Bass is full bodied, always present and comes with full impact. While the bass depth and layering is good, the bass isn’t the tightest or fastest. Bass detail is good but it’s nowhere near the level of its big brother, where the bass is more neutral in presence, yet technically stronger. This is musical, toe-tapping, head-shaking bass. It’s hard not to enjoy, unless of course you’re not into that.
The mids section basically shares the same thicker signature with a full bodied presence. Depth and layering is very good and that combined with good separation and spaciousness make it an even more musical player. Because of this the vocals will sound softer but that also fits in nicely with the warmer and smooth characteristics. I absolutely love how the SE100 displays guitars and if you’re a fan of guitar work/solos, do try your fav tunes on this player.
Because of these typical mids, AK of course make the treble section stand out too much. It shares the full bodied presence of the bass and mids but they don’t extend as far. Treble here is more intimate but at the same time lively enough to give that needed kick, sparkle and contrast. Don’t expect very detailed, crisp and ultra clear treble with the SE100. The keywords here (again) are smoothness, musicality and enjoyment.
Vs The Family
Sound-wise the SE100 still is quite far away from the SP1000 and it technically just can’t compete with the flag ship player. The SE100 is softer, warmer, smoother and doesn’t have the precision, accuracy, separation and sound stage from the SP1000.
It’s character is more similar to that of the AK70II but mostly to the new SR15, that means you get a musical and more intimate sound combined with a good level of detail and dynamics. The A&Futura keeps things musical but it’s more than just a musical DAP, it’s like a cousin of the flagship player and if that SP1000 is out of reach for you, the SE100 just might be the next best option. Do note though that the sound signatures are completely different, it’s not an SP1000 baby.
Because of the smoothness, warmth and full body I don’t recommend using IEMs or easy to drive headphones with the SE100 that share the same characteristics. Unless of course those are your thing and you can’t get enough of them. I recommend a higher end set of monitors with good clarity, speed and sparkle on top. That mixed with the strong points of the SE100 will get you a really excellent all-round experience.
In example, I have been using the SE100 a lot with the UE 18+PRO and the UE LIVE, but with the LIVE the bass level is on the border of too much for me already. For me it’s perfect for the 18+PRO though, the combo is perfect. The Jomo Audio Tango, to give you another example, is a great CIEM and it has top quality bass, but bass is big on its own and for me it just became too much with this DAP.
It’s trial and error and mostly personal preference but in general i’d recommend to stay clear from IEMs with a thick, warm and slower personality.
The SE100 is a high end portable player and the sound quality definitely is on par with what you expect at his level. It’s just a really good DAP but at the same time it’s very different from AK’s top model. The SP1000 still is the real flagship and technically performs even better. That one also has the more neutral, typical reference tuning and that makes it oh so different from the SE100.
The SE100 is all about mixing sound quality and musical enjoyment in one package. AK has managed to do so by creating a detailed, spacious and dynamic, yet smooth, full bodied and warmer sounding player. The SE100 is very easy to like, very musical and very recommended if you’re looking for that do-it-all player where musicality is more important to you than absolute precision and top technicalities.
For me personally it’s my second favourite Astell&Kern player, after the almighty SP1000. The much cheaper SR15 clearly is performing above its price point (it’s one of our recommended buys!) but it at the same time doesn’t come near the SE100’s performance (just yet). So yes, the SE100 holds it’s own place in the AK line-up.
For me the SE100 gets a big thumbs up!
The full player specs can be found on the last page of this article