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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Astell&Kern A&futura SE200 Review

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Goh Beng Yeow
Goh Beng Yeow, the Founder / Editor at Porta-Fi™, is a recipient of the IT Youth Award in Singapore. Twice nominated for EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, Beng Yeow has previously founded startups such as PDALive.com, Coded Pixels Consultants and was a Tech writer for TODAY, a national daily newspaper under MediaCorp. Since 2017, he has been writing, editing and producing commentaries, interviews, news and reviews on Porta-Fi™. In 2019, Beng Yeow was appointed Advisor to LHDC™, the industry's latest low latency and high-definition Bluetooth audio codec.

The Astell&Kern (AK) A&futura SE200 is the second offering in the South Korean manufacturer’s A&futura line of Digital Audio Players (DAPs). Positioned between the entry-level A&norma line and the state-of-the-art A&ultima line, the A&futura line represents a premium line with advanced features that bring the original performance to life, as shared by the brand.

Astell&Kern has always been an innovative brand, responsible for introducing the World’s first Dual DAC DAP, the AK120 in 2013. Last year, it became the first to feature more than two DACs in a DAP with the introduction of the SE200.

Design & Build

Inspired by the Roman god Janus, the SE200 is accented by elements of two-ways. The device sports two independent pairs of 2.5 mm balanced and 3.5 mm single-end audio output jacks on the top of the device, the union of two symmetrical curves by a divided volume wheel design and the two different sound signatures characterised using a single AK4499EQ from Asahi Kasei Microdevices (AKM) and a pair of ES9068AS from ESS Technology (ESS). Let us take a moment to explain why AK used a single AK4499EQ and a pair of ES9068AS for the SE200. 4-channels are required to provide a balanced output. The AK4499EQ is a 4-channel DAC while the ES9068AS is a 2-channel DAC; therefore, two ES9068AS is needed while a single AK4499EQ will suffice.

Astell&Kern A&futura SE200

The brand has always been proud of the design of its products and, in particular, its DAPs, which have gained accreditation from different International Industrial Design Awards. These designs often provide challenges to engineering processes needed to realize them; the SE200 is no different. Traditionally, the creation of AK products revolves around a combination of many straight lines. The SE200’s adaptation of three-dimensional curves while maintaining its trapezoidal shape identity is a first on a production model coupled with ceramic material use to the player’s top and rear further cements the A&futura’s status as the most experimental line amongst the brand’s DAP product lines. The use of ceramic material provides the player with a more premium feel and improves wireless network performance.

Measuring at 76.9 mm (W) x 132.2 mm (H) x 15.8 mm (D), the SE200 is slightly larger and is 33 grams heavier than the SE100. This, however, is not unexpected as the former combines three DACs with independent amplifier sections to match the different characteristics of the AKM and ESS DACs. Like the SE100, the SE200 sports a 5 inch (720 x 1,280) touchscreen.

Astell&Kern A&futura SE200

Embedded on the right is the volume wheel with a LED ring at the base indicating music playback information, including volume range, bit-rate of the track currently playing, and the current DAC configuration used. On the left are the four physical buttons facilitating the power button followed by the playback control for Previous Track / Rewind, Play / Pause, Next Track / Forward in top-down order. At the bottom are a USB-C port for charging and data when transferring audio files from an external device or using the DAP as a USB-DAC and the microSD card slot.

The SE200 exhibits excellent build quality and intricate finishing, which one would expect from the brand. Like the SR25, it sports a screwless design that can identify with AK at a glance. The DAP is available in ‘Moon Silver.’

Part 1: Introduction, Design & Build
Part 2: Usability
Part 3: Sound Quality
Part 4: Product Specifications
Part 5: Review Ratings, Summary

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