Astell&Kern SP3000 Review

Astell&Kern SP3000

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.

Astell&Kern

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.

Astell&Kern SP3000

We have reviewed many Astell&Kern portable players here on Headfonia, the latest being the SR25, the SE200, the SE180, the KANN ALPHA, the ACRO CA1000 the SP2000T and the KANN MAX.

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:

SP3000

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 SP3000

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.

Astell&Kern SP3000

Internals

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.

DAC filters

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.

DAR

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.

Astell&Kern SP3000

Cross feed

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.

The article continues on the second page. Click here or use the jumps below.

Page 1: Astell&Kern, SP3000, Internals

Page2: Design & Lay-out, Box & Accessories & Price, Firmware/UI/Usability

Page3: Sound – Intro, General, Classics, Competition, End Words

4.5/5 - (228 votes)
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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

15 Comments

  • Reply February 28, 2023

    CLAUDIO

    Mine Arrives yesterday. To be honest the unboxing experience disappointed me a little. After that I only can say I’m really happy. I have owned many DAP, hiby, shanling, fiio (almost all of them), astell (se180, se200, kann, so on) and finally i have decide to buy the best of the best. It sounds incredible, of course the other DAP sounds great too but the SP3000 is in another league. I have only one issue with my memory card sandisk 512gb (it didn’t work well) but i change it for other (same model but 400gb) and problem solve.

  • Reply February 28, 2023

    kenneth Costello

    No Sony TOTL comparison? Basically, same price.

    • Reply March 1, 2023

      Lieven

      The WM1Z is here but -while still enjoyable- I don’t consider it to be at the same flagship level anymore as the other DAPs in this review (SP2K, N8ii, RS8). It gets no playtime whatsoever, but I do understand the option if you just want to listen to your library and prefer the Sony sound.

  • Reply March 3, 2023

    Max

    When a comparison with Sony NW-WM1ZM2? It’s really difficult to read something about these two DAPs compared.

    • Reply March 3, 2023

      Lieven

      Sony doesn’t send samples

  • Reply April 29, 2023

    Jeffri Lingo

    Thank you for a great review, I have always liked your review.
    I’m currently using Focal Stellia, AK PA10, AK HC3, with macbook pro, streaming apple music.
    I was hoping that I could get your opinion whether to upgrade my source with AK Kann MAX or AK SP3000? for use with AK PA10 and Focal Stellia.

    • Reply April 30, 2023

      Lieven

      pThank you. if you always use the PA10 and if you’re on a budget the KANN MAX, if not the SP3000

  • Reply June 15, 2023

    Tomz1313

    They have now a baby :-)….the AK SE300…beautiful sounding player, love it!!

  • Reply July 20, 2023

    Stephen Thoms

    Have you tried the SP3000 with HD800s headphones?

    • Reply July 22, 2023

      Lieven

      It’s not a recommended combo. I advise to use an amp in between

  • Reply December 14, 2023

    Vladimir

    Hello, thanks for the amazing review as always! I want to know if you recommend SP2000 for MM and how it will sound compared to SP3000. Thanks!

    • Reply December 16, 2023

      Lieven

      I don’t have the SP2000 anymore, sorry. But the SP3000 is great with the MM

  • Reply December 20, 2023

    Vladimir

    Thank you. I have ordered the HiBy RS8 and maybe I will add Cayin C9 to the stack!

  • Reply January 8, 2024

    Clement

    What would you recommend between this SP 3000, the Cayin N8ii and Fiio M17 for listening with Focal Utopia and Stellia headphones ?
    Favoring a USB-C connection via Macbook 80% of the time, I considered the M17 which has a mains connection but which do you think would be the best and would have the loudest possible hearing ? THANKS

    • Reply January 8, 2024

      Lieven

      The Cayin and FiiO have more power, but I would still add an amplifier in the setup

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