The World’s First Multi-DAC – Astell and Kern SE200 Review

Astell & Kern SE200 Surface

On to the realm of DAP with the new Astell & Kern A&futura SE200, a digital audio player for the fans who need their audio nothing less than lossless. With this new model, Astell & Kern look to provide a more mid-end version of this specific series of players. Mid-tier for the SE series is still a pretty high bar for other DAPs out there. Though being touted as mid-tier, the SE200 is still a premium listening experience.  Let’s get into what makes the SE200 a must-have player for the lover of high-quality audio playback. 

Astell and Kern SE200 in the box

What You Get

  • The SE200 Device
  • USB-C 3.0 to USB Cable
  • 2 Sets of Screen Protector Film, 2 Sets of Player Protector Film
  • User Guide
  • Warranty Card

Astell & Kern SE200 Look and Feel

Look and Feel

It’s slimmer than the SE700 and less obtuse than the crooked design of the SE25, but this is still a very bulky, and opaque audio player. It feels better in the hand than the others though which is a huge improvement. A&K is making it much easier to carry these things around with you, and it does look pretty sleek with its aluminum body and glossy screen. On the right side of the player, you’ll notice the same volume control knob that comes with most other models from the SE series with a bit more easy access, as nothing is guarding the knob. The left-hand side of the device is where the power button will be localized. Sitting on top are play/pause, and skip buttons respectfully. On the bottom is the USB-C port for charging, and next to it is a spring-loaded micro-SD slot (you may need a tiny tool to push it out). This is great, as you can upgrade the 256GB space to 1TB if you’d like. Both the top and bottom of the player are made from ceramic plate, a new material specifically made for this device. Finally, on the top of the device, you’ll find four different ports, a 2.5 balanced and 3.5 unbalanced port AKM port, and a separate 2.5mm and 3.5mm ESS port, balanced and unbalanced. This is part of A&K’s multi–DAC set up, the key aspect that makes the SE200 stand out from other models.

Astell & Kern SE200 Multi-DAC

Multi-DAC

Let’s get right into the main draw of the SE200: the first-ever multi-DAC. While most portable audio players only support one amplifier, the SE200 is designed with multiple amps that separate each signal to a balanced and unbalanced channel. I found that with the Beyerdynamic DT 770s the AKM unbalanced port outputs a lower signal that when boosted gives you a much more smoothed out tonality. However, the ESS outputs a more aggressive signal with a wider range of aural detail. I do prefer to use a good pair of IEM’s with the SE200, as the signals seem more equal in power. This gives the SE200 a very custom user experience that doesn’t just stop at the multi-DAC but is a huge innovation nonetheless.   

Astell & Kern SE200 comparison SE700

Battery and UI

The SE200 will give you 10 hours of playback time through the AKM DAC and 14 hours of playback time through ESS outputs. Still not a whole lot compared to the SE25, but charge time is only 2.5 hours, that’s lightning-fast for a DAP. The SE200 boasts a 5-inch touch display, much larger than the SE25. 

Let’s jump into the UI. The SE200 has an easy to manage interface, with an easy on the eye GUI. Finding your artists and albums is easy to navigate through a few popup menus. If you own any lossless tracks the OS offers streaming services like Tidal or Deezer for high fidelity playback. There’s a lot more to it than being just a playback machine. I like that they include a graphic and parametric eq in their interface, as it backs up the customization aspect of the SE200 that I like so much. You get the feeling that the sound is specifically yours, and personalized to your liking I don’t believe the overall sound quality suffers, as the aspect that makes this such a high-end audio device is its spatial imaging and placement rather than its frequency content. 

Astell & Kern SE200 Volume Knob

Sound 

The SE200 allows you to stream WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF, and MQA. That’s the most CODECs I’ve ever seen accessible in one portable device. There’s a lot I can say about the overall timbre and output quality of the SE200. With the right pair of headphones, it’s simply immaculate. The Imaging feels spot on, with enough space to differentiate between all the elements of each track. Everything comes in crisp and clean, vocal mid ranges are defined, and instruments shine in the high end. The low end is controlled but still contains a sense of depth and resolution. Compared to the SE700’s more controlled sound environment, the SE200 seems to play it a bit more loose, especially in the higher range. This is also where the multi-DAC could help personalize your sound, as people sensitive to high-frequency detail may wish to switch to the AKM port, as the signal will smooth out those more defined highs. I prefer that sparkle and high-end detail, so I mainly used the ESS port. There is an unmistakable quality across the board with the quality output of the SE200. 

Summary

With the consistent nature of the SE200, Astell & Kern have crafted a truly innovative product for the audiophile on the go. There are other models like the SE200, but the multi-DAC makes this device a must. If you’ve been thinking about purchasing a DAP for a while, look no further than the SE200. 

Astell & Kern SE200 Standing Up

Pros and Cons

Pros: Innovative multi-DAC, Excellent sound quality, Personalization 

Cons: Bulky with harsh edges

Available at Audio 46

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