Astell & Kern A&K SP3000

Sound Analysis.

The sound analysis of SP3k was done using Aroma Jewel and Oriolus Traillii, playing a selection of test tracks, such as Agnes Obel “The curse”, Sandro Cavazza “So much better” (Avicii remix), C-Bool “Never go away”, Ed Sheeran “Shape of you”, Alan Walker “Darkside”, Galantis “Hunter”, Iggy Azalea “Black widow”, Indila “Boite en argent”, Dua Lipa “Love again”, Counting Crows “Big yellow taxi”, David Elias “Vision of her”, and Michael Jackson “Dirty Diana”. I had about 100hrs of burn in time before I started analyzing SP3k.

ak-sp3000-16

I prefer to describe the DAP sound based on the comparison to other DAPs and pair ups with different IEMs/headphones since the DAP by itself doesn’t have a “sound”. What we hear is how it sounds through connected IEMs/headphones or the difference in sound relative to source comparison using the same pair of IEMs/headphones. This is my subjective opinion, describing how I hear it while analyzing the sound of SP3k, and you will get a bigger picture about this DAP’s sound in the follow up sections of Comparison and Pair up.

I usually start my sound description by mentioning sound signature and tonality, but here the first thing that came to mind was the Soundstage and the Black Background. While I consider the soundstage expansion to be a technical property of IEMs/headphones, the sound source plays a very important part in driving it. For sure, the soundstage expansion could be limited by the technical performance of IEM, but with many I tried in pair up with SP3k, the soundstage was very expanded, surrounding you with a sound while also putting you right in front of the performer, right at the front seat. Imaging reached 3D holographic level with a very precise placement of every element of the song in space.

The black background was another technical property that made SP3k stand out. There is a number of flagship DAPs with a black background I acknowledged in the past. But the only way to appreciate this is by comparing one DAP to another while listening to less busy tracks where you are not hit with layered wall of instruments. Especially when dealing with instrumental or acoustic tracks where you can analyze the transient response of on/off note transition with details popping out of blackness, and with more clarity and sharper retrieval of details. That is exactly what I found while listening to SP3k. Of course, this is just a perception of how I hear things, but this DAP did stand out with a deep black background.

Overall, I found SP3k to have a very neutral reference sound signature with a natural tonality, yielding a pure clean sound without any coloring, highly resolving, and with an excellent retrieval of details on micro-detail level without actually sounding analytical or dry. Often, a solid-state output can give you a clean dry sound, but not in this case. The sound is still very clean and detailed, but it is not dry. The level of clarity is high, enabling listener to pick up every little nuance in sound and vocals, like noticing a singer’s sharp intake of breath before delivering a line or some other subtle background noises captured during the recording session. Furthermore, the sound dynamics is quite expanded, accurately delivering the transient response of both micro and macro dynamics.

4.4mm/2.5mm vs 3.5mm – When comparing balanced versus single ended outputs, the sound tonality is identical. The only difference I hear is in soundstage expansion where 4.4mm output is noticeably wider, while, as expected, 4.4mm and 2.5mm are the same. And another obvious difference is SE being less powerful, requiring me about 10 more clicks to match the volume of BAL output.

Crossfeed – While examining the effect of Crossfeed functionality, when enabled, I hear a change in soundstage width and imaging with left/right channels blending in. As a result, I don’t hear that 3D holographic effect anymore, and instead the sound has a more intimate natural space. It will be up to a person preference, depending on what you like. But personally, I preferred Crossfeed to be disabled since I like my soundstage as open and holographic as possible.

Digital Audio Remaster (DAR) – Testing with DAR upsampling into PCM had a noticeable effect on technical performance of the sound where I’m hearing the improvements in the sound dynamics, layering, and separation. As a matter of fact, I left it on “permanently”, and noticed more improvements when dealing with some lower res mp3 (320kbps) tracks. I even questioned myself if this is a placebo effect, but I can hear it in a blind test as well.

ak-sp3000-17

Comparison.

In every comparison I used Aroma Jewel and Oriolus Traillii, volume matched while listening to the same test tracks between DAPs. Also, in this comparison I mostly focusing on the difference in sound as I hear it.

SP3k vs SP2k – Both have a similar holographic imaging with 3D positioning of instruments and vocals in space, but there is a difference in how the soundstage is presented between these two DAPs. SP2k has a wide soundstage, but its presentation is in front of you. SP3k soundstage surrounds you, goes even wider and wraps around you, making you feel like you are right in the middle of the “sound” instead of the “sound” being in front of you.

SP3k background is blacker relative to SP2k, even when I use 3.5mm/2.5mm adapter w/SP2k. You have to listen very closely, focusing on macro and micro dynamics of the tracks to hear the difference and appreciate the improvement. It is not night and day, and you do need a good pair of resolving IEMs/headphones to spot the difference, but it is there. And it becomes more apparent when you enable DAR on SP3k which to my ears improves the vertical dynamics.

Relative to a difference in tonality, they are not too far off, but I do hear SP3k with a little fuller body sound in lower mids, giving the sound more musicality in mid frequencies. But I still think that you will find a bigger difference in technical performance between these two DAPs rather than tonality.

Other obvious changes are addition of 4.4mm (no need for adapter anymore), a lot faster processor with improved next gen GUI, double-tap to wake the screen, Crossfeed, DAR, and LDAC support.

SP3k vs SP2kT (SS) – soundstage and imaging is the first thing I notice when switching between the DAPs, and it is clear in this comparison that SP3k sound spreads wider to the left/right and its imaging has a more 3D effect in how the sounds are placed in space. Tonality of SP2kT is warmer with a sound being a little denser in a comparison to more neutral transparent tonality of SP3k where I hear no coloring of the sound. Technical performance also differs with SP3k having a blacker background and improved definition of layering and separation of the sounds which makes SP2kT sound a bit denser in comparison. SP2kT tonality can get even warmer when you switch to Hybrid and Tube modes, while SP3k stays pure, natural, and relatively transparent.

SP2kT design stepped it up with addition of 4.4mm output, double-tap to wake and LDAC support, but it still uses older and slower processor which is noticeable in the speed of interface.

ak-sp3000-14

Other DAP comparisons.

SP3k vs Cayin N8ii (SS) – the soundstage expansion and imaging are nearly identical between these two DAPs. I went back’n’forth many times to confirm it. When it comes to the sound tonality and technical performance, they are not too far off either. I did have to set N8ii to P+ to boost output voltage in order to match SP3k sound characteristics. After that, tonality was very similar, though SP3k has just a touch more body in mids, making its sound a little smoother and more neutral. I also noticed that relative to Jewel IEMs, N8ii had a bit more sub-bass rumble, while SP3k had a faster and punchier impact of mid-bass. I also do hear SP3k to have a bit darker background with notes popping out of the darkness with a slightly faster transient response, but N8ii is not too far off either.

SP3k vs iBasso DX300 MAX SS – the soundstage expansion and imaging here are nearly a perfect match, with both wrapping around you, including a 3D holographic imaging effect of how the sounds are positioned in space. Tonality is where I hear the biggest difference since DX300 MAX SS has a brighter and more revealing tonality while SP3k is more neutral and reference in quality. In comparison, SP3k has a fuller body natural sound, but their technical performance is quite similar. Another thing to keep in mind, DX300 MAX SS is transportable and quite heavy. SP3k also on a heavier side, but not as heavy as MAX and slimmer in thickness.

SP3k vs Sony WM1ZM2 – the imaging between these two daps is similar but I find the soundstage expansion to be a little wider in SP3k. Tonality is a little smoother in WM1ZM2 while more neutral with SP3k, but the gap is not that big. I did notice M2 to have a little stronger mid-bass punch. Also, SP3k sound has a blacker background. When it comes to operation, even so M2 is Android 11 based, its slower processor makes the operation not as fast as SP3k. Also, SP3k has a more powerful output when it comes to driving full size headphones.

SP3k vs Lotoo PAW Gold LPGT – SP3k soundstage spreads wider, and its imaging has a more holographic placement of the sounds. Tonality wise, they are not too far off either. Both have a neutral reference tonality, perhaps with LPGT being just a little smoother in comparison. One thing that was noticeable is SP3k having a blacker background with a sharper transient of notes, while LPGT background doesn’t have the same black-hole purity. Also, you have to keep in mind that LPGT is audio playback only device while SP3k also supports apps and does streaming.

ak-sp3000-15

Page 4 – Pair up, Wired/wireless connections, and Conclusion.

34 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.

    Like

    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.

      Like

    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.

      Like

      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 😀

        Like

      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.

        Like

      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

        Like

  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

    Like

    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.

      Like

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

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

    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.

      Like

  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 ?

    Like

    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!

      Like

      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.

        Like

  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.

    Like

    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.

      Like

    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.

      Like

      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

        Like

    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.

      Like

  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!

    Like

    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.

      Like

      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.

        Like

      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.

        Like

  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.

    Like

    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.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s