by Nausheen Shaikh April 12, 2016

When Astell&Kern's products were first launched, their origin story was't publicized. Instead it was hidden behind the veneer of its luxury, maybe in part to provide a more Westernised brand to the American market. These days, however, the company to which Astell&Kern owes  its roots to – iriver – is more clearly depicted through logos on the touch screens, the quick start guide and other written material.

Established in South Korea in 1999, and now with several subsidiaries including a US division, iriver built a strong global reputation in the early MP3 player market, first with MP3-playing CD players and then with flash-based MP3 players which became highly successful and led the market until Apple’s iPod came into the picture and practically devoured the market.

iriver’s past leadership in portable audio shows the experience available to the company, not only in audio, but beyond. The company developed other lines including the first portable digital TVs, portable video players, and e-book readers, further confirming its expertise in achieving portability beyond its rivals, while it constantly improved the ergonomics of user interfaces and physical controls.

As the interest in high-resolution audio gathered momentum, someone at iriver saw the potential to harness the highest quality audio in a portable device.

The start of the AK project actually date from 2006. At that point of time Astell&Kern's founder insisted on making an ‘Ultimate Music Player’, but back then the technical limitations were too great for them to achieve true hi-fi sound via a portable device - so they abandoned the project for the time being. They went on to make the Clix instead, the world's first, adopting AMOLED display from Samsung and a UI by Microsoft, and had to be satisfied with that.

Five years later, in May 2011, 27 engineers and designers were working for 2 months in the US, staying at a hotel right next to Google – and were developing the E-book with Google. One of the engineers suddenly came up with the idea that Astell&Kern should make a high-resolution music player, and the idea gained traction with his coworkers, and a first design was developed.

Later, they began reviewing the concept from August 2011, but progress was delayed because of the high costs involved, an unclear business plan, etc. But when Henry Park took office as a new CEO (on 1 September 2011), he challenged Astell&Kern's engineers and product planning manager to make a High-end Ultimate Music Player — the best that iriver could make. And their Marketing Director told him about their previous planning for such a project.

So this project officially began on 3 September 2011. And when their sales manager insisted that the company should make a device which really ‘touched’ the listener, Astell&Kern decided to name the project “Tear Drop”.

In fact, many of their engineers did shed tears while listening to their first players – with their music preferences also graduating from pop to classical and opera.

If the name Astell&Kern had not been thought of, these products might have been released as the ‘Tear Drop’  TD100, TD120, etc.

Since then, of course, the company has churned out player after player, each conquering new pinnacles of audio.

Nausheen Shaikh
Nausheen Shaikh


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