Chop and change
Hi-Fi Choice|November 2021
A&K’s ongoing mission to provide buyers with a range of choices reaches new heights. Ed Selley gets his modules out
Ed Selley

DETAILS

PRODUCT Astell&Kern A&futura SE180

ORIGIN South Korea

TYPE Digital Audio Player

WEIGHT 380g

DIMENSIONS (WxHxD) 77 x 137 x 20mm

FEATURES

32-bit/384kHz & DSD-capable

ESS DAC with add-on AKG Module

Quoted battery life: 10.5 hours

256GB internal storage

DISTRIBUTOR Armour Home Electronics

WEBSITE astellnkern.com

Astell&Kern is the biggest fish in the relatively small pond of portable audio players; a market that was forever changed by the rise of the smartphone. Not content with competing in all the existing subcategories of portable player, its recent efforts seem to have centred on creating new ones to participate in. As well as the KANN Alpha we saw in HFC 473 that functions as a sort of portable headphone amplifier, the other area of innovation has been giving owners a choice of digital decoding. We first saw this in the SE200 (HFC 467), which has two DACs built in, and now the company has unveiled the A&futura SE180, its second model with this functionality

The SE180 goes about offering this choice in a slightly different way to the SE200. For starters, it’s less expensive and this reflects that it’s rather less complex internally as there’s only a single DAC. This is an ESS 9038PRO, which can handle PCM files up to 24-bit/384kHz and DSD natively to 256. One advantage of slimming down to the one DAC is that the SE180 mimics the KANN Alpha in having three available connections; the conventional 3.5mm, a four pole 2.5mm balanced connector and a 4.4mm Pentaconn output; both of which can output to XLR as well.

The flexibility comes in the form of two small catches at the top of the chassis. Depress them both and pull firmly under a tiny lip on the top of the backplate and the top part of SE180 comes away, taking the ESS DAC with it. You can then – so long as you have parted with the prerequisite £319 – replace it with the SEM 2 module. This contains a pair of AKM AK4497EQ DACs that have PCM handling to 768kHz and DSD512 capability available to the same three connections. Although this may sound like a more complex means of achieving what the SE200 already does, A&K explains that more DAC modules are in the works, which would make the SE180 uniquely flexible.

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