An overview of the player Astell&Kern A&futura SE100 — Vice-flagship

Finally updated the line of players from Astell&Kern began to appear in the sale, and that in fact the flagship of the A&ultima released last year, the updated medium and Junior models presented a few months ago, and sales started just recently. While A&norma still in transit to the distributors, let’s look at the average model A&futura.

During the development of SE100 (such index has received the hero of today’s review) in the company tried to use the achievements SP1000: large screen dictates the size of the body, and the same firmware, and the similarity of the amplifier channel. Of course, to make two identical player with a price tag that differ in two times, it would be very foolish, therefore, for a more affordable “Futura” housing made of aluminium and changed the design to more mainstreamy. Along the way, in the scheme used a different DAC, to replace the Asahi Kasei came top Sabre 9038PRO, after all, we’ve got a solid product, solid company.

The price tag of a new model below the flagship of about two times, at the time of this writing, the cost SE100 is around $ 1,700, but the final price is determined more policy specific distributors. Thus, the novelty is in the model number manufacturer’s place AK320 that the sound was something even better than the flagship AK380. Would not such a conflict again? Let’s deal.

Specifications

  • DAC: ESS Sabre ES9038PRO
  • Output level: 2.0 Vrms normal exit, 4.1 Vrms balanced
  • Output impedance: balanced output 1Ω, 1.5 Ω normal
  • Frequency range (normal exit): 20 Hz – 20 kHz (±0.038 dB) 10 Hz – 70 kHz (±0.074 dB)
  • Frequency range (balanced output): 20 Hz – 20 kHz (±0.028 dB) 10 Hz – 70 kHz (±0.030 dB)
  • The ratio signal-to-noise ratio: 122 dB normal output 123 dB balanced
  • Channel separation: 138 dB normal output 144 dB balanced
  • Total harmonic distortion+noise: 0.0007% regular output, 0.0006% balanced
  • Formats supported: WAV, FLAC, MP3, WMA, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF
  • Max resolution: 384 kHz/32 bit, DSD up to DSD256
  • Screen: 5″, 720 × 1280
  • WiFi: 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth: V4.1 with aptX support for HD
  • Input: USB 3.0 Type-C
  • Outputs: TRS 3.5 mm and 2.5 mm TRRS
  • Battery: 3700 mAh
  • Work time from a single charge: up to 11 hours
  • Charging time (Quick Charge): ~ 2 hours
  • Built-in memory: 128 GB
  • Memory card: MicroSD
  • Dimensions: 76 mm × 133 mm × 15 mm
  • Weight: 241 gr.

Packing and delivery

The impression is that product managers in A&K very angry buyers on average in the lineup of the player for the fact that the latter dared not to buy a flagship, and decided to strongly emphasize his resentment. To artificially kill support the resolution as it was in AK320, they were not given marketers (all the same player for $1700 is not the budget segment), so they got rid on the rest. Instead of nice wooden boxes “Ultima” before us is an ordinary cardboard box, in which you’ll find the player itself, a USB-C cable for charging and other usefulness, user manual, warranty card and two sets of protective films for the screen and the back panel. Be generous on more high quality glass protector, or at least to stick the film from the factory in A&K considered it beneath his dignity.

Oh yeah, forgot, the kit includes a pair of plastic plugs for the MicroSD slot, well, so you understand what Koreans think about your comfort day and night.

The case included no, apparently Astell & Kern decided that since you saved, and, instead of a player for $3500, took the device for only $1700, to allocate another $150 in case you may well.

Design and management

The appearance of the player, of course is very good. Don’t even know could be do otherwise? If the design of Ultima was done in a little vintage style, for Futura decided to justify the name, and made a deliberately modern design: sharp edges, sharp bends, narrow button — as usual A&K here among the leaders that sets the trends that will be repeated in a year or two other manufacturers. No matter what spiteful critics, in the top segment of the design is one of the main engines of sales. Just put the next player from Astell&Kern and the “top” of any other company, and the difference will be obvious. Even Sony, a leader in the field of industrial design, looks more modest and, perhaps, easier.

Generally, with a new line in the Astell-Kern decided to “strike breaking” in terms of bold experiments, starting with platinovoi of copper in the flagship and finishing beveled screen in the budget model. However, it is the subject of a separate discussion.

In Futura on the faces contain a lot of controls. On the left side are buttons for playback control. Top — headphone output and power button, this time it was decided not to combine with the volume control. On the right, directly under your finger is the pen of volume control, since it then only rotates, it is attached stiffer than the SP1000. Of course, the encoder used is very high quality and it perfectly registers every click. On the lower side are the USB type-C and a slot for memory cards last this time done without the tray, so if you don’t use them — you can use the complete plug.

The USB connector is traditionally versatile. In addition to charging, support Quick Charge, it also offers a USB DAC and use the player in the role of transport and connectivity to other external DACS. Interestingly, the average models do not have the connectors for the expansion module, whether the developers refused from the idea of an external amplifier, or decided that the SE100 is not worthy of such an honor.

Most of the front panel occupies the screen at the player’s standards it’s very good quality: viewing angles, resolution, color rendition, brightness stock and check the taps at a very high level. Under the screen is a touch button that returns the user to the main screen from a submenu. The rear panel is plastic with a texture just looks easier than carbon have SP1000, but because it is necessary to dilute the model, away from each other.

Like his older brother, A&futura was very large, although reducing the weight by about 100 grams clearly benefited from its portability, it is possible to carry if not in the pocket of his pants, then at least in the jacket. The build quality is, of course, close to perfect at all customized without the slightest backlash, cracks or other blemishes.

While working in the standard test (wireless off, MEEAudio P1 with 3.5 mm output in the role of the load, comfortable loudness, FLAC 44.1/16) is 10 hours and 20 minutes. Judging by the fact that the battery capacity has increased, while the time — no, ESS Sabre voracious as some of the girls in depression. Charging with the Quick Charge takes around 2 hours 5 minutes, which is quite good for such a capacious battery.

Firmware

Not associated with the sound of “iron” player left the same as in the older model: 8-core processor allows you to pull a spectacular interface, and this benefited the developers, the new firmware, skated on Ultima, found its place here. The large display allows you to fully enjoy the album cover, and a fast processor provides a stylish blur and other visual effects that are used almost everywhere in FOR the player.

After downloading the player immediately opens a screen with the current track. Then navigation buttons are displayed in the track title of the current track and buttons to add to the playlist, view additional information and control the order of playback.

Brushing a finger cover left and right to switch tracks, and the same gesture at the bottom allows you to quickly navigate to the desired position in the song. Clicking on the cover opens the screen where it can be viewed larger here shows the lyrics of the song if it is saved in the tags.

Gesture from the top of the screen down opens the settings panel and notification. You can turn WiFi, Bluetooth, gapless playback and change a number of other options.

Swiping your finger from the right side of the screen to the left will open the current playlist from the left edge to the right opens the main panel with media library, search, and settings. In its upper part is a box to search for tracks (one of the main advantages of the players with touch screen keyboard).

The media library has albums, artists, genres, playlists, all songs in a row. Individual items selected for tracks at high resolution, music copied from CDs using the signature grabber and Tidal/Groovers+. If enabled AK Connect in the same menu is added to select a music source and the device for output.

The settings in the player not as small as it seems at first glance. On the screen the advanced options you can manage:

  • WiFi and Bluetooth
  • AK Connect is a proprietary Protocol of the access devices, it allows you to stream music over the network and read from network storage
  • EQ as in the older model, to the conventional equalizer allows you to change the number of specific frequencies are added a little of parametric (in the Advanced tab)
  • Gapless playback
  • Mode line output
  • Channel balance
  • Options for adding tracks to current playlist
  • Management firmware CD Ripper
  • USB mode (MTP or DAC)
  • Mode audio output via USB (DoP or convert it to PCM)
  • Enable S/PDIF output

Here are the system settings: language, clock, brightness, timer switch controls, lights, and sleep. In addition, the player is able to upgrade the firmware via WiFi, for which purpose the item in the same menu.

Sound

To listen to the device used the following headphones: iBasso IT04, 99 Meze Classics, Audio Zenith PMx2, Noble Kaiser Encore, Campfire Andromeda Audio, Unique Melody Mason V3, HUM Pristine and others.

This time the puncture with the positioning of the players in the lineup from Astell&Kern has not happened. SE100 sounds very good, but the laurels of the flagship does not infringe, for the average model of the line, the developers chose a little light filing with an emphasis on microdialysate, do not forget about his signature sound.

Bass is a monitor, without emphasis and added weight. Occasionally he can sound a little dry, but always served skillfully, thoroughly, with great transitions, separation of instruments and textures. There is a very decent density, control, and depth — everything you need for technical NCH.

Midrange is neutral, the player is not trying to embellish or to emphasize something, the only thing that will allocate SE100 compared to other neutral sources is the signature “shimmering” sound: smooth transitions of notes with simultaneous highlighting microcontrast. Because of this staining, the player sounds alive and natural, although in order to assess the correct record of the appropriate level. Overall, this color here is less than the SP1000, but more than Kann, so for purists, this player would probably be an even better choice. The imaginary scene is very good, three-dimensional and realistic, has the effect of “three-dimensionality”, unless, of course, allow headphones.

Treble is very extended, detailed, with a great running attack and attenuation. Of course, there’s excellent separation of layers, providing an airy feel and a perfect wagering reverberation. Due to monitor feeding bass, the overall tone of the player is slightly inclined in the direction of the light, but are actually artificial accent RF is not here, the number is perfectly balanced.

Comparisons this time is not much, real players, able to compete with SE100 I don’t have much, so a few of the players here are “a stretch”.

Astell&Kern A&ultima SP1000 , of Course, the flagship model remains the best solution in the model range of the company: more powerful woofers and midrange provide more physicality and naturalness in the flow, and HF, despite a little less detail work better damping and overtones.

theBit OPUS#2 One of the few manufacturers that could compete with the great and terrible “Antelami”. Of course, OPUS#2 deprived-branded midrange, but he also sounds a little telesna and musical SE100, offering a slightly different approach to the sound: a little less detail, a little more emotion.

Lotoo Paw Gold is Perhaps the most different from the A&futura serving player. Drive, the emotions, the pressure and again drive — that’s what wins listeners with “gold” in its sound less refinement, but on the technicality of “Futura” in fact he is not far behind.

iBasso DX200 overall, I would characterize SE100 as the “DX200 deprived of their fundamental weaknesses and, especially, excessive fault-finding to the recording quality”. On the one hand, both player and neutral tuningova in the direction of monotonnosti, but thanks to the “brand mid” SE100 better constructs an imaginary scene and less prominence to the shortcomings of the record.

Astell&Kern AK320 of Course 320 is history, but in some places it can still be bought, and even with a good discount, plus I got to him the warmest feelings, and to compare two generations of players in one place in the line — interesting. In General, AK320 sounds warmer, with more weight, even at the cost of slightly lower resolution, especially noticeable on HF. While 320 more brand coloring, which makes it a bit “showy”, even at the cost of reducing monotonnosti submission.

Compatibility

Power the player is already good, progress does not stand still, forcing even A&K to make more powerful amplifiers, so the majority of headphones including full-size, “Futura” is quite rocking. Of course, tight panoramer and inefficient isodisomy to connect to it it makes no sense, but these headphones are usually no fixed amplifier still does not play. Well the player works with sensitive IEM, background noise is virtually absent even in the low-impedance models.

The difference between the outputs of the player is very small, if you listen to their pre-aligning the volume using the sound level meter. Balanced slightly deeper in the bass and a bit more WSC highlights, but this difference is not worth the hassle with balanced cable, if the headphones don’t need more power, we offer a 2.5 mm output.

Stylistically very versatile player, provided that the owner like a neutral, slightly light flow, but most well it shows itself in the genres need to be resolved in volume and naturalness, ranging from classical to chamber something like vocal jazz. The quality of material the player is sensitive, although the shortcomings he highlights are not so bright, but what’s the point of buying a device in this price range to listen to the basement recordings, so on a scale of “picky” it gets a 10 out of 10.

According to tradition, a few tracks as example

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — I. Allegro con brio Long since we’ve had classics in the examples, and the SE100 is downright screaming about the fact that such music is created for him. A wonderful program all the nuances that surround the stage, a confident macro-dynamics — this is all just completely immerses you in the atmosphere of the concert.

Gojira — The Shooting Star of Course is not the material on which it is necessary to build a story about the merits of this player, but what to do if such records it perfectly, conveying all the nuances, from percussion to bass guitar.

Nina Simone — Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood What’s funny, is best advantages A&futura in this track demonstrates the vocal Nina Simone, although he played almost flawlessly, and the accompaniment and backing vocals. Thanks to the airiness and excellent micro-dynamics of the player, the track just comes alive.

Insights

If we calculate the ratio of price to sound, the “Future” the results will turn out better than “Ultina,” yet the latter was created on the principle of “price is not important”. Therefore, losing in the overall classification, SE100 takes revenge relative. So the only recommendation on the choice between them can only be “listen for yourself”, although, of course, the likelihood it will have to save twice as long as high.

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Buy Astell&Kern A&futura SE100

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