Astell&Kern has introduced the third model in its A&futura series in the SE180, and it’s a portable audio player with some radical notions.
The SE180 expands on the multi-DAC innovation first introduced in the SE200. The SE180 allows for use of interchangeable all-in-one DAC modules to find a sound that suits your preferences.
The A&futura SE180 has a default module in the SEM1 ESS ES9038PRO, an 8-channel DAC that offers a wider dynamic range and greater detail. That DAC also gobbles up high-resolution audio files for breakfast, with the ability to play up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM and native DSD256 files.
But should you want to use another DAC module, you can. Astell&Kern has achieved this by physically separating the main body from the all-in-one module – the power and radio frequency noise the main unit generates is blocked by creating an independent structure within the player. The module slots in easily through the top, and there’s a double locking mechanism to ensure it securely connects.
Of course you can’t just swap any module in. The first compatible module to go on sale will be the SEM2 Asahi Kasei AK4497EQ Dual DAC, and that has the ability to go even further than the SEM1 with file playback up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM and native DSD512. Both modules support 2.5mm, 3.5mm and 4.4mm connections to grapple with a wider range of headphones and in-ear monitors, while there’s MQA capability via downloaded MQA audio files and through the Tidal music streaming service. Another DAC module will be released later in 2021, with another following in the first half of 2022.
The A&futura SE180 is the first model to boast Astell&Kern’s Teraton Alpha Sound Solution technology. This is designed for deliver audio playback close to the original sound by optimising the power signal, noise, signal conversion and circuit structure.
The SE180 is also the first A&K player to have a Full HD 1080p display, its 5-inch touchscreen delivering 441 ppi and 16.7 million colours. The user-interface has been revised to offer an experience consistent with an Android smartphone. Features include a new navigation bar pinned at the bottom for playback and track skipping, while a swipe returns to the previous screen. The volume wheel remains, and users can decipher volume level, file type and the current bit-rate thanks to the colour coded LED light on the wheel.
Onboard memory stands at 256GB and can be expanded to 1TB via a microSD slot. A black (or navy) case made out of Badalassi Carlo Minerva leather is available to keep the A&futura SE180 in good condition when you’re outside.
And in another first for A&K, the SE180 supports the AK File Drop feature for wirelessly transferring files through a PC, smartphone of FTP program located on the same network. The BT Sink function allows for connection to an external device over Bluetooth for high-quality playback on the SE180. Wireless connectivity extends to Bluetooth 5.0, with high-res aptX HD and LDAC codec support included.
All of that makes for a feature-packed portable player, but how much does it cost? The Astell&Kern A&futura SE180 with the SEM1 ESS ES9038PRO DAC module costs £1399 / $1499 / €1599 and goes on sale May 2021 on the A&K website. The optional SEM2 DAC with the Asahi Kasei AK4497EQ Dual DAC Module is priced at £319 / $349 / €379 and will also be available in May