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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.

Usability

Like the other AK DAP offerings, the SE200 runs on a highly customised variant of Android. While such customisation allows users a smooth, fluid musical playback experience, it also lacks Google Play Services. For those who play music from streaming services, the SE200 supports 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) with Deezer, TIDAL (without off-line storage support) V-Link apps pre-installed. Music streaming service apps validated by AK can be added via the Open APP service. At the time of writing, there is a total of 33 validated apps. For more information about the Open APP service, you can visit AK’s support page. Bluetooth codec wise, the DAP supports aptX HD. Similar to the SR25, the SE200’s support for Bluetooth 4.2 and not 5.0, as well as its lack of 5 GHz Wi-Fi, are chinks in the DAP’s amour.

Astell&Kern A&futura SE200

Equipped with an Octa-Core CPU, the SE200’s UI is responsive to touch with no app compatibility issues experienced during the review process. True to the philosophy of the A&futura line to pursue fundamentally different sound than those found in typical DAPs, the highlight of the SE200 is the multi-DAC set-up which AK claims to have spent twice the usual amount of time on development and tuning. It sports an amplifier circuit with independent sections designed and optimised to the respective DAC’s characteristics. The SE200 continues to separate the signals for balanced and unbalanced channels to minimise distortion and maximise performance, which I considered a standard implementation in any AK DAP offering. In a unique configuration of multi-DAC, this equals to two sets of independent balanced and unbalanced channels.

The SE200 delivers playback support up to 32-bit / 384 kHz with native DSD256 and MQA playback which in my opinion is a standard one can expect from AK’s future DAP offerings given the recent alignment of the A&norma series with the introduction of the SR25.

Astell&Kern A&futura SE200

With 256 GB of internal storage onboard, the SE200 offers twice the storage capacity of SE100 and matches that of the A&ultima SP1000M. And if 256 GB is insufficient, the device supports via its microSD slot external storage of up to 1TB, which is the largest capacity microSD card available at the time of this review.

Referencing the battery life of the SE200 from the device’s specifications, it does appear that the single AK4499EQ DAC draws more power than the pair of ES9068AS DACs with the former registering 10 hours of continuous playback and the latter registering 14 hours. These are based on the following parameters; FLAC, 16-bit / 44.1kHz, 3.5 mm single-ended, Volume 50, EQ OFF, LCD OFF. Using the same parameters, we registered an average battery life over three cycles of testing of 11 hours, 23 mins, and 6 seconds on the AKM and 15 hours, 1 min and 24 seconds on the ESS.

Like all good DAPs, the SR25 can be used as a USB-DAC, supporting up to 24 bit / 192 kHz and DSD256, a feature that will allow one to experience an enhanced audio experience when working on the PC, be it a laptop or desktop, by simply connecting it to the DAP via USB.

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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