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Astell & Kern A&futura SE180
Foto © Astell & Kern

Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 – DAP with modular multi-DAC concept

Not only is it already the third DAP that Astell & Kern is introducing in the so-called Astell & Kern A&futura Line, it is also said to be a particularly innovative solution that comes up with the latest technologies, according to iRiver Ltd. about the Astell & Kern A&futura SE180.

Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 is the name of the latest offspring of the specialist iRiver Ltd. brand Astell & Kern, which is presented in the so-called Astell & Kern A&futura Line. The company refers to this as a portable hi-res audio player, which appears as a particularly innovative solution.

Once again, everything has been done to combine the highest quality and simple operation in an elegant form.

The DNA of the A&futura Line

The Astell & Kern A&futura Line was developed to provide a premium series of portable hi-res audio players that give the user the opportunity to enjoy music in its most elegant form. This product line should be able to completely fulfil the high demands of Premium HiFi in the field of personal audio devices.

The new Astell & Kern A&futura SE180, which also boasts some particularly exciting new features, is seen as part of precisely this tradition.

Astell & Kern A&futura SE180, the third of the bunch

The new Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 is, as already mentioned, the third model in the current Astell & Kern A&futura Line. The manufacturer refers to the fact that this new solution was developed based on the concept of the Astell & Kern A&futura SE200, albeit in a slightly modified form.

Multi-DAC Concept

The Astell & Kern A&futura SE200 presented itself as the world’s first multi-DAC DAP, a solution that is not only equipped with one D/A converter, but with two, from different manufacturers. This makes it possible to use two completely individual sound characteristics, simply at the push of a button.

The new Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 is a little different, although it also relies on the aforementioned multi-DAC concept.

The Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 goes one step further, because it has a modular design, which means that the complete DAC module including the amp module, i.e. the output stage, can be exchanged.

Astell & Kern SEM1

The new Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 is equipped ex works with a module that uses an ESSES9038PRO 8-channel DAC that can process signals with up to 32 bits and 384 kHz in linear PCM format, as well as DSD up to DSD256 natively. This module is called the Astell & Kern SEM1 All-in-One Module. It can also process the lossy MQA.

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The output stage can handle both unbalanced and balanced connections, so that in addition to a 3.5 mm jack connection for unbalanced headphones, a 2.5 mm jack and 4.4 mm jack are available for balanced connections to the headphones.

Astell & Kern SEM2

As an alternative, the manufacturer offers another option for the Astell & Kern A&futura SE180, the so-called Astell & Kern SEM2 All-in-One Module. This module is based on a dual DAC design based on AKM AK4497EQ from Asahi Kasei. This DAC is able to process signals with up to 32 bits and 768 kHz in Linear PCM, as well as DSD including DSD512 natively. It also supports content encoded in lossy MQA.

Of course, the Astell & Kern SEM2 All-in-One module also features the output stage, which provides separate amp modules for unbalanced as well as balanced processing of the audio signals in order to achieve the best possible signal separation as well as the highest signal fidelity in terms of detail and dynamics.

The manufacturer refers to both modules as Next Generation Amp Technology, which has also been given a new name.

Astell & Kern TERATON ALPHA Sound Solution

The new Astell & Kern TERATON ALPHA Sound Solution is not only the actual amplifier circuitry, but also the audio interface between the D/A converter and the amplifier, as well as the power supply of the amplifier stage.

Astell & Kern TERATON ALPHA Sound Solution is Astell & Kern’s ultimate sound solution for creating faithful audio reproduction through effective noise reduction, efficient power consumption and uncompromising amplification via the audio output interface, the company says of this new technology.

Wireless HiFi Sound via BT Sink

The new Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 can of course contact the outside world via Bluetooth, using Bluetooth 5.0 in the form of a module from Qualcomm.

This not only provides aptX and aptX HD, but also LDAC. In the simplest case, the signal transmission is in “CD quality”, but it reaches up to 24 bit and 48 kHz via aptX HD or even 24 bit and 96 kHz if LDAC is used.

A special feature in this context is the new BT Sink function, which the manufacturer calls Wireless HiFi Sound.

Smartphones can be connected to the Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 via Bluetooth in order to use the high-quality DAC including the output stage of the portable hi-res player.

WiFi for network streaming

WiFi is also a must, of course, with an IEEE 802.11n module. This allows direct access to various services such as TIDAL or Qobuz, although the corresponding apps must of course be adapted and released for use by the developers at Astell & Kern.

It is interesting that Astell & Kern now not only enables network access via UPnP as a dlna-certified streaming client, but also offers the AK File Drop function to allow so-called wireless file transfer via WiFi. In principle, FTP enables data exchange with a PC or Mac via a wireless network.

A few more technical details…

The internal memory of the new Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 is equipped with 256 GByte NAND, for audio data an extension via microSD cards is provided, which can have a storage capacity of up to 1 TByte.

In addition to the “wireless” connections already mentioned, a USB-C interface is of course also available.

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Generous display

Of course, the new Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 also features a generously dimensioned display at the centre of the operating concept. This is a 5-inch Full HD display with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. The manufacturer also brings into play the high pixel density of 441 ppi and the brilliant colour display with 16.7 million colours.

A newly designed user interface, first and foremost a newly designed navigation bar, is intended to make operation even more intuitive than before, according to the manufacturer’s promise.

In this context, it should be said that Google Android is of course used at the core, but the user will not notice a thing. Only the aforementioned user interface from Astell & Kern is presented to them. This also leads to the fact that, as already mentioned, you cannot simply install any apps, but are solely dependent on those approved by Astell & Kern. This is what the manufacturer calls the Astell & Kern Open APP Service.

Rotary encoder with LED

The rotary encoder on the side of the new Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 is not only used to control the volume, it also indicates via LED illumination which audio signals are being played. Whether the content is in Linear PCM with 16 bit, 24 bit or 32 bit or DSD is visualised by different colours.

Elegant design

Once again, the new Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 has to be emphasised for its extremely successful design, which in a proven manner has a certain futuristic touch, thus living up to its name.

The case is of course made of aluminium and presents itself for the most part in a chic silver tone. The manufacturer refers to it as Moon Silver, although the back is black.

The new Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 measures 77 mm wide, 137.2 mm high and 19.9 mm deep. Thus, this solution weighs just 280 g, including the DAC or amp module, it is still only 380 g. Ideal, therefore, for carrying this DAP with you day in, day out.

Powerful battery

The Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 uses a 3,800 mAh 3.8 V lithium-polymer battery that offers sufficient performance for hours of music enjoyment. Of course, it is charged via the aforementioned USB-C interface, whereby charging takes around five hours with 5 V 2 A and three hours via Fast Charge with 9 V 1.67 A. The battery is charged via the USB-C interface.

Getting to the point

The new Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 is the latest addition to the Astell & Kern A&futura Line, and it has a number of special features. The new Astell & Kern A&futura SE180 also offers the multi-DAC concept, but in modular form. This means that the user can adapt the sound of the DAP to his or her wishes via optional D/A and amplifier modules. All these modules are supposed to feature the new Astell & Kern TERATORN ALPHA Audio Technology for highest sound fidelity and thus guarantee Premium HiFi on-the-road.

Manufacturer:iRiver Ltd.
Distribution:Audio Tuning Vertriebs GmbH
Price:US$ 1.499,-

About Michael Holzinger

Michael Holzinger, founder and editor-in-chief of HiFi BLOG and sempre-audio.com, has been working for years as a journalist in the fields of IT, photography, telecommunications and consumer electronics.

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