When my review of the Astell&Kern A&Futura SE100 appeared on the website of our sister magazine The Absolute Sound, the first reader comment was, “Yet another DAP from A&K? Whoopee.” Snide, but I get it. Astell&Kern portable players have never been exactly pocket-book-friendly. But with their ACTIVO line, Astell&Kern looks to change that.
The ACTIVO CT10 has impressive specifications. It’s based around a Quad-Core CPU and was designed jointly by groovers Japan and IRIVER. It debuts Astell&Kern’s TERATON TM200 module, which combines a Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC chip, analogue amplifier, independent power unit, and clock together on a single chip. It uses a 2500 mAh 3.7V Li-Polymer battery for a power source.
The CT10 has full DLNA networking, as well as Bluetooth connectivity, including aptX HD support for streaming up to 24-bit/48 kHz high-resolution audio over 4.1 Bluetooth. The CT10 can also be used as a portable amplifier/DAC via its USB connection. The ACTIVO CT10 includes 16GB of internal memory along with a microSD card slot that supports up to a 512GB microSD card. The CT10 can playback high-resolution audio up to 24-bit/192 kHz PCM and quad-rate DSD, which the CT10 converts to PCM. It is also MQA compatible. Tidal and Groovers+ streaming services apps are built in and you can add other services, including Qobuz, through the OpenAPP site. For those who like to custom-tailor their sound, the CT10 has an 10-band, eight preset adjustable EQ built-in. Is there anything the CT10 doesn’t have? With only one single-ended headphone output, the CT10 won’t power tough-to-drive headphones quite as well as Astell&Kern’s buff and beefy KANN or suave and sexy SE100.
The CT10’s form factor is a departure for Astell&Kern. Its round-cornered rectangular shape is nothing special, which is unusual for A&K, who are known for their unorthodox player body shapes. Instead the CT10 has a curved corner, one-piece design with its 'cool white' coloured back panel wrapping around to meet the touchscreen’s front panel. I would love to see that white back panel morph into dark grey or royal blue so the overall appearance would be less generic 'white goods.'
Even though the CT10 only has a single-ended headphone output it successfully was able to drive a pair of Beyerdynamic DT-990 600 ohm headphones to adequate volume levels even with my own live concert recordings (although they did require its full output level to accomplish this.) While playing, the back of the CT10 could get quite warm, bordering on hot, especially when it was working at decoding and playing DSD recordings. The CT10 comes with a soft bag, but no travel case or armband, which would make the CT10 ready for gym use. You can get a nicely designed leather case from Amazon, however.