With tons of new headphones cluttering my desk – including that top-secret electrostatic Campfire model – I’m taking a break from headphone reviews today to look at the new Astell & Kern SE100 hi-res DAP. At a fair $1699, this exquisite player from A&K offers an 8-core processor, native DSD playback, parametric EQ abilities, a 5-inch touchscreen, and an aluminum body. But do all those extra bells and whistles really translate to a better listening experience?
Astell & Kern SE100 Review
The A&K SE100 comes in a snazzy carboard box with a USB charging cable and a charging brick. YADA YADA YADA ACCESSORIES TIME!
Design-wise, the SE100 might not be as polarizing as the SR15, yet it still boasts sharp angles and a decisively unabashed appearance. The circular volume dial like that on the flagship SP1000 DAP offers a pleasing contrast against so many straight lines.
Holding this machine in my hand, I can feel a comfortably solid weight to it. The aluminum shell prevents it from seeming too heavy, but you can feel the gravity of this DAP’s guts – two impressive amp modules to handle left and right audio channels separately. The whole kit and caboodle weighs in a not-to-be-scoffed-at eight and a half ounces.
Like the Kahn and the SP1000, the SE100 uses a USB-C connection for charging and data transfer. A two hour charge yields 11 hours of playback.
With a built in memory of 128 GB, the SE100’s memory slot can accommodate a Micro SDHC or SDXC card up to 400 GB, bringing the total possible memory to a decent 528 gigs. That’s a decent amount of music, even if you are rocking FLAC.
And while we would strongly caution against using any tracks of lower quality with the SE100, Astell & Kern still offer compatibility with most file types – including the lowly MP3 and AAC.
Body Color: Titan Silver
Body Material: Aluminum
Display: 5 inch (720 x 1280) Touchscreen
Supported Audio Formats: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF
Sample Rate: PCM: 8kHz ~ 384kHz (8/16/24/32 bits per Sample) / DSD Native: DSD64 (1 bit 11.2MHz); Stereo/DSD128 (1 bit 5.6MHZ); Stereo/DSD256 (1 bit 11.2MHz)
Output Level: Unbalance 2.0 Vrms (Condition No Load)
DAC: ESS SABRE ES9038PRO 8channel
Decoding: Support up to 32 bit/384kHz Bit to Bit Decoding
Input: USB 3.0 Type-C input (for charging & data transfer (PC & MAC))/Connection Mode: MTP (Media Device)
Outputs: PHONES (3.5mm)/Optical Out (3.5mm)/Balanced Out (2.5mm, only 4-pole supported)
Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz)
Bluetooth: V4.1 (A2DP, AVRCP, aptX HD)
Suffice to say, where specs are concerned the Astell & Kern talks a big game with some impressive features to back it up.
While I was most amped to test ergonomics, I was pleasantly surprised by how closely operation of the SE100 mirrors that of the SP1000 – at half the price, too.
It should come as no surprise that there’s an impressive level of resolution and fidelity here. Whether you’re bumping deep hip hop tracks steeped in samples, to flowing classical soundscapes, to sugary pop excursions, the SE100 handles everything with a deft air.
Almost too clinical in terms of rendering detail, the SE100 can seem downright sterile at times. Truly a feat of engineering, this quality of sound will definitely raise your eyebrows and your heartbeat, but fans of character or personality in their sound may look elsewhere.
Handling and Performance
Given some times with the SE100, I find myself appreciating the sound more while growing less enthused with the angular design.
In my giant hands, this player feels less ergonomic and more nuisance-like, with the sharp angles ensuring I never grasp it comfortably. (Sure, I could get giant-hand reduction surgery, but that would severely cut into my FLAC budget, and rare K-Pop tracks don’t come cheap, folks.)
On the upside, the dual amplification module ensures adequate volume with most setups, and I have no problem finding decent volume while conserving a little battery power in the bargain. Though I personally doubt many people will be using the SE100 to drive something as power-hungry as the Beyerdynamic T1, something resolving should still be considered mandatory if one wants to take full advantage of this DAP.
A solid listening experience, but my tastes always seem to wax a tad bit more analytical than your standard audiophile. That being said, I know some rich chaps are going to dig this sound. Even those seasoned listeners without SP1000-Money will appreciate the similar performance at a much lower price.
If you need a basic DAP to play some FLAC files and drive some half-decent earphones, skip the A&K SE100 and get a cheap FiiO player. Or, use and iPhone paired with a good DAC.
The Astell & Kern SE100 is a luxury item with impressive audio chops. It benefits higher resolution files and headphones that can take advantage of its inherent sound quality. It’s not so much a tool for listening as it is a listening experience – from the solid weight and arresting design, to the precise and exacting level of fidelity that crystallizes in your ears. This is a solid DAP for an audiophile who wants a bit more and can afford the price of admission. Or, for some folks who yearn for SP1000-like performance at a lower price.
At a price of $1699, the Astell & Kern SE100 offers a luxurious and and detailed listening experience that compliments any music library. Those seeking a higher-res setup will appreciate the flexibility and outstanding fidelity that comes with this decidedly dope DAP.
Find the SE100 for the best price here: