Astell & Kern A&K SP3000

Pair up.

Here is how SP3k pairs up with some IEMs and headphones. In each pair up I noted the volume (V) setting. All were connected using 4.4mm BAL.

Headphones.

Audio-Technica ATH-R70x (V99) – These 470ohm open back cans are not easy to drive, and I did have to set the volume to 99. The soundstage is wide, but I do hear more depth/height in comparison to width, though imaging is still 3D holographic. Sound signature is balanced, and tonality is super clean, neutral, and more revealing. Not bright or brittle, but revealing, micro-detailed, and with zero coloring. The bass performance is great, with a deep sub-bass rumble and tight mid-bass punch. The weight of the bass is evenly balanced between the sub and mid-bass. Mids are neutral, natural, not lean or thin, but they are a bit more revealing in upper mids, exhibiting lots of clarity and resolution. Treble is clear and detailed, also very natural, with moderate airiness and sparkle.

MEZE Audio Empyrean (V86) – I hear a very wide-open soundstage with an excellent holographic imaging, it feels like you are in a big open room. Sound signature is balanced, though leaning a bit toward mid-forward here. The tonality is brighter, revealing, and surprisingly no coloring at all. Bass has a deeper sub-bass rumble and a tight mid-bass punch, but they are scaled down in quantity, The bass has its weight, but it is not as elevated. Lower mids are neutral, maybe even a bit lean, more focus is on upper mids, bringing more attention to the vocals and extracting more micro-details from instruments. Treble is clear and detailed, has a little extra crunch but nothing harsh or splashy. The treble is airy and extended.

Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd (V77) – Excellent soundstage expansion in all 3 directions, along with 3D holographic imaging. The sound is relatively balanced, very clean, and micro-detailed. The tonality is leaning more toward more revealing due to brighter upper mids. Bass has a deep texture sub-bass rumble and tight punchy mid-bass. The weight of bass is distributed evenly, and it is not as elevated. Lower mids are close to neutral, with a leaner amount of body and naturalness, while upper mids have more clarity, transparency, and micro-details. Vocals came out clear, detailed, even a little brighter. Treble also has plenty of clarity, details, and natural sparkle with a good airy extension.

Overall, the pair up with headphones was a bit on a leaner, more revealing, and micro-detailed side.

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IEMs.

Oriolus Traillii w/Chiron (V56) – Wide open soundstage with 3D imaging. Sound signature is perfectly balanced, overall tonality is natural and a bit more revealing toward upper mids. Bass goes deep, with both elevated textured rumble and stronger mid-bass impact. Bass has a very impressive impact with more focus on sub-bass. Mids are very clean and natural, with plenty of body in lower mids and organic detailed tonality in upper mids, quite resolving and micro-detailed. Treble is clear and detailed, has extra sparkle and crunch in mid treble. This pair up helps the Bird to extract more details while still maintaining its natural tonality.

Aroma Jewel w/FT (V63) – The soundstage is wide open and expanded in all 3 directions with holographic imaging. Sound signature is balanced as well, while tonality is neutral, natural, with a revealing presentation of the sound in upper mids. Bass goes deep, with a textured sub-bass rumble and a punchy mid-bass; the bass is very tight and articulate. Lower mids are neutral which gives upper mids more transparency, less coloring, making them more revealing, micro-detailed, but not too bright. Treble is crisp and detailed, not splashy or harsh. Treble has a great extension.

EE Odin (V57) – I can report right away, pitch black background with zero hissing. The soundstage here is huge, and so does the imaging. Bass is actually pretty good, goes deep with a nice rumble, and mid-bass has a nice tight punch. But mids are leaner, more revealing, still nicely layered and micro-detailed, and a little brighter, filled with extra energy. Treble is crisp, clear, detailed, more revealing and yet, still well controlled and without any sign of splashiness. But overall sound is leaner and brighter in tonality. I’m still on the fence with this pair up.

FiR Audio XE6 (V57) – A huge holographic soundstage expansion. A more U-shaped signature with a powerful speaker like analog bass, thanks to XE6 kinetic bass drivers, natural revealing mids and vocals which are a bit recessed, pulled back in their presentation, and crisp detailed treble. But despite all of this, I wasn’t crazy about this pair up. For some weird reason I keep hearing a strange reverb in low end, and mids/vocals sounded boxy and distant. I even tried CIEM version of XE6, and while bass impact has improved with a better control and less exaggeration, the upper mids and lower treble became brighter and splasher. So, personally, I wasn’t too crazy about this pair up.

Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 (V38) – Since this is Campfire Audio iem, the first question will be: does it hiss? The background is pitch black, and I don’t hear any hiss at all. The soundstage is big, with an overall sound being holographic and quite expanded. Also, the sound sig is balanced, while the tonality is brighter and more revealing. Bass has a good sub-bass rumble with a fast well controlled punch, though the weight of the bass is not elevated. But it is for sure above neutral and unmistakably DD quality. Mids are revealing, colder in tonality. Surprisingly, I don’t hear any sibilance in lower treble. It is still very energetic, but the treble is not too elevated and not fatigue, but it is revealing.

UM Mest MKII (V57) – Big holographic soundstage expansion in this pair up. Typical of Mest MKII, I found U-shaped sound signature with a deep analog quality dynamic bass where I hear more emphasis on sub-bass rumble which adds extra weight to the low end. Lower mids are neutral, giving more transparency to the sound, making upper mids more revealing and colder in tonality. Treble is bright, crisp, airy. It’s a great pair up if you want to extract more micro-details from the sound without the sound itself being harsh.

I preferred SP3k pair up with IEMs over headphones.

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Wired and wireless connections.

Besides being a portable DAP, you can expand SP3k functionality as a transport to drive external DAC/amp, to use external AMP, or to turn the DAP into wired/wireless usb DAC. And of course, you don’t have to be limited to wired headphones, and can take advantage of Wireless Bluetooth connection.

Wireless/Bluetooth.

I tested SP3k BT Tx with Hiby WH2 TWS, confirmed operation within 25ft, LDAC pair up was selected, and full remote control. 25ft operation in open space was OK and the sound was the same as when connected to my S22, except I get close to 50ft when using it with my smartphone.

SP3k also has Bluetooth Sink Mode (BT Receiver) when BT DAC module is enabled, and you set SP3k as a wireless DAC/amp. I didn’t get to testing it.

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USB Audio Out.

I tested and verified this one with various popular USB DAC dongles, such as RU6, S2, and W2, and found it to work without a problem. Usually, external USB has to be selected to enable usb audio mode. Once connected, volume is fixed at max 150, thus it is helpful to have external dongles with their own volume control. The sound quality was no different when connected to my Galaxy S22 phone.

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USB DAC.

Didn’t have time to test this one, but USB DAC is available and I’m sure it will be no different than any other A&K DAP where the device is typically recognized under the Win10 without a need for any additional drivers, you select DAC under USB Mode setting and then adjust the volume either from SP3k or the computer you connected to. From my previous experience with all A&K DAPs I tested, the sound using DAP by itself vs USB DAC connected to the laptop was always the same.

Optical Out.

Was using iFi micro iDSD BL for this testing, nothing needs to be selected or enabled, just connect optical cable to 3.5mm port and start playing. Optical output was detected automatically, SP3k volume was set to max 150, and I was controlling the output from micro iDSD. Other than that, no surprises using SP3k as a transport to drive the external DAC/amp where I’m hearing a typical micro iDSD tonality.

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Line Out.

I didn’t get a chance to test LO but did confirm it should be the same as with any other A&K DAP where you select it from Notification bar, choose the voltage output for unbalanced/balanced in Settings, and then activate it when adjusting the volume to choose either volume adjustment or a fixed LO output.

WiFi Streaming.

As I already mentioned, while SP3k has a closed Android system, you have a whitelist of available popular streaming apps to install. These are full app versions that run as fast and feel no different than running in other Android DAPs. Also, you no longer have to rely on a floating “back” button since this one is fixed at the bottom. Furthermore, while running streaming apps, you can swipe down the notification bar to see app’s playback controls.

Conclusion.

Announcement of a flagship DAP by any company is a big deal. Announcement of a new flagship by Astell & Kern, a company responsible for creating a high-end DAP category, is a huge deal. We are at the point where it is hard to come up with groundbreaking innovations, and there is no longer a big gap between mid-fi, upper mid-fi, and summit-fi audio performance. As a result, it is more realistic to see next gen flagships with fine tuning improvements rather than drastic changes. But at the same time, the accumulation and the caliber of these fine-tuning improvements can add up to something which could be considered groundbreaking.

In collaboration with AKM, A&K and their latest SP3000 flagship DAP is the first to implement AK4191EQ and AK4499EX duo which separates digital and analog sides of the DAC. They were also the first to implement 904L stainless steel material which is more common in high end watches. Also, the addition of a fast Snapdragon processor has a noticeable improvement in user interface speed. Furthermore, the implementation of the next gen UI, featuring a more intuitive user-friendly interface, makes you even forget that you are dealing with a closed Android OS. This is definitely a big improvement over the previous A&K flagships.

If you are a diehard fan of A&K DAPs, this upgrade is a no-brainer because all these improvements add up to a whole new experience. And for those who are flip-flopping between other flagship DAPs, give SP3000 a chance because you might be surprised of how well this optimized closed Android system performs with its fast interface and plethora of supported popular streaming services, hi-res transparent sound tuning, huge open soundstage with 3D imaging, and pitch-black background.

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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