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Astell&Kern SE300 DAP: Editor’s Choice 2023

Astell&Kern has been at the forefront of perfecting portable digital audio. The A&futura SE300 DAP continues that trend.

Astell&Kern A&futura SE300 DAPs in silver

With a few billion smartphones in the hands of consumers around the planet, it behooves us to mention that the DAP market is extremely niche. What is more fascinating is that 2023 saw a significant number of new models introduced into the market; Sony, Cayin, FiiO and Astell&Kern have no plans to jump ship.

DAPs are dead? Long live DAPs. Apparently everyone at Astell&Kern missed the memo. Having reviewed the Cayin N7 and Astell&Kern SR35 at the beginning of 2023, we were surprised when the Korean manufacturer asked if we wanted one of the first samples of the new Astell&Kern A&futura SE300 DAP before it was even made available. 

The SE300 is a complete redesign and the design decisions will certainly make it unique. Not only is the DAP not modular, but it also does not offer a choice of either AKM or ESS DAC chips. 

Astell&Kern A&futura SE300 portable DAP angle tilt

The Korean manufacturer has gone slightly rogue by not using an off-the-shelf DAC chip at all; the player uses a fully discreet R-2R resistor ladder DAC and also offers the ability to select between oversampling and non-oversampling modes. 

The SE300 user can select between class AB or A amplification and there are other features that have trickled down from the A&ultima SP3000 ($3,699 at Amazon ) that is one of the top DAPs currently available. A small chassis also makes it a rather potent DAP that is easier to carry around. 

Because this was a pre-release sample (without the standard packaging and accessories that come with the retail version), it was delivered pre-loaded with music.

You can read our review here.

Astell&Kern A&futura SE300 portable DAP front and back views

The player is 5.5″H x 3″W x .75″D with the same 5.50″ display used in the SP3000 with a brushed aluminum and glass frame; the highly polished panel gives it a very distinct look. The A&futura SE300 has a decidedly rectangular shape but the sides are bowed slightly inward around the controls and then outward below them on either side breaking up an otherwise boxy silhouette for an A&K player.

The SE300 supports both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi as well as bi-directional Bluetooth 5.0. LDAC transmit and receive are both supported on the SE300 as well.

There are also two gain modes; normal and high, which allow the user to tailor the output to their headphone or IEMs. Using the single-ended output, normal gain provides 2Vrms, switching to high gain increases that to 3Vrms.  

The balanced outputs offer 4 Vrms on normal gain and 6 Vrms on high gain (A&K doesn’t specify the load used in measuring the outputs). All of the outputs offer a line-out mode as well with the 3.5mm port also acting as an optical S/PDIF output if required by the user.

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Astell&Kern A&futura SE300 DAP back and top inputs

Does it make sense to spend almost $2,000 USD on a DAP in 2023?

If you look at the A&futura SE300 as the digital hub of your personal audio and home audio systems — there is some merit to the madness of spending that amount of money.

The type of customer who would consider such a device already owns multiple pairs of high-end headphones and IEMs and likely has a desktop system focused on hi-res streaming.

When you add up the performance, discrete R-2R DAC, dual amplifier modes, Crimson UI, and new Bluetooth features — this might be one of the best performing DAPs in the entire A&K catalog. 

There is little to complain about when it comes to the industrial design, connectivity options, and overall solidity of the product. The battery performance is enough to last an entire day and the Crimson UI feels very snappy even with so many files loaded and the demands of hi-res streaming. 

Astell&Kern A&futura SE300 portable DAP bottom view lifestyle

What sold me at the end of the day was the tonal balance and fluidity of the sound; this is one DAP that I could live with for the long-haul and it had more than enough power for most of my headphone and IEM collection. Does Astell&Kern even know how good this DAP is?

A lot of lucky music listeners are about to find out. 

For more information:

Where to buy$1,900 at Audio46

Continue reading more Editor’s Choice Awards for 2023.

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