Astell&Kern A&futura SE180 Features Replaceable DAC Module
Astell&Kern invites you to “shape your sound” with its modular DAC-equipped A&futura SE180 digital audio player.
Astell&Kern's all-new A&futura SE180 is packing several firsts for the range. The headline feature is a removable, replaceable and upgradable DAC module helping you tailor the performance and sound signature to your own taste.
The A&futura SE180 expands on the multiDAC innovation first introduced with the SE200 and ushers in Astell&Kern's patented TERATON ALPHA Sound Solution technology. This new tech effectively removes power noise and provides efficient power consumption and amplification through the audio output interface stage, where the digital-to-analogue signal conversion takes place, boasts the company.
The SE180 also features an enhanced user interface design and a full HD display, and added advanced connectivity functionality.
The A&futura SE180's standard DAC module is the SEM1 which features an ESS ES9038PRO 8-channel DAC traditionally used for premium home audio equipment. Astell&Kern states that this DAC provides a wider dynamic range and greater detail, along with extensive high-resolution file support up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM and native DSD256 files.
The first optional DAC module, available at launch, is the SEM2 loaded with the Asahi Kasei AK4497EQ Dual DAC. We assume that AKM is up and running and back to full strength after the catastrophic factory fire five months ago. The AK4497EQ can play files up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM and native DSD512. Another module is planned for later in the year, with a further one coming in the first half of 2022, we are told.
The first two modules support 2.5mm, 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphone connections and MQA support for locally stored files and playback via TIDAL. We are wondering if there could be different headphone port options coming with the next wave of DACs.
The hidden bonus to the DAC being in a removable module is that it has been physically separated from the main body meaning that power and radio frequency (RF) noise generated by the main unit is completely blocked.
HD SCREEN/ NEW UI
The A&futura SE180's user interface has been enhanced and will undoubtedly look rather excellent given the unit's 5-inch, 1920x1080, 441 PPI full HD touchscreen display which also promises to make album artwork “pop”.
Offering navigation more closely akin to an Android device, you will notice a new navigation bar pinned at the bottom of the screen, enabling you to control playback and skip tracks from any screen. Meanwhile, a single swipe returns to the previous screen. However, the neat LED status light around the volume wheel still denotes volume level, file type and bitrate being played.
The A&futura SE180 is the first model to feature AK File Drop for easier wireless file transfers. Here you can wirelessly transfer files through a PC, smartphone, or FTP program located on the same network to make music management even more convenient.
Additionally, the newly introduced BT Sink function connects the A&futura SE180 to an external device, such as your smartphone, via Bluetooth, enabling you to take advantage of the Astell&Kern's DAC while playing from your phone's library.
Also, there's Bluetooth 5.0 with support for 24-bit aptX HD and LDAC codecs, as well as 256GB of onboard memory, which can be expanded up to 1TB via a microSD card slot.
There will also be a leather case available in Black or Navy, made from swanky Badalassi Carlo Minerva leather, which goes through a traditional Italian tanning method that's been around for a couple of centuries.
The Astell&Kern A&futura SE180 (with SEM1 ESS ES9038PRO DAC module) is priced at US$1,499 with the optional Astell&Kern SEM2 DAC (Asahi Kasei AK4497EQ Dual DAC Module) costing US$349.
WHAT WE THINK
Modular hi-fi, whether the portable or stay-at-home kind, will always get our thumbs up. Not only does it offer a range of options to the end-user, but it also gives a sense of futureproofing. With the SE180's DAC module, not only can you swap between AK and ESS chipsets, as the technology develops the assumption is that you can then upgrade the convertor module without having to upgrade the entire player. However, there is a caveat here and we have seen it played out with the promise of modular mobile phones - the company and/or third parties have to support it for at least a few years to make it viable. Thankfully, it appears that Astell&Kern has a roadmap including module releases next year. We shall be watching with interest!
StereoNET’s resident rock star, bass player, and gadget junkie. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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