Today we look at the Astell&Kern SP3000 reference portable player. The SP3000 is selling for $3,699 USD (+taxes).
Disclaimer: The sample of the AK SP3000 DAP was loaned to us by Astell&Kern directly. After the review the SP3000 will be returned Astell & Kern. AK is not in any way related to Headfonia.
The Korean DAP manufacturer Astell&Kern has been around since 2014 and has been since then the driving force of reinventing the portable audio player market. Ever since their first product, the AK100, they have been on a mission to make the best possible DAPs, and if you ask me, they have succeeded.
A&K is a subsidiary of the famous iRiver brand, which is now called Dreamus. The company that rose to fame with their excellent and wildly popular mp3 players. With that extensive knowledge they have launched an uber-high-end brand for the niche market that is headphone enthusiasts.
Astell&Kern not only brings us portable audio players alone, no, they have also been collaborating with other big industry players such as Crystal Cables, Beyerdynamic and Jerry Harvey Audio. They have released several cables, headphones and In Ear Monitors with these three brands, and continue to do so.
The DAP we’re reviewing in this article is the TOTL SP3000. The SP3000 is running on a new platform, so it is very different from the previous flagship, the SP2000. But as that has been the flagship player for a very long time, we do recommend reading up on it first. You can do so right here:
The SP3000 DAP is part of the A&ultima series together with the SP1000, SP2000, SP2000T and the SP1000M. That means it’s the fifth player released in this series.
The SP3000 can be considered as the flagship player of the A&ultima series, and it is selling for $3,699 USD. The SP1000 and its variations are no longer available from AK directly. That means the A&ultima line-up holds 3 products: the SP3000, the SP2000 and the SP2000T.
As with most of AK’s latest players, it comes with a 3.5mm single ended output, a 2.5mm (4-pole supported) balanced output and a 4.4mm balanced Pentaconn output. AK, like many other brans, is offering all the common outputs, and for me that’s the perfect solution. You can set the outputs as line-out and use the SP3000 as a DAC only in your setup. The SP3000 also offer a, S/PDIF output, as usual.
Astell&Kern has set the standard for perfect sound using the latest innovative technology with the A&ultima series. The A&ultima SP3000 is the newest flagship product that is the essence of everything learned and engineered over the last 10+ years of digital music processing.
A&ultima SP3000 is the world’s first DAP with independent Dual Audio Circuitry and the latest DAC with HEXA-Audio Circuitry structure and uses all audio technologies and the best materials that lets you feel the overwhelming impact of sound and music. Experience perfection firsthand with the true next-generation flagship, A&ultima SP3000, the pinnacle of audio players.
Astell&Kern states the SP3000 is the world’s first DAP with complete separation of the digital and analogue signal processing. The dual audio circuitry is supposed to deliver stunning audio performance.
The SP3000 sports AK’s TERATON ALPHA technology (learn more here) tweaked especially for the SP3000. Four AK4499EX DACs, are applied to the SP3000, together with the innovative HEXA-Audio Circuitry structure in which two AK4191EQs that process digital signals are applied separately. Most digital players process digital and analog signals together inside the DAC. However, the SP3000’s advanced HEXA-Audio Circuitry structure reduces the noise of the digital signal input through the AK4191EQ, a separate digital delta-sigma modulator, and the AK4499EX DAC is then designed to process the analog signals separately. The result is a SNR of 130dB, the best of any DAP available – according to Astell&Kern.
As said the platform used in the SP3000 is completely new, giving the user a new experience with updated graphics. To run smoothly, the SP3000 is equipped with the High-Performance Qualcomm Snapdragon 6125 Octa-Core CPU and increased 8GB of DDR4 memory. Bluetooth-wise the AK SP3000 features both aptX-HD as well as LDAC. Of course, the SP3000 also fully supports MQA. The choice is yours.
The SP3000 supports the following:
PCM : 8kHz ~ 768kHz (8/16/24/32bits per Sample)
DSD Native: DSD64(1bit 2.8MHz), Stereo / DSD128(1bit 5.6MHz), Stereo
DSD256(1bit 11.2MHz), Stereo / DSD512(1bit 22.4MHz), Stereo
Like the latest AK DAPs, the SP3000 also lets you download and use certain apps. I am running the SP3000 with V-Link (YouTube), Tidal, Spotify and Qobuz. You can find out all about the SP3000 portable player on its dedicated web page here. You can buy the SP3000 from Astell&Kern here, or you can get it via your local dealer.
The AK SP3000 comes with 256gB of internal memory. If you ask me, it’s the minimum for a flagship player of this price. You can extend the memory by using the microSD slot, accepting up to 1TB cards.
The screen used inside the SP3K is a 5.46-inch, large-screen Full HD touch display, with a resolution of 1080×1920. The battery inside is a 5,050mAh 3.8V Li-Polymer one, supporting QC3.0. It delivers about 10h of playtime. (Standard: FLAC, 16bit, 44.1kHz, Vol.80, LCD Off, Low Gain). I’m quite happy with the battery lifetime performance, but if you’re watching YouTube, the battery won’t last anywhere near 10h.
Some of the SP3000’s special settings include EQ, Gapless, DAC filter, ReplayGain and Cross feed. As usual there’s also AK Filedrop, Car mode and the device is ROON Ready (yay!). Let’s go into more detail.
The SP3000 has 6 different DAC filters, which you can access via the main or settings menu. The image below says it all. You really hear the differences between the filters, and I switch them all the time depending on the earphone/headphone used and the type of music I’m listening to. I fully recommend playing with this setting to finetune the sound.
The SP3000 is equipped with Digital Audio Remaster (DAR) technology, which was developed to deliver fine sound at higher sample rates. DAR technology is developed to up sample the sample rate of the sound source being played to go beyond the limits of the source format.
The high sample rate allows more refined play and offers delicate and analog-like original sound, helping you to enjoy the richness of the original sound, subtle differences in the nuance of the music and rich sounds at a higher level.
Personally, I’m not a fan of cross feed but many of audiophiles are.
In a headphone environment in which the left and right channels are clearly separated, ear fatigue may increase during prolonged listening. The moment you turn on Cross feed, the experience of crisp, but comfortable sound begins. Cross feed mixes parts of the original signal from one channel and sends that signal to the opposite channel with a time difference to center the sound image. Using detailed settings such as Shelf Cutoff, Shelf Gain, and Mixer Level, you can set the level of cross feed according to your listening preferences. The SP3000 comes loaded with Jan Meier’s famous cross feed as well as Chu Moy’s. You can also create your own.
A full overview of the SP3000’s specs can be found on Astell&Kern’s web page, right here.
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Page 1: Astell&Kern, SP3000, Internals