This is my review of the A&futura SE100. This is a very high quality high resolution, portable digital music player from Astell & Kern’s middle range of players. The fact it is near fifteen hundred pounds and is mid range tells you most of what you need to know about this fabulous piece of equipment. I managed to get hold of the ‘mid range’ A&futura SE100 at the launch of the high end A&ultima SP1000M earlier this month. The full range of Astell & Kern products are segmented as described with A&norma being at the lower end of the range, it is all very intuitive when you think of it.
The player is designed wonderfully in my view. The trapezoidal shape of the player fits perfectly in a mobile hand and it makes me wonder why mobile phones are not more ergonomic rather than the standard bar of soap. But, being lovely and ergonomic does not mean it is not slippery in the hand and a leather cover, I would suggest, would be a really good move here.
The player feels solid, not weighty but you can certainly feel it in your pocket, as opposed to a mobile phone. There are three buttons on the left hand grip of the player, pause, skip, repeat, that you can access with your fingers and a large volume crown (knob) on the right that you can easily access with your thumb (if you’re right handed). The headphone out is on top with the power button and there is the option of balanced output if you have this available, for an even better sound.
On the bottom of the player is the USB C charging point and a micro SD slot that supports the big ones,
mine is 128GB but it goes up to 400GB apparently. When you insert the CD card the player automatically reads the contents and finds the album stuff, artists, etc. The artwork is lovely on the digital display, by the way.
When the device is turned on the start up is not fast and the device is locked in Andriod, with A&Ks nice little touches, like a revolving A on the startup screen. Thereafter all of the interaction is pretty good, you get used to the annoyances after a while, some of which A&K fixed at the launch of the A&ultima SP1000M; for example there is a proper, intuitive back button in the new software.
A&futura SE100 Specification
From the site
Body Color: Titan Silver
Body Material: Aluminium
Display: 5 inch (720 x 1280) Touchscreen
Supported Audio Formats: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF
Sample Rate: PCM: 8kHz ~ 384kHz (8/16/24/32 bits per Sample) / DSD Native: DSD64 (1 bit 11.2MHz); Stereo/DSD128 (1 bit 5.6MHZ); Stereo/DSD256 (1 bit 11.2MHz)
Output Level: Unbalance 2.0 Vrms (Condition No Load)
DAC: ESS SABRE ES9038PRO 8channel
Decoding: Support up to 32 bit/384kHz Bit to Bit Decoding
Input: USB 3.0 Type-C input (for charging & data transfer (PC & MAC))/Connection Mode: MTP (Media Device)
Outputs: PHONES (3.5mm)/Optical Out (3.5mm)/Balanced Out (2.5mm, only 4-pole supported)
Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz)
Bluetooth: V4.1 (A2DP, AVRCP, aptX HD)
I’m using the very excellent ACS Evolve in ear buds with 3 drivers. They are not balanced but we can’t have it all. They are certainly able to reveal the resolution and sound quality of this product. Apart from that I have some other headphones I’m familiar with for podcasts, etc.
I didn’t get the box or anything with this, it is not a new product. Fortunately, I have the USB C fast charging charger from my Pixel 2 phone so charging is pretty prompt (3 hours from 3% to 100% here). The battery seems to me to be OK, they claim 11 hours or so and this is about right in my experience. Once the album is selected you just turn off the display and adjust the volume with the crown, I’ve not charged it up much despite walking a couple of hours a day recently.
AK Connect to networked Server
There is a feature called AK Connect on the player. It basically uses your WiFi to access any networked music you may have. I have been playing 24 bit recordings from my own networked music server very happily indeed, the resolution of the player is really extremely impressive with the ACS Evolve.
Tidal is embedded in the Android software here, it is fine and works well but you can’t download music for offline listening which is something I do often (or I can’t find the download button in this version of Tidal?) However, I have no complaints, again the standout feature is the resolution of he player. You can access Tidal in the store menu and other streaming services are available from a settings menu. There’s an update on streaming services here, it is not clear to me how you would get Deezer, for example, although I would be sure your retailer will be able to help out. It looks like you can download Tidal here, so I’ll have a go at that, see Comments below if I’m successful.
Micro SD, incl. MQA and DSD formats
The best feature of this player, and others, is the ability to transport and swap around your music where you need it. The micro SD slot is at the bottom of the player which may generate some anxiety but it needn’t. I have a selection of MQA, DSD, FLAC and other 24 bit hi resolution tracks all of which bounce around beautifully with this player. If you have the chance to listen to ‘K’ by Cigarettes after Sex listen out for the guitar picks near the beginning to get an appreciation of the resolution of this player, it is really quite magical. Overall, I’ll say later, this is a very vibrant music player and I have been very privileged to have this for a couple of weeks.
The player has 128GB of storage internally anyway that you access via a free generic USB Android file transfer mechanism, I’ve done this with my MAC, it is very easy (I have the USB A-C lead).
I’ve got a nice pair of wireless Focal Sparks on review at the moment (review to follow). They pair seamlessly and although they are, let’s say, entry level, they demonstrate the performance of the Bluetooth feature, which is good. I have mainly used this combination for non critical listening on the move and the Bluetooth is fine with good connectivity with the player in your pocket etc.
I have had a quick play with this to my Naim Uniti2, it sounds great, just using 3.5mm line input. I do have to turn the volume up a fraction to near 115 but it is not a big deal, I’ve been in the 80s for critical listening.
As I have already said, this is a bright and wonderfully vibrant music player. It seems to me to be particularly flexible with any networked music server and the Tidal is good. The standout point of this player is the unparalleled detail and uncluttered presentation. I would really like to buy on of these I have to say. The A&futura SE100 is retailing near £1,500 in the UK.
Micro SD slot
It had two micro SD slots
It is a bit expensive for me, I’d buy it if I had the money though