The Astell & Kern XB10 Bluetooth Headphone Amp / DAC
Astell & Kern are best known for producing very high quality Digital Audio Players. It seems they've now turned their hands to something a bit different.
The XB10 (Extreme Bluetooth) is quite tricky to sum up in a few sentences. It's a blue tooth receiver, it's a DAC, it's a hands free kit, it's a headphone amplifier.
Amazingly, it manages to do all of this at a reasonable price without being horrible. In fact, it sounds surprisingly good!
Opening the Box
Opening the packaging and the XB10 is much smaller than expected, the size reminds me of Apple's iPod shuffle. My feeling is that this is the absolute perfect size for this type of device. Large enough not to lose, but small enough to never be a pain. On the other hand, the instruction manual is comically tiny. This is an instruction manual for ants...
Put it to work
I found the XB10 relatively straightforward to set up, with Bluetooth pairing being accomplished very quickly and never dropping out after initial sync. Play, stop, pause etc. all worked flawlessly with my Android phone.
Output power wise, this drove even our Fostex T50RP's which are notoriously power hungry planar magnetic headphones to a meaningful volume. This means the XB10 is practical for all but the most power hungry headphones.
When using the XB10's with other headphones in the shop, sound-staging was impressive and the sound was quite powerful and exciting.
Listening to Music
Although not the match of Astell & Kern's AK70 DAP, or any of the outboard DAC's such as the Oppo HA2 that we have in store, I found the XB10 to be of similar sound output quality to my HTC One phone. So it will be perfectly suitable for almost all real world applications where Bluetooth is suitable.
Pushing the Limits
By now, I'm starting to have a bit of fun with thee XB10. Who needs to buy separate wireless headphones for your TV? If you have a Yamaha MusicCast Receiver, you can turn your traditional headphones into wireless headphones with MusicCast's Bluetooth Transmit Function! This worked surprisingly well and I was very happy with the results, perfect for casual TV watching.
On my quick test, I had about 4 hours of playtime, over a 12 hour period, which is usefully close to the stated 5 hours. In fairness, I paired and unpaired multiple times, to multiple different devices and used quite hard to drive headphones. I think most people will get a full days music listening use out of this little device.
I love this little Bluetooth receiver and am very exited about having it in the shop!