Review: Astell&Kern SE100 – Smooth Operator

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.

Synergy advise

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.

Conclusion

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

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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.

18 Comments

  • Reply November 11, 2018

    Ivandy Jap

    So exciting!!

  • Reply November 12, 2018

    Jhorman

    Good luck!!

  • Reply November 16, 2018

    Steven Zore

    Great piece. I have the SE100 and I love it, I’m using it with the SE846’s and a balanced Litz cable.

  • Reply November 21, 2018

    Geert

    Lieven, would you pair this A&K with the Cosmic Ears CE6P or CE6B? I like some bass but not mind blowing like.

  • Reply November 23, 2018

    Geert

    Thanks, first ordering the SE100 right now!

    • Reply November 23, 2018

      Lieven

      do check out the SR15 and SP1000M as well!

  • Reply November 24, 2018

    Ken

    How does the se100 handle logging into wifi at a hotel or cafe where I browser needs to pop up in order to agree to terms or provide information more than just a password? My AK70 was useless for streaming at a hotel because of its wifi limitation.

    Ken

    • Reply November 24, 2018

      Lieven

      It actually has been improved and I managed to log into the hotel’s network at Canjam London. That was the SP1000 but it should be the same for the SE100

  • Reply December 16, 2018

    JM

    Does the SE100 handle well headpohnes like the Beyerdynamic DT1770Pro? Currently I pair it with my SR15, but I feel the sound stage and separation very tight… would the SE100 be wider and more spacious 2ith the DT than the SR15? Also treble is more detailed compared to the SR15? Mostly listening to metal… Cheers!

    • Reply December 16, 2018

      Lieven

      No I don’t think you’ll find much improvement by switching

  • Reply January 29, 2019

    Ron B

    Looking to upgrade my pioneer dap 100r which im using with my Oppo Pm1 . Do u think this will be an improvement.
    Love the dac cause its what i have in my oppo 205 and im a huge sabree sounding guy.
    Thanks.

  • Reply March 26, 2019

    Eli

    For using with the hd650 will the SE100 be a better match than the SR15? I saw in the forums that the SE100 should handle them more effortlessly

    I’m mostly listening at low volumes at work (if connected to the ak120ii the volume is at 110)

    Thanks!

  • Reply March 27, 2019

    Mr Drone

    Can the AK SE100 drive 250-600 OHMS cans?

  • Reply April 25, 2019

    Luis André Ferreira

    Great review! Thanks Headphonia!!
    I’m wondering, because you describe the player being smooth and having undesirably amount of bass with some monitors, if the equalizer was on. I heard the EQ is on in default out of the box.
    Normally this player is described being at tad thin and bright compared with sr15 or even SP1000. I’m coming from ak70 1st generation and want to buy a new ak dap. Can’t decide between se100 and sr15. May be an advise from you? Many thanks!!

  • Reply May 17, 2019

    ncanus

    Does SE100 pairs well with Xelento?

  • Reply October 16, 2019

    Mateo

    SE100 and Xelento/Tia Fourté just stunning pair.

  • Reply February 12, 2020

    MICHÈLE MANDON

    SE100 poses a real volume problem on Bluetooth-with my Beyerdynamics aventho wireless
    the volume is really limited-,whereas with the Sony A45 (7 times cheaper !) the same Aventho delivers a powerful volume.
    Any piece of advice is welcome. I don’t mind buying other headphones (with bluetooth) to get more volume.. Thanks

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