At the High-End show in Munich, A&K showed off a couple of new and exciting products. They have a new player and a new set of IEMs to introduce with the SE300 and the AURA. Both products represent unknown territory for the brand, with the SE300 sporting the innovative new R-2R DAC, and the AURA being the first partnership with Vision Ears.
The SE300 becomes the fourth player in Astell&Kern’s A&futura line of Digital Audio Players (DAP). The A&futura product line from Astell&Kern represents Astell&Kern’s ceaseless efforts for innovation and the line is known for debuting new technologies used by Astell&Kern for the first time.
The A&futura SE300 is equipped with an ultra-refined R-2R DAC, a first for Astell&Kern, Class A/AB dual amps developed with their proprietary TERATON ALPHA technology, and in-house developed FPGA. With these unrivaled components, the SE300 offers the true sound philosophy and technology of Astell&Kern.
Fully Discrete 24-bit R-2R DAC
The SE300 comes supplied with an R-2R DAC, instead of a Delta-Sigma DAC that is most commonly used in other audio players. An R-2R DAC is also known as Ladder DAC, as it arranges resistors in a ladder form, and offers natural, yet dynamic Hi-Fi sounds, but it is extremely technical and difficult to execute as it requires complex refined resistor units and hard-to-manage current controls. The R-2R DAC used in the SE300 arranges 48 pairs (23xR and 25x2R) of 96 ultra-precision resistors to create analog signals, in turn realizing true Hi-Fi 24-bit decoding. The key to producing the best hi-fi sound is ultra-precision resistor design with the smallest error ranges. In the SE300, Astell&Kern inspected each specifically selected ultra-precision resistor of 0.01% error range to complete the design of the R-2R DAC.
Class A/AB Dual AMP Mode
The A&futura SE300 features a switchable AMP mode, allowing users to select between Class A or Class AB AMPs. The Class A AMP is an analog amp that offers the best linear output, amplifying signals without distortion or loss of signal and providing soft, warm, and natural sounds. The refined analog signal created directly by the R-2R DAC, reproduces a sound closest to the original analog audio through the organic and powerful Class A AMP. The Class AB AMP is an analog amp that offers a powerful output with the added benefit of high efficiency. This presents dynamic and crisp sounds with less harmonic distortion.
2-Step Gain Mode
A 2-step Gain Level mode allows listeners to create the perfect match for a wide range of headphones and IEMs, maintaining optimal sound output. The two-step gain setting with “Normal Gain” and “High Gain” modes can generate a high current output to create a powerful sound and excellent driver control. With up to 6 Vrms from the balanced connections, driving high-impedance headphones has never been easier.
Custom-designed FPGA with Optimized OS/NOS Modes
Astell&Kern developed an in-house FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) for the SE300 instead of using common off the shelf commercial semiconductor chipsets, relaying digital signals to the R-2R DAC through its algorithm. Astell&Kern’s FPGA, developed specifically for the SE300, supports two modes – OS (Over Sampling) and NOS (Non-Over Sampling).
In NOS mode, the player reproduces the pure original sound without any digital processing, allowing users to enjoy the true unprocessed sounds as decoded by the R-2R DAC itself. OS mode offers partial digital processing that expands the bandwidth of the original signal up to 8x to offer impressive details, with an expansive sense of space creating crisp and clear sounds.
Astell&Kern 4th Generation Graphic User Interface
First introduced on the flagship A&ultima SP3000, the SE300 features Astell&Kern’s newly developed 4th generation UX/UI which focuses on the process and experience of listening to music.
The new theme is designed with a focus on the experience of rediscovering songs that you have forgotten; you can quickly browse through music categories with simple gestures. A convenient search feature along with album art has been added so that you can enjoy a digital display of CD album covers of your music collection. It is designed to give you not only the pleasure of listening to music but also to create fun when operating the device.
With the new Crimson Theme, one of the main features of the 4th generation UI, the graphics are simple and unintrusive, focusing on usability and intuitiveness. Three key concepts, Edge, Simple, and Dark Mode, were used to improve usability and increase clarity with a style unique to AK. The black and red theme colors are chosen to reduce eye fatigue, maximize battery usage and reduce heat generation.
- Native playback support of up to 32-bit/384KHz PCM and DSD256, allowing you to fully enjoy your favorite music anywhere you like.
- ReplayGain, which allows the player to automatically adjust the volume between tracks and maintain a consistent playback level.
- BT Sink allows the SE300 to connect to an external device via Bluetooth and function as a Bluetooth DAC. Music from an external device, such as a smartphone can now be played back in high-quality, taking full advantage of the hi-res audio decoding in the player.
- With AK File Drop, transferring your music files from a computer or NAS is even easier and more convenient. Using AK File Drop, you can freely transfer files wirelessly through a PC, smartphone, or FTP program located on the same network. Music file management is now possible with a cableless, wireless solution.
- Real-time information, confirmed by light. Behind the exquisite A&futura SE300 volume wheel is an LED light that is reminiscent of rising waves. With the LED light that radiates from the inside of the SE300, users can see the bit rate of the currently playing music track or the current AMP mode in use by the color of the LED light.
The SE300 includes a 5.46-inch 1080×1920 Full HD touchscreen, 128GB of internal memory with support for microSD cards up to 1TB, dual-band 2.4/5GHz Wi-Fi, DLNA networking, USB digital audio output, USB-C for data transfer and fast-charge support, MQA decoding and the ability to use the SE300 as a USB DAC for your Mac or Windows-based PC. The SE300 includes support for the most popular music streaming services including Tidal, Qobuz, Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Spotify, and is Roon Ready certified.
Connection options include 3.5mm unbalanced, 2.5mm, and 4.4mm balanced headphone outputs. The SE300 features Bluetooth 5.0 which features faster transmission speed and greater range compared to Bluetooth 4.2, therefore providing a more stable wireless connection. Both LDAC™ and aptX™ HD are supported to provide audiophiles with 24-bit audio playback wirelessly.
AURA uses the best-quality drivers, materials, and meticulous design, creating unparalleled sound. A total of 11 drivers enables overwhelming precision and offer perfect response and balance through the five-way crossover, while the delicate shell and mesh structure made from high-quality materials ensures that all components of AURA combine to create rich and natural sound.
Custom-Designed 11 Drivers
- Two 8mm AI-Mg isobaric dynamic drivers offer powerful output and precision sound. The two 8-mm dynamic drivers handle the low and mid-low frequency ranges, offering tighter, more precise, and better-tuned bass thanks to their exquisite design.
- Two Sets of Four Balanced Armature Drivers for a total of eight BA drivers feature four mid-low balanced armature (BA) drivers and four mid and mid-high BA drivers with two pairs of dual BA drivers that combine to handle the mid and mid-high frequency range. The carefully selected eight BA drivers work together to create precision mid-range sound and produce warm and emotional male and female vocals.
- One Balanced Armature Super Tweeter. A Balanced Armature (BA) driver designed to maximize a sense of space and openness is utilized to create soft, delicate, yet expanded ultra-high-frequency sound that resonates richly in your ears.
Ultra-Precision Sound Technology
- Five-way Crossover – The AURA technical configuration is designed with a 1st grade crossover, meticulously manufactured in Germany. All components are well chosen for the lowest tolerances possible on the market. AURA is using a 5-way crossover with a particular circuit solution that avoids an excessive load from the tweeter towards the source (amplifier), thus reducing distortion and extending the reproduction of high frequencies. Internal wiring is made with premium silver-plated copper alloy wire for the highest performance.
- Two dynamic drivers in an isobaric configuration – Two 8mm dynamic drivers are placed facing each other in an isobaric configuration. As two drivers are placed facing each other, the compositional interference is maximized, effectively doubling the output volume. This, in turn, removes any phasing issues that may arise from the length difference between the sound tubes, reducing THD. This design makes the low-frequency sound created by the dynamic drivers more accurate, solid, and vibrant.
- Acoustic Chamber – The “special chamber” features a precise internal volume that has been calculated to get the best compromise between driver speediness and musicality. The two DD Drivers are strictly matched to reduce any possible phase incoherence which could lead to inaccurate transient reproduction.
- Mesh – AURA’s open-structure design features a vacuum metal mesh that gleams elegantly on top. This special aluminum acoustic mesh circulates air from the dynamic driver to control the powerful resonating force, protecting internal components from external influences.
Material Innovation and Craftsmanship
The front plate and shell of AURA is made from Swiss 6061-T6 aluminum. Aluminum 6061 is an alloy that is lightweight, sturdy, and highly resistant to corrosion. On top of that, we added T6 heat treatment to enhance the strength of the aluminum, making it not only feather-light and sturdy but also allowing it to be given a beautiful finish. Production processes of all parts are done through the highest-quality CNC milling process, one part at a time.
- Micro Groove Design Faceplate – The Micro Groove Design is applied with a surface treatment for the milling process. Grooves are dug along the grain of the raw material to create a unique design before the product is moved to a precision-tailored jig for laser engraving. This process is not just a standard laser process but a special laser process that eliminates parts of the raw material to engrave letters 0.5 mm deep while adding depth to the engravings. Next, the component is treated with oil to prevent oxidation, packaged, anodized, and given a custom dark bronze color.
- Precision-Milled Aluminum Shell – Unlike the faceplate, the shell is oil-sealed and then handed to the polishing master. The faceplate is engraved with an esthetic design element, and the surfaces of shells are polished through a special sand-blast refinement process. Otherwise, marks will be left from the tools used, so each shell is polished like a mirror by hand. Then, after sandblasting and anodizing, the shell is ready to be given Vision Ears’ custom warm gray color. The AURA shell is the result of thousands of hours of work, including cutting diamonds out of rough rocks with carefully selected materials, precision processes, and specialized tools.
The Astell & Kern SE300 will cost $1,900 and will be available sometime in June, while the AURA will cost $4,200 and will be available in July. Find them soon at Audio46.