Astell&Kern A&futura SE200 Digital Audio Player Page 2

The SE200 will play files at up to 384kHz/32-bit and DSD256, the volume control illumination changing colour according to the prevailing sample rate. It will do this from its internal memory, from a microSD card of up to 1TB, or via the USB DAC link using the player's USB-C input, for which a Windows driver can be downloaded from the company's website. Mac OSX users don't need a driver, but will need to download Android transfer software to load music onto the player. But you don't need to worry about firmware updates, of which there have been at least three since the player was launched last year, for these are done over the air using the SE200's Wi-Fi link.

sqnote Rise And Shine
Whichever 'source' you choose for your music, the sound is very good indeed, whether used with balanced or unbalanced headphones, or even connected straight into a main system. If you can avoid the temptation of all those deep menu options, the SE200 is an extraordinarily accomplished portable, whether out and about playing driving rock through lightweight headphones such as the B&W P5s, or at home with something soothing on Focal Clears [HFN Mar '18], or the original Oppo PM-1 headphones [HFN Jul '14] running in balanced mode.

Playing the 96kHz/24-bit release of Paul McCartney's McCartney III [Capitol/MPL 00602435136578], the combination of punch and detail in what is a well-weighted yet wide-open sound is highly attractive right from the opening 'Long Tailed Winter Bird'. Here the player controls the headphones with clean power in reserve, while with the dense sound of Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets' Live At The Haw River Ballroom [Yep Roc, n/a cat no; 48kHz/24-bit] it delivers good insight into the live performances while retaining all their vitality. And the player really shines when fed top-notch recordings, as is clear with the delicacy of Pieter van Loenen and Tobias Borsboom's recent set The Silence Between [TRPTK, TTK0058; DSD128].

Here the sound truly lives up to the label's claim of 'Extreme Definition Recordings'. The sheer resolution of both the violin and piano is spectacular, as is the way the SE200 player enables a good pair of headphones to envelop the listener in the soundscape, placing this and other performances in a highly realistic acoustic.


Explosive Power
That immediacy and power of the player – both in resolving the music and pumping it into the ears – is heard to fine effect with Nils Frahm's Tripping With… [Erased Tapes ERATP136CD; 96kHz/24-bit], where the relentless pulse of the electronica, offset by passages of quiet textures ('All Melody'), wraps up the listener in an almost mesmeric soundscape.

Even driving the demanding Oppo PM-1s, the A&futura SE200's combination of weight and space more or less makes the headphones melt away, leaving remarkably effective sonic pictures. This album sounds stunning, and this player, partnered with good headphones, delivers all that quality.

There's even all the power and speed required to make a very fine fist of large-scale orchestral works. Of late I've been revisiting Bernstein's Beethoven symphony cycle with the Vienna Philharmonic [DG 0289 479 7715 5], and the way the SE200 handles everything from the stately progress and explosive power of the second movement of the 7th to the soaring complexity of the 9th is exceptionally impressive. Even with headphones that sound big and rich, such as the B&W P9 Signature [HFN Mar '17], the player manages to deliver weight and substance without losing its lightness of touch, and the sound remains spacious and detailed, with that real 'listen in' quality.

Yes, this is unashamedly a luxurious piece of personal audio, and Astell&Kern will even sell you a leather case to protect your pricey asset for an additional £99, but it's by no means the most expensive in its manufacturer's range. For those wanting a high-quality player better suited to the rough and tumble of everyday use there are certainly more affordable alternatives. But rather like that old saw about not buying a Rolex when a Swatch will tell the time better for a fraction of the price, those wanting a player like the SE200 won't care a jot.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
This is probably the digital audio player for which the term 'over-engineered' was meant, but for all the design and tech overkill here, the SE200 remains an exceptional DAP both in quality of build and sonic performance. Ignore the temptations of those deep and complex menus: just let it do its stuff, and it'll work very well with a wide range of headphones, and even double as a DAC between your computer and your system.

Seoul, South Korea
Supplied by: Armour Home Electronics, Herts
01279 501111