Astell & Kern, highly decorated maker of premium portable high-resolution audio devices, has just introduced the SE180 portable music player. It is the third model in the company's A&futura series following the inaugural A&futura SE100 and SE200, both of which gained What Hi-Fi? Awards in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
For 2021 however, Astell & Kern is trying something new: the SE180 is its first player to feature interchangeable DAC modules.
Expanding on the multi-DAC innovation first introduced with the SE200, music fans can now customise the sound with different audio-flavoured DACs to find the sonics that best suit their ears.
Furthermore, A&K says the A&futura SE180 is the company’s most advanced player yet. It is the first model to boast the firm's new Teraton Alpha Sound Solution technology, promising improved audio, an enhanced user interface and advanced connectivity.
The South Korean digital audio specialist says the new user interface is "more consistent with an Android smartphone experience". There's also AK File Drop for easier wireless file transfers, BT Sink function for simpler connection of the SE180 to an external Bluetooth device, and, of course, that innovative interchangeable DAC design to boast a new level of audio flexibility for the user.
By physically separating the main body from the all-in-one module, A&K claims that any power and radio frequency noise generated by the main unit is completely blocked. The DAC module should slot easily into place from the top of the player and features a pioneering double-locking mechanism that promises to securely connect each component.
But you don't have to buy a separate digital-to-analogue converter to get the new SE180 up and running. The A&futura SE180 arrives with a default 8-channel module, the SEM1 ESS ES9038PRO. And it's no slouch – audio file support is comprehensive, with the SEM1 DAC capable of playing up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM and native DSD256 files.
Want to start customising and upgrading though? The SEM2 Asahi Kasei AK4497EQ Dual DAC will be the first optional module available at launch, with the ability to play files up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM and native DSD512.
Both modules support 2.5mm, 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphones connections for accommodating a greater variety of headphones and in-ears, while there is support for MQA playback via downloaded MQA audio files and Tidal.
A&K says the next DAC module will be released later in the year, with another model following in the first half of 2022.
Otherwise, the The A&futura SE180 features a Full HD 5-inch screen, the smooth, aluminium casework and rotary volume dial we've come to expect from Astell & Kern devices, plus a 256GB on-board memory that can be expanded up to 1TB via a microSD card slot.
The Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 with the SEM1 ESS ES9038PRO DAC module is priced £1399 ($1499, AU$2099, €1599) and will be available from May. The optional Astell&Kern SEM2 DAC (Asahi Kasei AK4497EQ Dual DAC Module) is priced £319 ($349, AU$499, €379) and will also be available from May.
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