We’ve seen a lot from Astell & Kern this year, with the SR35 and ACRO CA1000T being major launches from the brand. Their name implies a certain standard, as A&K is known to be the top manufacturer of digital audio players on the market. One of their newest additions to their lineup now is the SE300, a DAP that features some different technology than what you’re used to seeing with A&K. Does it improve upon their already top-level designs?
What You Get
- SE300 Player
- 3 sets of screen protectors
- Quick start guide
- USB Type C charging cable
As is with almost every DAP that A&K releases, the SE300 has an immaculate design. It most resembles the flagship SP3000, with its large 5.46-inch screen, platinum silver body, and sharp edges that can take your eye out. Combining the actual 1080 x 1920 HD display with the SE300’s structure, it becomes one of the flashiest audio players on the market that isn’t the SP3000. With its high-grade materials and compact form, it’s also worth noting that the SE300 is way lighter than a lot of high-end players in this range. I was surprised when I first picked it up and didn’t feel any significant weight to it. Without a case, the SE300 still doesn’t have the smoothest feel in your hand due to its harsh edges, but at least it won’t feel like a brick.
On its edges, you can accept all your standard ins and outs for a player, including 2.5mm, 3.5mm, and 4.4mm headphone outputs, with the 2.5mm and 4.4mm sockets being balanced of course. You have three playback buttons on the left side of the device and a diamond-like volume dial on the right. There’s a slot for microSD and a USB Type C connector at the bottom.
Design and UI
The main highlight of the SE300 is its R-2R DAC, which is designed to offer a more dynamic HiFi sound. It does this by assembling a complex series of resistors to create a purer analog signal with 24-bit decoding. 48 pairs (23xR and 25x2R) of 96 ultra-precision resistors are implemented to achieve this true-analog sound, becoming one of the most complex DAC configurations available in a player. It also gives you switchable amp types. Class A and Class AB amplifiers are provided to give you more sound personalization options that will better help you get the best out of your headphones. If you want the most consistently powerful output akin to a high-end desktop amplifier, you might prefer class A, while class AB might satisfy a more dynamic sound that’s also efficient.
All of this is made easy to switch between within the SE300’s UI, which in its latest update is one of the smoothest I’ve experienced with an A&K device. The R-2R DAC is also customizable, letting you choose between over-sampling and non-over-sampling. These options let you choose whether or not digital processing takes place, which only adds more sound options before even using EQ. If you’re using open-source apps like Tidal or Apple Music, they’re easier to find and install. It gets its own section on the bottom right of the screen, rather than navigating through the menu to get to your apps.
The SE300 doesn’t just have one sound signature that persists through each pairing. There are many variations of sound depending on which DAC/amp settings, or headphone outputs you decide to use. No matter if you decide to use the SE300 primarily with the R-2R DAC, Class A, or Class AB modes, the sound will be up to the standards of A&K’s DAPs. In certain cases, the SE300 can even sound like a quite different experience than you usually get with these players. For my testing, I used the Focal Clear MG, Meze Liric, and Audeze LCD XC. I also switched out the cables to use a Moondrop Line W 4.4mm cable to use the balanced connection.
Starting with the Focal Clear MG in NOS mode, Everything that went through the SE300 sounded as clear as ever, unveiling a new layer of transparency. It’s rare to hear the Clear MG in such a lively form. In this state, the Clear MG felt incredibly precise with its imaging, providing realism with even more dimension and impact. A consistency of all headphones being tested with the SE300 is its more rounded edges and punch. It feels like every note has a strong identity that will permeate through every track you play.
The Liric has a more growly vibration in its bass, while the LCD XC has a smooth but concise treble that is easy to digest. When you switch to OS mode, the sound feels tighter and less floaty. However, the individual frequencies may appear a bit thinner. Everything about the SE300 sounds a lot different than what you’re used to with A&K DAPs and it’s a great way to enhance the profile of your headphones.
The SE300 keeps up with Astell & Kerns’s high standards while implementing new technology that keeps things fresh. Its design is as impeccable as ever, with its beautiful touch-screen display and sleek construction. With its new R-2R DAC chip and switchable amplifiers, there are more ways than ever to get the sound you want from your DAP. It’s all made that much easier thanks to a smoother UI that feels a lot less cluttered and more manageable without using a more familiar Android OS. Everything about the sound of this DAP feels like the next step up in obtaining the purest sound.
The Astell & Kern SE300 is available at Audio46.