Last June, Astell & Kern released the A&Futura SE100, their new mid/high-end DAP with great capabilities, which is also the first of this premium line. What makes it really interesting is the new powerful Octa-core CPU – we don’t know much about it, but it’s fast, reliable, and thanks to the good 5’’ HD screen with a responsive touch, the user experience is smooth and enjoyable.
Its body is completely made of aluminum and glass, with a “Titan Silver” color and an original back texture that gives a premium feel to the product. Its shape is mostly squared but offers a particular design that reflects other A&K DAPs, in a positive way: it’s kind of a signature of the brand, in a few words “futuristic design”.
The unit was sent me for the purpose of this review in loan unit, I am not affiliated with the company and all observations and opinions will be only my own. Would like to thanks AK team for sending me this unit giving me the opportunity to test this device for almost two months.
PRICE: 1699 USD
LINK TO THE OFFICIAL SHOP: https://www.astellnkern.com/eng/content/main/
LINK TO THE OFFICIAL FACEBOOK PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/astellnkern/
PACKAGING: packaging is quite simple and elegant, as all the other AK products, the package hasn’t a lot of accessories. For this price range a leather case in the box wouldn’t have been a bad thing. In the box you can find the player, warranty card and a type-c cable charging. Usually don’t like to talk much about packaging and other staff cause my main focus is on the sound quality, but overall the unboxing experience of this DAP surely will not disappoint you, but really don’t understand why AK didn’t include a leather case( strange marketing choices).
General use and specifications
The dimensions of 75.8mm x 15.3mm x 132.7mm provide a relatively compact device: the squared lines combined with the quite big size, makes this player a bit uncomfortable for the use on the go(price to be paid for a good portable amplifier).
The SE100 offers ES9038PRO DAC by ESS SABRE, which is capable of decoding up to 32 bit/384 kHz and covers up to DSD256 sample rate files (and obviously every other less sophisticated lossy and lossless format). I think this DAC could also read DSD512, as seen in other different products that adopt it, which isn’t however something I feel lacking here. And having the WiFi module (mono-band, b/g/n) with OTA support can cover this and other needs with a software update – for example, by releasing new drivers etc..
I really liked the USB C, which is here a 3.0 one: something really appreciated given the faster data transferring capability; it supports MTP for Windows and Mac OS without any particular issue. The SE100 can also be used as a USB DAC, by installing the drivers and putting it in DAC mode; the drivers can be found in the internal memory of the DAP or on the A&K website.
Another good aspect is the memory area: we find 128 GB of built-in storage expandable with one MicroSD Card; thanks to the large amount of internal storage we don’t feel the need of a second external slot( just to know, most of my tracks are in flac 16,24 bit, I usually don’t use DSD).
Speaking of outputs, it has both 3.5mm unbalanced and 2.55 balanced (4-pole only) ports. One of the strong points of this player is the balanced ouptut(i used it most of the time in this configuration), that not only offers more power and better instrument separation compared to the SE output, but with absolutely no distortions or background noises, Astell and Kern engineers really know how to make a good amplifier. Nothing unusual concerning the 3.5mm one, it works as expected for a product in this price range.
While not being a fan of wireless audio, this DAP carries a Bluetooth 4.1 connection aptX HD enabled which is a great feature for the enthusiasts.
I’m satisfied about the battery area( another strong pint of this player), considering the powerful System on Chip and the 3700 mAh LiPo: this combo provides at mid volume a good 10 hours or more of music reproduction – screen off connections off help in increasing the result.
The UI is familiar and easy to use. Even though is some Android fork, we can’t install third parts’ apps, but it’s not a big deal. The UX for me was smooth and pleasant, thanks to the powerful chip providing snappy performances.
Sound and Clock Jitter
Astell & Kern claims an 800fs clock jitter, an impressive value that provides an optimal synchronization of the instruments. The jitter is a matter of conversion between the analogic-digital signals; that means the DAC used is a very effective one. I actually found that interesting in a matter of sound: it’s impressive the instrument separation and the dynamic provided by both the outputs. It’s clearly a deserved claim.
More info: ”An enhanced voltage-controlled crystal oscillator (VCXO) high-precision clock has been utilized in the A&futura SE100.
The reference jitter of Astell&Kern’s implementation has improved performance to 800fs (femto seconds), meaning that the SE100 faithfully reproduces your music by precisely measuring and accurately timing the synchronization of all instruments, vocal and even ambience sound recorded in your digital music file together”.
Speaking of sound, I found it tending to neutral, but clear enough. My experience was positive because the versatility of this player and its ability to drive also high-impedance headphones without issues.
For sure, this player doesn’t show a reference sound type, offering the typical AK smooth and liquid vocals.
Bass goes very deep, focusing more on the sub-bass region, so helping with the dynamic. Compared to AK KANN, this SE100 goes deeper in bass, showing a more audiophile bass response, with less mid-bass presence. Overall, the bass will give you all the attack, decay and layering you would expect from such expensive device.
Vocals are pushed a bit forward in the scene, creating a more intimate sound compared to my Opus2.
I would say, vocals are the strongest point of this player: very clean, detailed and emotional(makes a great job with female ones).
Treble, compared to AK KANN shows more sparkles and definition, helping to give airier sound and details on top end.
AK SE100 offers great instrument separation, portraying every single micro-detail, but soundstage is not the widest, it extends more in depth and combined with the more forward vocals creates a more intimate scene.
In balanced connection, it gains better instrument separation and layering.
AK SE100 VS AK KANN:
SE100 has better screen and faster UI.
On sound quality se100 is slightly more resolving with better clarity, deeper sound and better dynamic and transient response. What you will notice soon going from Kann to se100, is the overall deeper and more dynamic sound.
Kann sounds warmer with less sparkles.
Se100 is still musical, but better transparency and trebles, maybe a bit more fatiguing paired with some IEMs.
Soundstage is more or less on par extention, but se100 has more precise soundstage, you can easily pinpoint instruments in the scene and feel more air between each instrument.
Balanced output on se100 is very powerful with very layered and airy sound.
I have the impression that Kann can sound a bit dull with some dynamic headphones, on the other side se100, thanks to its more dynamic sound can have better sinergy with a lot of headphones.
Bass on se100 focuses more on sub-bass frequencies, on the other side, on Kann, the bass warms a bit the sound.
This is not night and day, but really i found many improvements over Kann.
AK SE100 VS OPUS2: Opus2 is still a great player under sound quality terms. SE100 has a more engaging sound, with deeper bass impact, more forward and emotional vocals. Opus2 is a bit more on reference side, with wider soundstage and better left/right channel separation( maybe it’s due to the dual DAC).
Bass on the Opus 2 has less impact, but focuses more on mid-bass, giving slightly a fuller sound.
SE100 will give you more more upper-mid presence, so more clarity and better female vocals reproduction, but can sound a bit harsh with some cold IEMs.
I would not say, there is a clear winner here, both players performs great with slightly different approach, so the final result will only depend by your musical tastes and pairings. If you love vocals, deep bass and a more intimate scene with great instrument separation, SE100 could be a great choice for you. If you are looking for a more reference sound, less engaging, but with wider soundstage at a cheaper price Opus2 could be the player for you.
AK SE100 offers better screen/UI and batttery life, Opus offers offline Tidal and Spotify with sideloaded apk.
SE100 WITH UNIQUE MELODY MASON V3: great clarity and definition. Bass gains more impact and decay, with really sweet vocals. Mason V3 sounds very dynamic and engaging with this player.
Great instrument separation, but not the widest soundstage. I found a wider stage paired with Opus2.
SE100 WITH AROMA AUDIO YAO: Yao gains more clarity and better female vocal reproduction.
Bass improves a lot, with deeper bass and better layering. Vocals are just great: liquid, emotional and intimate.
SE100 WITH HEIR 10.0: great sinergy: SE100 helps to have a more forward vocals(heir 10.0 is a bit v-shaped sound signature), more clarity and dynamic.
SE100 WITH AMBIENT ACOUSTICS AM6: AM6 sounds a bit harsh on top end, paired with this SE100, but gains a more engaging sound, with better bass response. Soundstage is very wide, with great instrument separation.
SE100 WITH LARK STUDIO LSX: in balanced output, SE100 can drive easily this 10BA iem. Providing a really engaging sound, with great bass response and sweeter vocals.
Dynamic improves a lot. Soundstage is very deep, with better and more precise instruments positioning.
NO HISS PROBLEMS OR BACKGROUND NOISE
GREAT BATTERY LIFE/UI/ SCREEN QUALITY
NO OFFLINE TIDAL
NO LEATHER CASE
SOUND COULD BE MORE ON REFERENCE SIDE( IT’S A MATTER OF PREFERENCE)
Some more technic specifications (from the official site):
– Frequency Response – ±0.038dB (Condition: 20Hz~20kHz) Unbalance / ±0.028dB (Condition: 20Hz~20kHz)
– Balance – ±0.074dB (Condition: 10Hz~70kHz) Unbalance / ±0.030dB (Condition: 10Hz~70kHz) Balance
– Signal to Noise Ratio – 122dB @ 1kHz, Unbalance / 123dB @ 1kHz, Balance
– Crosstalk – 138dB @ 1kHz, Unbalance / 144dB @ 1kHz, Balance
– THD+N – 0.0007% @ 1kHz, Unbalance / 0.0006% @ 1kHz, Balance
– IMD SMPTE – 0.0006% 800Hz 10kHz(4:1) Unbalance / 0.0005% 800Hz 10kHz(4:1) Balance
– Output Impedance – Balanced out 2.5mm (1ohm) / PHONES 3.5mm (1.5ohm)
6 thoughts on “REVIEW: ASTELL & KERN SE100”
THanks for the comparison with Kann
Dove posso acquistarlo in Italia?
How compares to ak sp1000ss?
Sorry Frank, never tried this model
seems, they’ve just released a new model sp1000m 😌