SPC Cable

 

Strengths:

  • Phenomenally crisp, rich articulate timbre, hint of warmth, lush yet neutral
  • Pristine Treble textures with breath-taking decays, gorgeous airiness
  • Vibrant and engaging dynamics all over
  • Reference grade Treble extensions, slightly superior to Cayin N6ii and Topping D10s
  • Commanding and wholesome Mid-Bass with realistic decays
  • Bass exhibit exemplary textures and extensions, Mids richly defined with depth.
  • Succulent guitars and stringed instruments attack, addictive riffs, and tremolos
  • Reference grade speed and transients handling
  • Balanced, and coherent male/female vocals, realistic imaging
  • Flagship grade micro details, exceptionally nuanced, great finesse
  • Very realistic Piano, Violin and Cello tones, attack, and decays
  • Great sibilance resistance throughout, never fatiguing.
  • Exemplary clean background with zero floor noise
  • Extremely forgiving on Lo-Fi recordings, shines brightly on excellent Hi-Fi
  • Bleeding edge sharpness in imaging and spatial projection, not cramped.

 

Weaknesses:

  • The construction is the 2ndheaviest of all the dongles, edged shape.
  • Single Ended output, possibly limiting its true potential.
  • Fidelity and stability untested beyond 250Ω
  • A step short of being fully analogue sounding.
  • “Normal” headstage and soundstage width and depth
  • No hardware volume adjuster

 

VERDICT:

Astell & Kern PEE51. This thing is phenomenal. This is Astell & Kern being Astell & Kern justifying the reasons why they are pricy. The irony is, PEE51 is their cheapest product to date. The great thing, it is in no way being cheaply built or compromised to produce a small form factor – in fact, A&K pushed it quite a bit to squeeze in as much exquisite contents as possible with specially built tantalum components meant just for PEE51. I believe the long legacy and expertise carried from the days of iRiver of old flow strongly in the veins on A&K. I was a hardcore iRiver user between 2008-2010. iRiver H140 and H130 being my preferred DAPs. PEE51 greatest strength, being able to harness such articulate finesse and technical prowess without being dry or sterile sounding – of being able to retain some semblance of warmth and organic element to the pristine output. It makes my ER4SR sounded like an Electrostatic instead of a BA, simply euphonic. I joke you not, PEE51 outclassed the N6ii and Topping duo in almost every area. I have no other reason to state otherwise because I personally own all these devices and it would have been consoling to me to say that my $1300 DAP and $400 Laptop rig is superior – but that will not be stating the truth. The truth is, PEE51 trumped them a step or two in the capabilities of presenting contents limited to 44.1/16bit and up to 177Ω as I personally tested. I have no idea how far this would stretch but I believe that the N6ii and Toppings would regain their dignity at the mark of over 250Ω all the way to 600Ω.

 

OVERALL RATING: 98/100

Recommended Pairing: Anything (below 250Ω)

 

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