Astell&Kern SE300 Review

Today we are checking out the Astell&Kern SE300 R2R DAP that goes for $1,899 USD.

 

Disclaimer: A&K sent me the SE300 in exchange for this review. The article reflects my honest impression of the product as always.

Astell&Kern

Astell&Kern is a Korean manufacturer of DAPs that has been revolutionizing the portable audio player market since its establishment in 2014. Their first product, AK100, kick-started their mission to create the best possible DAPs, and I believe they have certainly achieved that goal.

A&K is a subsidiary of the renowned iRiver brand, which is now known as Dreamus. iRiver gained fame for its exceptional and highly sought-after mp3 players. Drawing on this extensive expertise, A&K has launched an ultra-high-end brand that caters specifically to headphone enthusiasts in a niche market.

Astell&Kern is more than just a provider of portable audio players. They have also partnered with industry leaders such as Beyerdynamic, Campfire Audio and Jerry Harvey Audio to offer a range of headphones, cables, and In-Ear Monitors. This collaboration has resulted in multiple product releases, which continue to be developed.

We have reviewed many Astell&Kern portable players here on Headfonia. For instance, Felix just reviewed the SR35 last week, and you might also want to check the recent flagship SP3000 here.

The SE300 which I’m going to review is the continuation of the A&futura series which serves as a middle ground between entry-level and flagship units. The previous member of the A&futura family was the SE180 model with its replaceable DAC units, and you can check that review below:

I also reviewed its upgradable SEM units, yes, all of them, below:

SE300

Astell&Kern likes to introduce new features and tech with the A&futura series lately. The SE200 had a dual DAC design with the possibility to switch between two different chips, and the SE180 introduced the swappable DAC modules.

Now, with the SE300, A&K introduced their first-ever R2R DAP. It was actually no surprise to see this release since the R2R designs have been on the rise in the market.

  • Fully Discrete 24-bit R-2R DAC
  • Equipped with 96 ultra-precision 0.01% & TCR10 resistors
  • New Dual AMP (Class A/AB) mode
  • Option for OS / NOS modes
  • Implemented self-developed and optimized FPGA technology
  • New Crimson theme UI/UX
  • Supports Bluetooth 5.0 and wireless Hi-Fi

Packaging

The SE300 packaging is pretty standard and there’s nothing interesting or new here. It’s a similar box that we’re used to seeing from the A&futura series. One drawback is that you get no protective case, just like the previous models. For the price tag, I think it should’ve been included. Other than that you get a charging cable, protective films for the front & back, and the usual paperwork.

Design & Build

The new SE300 has a shinier and classier design than the previous SE180, which looks a bit dull in comparison. A&K put a shiny, mirror-like surface on the right side of the SE300, so it somewhat derives the shininess of the flagship SP3000 to some degree. The volume wheel is also more classy, with the ”crown” design that we see in the flagship units. The new model also has smaller bezels. It’s overall cleaner, more premium-looking, and slicker than its predecessors. 

The build quality is excellent as we all expect from A&K. I’ve been using the SE180 for a long time and it is very durable. I bet the SE300 will offer no less. However, the volume wheel is exposed which wasn’t the case in previous designs. I think with a hard knock it can come off, but of course, these devices aren’t suitable for dropping or throwing around. 

The device is quite heavy and bigger than I anticipated. It is lighter than the flagship SP3000, making it somewhat easier to carry. However, both the screen and the casing are undeniably large. Therefore, this A&K player is not very portable, and I would not recommend using it outdoors frequently. For that purpose, check out the A&norma series

The design has a classic A&K look & feel with unorthodox lines and edges. However, this new model, although looking elegant and classy, is leaner in appearance, compared to the more assertive-looking models of the brand in the past.

User Interface

As we all know, A&K refreshed their UI for its new players. It started with the flagship SP3000 and continued with the SE300 and the new entry-level SR35. Honestly, the previous software has been ageing and a change was imminent. The new UI is definitely a big step up to catch modern times. However, A&K still offers a different and more ”limited” experience when compared to open-Android DAPs. 

Some people don’t like this approach to the software because of its closed and non-customizable nature. A&K uses heavily modified and closed Android software for their players. I have no problems with their approach as they want to provide a distinctive experience with their brand image. Brands like iBasso, HiBy and FiiO provide a vanilla open-Android experience with faster CPUs, but I don’t think A&K would change their philosophy about the UI anytime soon.

Regardless, the new UI is a good refreshment and I like the fact that they utilized classic Android buttons on the bottom. It makes the navigation easier and more direct. The button on the left is especially nice since you can directly go to the streaming services screen. I also liked the new album art look on the main screen. You can swipe between different albums and they look like CD cases. When you tap one it directly opens the songs of the album. 

The speed of the device is fairly good, definitely better than the SE180 but I think there’s still room for improvement. The SP3000 is snappier in that regard, so I expected to have the same speedy experience that the flagship gives with this premium series device. 

Connectivity

The SE300 is Roon Ready, so you can play songs through your Roon Core in your house. It also has the AK File Drop function to transfer your songs to the DAP over the air. BT sink option is another connectivity feature, for you to connect to your DAP from your smartphone or another device to play songs wirelessly. The SE300 supports aptX HD and LDAC. 

You can use the SE300 as a digital transport, DAC & DAC/AMP, with USB, optical and Line-Out scenarios. You’re all covered. When it comes to WiFi, however, it supports 5Ghz networks, (something the SE180 didn’t have, which was unacceptable, to be honest). However, the SE300’s WiFi reception isn’t great in my experience, as you need to be a bit close to your router. 

Page 2: Sound Quality
Page 3: Synergy, Comparisons and Conclusion
4.5/5 - (28 votes)
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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.

4 Comments

  • Reply October 7, 2023

    DLE Saner

    You people need to understand one important thing,if the audio file imported into the player sucks the output will suck…even the best player in the world can’t make a badly encoded audio file,be it mp3 or .flac sound right.Since most of the consumers have no clue about it they should stick to a mid range audio player like the SONY NW-WM1A which is adequate and don’t puts you outta funds.To all them “purists” I say:Can you really hear the difference?…don’t think so…as long as you encode mp3-320kB/44000Hz you’re fine.

    • Reply October 10, 2023

      Claudio

      To be honest I own a Sony wm1a and also astell and kern sp3000 and se180, fiio m17 and other DAP and i can hear differences. I can assure you that the most avanced DAP offers a more balanced and detailed sound than my wm1a, but is not a night day difference. It’s only about your preferences. But If ask me if in the future i will buy a told DAP again a would say no because in my case astell and kern futura line offers a god experience and you have DAP for many years.

      • Reply January 5, 2024

        YOU

        which one do you prefer between all ?

  • Reply December 21, 2023

    Roni

    Hello,
    Thanks for this important review and comparisons…
    Very important question: To get that neutral tonality, do you recommend to use the EQ? Or the EQ can distort the sound?
    Thanks in advance

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