Astell&Kern SE200 Review

Astell&Kern SE200


Irrespective of which DAC you decide to choose for your first listen, the SE200 is one classy sonic affair. Opting to initially listen via the left-hand AKM balanced output with the recently reviewed Final A8000 IEMs, the SE200 quickly revealed itself to be a masterclass in refinement capable of dishing-out a shockingly-detailed playback. I quickly understood that this was the best-sounding pocketable device that I’ve managed to lay my hands on to-date. 

In terms of any evident sound signature the Astell&Kern SE200 tilts neither overly rich nor lean, but instead ‘gets out of the way’ and delivers not just clarity, but clairvoyance into the makeup of the track you’re listening to. But of course, there’s the $64,000 question to contend with, and one that you’ve probably been wondering as you’ve read through this review: how do the different DAC/amp stages sound on the SE200 compared to one another? To spoil the party a little, it’s definitely not a case of ‘night and day’ – the audio idiosyncrasies of each DAC/amp are extremely nuanced. As I mentioned earlier, the output of each is not volume-matched so it makes comparing the two slightly tricky, meaning we must rely on subjective impressions. Then again, listening to music is an entirely subjective affair, so that’s ok with me. 

Sticking with the A800 for a while, Ben Howard’s new single ‘What a Daysounds slightly more crystalline on the ESS side of things, with a slight sheen on the presentation which etches the treble slightly (this isn’t a criticism, by the way) for a more ‘brilliant’ presentation. Clicking back the volume wheel on the AKM amp stage by two clicks, the AK4499EQ renders the same track with a bit more tonal mass and a more organic feel to Ben Howard’s voice. The AKM stage has a slightly silkier feel to the over sonic texture which immerses you a little more in the track rather than the more surgical approach of the ESS, which seems to pull the detail apart a fraction more. 

The Final A8000 + SE200 combination is an absolute delight, and I could pretty-much add the two together and call it ‘A Day’ – it’s that good. Tidal served me up Morcheeba’s new track ‘Sounds of Blue’, which has an impossibly velvety and seductive sound over the AKM side of the SE200 with the shiny Final flagship IEMs. Given that the A8000 leans more on the treble/neutral side of the equation, the AKM DAC seemed to suit them a little more, adding just enough richness to balance them perfectly. The bass texture and articulation in this track sounds utterly perfect on this track, the attack and decay in the lowest octave sounds entirely ‘real’. But the vocals are the star of the show here – the nuances and organic subtleties of the female voice need to be heard to be believed.  

At 10 ohms the Craft Ears Craft FOUR is the most sensitive IEM that I have on-hand currently, and it is not able to pick up a hint of hiss or background noise when hooked-into the balanced outputs of the SE200. With an output impedance of just 0.7 for the AKM stage and 1 ohm for the ESS stage, the SE200 will play nicely with a range of low-impedance devices. I wasn’t able to detect any funny business going on while switching around between outputs and IEMs while listening to the very well recorded ‘Currents’ by Tame Impala. 

The new single ‘On a Roll’ by Balthazaar was another random track served-up during my testing of the SE200 via Tidal, and I decided that it was time to try out the SE200’s power capabilities with some hard-to-drive full-size cans – in this case the 300-ohm Sennheiser HD600 via the 2.5mm balanced output of the AKM amp stage. Unleashing the 6 volts on tap (not that I needed that much) here proved to be more than enough to get an impressive performance out of my trusty HD600, and a bit of Belgian rock proved to be a fun time indeed with the SE200 managing extremely tight control of the HD600’s low end and terrific overall dynamics – especially the visceral percussion and drum hits. It’s not an especially wide experience, but the SE200/HD600 pairing provides exquisite instrument separation and definition around each layer. 

Astell&Kern SE200

The delicate finesse of the surprisingly awesome EM5 earbuds from FiiO is actually one of the more revealing tools by which to measure the talents of the SE200. Beck’s ‘Uneventful Days’ shows-off their wonderful, linear tone which is on full display here, giving you a textural delight while wrapping you in a sonic blanket of awesome spatial immersion. It really does feel like a full-size, over ear experience – as long as you have a quiet space to listen in, a pair of revealing earbuds will make for a fine portable pairing with the SE200.

Off He Goesby Pearl Jam is a lesson in detail and insight when paired with my Turbulent Labs Customs. The SE200 opens-up a window into the live, analogue recording session, and places you dead centre. This one’s probably a pick for the ESS DAC, adding a fraction more zing to the pluck of the acoustic guitars and suiting the spartan, bare recording more in terms of a drier, more astringent presentation. 

Astell&Kern SE200

Vs Astell&Kern SA700

The SA700 is quite different in terms of form-factor being smaller, denser and squarer than the SE200 – while it’s a bit chunky the SA700 is actually slightly easier to use. ‘I.G.Y’ by Donald Fagen over the SA700 with its dual AK4492ECB sounds immediately drier and less immersive after switching over from the SE200. Note decay hangs on a fraction longer in the SE200, making it feel more organic and analogue-sounding. The SA700 gives the Audeze LCD-1 a more intimate soundstage, making it feel more compressed compared to the more enveloping, circum-aural sensation of the SE200

Vs Astell&KernSR25

While I have a very fond spot for the smallest A&K portable player, going from the SR25 to the SE200 is a complete upgrade in terms of refinement. The backup vocals during the chorus sound on ‘H. Gang’ by Donald Fagen sound utterly realistic on the SE200, while it ‘merely’ sounds like playback on the SR25. Bass notes hit with greater authority and dexterity on the SE200, giving it not only greater tonal weight, but an overall warmer, richer feeling. The extra power of the SE200 is also clearly evident with the HD600, requiring a full ten more volume increments  – 94 vs 84 (out of a total of 150) – to get to an enjoyable listening level. 

Final thoughts

I applaud AK for their dedication to innovation and simply trying something different when it came to the Astell&Kern SE200. Going to the trouble to develop and fine-tune not one, but two entire digital/analogue pairings within the gorgeous enclosure the SE200 is quite remarkable in terms of it being an engineering feat alone. So who is it for then? While I did hypothesise that the SE200 is probably best suited for ‘digital tweakers’, it also happens to be an impressively capable and simply stunning-sounding device irrespective of which side of its personality that you choose. Would I make use of the multiple digital options within the SE200? Probably not. But would I be very, very happy to have it as my go-to on-the-go player? You betcha.

4.4/5 - (48 votes)

Hailing from Sydney's eastern beaches, Matty runs his own beer business, 'Bowlo Draught', as well as working in creative advertising. When he's not enjoying his hifi and vinyl collection at home, he can probably be found rolling-up on the green at his beloved Bondi Bowling Club.


  • Reply February 5, 2021


    It’s a really good sounding DAP. Beats my previous DAP like the m11, m11 pro, shanling m6, kann, sr25/15 and hiby r6 pro. I was thinking to get the SA700 because someone said that the sound was really good but after to read a lot of bad comments about it (too slow, Get very hot, poor wifi signal, 4 hours to charge the battery, poor battery life, and so on) I pull the trigger in the SE200 and i’m very happy with it.
    For me it one of the best DAP in the market today because you can get good sounding DAPs with some software or hardware issues affecting the user experience and the idea to put 2 dac in one unit was great and works perfect.
    Also there are more expensive DAPs but the SE200 get close to them too.

  • Reply July 25, 2021


    I’m planning to replace my SA700 by the SE200.
    What was your experience related with the working temperature?
    I normally listen in DSD format, and the SA700 is uncomfortable since it gets really hot.
    How was the experience with the SE200?

    • Reply July 25, 2021

      Matty Graham

      I’ve never noticed it getting hot during extended listening. I only havE one album on DSD, and I never listen to it though.

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