It’s moderately outstanding that there’s a market in 2022 for $3,000 DAPs (Digital Audio Gamers) with billions of sensible telephones within the arms of shoppers across the globe, however the section has demonstrated a resilience that drives producers like Astell&Kern to push the envelope each two or three years. The Korean producer has sat upon the Iron Throne for greater than a decade and whereas different manufacturers have managed to say the mantle for a couple of months — A&Okay at all times appears to discover a approach to reclaim its management over the DAP class. In the event you thought that the SP2000 was a formidable piece of digital playback hardware — the brand new Astell& Kern A&ultima SP3000 is a major leap ahead.
Due to Invixion, the American distributor for A&Okay, we had been in a position to get an advance have a look at the SP3000 DAP and it was not a joyous day when it needed to get shipped again.
Think about having to ship a Maserati Grecale SUV with a Sonus faber loudspeaker system again to Italy after two weeks of enjoyable within the mountains. The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 is actually extra inexpensive than an car, however its affect on my music loving soul was equally as significant.
They clearly took benefit of the pandemic to hunker down and design the subsequent technology of DAPs that push the envelope.
Critics throughout the Head-Fi group will bemoan the economic design and kind manufacturing facility which appears strikingly acquainted — however the inner variations are important and having spent the higher a part of two years listening to the SP2000 that it replaces, there isn’t a query that Astell&Kern have moved the aim posts into the parking zone for the competitors.
Our pattern of the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 was despatched to Invixion for commerce reveals in This autumn 2022 and was the not the official “retail” model of the DAP that customers can now buy. We solely obtained the DAP and charging cable as a result of the ultimate packaging was not prepared and we had been restricted to 2 weeks of listening time earlier than the unit needed to be shipped again for the forthcoming CanJam SoCal.
But it surely was two weeks very nicely spent.
The SP3000 appears to be like similar to the SP2000 ($3,499), and you want to place them side-by-side to totally notice what differentiates one from the opposite. The commercial design may be very shut however the SP3000 is most actually bigger and it feels extra substantial in your hand.
Astell&Kern made the choice to change to 904L chrome steel for the chassis; 904L is a particularly powerful materials to machine but additionally one which demonstrates excessive ranges of toughness and resistance to corrosion. The fabric is favored by high-end watch makers for his or her luxurious and moderately costly time items.
904L chrome steel has greater than 20% chromium and 20% nickel which affect its energy and corrosion resistance and in addition permits 904L to take a mirror polish and hold it practically indefinitely.
The flip facet of that’s Astell&Kern should put that rather more effort into machining and the sharpening the metal and people prices must be absorbed. At first look, the chassis appeared prefer it was chrome plated versus being polished metallic as a result of the floor has such a clear mirrored wanting end.
This must be a really laborious gadget to scratch which will likely be excellent news to these keen to spend $3,699.95 USD on the SP3000.
Most DAP customers add a case to their gadget to guard them as a result of they do get scratched and nicked up — SP3000 customers will probably need to present them off whereas listening and depend on the brand new end.
The exterior design is basically the identical because the SP2000 with the USB Kind-C port and spring loaded micro-SD slot on the underside, three management buttons on the left facet, and the amount wheel on the best.
The massive adjustments are on the highest panel which now presents 3.55mm, 4.4mm, and a pair of.5mm headphone jacks, and the face of the DAP that now sports activities a 5.46-inch 1920 x 1080 HD show.
We first noticed the addition of the 4.4mm headphone jack on the SP2000T DAP when it was launched.
The highest floor not options the glass plate design of the SP2000 and is a part of the chassis as soon as once more — one thing that’s seemingly so as to add to the sturdiness of the unit.
Just like the SP2000, the crown-patterned quantity wheel operates because the on/off swap with an extended press required to show the participant on/off and customers now see a affirmation display screen to keep away from any unintended shutdown of the unit whereas listening.
A brief press of the button turns off the show which is advisable as a result of leaving it on with drain the battery.
The amount wheel has sufficient resistance to really feel stable however continues to be simple sufficient to work with a single finger and offers loads of vary whatever the headphone or earphones getting used with its 150 steps.
The three button association on the left facet operates the monitor ahead, play/pause, and monitor backward operation whereas listening. All 3 have sufficient resistance to stop unintended adjustments and now function a tactile click on which is useful when controlling the DAP when it’s inside your pocket.
The exterior adjustments to the economic design are certainly moderately minimal, however the engine and DAC that drive the Astell&Kern A&Ultima SP3000 have skilled a significant improve.
The DAP now includes a Snapdragon 6125 octa-core processor with 8 gigabytes of reminiscence and 256GB of storage. The 6125 integrates the processor, communication processing, and RAM right into a single module, which permits A&Okay to isolate the working system parts from the audio path.
The micro-SD card slot helps as much as 2TB playing cards for added file storage, and with 802.11ac wi-fi assist, the SP3000 DAP is now higher outfitted to assist hi-res streaming.
The center of the SP3000 is a brand new DAC chip that was launched by AKM on the 2022 Excessive-Finish Munich Present. There are literally 6 chips within the new design; the SP3000 makes use of two 4191 chips that deal with filtering and the Delta/Sigma processes, every of which feed two 4499ex chips that deal with the digital to analog conversion.
Some will keep in mind that AKM skilled a devastating fireplace at their fabrication facility a couple of years again; the bulletins in April highlighted that they’re again in manufacturing, and that they’d used the day off to revamp and enhance their DACs. The 4499 obtained the most important replace with A&Okay’s engineers working with their counterparts at AKM to optimize it for the SP3000 and different forthcoming merchandise.
Splitting the method into two chips permits AKM to decrease the quantity of digital noise that results in the analog portion of the method and in addition permits for decoupling the conversion so a single chip can maintain the ΔΣ and filtering after which ship every channel to a separate chip for conversion to analog.
AKM’s documentation lists an A weighted SNR of 135dB per channel with a THD of -124dB; these outcomes usually are not an enormous enchancment from the 134dB of the unique 4499 chip, nevertheless it nonetheless represents top-of-the-line measuring DACs thus far.
32-bit/768kHz PCM assist has been the higher restrict for many DACs, however the brand new 4191/4499ex mixture contained in the SP3000 helps 64-bit/1563kHz PCM and 44.8Mhz DSD (DSD1024).
Earlier than anybody will get too enthusiastic about that, the SP3000 is restricted to 32-bit/768kHz PCM, DSD512, and it does decode MQA.
Not that there’s any music at the moment out there that goes past that and let’s not overlook that lower than 10% (maybe 12-15% in keeping with the oldsters at Qobuz) of all out there digital music is above 16-bit/44.1kHz.
What you need is a DAC that makes the music that’s out there to you now sound its greatest and the SP3000 succeeds at that job in a really significant means.
No person will likely be streaming above the present limits for years to return so getting obsessed over any future limitations is sort of foolish.
This new separation of duties offers the SP3000 the best SNR of any moveable DAP thus far and true twin mono paths by the DAP with full separation of the digital and analog domains.
Astell&Kern have additionally built-in pure silver shielding to stop any noise from the digital area getting into the analog outputs.
Every 4499ex feeds a Teraton Alpha amplifier module once more preserving every channel distinct and remoted; many DAPs mix the indicators to provide the one ended output and balanced outputs from the identical circuitry, however the SP3000 dedicates one pair of paths to balanced outputs and the opposite pair of paths to the single-ended output once more ensuring no noise is launched to both path by the opposite.
Bluetooth has been up to date to model 5.0 with aptX HD and LDAC assist along with SBC. Rumors of a attainable firmware replace to assist Bluetooth aptX adaptive weren’t confirmed by A&Okay however we’ll replace the evaluation after we obtain correct details about that.
The SP3000 includes a 5050mAh battery (up from 3700 within the SP2000) that offers roughly 10 hours per cost. The A&Okay DAP helps the fast cost function utilizing a 2.1 amp charger which permits a full recharge in 3 hours; utilizing a typical charger takes roughly 9 hours.
In the event you check out the present crop of DAPs, you’ll discover that the majority are using an open Android OS — Astell&Kern have chosen to make use of a scaled again model.
Astell&Kern believes that stripping again the working system improves the battery efficiency, does much less harm to the music throughout playback, and offers for a greater consumer expertise as a result of it allows them to curate the checklist of supported apps and streaming providers to make sure compatibility and ease of use.
All of that sounds cheap however how does it truly work in apply?
Beginning up the unit takes about 20 seconds with the Astell&Kern brand displayed on display screen because it masses. As soon as accomplished, the consumer is greeted by the primary playback display screen. It’s nicely laid out and with the massive show, the display screen doesn’t seem cluttered and touching the assorted controls is straightforward even with my massive arms.
Throughout playback, the highest half the display screen reveals the embedded cowl artwork and the decrease half shows the playback controls and the working system buttons. Tapping the album artwork takes the consumer to the lyrics if out there, whereas swiping left or proper will advance the monitor or go backward to the earlier one.
The file kind, bit depth and sampling charge can all be clearly seen between the paintings and the title together with a coronary heart icon for including a tune to the favorites playlist.
Navigation to different menus is dealt with by urgent “A” within the higher left nook of the display screen or by swiping the primary display screen proper which opens a listing of varied choices.
All the music search choices supply additional customization and permit customers to determine how and what they search for. Folder view and MQS present alternate views of the information both by location or high quality as nicely, and CD-library works with the A&Okay Ripper to immediately load CDs onto the participant.
The AK Ripper helps both FLAC or WAV; including further storage could also be wanted if copying ones complete CD assortment to the DAP which can run out of area.
The “providers” and “settings” tabs open up a a lot wider vary of choices together with entry to streaming platforms; the SP3000 works at the side of the Open APP service and permits customers to load the assorted streaming providers.
TIDAL comes pre-installed and 30 different streaming platform choices can be found; the method, nevertheless, isn’t as simple as simply choosing them out of the shop and requires setup and rebooting of the gadget if the app doesn’t load or work correctly.
In the event you load APK information not on Astell&Kern’s authorised checklist, they won’t enable you to ought to they not work accurately and it’s possible you’ll wind up having to manufacturing facility default the participant to take away the offending app.
For the evaluation, I downloaded Amazon, Spotify, iHeart Radio, TIDAL, Qobuz, Apple Music, and Soundcloud. I used APK so as to add Bandcamp as nicely. The SP3000 doesn’t assist TIDAL in “offline” mode which is one thing to concentrate on.
The settings menu has lots of sub menus and generally is a bit formidable to type by; a lot of the choices individuals steadily use will be accessed by way of the notification bar on the prime of the display screen, which does assist with how rapidly you’ll be able to find them.
The notification bar permits toggling between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, enabling the EQ, altering USB mode, enabling AK Join, and tuning on/off a number of the different modes.
One main new change is that Astell&Kern have made all 6 digital filters accessible; that choice didn’t exist on the SP2000 DAP. The EQ choices on the A&Okay DAPs have been a number of the better of any DAP; the default mode presents a 20 band EQ and there’s a sophisticated quasi-parametric EQ (the bandwidth is mounted). Accessing 6 filters and the EQ permits listeners to actually experiment with the sound and discover a steadiness that they like.
The training curve will be considerably steep with the UI however it’s actually worthwhile to be taught the entire settings and dig by the menus to search out every part. In the event you plan on utilizing a number of streaming platforms, it’s considerably disappointing that the apps usually are not native and that you must dig for them.
The best means to make use of the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 is by plugging a pair of headphones or IEMs into one of many 3 headphone jacks and hitting play on the gadget.
Wi-fi headphones and earphones take a minute or two to pair earlier than hitting play, however the course of was painless and the show lets the consumer know the way they’re related; my Sony XM5 had been paired by way of LDAC, whereas the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 used Bluetooth aptX HD (adaptive doesn’t have its personal brand).
The SP3000 will also be used as a USB DAC/Amplifier by connecting the USB port to a supply gadget; one may use the SP3000 as a digital transport by connecting the DAP utilizing the USB port to an exterior DAC.
In both case, the USB mode must be set by way of the notification panel to verify the mode is right; connecting the DAP to a PC in default mode, exposes the storage as drive area.
The three.5mm port additionally serves as a line out for connecting to an exterior amplifier or PA system — simply watch out by no means to allow this mode with a headphone connected as harm to the headphone and the listener will seemingly ensue.
For $3,699 USD, the Astell&Kern SP3000 must be the “greatest” within the class as a result of there are a variety of cheaper fashions from A&Okay, FiiO, Cayin, and Questyle that may ship the sonic fireworks.
My UE Stay IEMs are extremely resolving earphones and related to the 4.4mm headphone jack they verified one A&Okay declare after about 20 minutes of listening.
The SP3000 is essentially the most correct and pure sounding A&Okay DAP thus far with reference high quality decision and timbre.
Not that the SP2000 was mediocre in both of these two classes, however the SP3000 is considerably higher with the UE Stay and Campfire Andromeda — an IEM that the SP2000 struggled with considerably.
When paired with the SP2000, the Andromeda suffered from an excessive amount of emphasis within the mid bass and decrease treble and I discovered the shortage of steadiness stunning. As compared, the UE Stay got here throughout as way more balanced sounding with the SP2000.
The identical situation reared its head with the Meze Empyrean and Audeze LCD-4 headphones; the Romanian headphones had been very linear sounding and extremely open, while the Audeze headphones suffered from comparable peaks and valleys within the bass and treble.
Due to these outcomes, I examined the identical 4 headphones and earphones with the SP3000 to see if the outcomes could be comparable.
They weren’t; the Audeze LCD-4 and Campfire IEMs sounded fully balanced from prime to backside and I used to be much more impressed with the sound with the Empyrean and UE Stay.
The UE Stay are my favourite IEMs for his or her cavernous low finish response and ethereal, detailed prime finish. The midrange decision took a step up with the SP3000 and I felt that the extent of transparency and dynamic punch improved as nicely.
The Campfire Andromeda has been eclipsed lately by the UE Stay and Empire Ears Wraith IEMs, however the A&Okay SP3000 narrowed the hole between by bettering the readability, element, and low finish punch. The SP2000 was not a terrific match with the Andromeda when it got here to vocals; there was a nasal high quality to nearly every part and it did win the day.
The SP3000 fully reworked the sound of the Andromeda IEMs in that division; vocals had been balanced sounding, wealthy, detailed, and pushed barely ahead of the instrumentation.
The SP3000/Meze Empyrean mixture could also be one of many prime 3 set-ups I’ve tried with this particular headphone; and that features some very costly desktop headphone rigs which are double the value of the DAP.
The velocity and element are reference high quality and the soundstage width prolonged nicely past the headphones. The Audeze LCD-4 took on new life with the SP3000; the added emphasis was within the areas the place the LCD-4 wants some assist and this mixture gave the Empyrean a run for its cash.
Soundstage depth, width, peak, and stereo separation clearly depends upon the headphone or IEMs related on the opposite finish of the cable, however the SP3000 excelled in every case.
The SP3000 does have a impartial sounding tonal steadiness, however additionally it is one of the vital clear sounding digital sources I’ve but to try to the timbre of most devices may be very correct.
Strings have wonderful timbre and the decay listening to some classical recordings made me sit up and begin occupied with which headphones I wanted to dig out of storage as a result of the SP3000 permits one to take heed to music in a really partaking method that you simply don’t expertise fairly often.
Imaging with all 4 headphones was state-of-the-art; the power to position particular person devices on the stage whereas listening to advanced orchestral works was fairly one thing. Vocalists don’t float in area however are as a substitute firmly planted on the bottom and with great decision and presence.
The noise flooring and background noise with IEMs was very quiet and I used to be stunned that the balanced output (2.55mm) was quieter than the three.5mm single ended output when utilizing the Campfire Andromeda, which is understood to be barely delicate in that regard.
Utilizing Over-Ear headphones, the three.5mm headphone jack was actually as much as the duty with fashions just like the Sennheiser HD580 and Beyerdynamic T5p; bigger planar magnetic headphones did profit from the added energy when utilizing the balanced outputs.
It’s price noting, that the SP3000 isn’t essentially the most highly effective DAP available on the market and might be nearer to the Sony WM1 Sequence than the Fiio M17 or Cayin M8ii relating to total output.
The A&Okay DAP has a lusher tonal steadiness compared to the Sony, and it delivers a better degree of decision than the opposite two DAPs which are a number of the greatest within the class.
One of the best match with the SP3000 had been the Empire Ears Wraith IEMs; the mixture created an nearly holographic soundstage, with a really pure sounding tonal steadiness, deep lows, and a outstanding diploma of prime finish element and airiness.
If I might afford to spend $3,699 USD on a DAP — this is able to be the mixture I stroll out of the home with each single day to make use of at work.
Astell&Kern believes that the SP3000 is the most effective DAP that they’ve ever produced and I feel they might be right in that regard. It takes every part that was nice in regards to the SP2000 and improves the sound high quality, sturdiness, battery life, UI, and talent to drive a a lot wider vary of headphones and IEMs.
The chassis feels considerably indestructible and the construct high quality raises the bar for each DAP within the class.
Does it make sense to spend $3,700 on a DAP in 2022?
Relying on the headphones or IEMs on the opposite finish — the SP3000 is the most effective potable digital supply we’ve ever tried and that’s no exaggeration.
For extra data: us.astellnkern.com/products/a-ultima-sp3000
The place to purchase: $3,699 (coming October 2022)