Astell & Kern SE180 Review (SEM2)


Astell&Kern SP2000 Review

The SP2000 is one of the greatest DAPs ever made and it has the flagship AK4499 chip which is an almost extinct DAC right now. The SP2000’s musicality, technical performance, and presentation are incredible bar none. It’s a true HiFi unit with supreme layering, separation, musicality, and tonality.

Yet, the SE180, with the SEM2 module, is actually not far away from the SP2000. There surely isn’t a difference that much what price suggests. The SE180 & SEM2 costs half as much, and as you can guess, the performance difference is certainly not 2x. So ıf you don’t have an all-in budget for this hobby, you can get the SE180 but only if you get the SEM2 as well. The SEM1 is good in its own right, but as I mentioned, it doesn’t sound like other A&K players so it has a different flavor.

Astell & Kern SE180

Shanling M8 Review

Yet another flagship with the 4499 DAC is the Shanling M8. User experience is quite good with the M8 but the SE180 offers that significant A&K experience with that polished UI. The M8 offers an open Android world with the freedom to do almost everything with your DAP. However, when I compare their pure music applications, the A&K has the edge with its great search function and gapless playback. The M8 also offers swappable headphone sockets. The SE180 has all three options side by side. Do note that the M8 gets very hot over long periods because the chassis is designed as a heatsink.

Sound-wise the M8 is a beast of a unit. It has a huge soundstage with a warm and very liquid, organic sound. They’re not too far away in terms of overall performance, but the difference is mainly in warmth and musicality since the M8 provides a full-bodied and warm sound. It reminds me of the great Sony WM1Z in many respects.

Astell & Kern SE180

The SE180 sits in between when used with the SEM2 module. It’s a mix of resolution, transparency, and musicality. The M8 is a bit more musical with a euphonic touch, but the SE180 retains that studio type of sound whilst giving a great timbre. Both are great units. It comes down to your choice of particular brand experience but of course, the SE180 has the advantage of potential upcoming modules to enhance the performance even further. If you’re going to have the SEM1 module though, I think the M8 is better.


The Astell & Kern SE180 to me is quite a successful audio player. It has the usual A&K experience with polished software, good battery life, and authentic design. Most importantly though, I really enjoyed the sound quality and technical performance as a whole, especially with the SEM2 module.

If newer modules will come,  I can update this review with further impressions but in my opinion, the SE180 deserves to be on our Best Portable Players list. It is pretty close to the performance of the SP2000, and that reason alone makes it a great alternative for the audiophiles who don’t have that huge budget for the flagship.

Astell & Kern SE180

Page 1: Intro and No Sound Topics

Page 2: Sound Quality SEM1 & SEM2

4.8/5 - (6 votes)

A keen audiophile and hobby photographer, Berkhan is after absolute perfection. Whether it is a full-frame camera or a custom in-ear, his standpoint persists. He tries to keep his photography enthusiasm at the same level as audio. Sometimes photography wins, sometimes his love for music takes over and he puts that camera aside. Simplistic expressions of sound in his reviews are the way to go for him. He enjoys a fine single malt along with his favourite Jazz recordings.


  • Reply August 26, 2021


    At this moment the DAP market is saturated. Companies are releasing models very quickly and they are making expensives products with bugs and slow UI. I always enjoy your reviews guys but I think it’s important to consider the user experiencie not only about the sound. Your top recomendation must have all the features that can give us a great experience. I said that because in your list there are product wirh poor quality or very slow and really expensive. I think the SE180 can be a great DAP but you mention that the UI is slow. So is that acceptable for a product that cost 1.500?? I don’t think so!!!

    • Reply August 26, 2021


      Hello Claudio,

      We of course consider the user experience and the SE180 provides a nice one. The UI is not slow on its own but slower when compared to some other DAPs. But it’s not a deal breaker because it gets the job done without any issues or bugs.

      To us, the most important aspect is the sound quality so that always comes first.

      Can you give a few examples of the slow DAPs in our recommended list?

      • Reply August 26, 2021


        Hi Berkhan

        Of course. The SA700 (very poor UI and bad user experience), the Shanling M6 pro (good sounding but to slow). In you DAC/AMP list I have the experience with the Honey H1 (Good sound, horrible performance. The released a new firmware and my unit didn’t work). To be honest I bought all of this DAP and DAC base on your reviews. Of course, all of them sound great but the user experience is not good enough to pay the price. If I compare with the Sony WM1A even though it sound is not superior to my other DAPs the Sony is miles ahead in terms of reliability and performance and durability. Is just my opinion I hope you don’t take this in a bad way.

        In terms of sound I will love to hear all DAP!!

        • Reply August 27, 2021


          Thank you for valuing our reviews as a reference.

          I tested the SA700 and I thought it was quite OK. I don’t know about the M6 Pro though. Honey H1 is not a fully complete package as I remarked in its review but it sounds was so good I had to recommend it.

          I also used the WM1A and 1Z and I agree with you on that part. But A&K experience in software is still quite good in my opinion. You need to also consider about WM series not having some functions of A&K DAPs. The search function for example, is not even a choice with the Sony.

          So we of course consider the user experience but the priority is always the sound performance.

          • Reply August 27, 2021


            Thanks for answer me. And I agree about A&K experience in other models. I have the SE200 too and the experience is great. My only concern is that I cannot use it with the Honey H1 (and also my fiio Q5s) because the DAP freeze but is not important for me because that DAP sound great. On the other hand the WM1A works perfect with both DAC. I agree that the sound quality is one of the most important factor too. Bye

  • Reply August 26, 2021


    Great review. Looking forward to SP2000″T” review.

    • Reply August 27, 2021


      It will come sooner or later 🙂

  • Reply September 4, 2021


    Hello Berlhan
    How do you think SE180 SEM 2 compares to SE 200 (AK chip) soundwise?

    • Reply September 22, 2021


      I really don’t know. I haven’t heard the SE200.

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