Astell&Kern almost singlehandedly created the market for high-end portable music players. Currently it has players priced from $599 (for the AK70) to $3499 (for the SP1000). The SE100, which is part of A&K’s A&futura line, sits roughly in the middle at $1699. If green French cartoon cats are your thing, A&K also has an M Chat version for $100 more.
The SE100 utilizes the ESS Sabre ES9038PRPro DAC, which has eight separate channels for processing that are divided into four channels for the right and four for the left. It supports PCM formats from 8kHz to 384kHz with bit depths up to 32 bits. It also supports DSD natively up to 11.2MHz. The SE100 stays au courant with all the latest Bluetooth codecs for V4.1 including A2DP, AVRCP, and aptX HD. Its built-in storage maxes out at 128GB and the single micro-SD card slot can accept 512GB cards, bringing the SE100’s total storage space up to 640GB.
As with past Astell&Kern portable players, the SE100 isn’t just another rectangular box. With its angled parallelogram sides, recessed knurled volume knob, and 5¼" by 3" by 2" aluminum body, it fits comfortably in your hand. Your fingers naturally wrap around the stylishly angled edges. Like past models it features a glass backplate, but unlike past models, it features a larger display area with a 720 by 1280 full-color touchscreen. With a beefy 3700mAh 3.8V Li-Polymer battery, the SE100 can deliver up to 11 hours of playing time using 44/16 tracks at 75% volume levels. Recharging time is a speedy two hours.
With a published spec of 123dB signal-to-noise from its balanced outputs and up to 4.1Vrms of potential output, the SE100 produces greater power than A&K’s previous flagship model, the AK380. The SE100 also has superior total harmonic distortion and noise figures compared to those of the AK380. With a voltage-controlled crystal oscillator, the SE100 is capable of precise clocking to 800 femtoseconds. Luxury brands, such as Astell&Kern, are often accused of not offering good value, but the performance of the SE100 is a powerful counter-argument. It delivers the performance of A&K’s previous flagship model at half the price.
As with past Astell&Kern players, the SE100 comes without a dedicated case, but for an additional $100 you can purchase from A&K’s website a Toscano leather case in blue, red, or black. Also, like all previous Astell&Kern portable players, the SE100 has an ergonomically elegant operating system. It turns on in under twenty seconds, and the menus are laid out in a straightforward, logical manner. I like the fact that AK Connect, which lets you stream from your home system’s NAS, was right at the top of the primary menu.
Headphone compatibility wasn’t an issue with the SE100. It had sufficient gain, even from its single-ended output, to drive Abyss Diana headphones and Beyerdynamic DT 990 600-ohm headphones with no issues. At the other extreme, the SE100 exhibited no extraneous noise or hum when playing music through a set of 115dB-sensitive Earsonics EM10 CIEMs.
Sonically the SE100 delivers the goods. If you want to tailor the sound, you can make and save your own EQ settings. My early Rolling Stones albums especially benefitted from some EQ adjustments. When I compared the default “normal” EQ settings with “EQ off,” the normal EQ setting had slightly lower volume coupled with a tighter, more controlled low end. I made several “UserEQ” configurations for “bad” recordings such as my Charlie Christian box set. I especially like the fact that you can easily erase especially egregious EQ experiments.
While the SE100 is certainly not inexpensive, it delivers a premium experience, with its physical style, ergonomic elegance, and sonic prowess. With its extensive networking, USB connectivity, and firmware updatability, the SE100 should remain a musical constant companion for many years in the future. Maybe that’s why it’s in Astell&Kern’s futura line.
Specs & Pricing
Type: High-resolution digital audio player
Inputs: 2.4kHz Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1/aptX, A2DP, and AVRCP, playback from onboard storage, USB 3.0
Outputs: Balanced 2.5mm and unbalanced 3.5mm headphone outputs
Supported file formats: PCM to 32-bit/384kHz, DSD to DSD128 (native DSD)
Storage: 128GB ROM, and one micro-SD card slot capable of 400GB card
Output power: Balanced output, 4.1Vrms; single-ended output, 2Vrms
Battery: 3700mAh lithium polymer
Dimensions: 75.8mm x 15.3mm x 132.7mm
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