Astell&Kern A&futura SE180 Review

A&futura SE180

Sound performance

For the purpose of this review, I used the Unique Melody Maestro for IEM testing and the Sennheiser HD800S for headphone comparison. All files were streamed from Qobuz in Hi-Res (when available), Apple Music in Hi-Res from my MacBook linked to the SE180, Spotify, and my own library.

Overall signature

Every brand has a forte, something that makes it loveable for some, hateful for others. FiiO offers catchy mediums, Shanling sharp high-mids, etc… But, even after a few weeks of listening, I couldn’t really feel the same sensation from the A&Futura SE180 as… everything seemed to sound amazing, yet so natural.

For the first time, I can say that I found a Sabre chip smoother than an AKM chip. Head to head with my “old” SP1000M, the connection is obvious and if the two players are already a few years apart, the A&K magic remains unbroken. As I said, don’t know if the SEM2 provides a real difference, apart from the sound signature, but if it’s better, I think that the SE180 is dangerously close to the A&Ultima range.


Paired with my UM Maestro, I began my listening with A&K embedded track – Spanish Harlem and In A mellow Tone – just out of curiosity and also because I’ve already heard them more than a few hundred times now, on many, many Astell’s players. And yet, if I was not blown away, I was still deeply impressed by how refined the new player sounded.

Compared to the iBasso DX220, which uses an ES9028PRO DAC, the sound is more refined, with a wider soundstage, sharper mids/highs, and a much, much cleaner background. I know it seems overused today to say that, but it’s really as if someone removed a veil, placed upon your ears before. Every nuance, every sensation is there, heightened, and the most striking thing for me – when I compared the two players – was how silent the SE180 was.

Nowadays, most players do not suffer from bad grounding or simply switch off the amp when the music stops playing. But Astell&Kern is known for their super-quiet players, and that’s even better here. Even with my super sensitive Onkyo CIEM, I could never hear ANY noise or interference. Combined with its super-low distortion, this creates the canvas for an incredibly immersive sonic experience, whether you chose streaming or local files


On my techno tracklist, the bass reached abyssal levels, without ever impeding on the other frequencies range: the more I asked, the more I got and this was quickly addictive. Instruments are perfectly defined, transients are blazing fast and the longer you listen, the more get accustomed to those uncanny moments where, out of nowhere, the voice seems to appear right in front of you. 

Layering is razor-sharp and the sound stage pinpoints accurate, especially when you use big headphones like the Sennheiser or cans like Meze Empyrean. For those, balanced outputs are mandatory. Not that the SE180 cannot drive them in terms of raw power, but the soundstage widens by quite a few notches, once you switch to the 4.4/2.5mm output. On classical tracks like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the difference is immediately noticeable

Finally, if the output power has also been improved (the new A&Futura can now reach 6Vrms!) the best feature here remains the 150 volume steps. No other brand gives you so much finesse to fine-tune your volume, even if no gain settings are available.

So yeah, to sum it up, it sounds as good as it looks, which means terrific! 



Highs: airy and feisty. The A&Futura SE180 takes sharpness and dynamic to new levels. With a good IEM, the result is nothing short of amazing, whatever the genre and style. Clearly, Astell&Kern is just flexing and even if you take account of the high retail price, this is a sassy way to remind others who’s your daddy. You’ll hear details unheard before, and like me, will have a hard time leaving it.

Good test track : Bernard’s Song – Veronique Sansson

Mids: massive soundstage, exceptional definition. As for the highs, the mids has been given the same amount of care and voices are absolutely brilliant. I listened to Speaking of the End – Lapsley and each breath, each note gave me goosebumps. Sure, it’s easy with acoustic tracks, but I dare you to find the same sensation on another Sabre player.

 Good test track:  Obama – Dombrance

Lows: more power, lower lows. The SE180 lows reached abyssal levels, much more than I’d expect! Paired with the Audeze LCD-X or my UM Maestro, I could hear the rumble of the bass, even at (very) low volume level. The player really surprised me in a good way, and this is honestly my favorite A&K in this regard now.

Good test track : The Return – Pylot

Noise: needless to say that the A&Futura SE180 is absolutely dead silent in any conditions. Even when I used Spotify or took the player as a Bluetooth amp, I didn’t hear any hiss or hum. Great!



Once more, Astell&Kern gave us a fantastic player, albeit a bit too big for any true nomad users. It’s not as versatile as a FiiO, nor it is cheap. But, all in all, the SE180 is the best-sounding DAP I ever listened to this year. So much, in fact, that I literally bought one after a few tries, and wrote this review.

The player is simply gorgeous – if a bit thick – and from the moment you’ll lay your eyes on it, to the time you hold it, everything screams posh and luxury. To be fair, priced at €1599, you’d expect the player to look like a luxury product, but I can still remember my SP1000 and its dangerously sharp edges, which now look like a downgrade, when if it was twice more expensive. 

Personally, I’ve always favored ESS DAC compared to AKM, and one and again, the A&K SE180 strengthens my opinion: better dynamic range, sharper sound, and thanks to the brand tuning, it sounds equally natural now.

If you want something a bit cheaper, you can check the SA700 or the new FiiO M11 Plus LTD (until stock lasts) or the iBasso DX300 if you favor versatility over performances. But, if your main goal is to get the best sound, under €2000, I’d say that the SE180 is the obvious answer, for the moment. A full recommended buy!



Page 1: About the brand

Page 2: Design & Build Quality

Page 3: UI & Usage

Page 4: Specifications

4.2/5 - (164 votes)

A nerdy guy with a passion for audio and gadgets, he likes to combine his DAC and his swiss knife. Even after more than 10 years of experience, Nanotechnos still collects all gear he gets, even his first MPMAN MP3 player. He likes spreadsheets, technical specs and all this amazing(ly boring) numbers. But most of all, he loves music: electro, classical, dubstep, Debussy : the daily playlist.


  • Reply July 9, 2021


    Hi. I don’t understand. When you talk about that the se180 improves the volumen (150) and the power otuput (6vrms) what DAP are you comparing? Because the SE200 already have that power and volume, so is not an improvement. Would be nice if you compare this with the SE200 and other brands too. Today is difficult go to a store and listen first to buy a DAP, so the reviews are important to get a DAP. Thanks anyway, but i’m not clear why is the best sounding DAP without a real comparisions with others.

  • Reply July 9, 2021


    I went and bought myself one the other day. I agree that it looks and sounds fantastic, but is it just me or is it damn near impossible to actually swap out the DAC unit (which is supposed to be one of its big selling points)?

    I tried very hard the other day – pressing the two side buttons and pulling hard – but couldn’t get it to budge, and didn’t want to go further for fear of damaging the player.

  • Reply August 19, 2021


    Hi, I had to return my M8 for battery issues and unfortunately could not get a replacement. I heard about the M9 but… I do not know. Would you see the SE180 a good alternative or the R8? I have to pair the dap to the Vision Ears VE-8 iem wired with Effect Audio Janus D cable. Thanks for your suggestion. C.

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