Astell & Kern A&K SP3000

GUI.

When it comes to A&K DAPs user interface, once you are familiar with one, you will feel like at home using the rest because they share the same interface, down to their smaller display SR25 model. There have been small updates here and there, like a Floating Back button on a screen or playback controls when you swipe down notification bar while running apps. A few other Android related features were added in the past, but SP3k takes it to a next level with a newly updated 4th generation interface that has improved ergonomics.

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When you start the player, the greeting screen has a carousel where you can swipe through and access your songs in alphabetical order. It’s a fun way to view the song’s artwork along with other info, and it is very fast as you swipe through it. As you swipe right->left above or below the artwork of the song, you have Media Category Browser screen to view your Playlist, Folders, Songs, Albums, Artists, Genres, Favorite, MQS/DSD, CD Library, and then Settings and Category change to rearrange the order of the categories above as well as being able to disable Home screen carousel. Btw, when enabled, the Home button at the bottom of the screen takes you to this Home screen carousel, and every time you touch the Home button, it randomly brings up another song. I wish there would be a way to assign a different screen to Home button, but if you disable Home-carousel view and rearrange Media Categories, touching Home button will always bring you to the first selection in that list. I know, it is probably hard to visualize it by just reading this, but it is a lot of fun playing with it, especially since GUI is so fast.

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All the way at the bottom of the screen you have 3 shortcuts buttons, Services (for easy access to all the apps), Home button which I already talked about before, and Back button, which is no longer floating while covering the screen, it is dedicated and always visible button at the bottom of the screen. Above it in the Main Home screen, you have a Playback control strip with a name of the currently playing song/artist and Play/Pause and Skip controls. Tapping on it brings up a familiar Playback screen window where the embedded artwork occupies top half of the screen and tapping on it expands the view and shows lyrics if one is available. Swiping this window down brings you back to the main Home screen. Below it you get a summary of song format (bit depth, sampling rate, file type) and a shortcut to tag the song as Favorite or another 3-dot shortcut with additional functions. Then, you have song artist/title and a scrub bar to advance through the song. Playback touch controls are underneath of that along with Play mode controls.

Swiping down notification bar gives you access to shortcuts to access various controls which you can toggle on/off or long press to get to their corresponding Settings screen. Here you have Wifi, Bluetooth, DAR (Digital Audio Remaster), EQ, Crossfeed, AK Connect, Line Out, Gapless, Replay Gain, and Settings. At the bottom of open notification bar, you also have Brightness control. The full Settings window has more controls, partitioned in sections. Other controls you can find here are to select Bluetooth Codec, Roon Ready switch, change DAC filters, L/R balance, Playback setting. Other usual controls for A&K CD Ripper, USB Mode and Audio output format, S/PDIF Conversion, Car Mode, setting Volume limit, enabling Double-Tap Screen to wake, enabling/disabling LED indication. And the typical date/time change, language and keyboard selection, timer settings, FW update, System info, and System Reset.

EQ is a big deal for some audiophiles, and here it hasn’t been changed. You still have one blank EQ preset and no other genre specific presets, and you can add many custom EQ presets. EQ interface has two modes: Main and Advance. In the Main you have standard Paragraphic EQ sliders for 20 bands (30, 45, 60, 90, 120, 180, 250, 380, 500, 750, 1k, 1.5k, 2k, 3k, 4k, 6k, 8k, 12k, 14k, and 18k) where you can either slide the bar or use a precise 0.1 adjustment, as well as scrolling through available frequencies. As you adjust, it gets reflected in the lower right corner, showing the overall shape of EQ. Switching to Advance, turns EQ adjustment into Semi-Parametric EQ with a full GUI view of EQ shape where underneath you have FREQ band selection (a choice of 20), Gain selection in 0.1 and 0.01 steps, and Q bandwidth. Since bands frequency is fixed, I consider this to be semi-Parametric EQ.

The new updated GUI is definitely a step forward, very intuitive, very fast (again, thanks to a new fast processor). We are still dealing with a closed Android interface, but these changes bring it closer to Android experience with an always visible navigation bar at the bottom where you have access to Streaming services, Home Screen (which you can set to a default view), and Back button for easier app navigation. Double-Tap screen to wake is very useful so you don’t have to press power/volume wheel every time you want to turn the display on. Some might find Crossfeed and Replay Gain useful. My favorite addition is DAR (Digital Audio Remaster) upsampling function to PCM or DSD. And did I say the navigation is superfast? It’s about time!

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Open APP Service.

Open APP Service is implemented in all A&K Android based DAPs, including SP1000 SS/CU, SP1000M, SE100/180/200, SR25, and SP2000 SS/CU, SP2000T, and of course, SP3000. More info could be found here where Astell & Kern goes into more details about it.

While Astell & Kern offers a built-in Tidal service (without off-line storage support), for a long time their customers been asking to add other popular streaming services, especially since their DAPs run on Android though heavily modified closed OS without access to Google Play. Now, all their latest DAPs have a number of whitelisted open apps they can run, such as Tidal, Amazon Music HD, Apple Music, Qobuz, Spotify, and others. For convenience, when you go to Services, you have Open Service tab with installed apps and Download tab with a list of available apps you can download and install. While you can’t install every app you desire, in a way it’s a blessing for a manufacturer to keep DAP performance optimized since you don’t have to worry about customers installing and running other unstable apps, and it also guarantees compatibility of the DAP with these apps.

Page 3 – Sound Analysis, Comparison.
Page 4 – Pair up, Wired/wireless connections, and Conclusion.

48 thoughts on “Astell & Kern A&K SP3000

  1. hello dear tornado! thanks for your great work!! query, is it really worth going from a sp2000 to the new sp3000 just for sound? I’m not interested in anything other than sound quality.

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    1. If you are on the budget, probably not. With a release of SP3k, more people will be selling their SP2k and you probably won’t be able to recover as much money for it. And as you know, when you go up in pricing, it is all about diminishing returns. Is SP3k an upgrade over SP2k? You betch ya! But is that a huge upgrade? Not really. At this flagship level, the upgrades are on a finetuning level. But I gotta say, interface is faster, thanks to Snapdragon 665 processor. And it feels more solid inside those bulletproof steel chassis. It’s a nice DAP for sure and definitely an upgrade. But it will be for you to decide if it worth it depending on your financial situation. Just being honest with you.

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    2. I have just upgraded from the SP2000 Silver to the SP3000 Black and the difference is superlative in every way – full upsampling ON – (DAR) renders immense performance, space and overall depth in detail. But ‘space’, I’m blown away. In use with Focal Utopia can finally hear these headphones correctly.

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      1. isn’t that upsamping function (DAR) great? Sometimes I want to be sure it’s not a placebo effect, but the difference is quite noticeable! Glad others hear it the same.

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      2. Yes, I wasn’t sure at first but I’m operating DAR at full 5.6MHz which seemed counterintuitive, but it’s like a gift from the heavens! Everything is just silky and open. I haven’t enjoyed listening to headphones like this ever. This is now closely on par with my main audio system. The DAC here is as I wrote: superlative! And Utopia just barely played correctly with SP2000 (something was off) so if anyone has heard that pairing, it’s lacking and this changes everything, it’s like the Focal’s spatially new.

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    1. Yeah, Snapdragon 665 SoC does the job here! The funny thing, Sony released WM1ZM2, their open Android 11 dap, yet used an old processor which makes its android performance (with some of the streaming apps) kind of sluggish. While here, it’s the opposite. You got closed android system with a fast processor, and that scales up the enjoyment factor.

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      1. But because it’s closed android system I can’t change the google play region right? I have to change it to US to use qobuz apps because I live in asia. Oh, and I hope you can review UM multiverse mentor later on canjam 😀

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      2. Not going to Canjam in SoCal, but maybe I can borrow it from Musicteck for a quick review/overview. Regarding Google Play, you are not loading apps through Google play here where it will be checking your region. You are side-loading apk of the apps. Don’t even need to download anything separately, A&K has it indexed so you just click in the menu to select which app you want to download and to install, the same how it is with all other A&K DAPs.

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      3. Oh I see. As long as I use my US region ID then I can use qobuz then. Will be waiting for the copper version maybe. And one more thing, you say you need to use P+ mode on n8ii to match the sp3k so I assume now AK has enough juice to drive demanding IEM? On n8ii I only need 50 vol but on sp2k I need around 70 volume

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  2. any comparison with cayin n6ii? I know that the prices are far apart. just as an illustration because I only have n6ii with module e02

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    1. Don’t have SP3k with me anymore for comparison, and those are in a different category anyway, the reason I compared SP3k to N8ii. It probably will be an insult to compare it to N6ii 😀 But with that aside, N6ii is a great dap, and if you want to enhance its sound quality, get R01 module.

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  3. Hello Is this SP3000 will be able to handle obravo Ra c-cu 182 ohms without amp? Thanks Miloudi

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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    1. Sorry, I only had SP3k for a few weeks last month when I tested it for my review, don’t have it with me anymore so can’t test it with RA C Cu. But my guess, probably not. Ra C Cu needs a good powerful source, maybe an external amp like Romi audio BX2+ or Cayin C9 would be better on top of your source.

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  4. Hi,
    Great review as usual, as I hesitate between the SP3K and the N8ii, could you precise if the N8ii sounds more natural (analog) thanks to its tube flavor than the SP3K or is it similar.
    Has the SP3K also this great analog natural sound ?
    What is the main difference between the two regarding the analog, natural way of sounding ?

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    1. Neither of them sound digital, and a lot of the final sound characteristics will have to do with a pair-up synergy. For example, FirAudio XE6 has a massive “analog” quality bass. The pair up of XE6 is better with N8ii (in P+ voltage boost mode) than with SP3k. Doesn’t make one DAP worse than the other, it just the way it works out. But I think SP3k will be more appealing to those who like a very clean sound with maximum extraction of details (without being too cold or analytical) while N8ii is more for those who want a variety. Also, if you want a great analog sound source, SP2000T in hybrid or NuTube mode is great!

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      1. I think they are both good in terms of “realism” of the sound. SP3k might sound a little more natural while N8ii could get a bit analytical in some pair ups.

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      1. In terms of details, sp3k will take a crown, its super black background makes details pop out of the blackness. Naturalness/organic mature of the sound, I find wm1zm2 to have an edge. Also, please keep in mind, I’m going by memory now since I reviewed sp3k back in August and it was on loan before its introduction at CanJam SoCal

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  5. Excellent early review as always.

    How does the SP2K v SP3k comparison sound when you add the C9 into the chain. I found the amplifier improved the dynamics with the SP2K and bird. I’m not sure how much there is between the AKM chips v the circuitry and amplifier differences between the two models. And if the C9 will help narrow the margin.

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    1. As I mentioned in my review, unfortunately I ran out of time before sending it back and didn’t test LO. But I expect a similar results using external portable amp as with SP2k. C9 is amazing amp, giving you both SS and NuTubes outputs to color the sound in a different way. The Bird is very easy to drive, no need for external amp, but it can change the synergy of pair up with higher power, switching between Class A and AB, or solid state and NuTubes.

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    1. It’s in the game but just outdated. Since I don’t have SP3000 with me anymore, you can probably extrapolate that comparison from my SP2000 review where I compared it to SP1000.

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      1. Thanks. I listen only to my extensive library of hi-res and DSD albums on the SP-1000 using Ultimate Ears IEM’s so I’m still pretty delighted with the audio quality. I do have to say, however, that I’ve not been impressed with Astell & Kern’s technical support

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    1. EE Odyssey was unveiled only a few days ago at CanJam SoCal, nobody had a chance to hear it until the last weekend. And I think even now EE not allowed to send review samples, only through A&K so I will try to request it.

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  6. Hi great review. Truly appreciated.
    I have the SP 2000T and I really love the warmth you mentioned that it brings out with the tube and hybrid amps.
    However, the thing that troubles me is the WiFi. Leave the house for a few feet to water the plants and I lose my connection. Plus, when traveling and you are required to put in information as a “next step” to connect to free WiFi say in an airport or a hotel, the unit won’t allow you to enter that information. Thus, you better have your streaming services downloaded.
    Did any of these features get any better with the 3000?
    Best to you!

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    1. Daps are not smartphones, and their wifi and BT will never have the same level of performance as your iPhone or Galaxy phones. And that will not improve going from SP2kT to SP3k. My only advice, use your smartphone as a wifi hotspot outside home. That’s what I do with my galaxy S22.

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      1. No comparison to the DX320? I am not sure what you mean about the BT and Wifi regarding daps. I am getting the same wifi and BT performance on my dap as my iPhone 13 pro. Maybe I misunderstood.

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      2. With a number of tws, Im getting half the distance in comparison to my Galaxy S22. Plus, closed Android nature of A&K daps will prevent you from accessing additional config settings per original question about SP2kT vs SP3k wifi.

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  7. Hello. Thank you very much for the review. I’m using SP 1000 SS + SP 1000 AMP + 64 audio Trio. It looks like I will be benefited and will notice the differences if I upgrade to SP 3000.

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    1. Yes, you will, for sure. Of course, it’s a personal preference, but in my opinion since Trio is a V-shaped tuned iem with a hot treble, maybe consider SP2000T in tube or hybrid mode to smooth it out. SP3000 is super detailed without holding it back, SP2000T will give you a smoother texture in this particular pair up with Trio.

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      1. There’s an exhibition booth in my home country showcasing SP3000 and Odyssey. I tried playing two Japanese music soundtracks with the sliver version and Trio yesterday. DAR was on. Gosh, it was very impressive, and I love the details that could not be noticed from SP1000! It was as if I was listening in a small-sized theater installed with surround systems – wider and deeper soundstage; clearer and darker background; the position of musical instruments is noticeable.

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  8. Question about Bluetooth and wireless headphones. Does it matter what version of Bluetooth a headphone has to get the best sound from the SP3000. Any recommendations. Thanks

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    1. Tbh, if BT is very important to you, why spend so much money on a DAP where you can get a better wireless performance and better BT compatibility using just a smartphone? Otherwise, whichever version SP3k has it sounds fine, as good as my S22 phone. But, smartphones usually have better compatibility with various TWS and BT headphones.

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  9. The selling price in Singapore is at SGD5,799. About SGD1k more expensive than WM1ZM2 and Cayin N8ii. Can money really buy happiness?

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  10. Detail review! Would u recommend pairing 12t, 18t with sp3000 or other dap?
    Also, i know its off topic but really want to know which upgrade cable u recommend for 12t and 18t which price below USD1000, to enhance the mid, dynamic and the bass especially for 18t?

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    1. For 18t under $1k try Eletech Socrates. My favorite for 18t is EA Leo II, but it is more expensive than $1k. Both 12t and 18t pair up fine with SP3k. These iems are easy to drive, they don’t have DD bass driver (which might benefit from higher voltage/power output), and both iems have apex modules to fine tune the pair synergy with various daps.

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