The sound analysis of SE300 was done using Aroma Jewel, 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 SE300.
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 SE300, and you will get a bigger picture about this DAP’s sound in the follow up sections of Comparison and Pair up.
In a summary, SE300 has a smooth natural tonality with an analog texture that adds a bit of warm coloring to the sound. It has a wide soundstage expansion, though not too wide or holographic, bringing the listener closer to the music, giving you a more intimate feeling, like you are a few rows away from the stage and the performer. The smoother analog tonality also yields a more natural layering and separation of the sounds, and by that, I mean not too much “air” between the layers. Despite smoother nature of the tuning, the retrieval of details is still very good, with the sound being quite resolving though not exactly micro-detailed.
With many IEMs I tested, the sound tuning does stand out with an excellent rendition of bass, enhancing its impact, weight, and texture. It doesn’t just boost the lower end, but enhances its performance, especially when dealing with DD drivers. Also, I noticed with many IEMs the mids had a fuller body and a distinct analog texture. And the same with treble, sounding more natural, and a bit smoother to my ears. Furthermore, while I wouldn’t say the background was super black like in SP3k with details popping out of the blackness, it was dead quiet with sensitive IEMs even in high gain setting.
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 the perception of 4.4mm and 2.5mm balanced outputs is wider than 3.5mm. 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.
NOS vs OS – NOS gives the sound a smoother and more analog flavor. I went a dozen of times back and forth, and even in a blind test it is not hard to distinguish how NOS takes a digital edge off the sound, giving it a smoother tonality with a little more analog texture.
Class A vs Class AB – I hear a noticeable change in tonality and “speed” of the sound. Class A has a fuller body mids and more laidback sound with a slower attack, slower pace of the rhythm. When you switch to Class AB, the mids are a bit more revealing and the overall sound has faster attack, faster toe-tapping pace. I preferred Class AB with EDM, Pop/Rock, and any Top40 songs. For acoustic, instrumental, or classical music I like Class A setting. It will also depend on earphones and headphones and their pair up synergy with either A or AB.
Normal vs High Gain – the difference in volume is about 8 clicks. The sound change associated with a gain setting will depend on your earphones and headphones. With most of the multi-BAs or BA/EST hybrids it didn’t make much difference. With some hybrids that included DD/BA/EST, high gain had a slight improvement in texture, though it could be related to an artifact of higher volume of listening. On the other hand, 470ohm ATH-R70x came alive with improved dynamics and tighter bass when switched to high gain.
In every comparison I used Aroma Jewel, 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.
SE300 vs SP3000 – 3000 not going to be 10x better than 300 :), but there are differences between the SP flagship and SE model. SP3k tonality is more neutral, the background is blacker, and the soundstage is wider. In comparison, SE has more analog coloring, not warmer by a margin, but smoother in comparison to SP. And the same goes for the background where SP is pitch black, while relative to SP the SE background is not exactly. SE soundstage is wide but not on the same level of width as SP. SE is more like a smoother and more analog tuned version of SP with a little more intimate presentation of the sound. Also, both share the same updated fast interface.
SE300 vs SE180 w/ESS board (SEM1) – Right away noticed a difference in soundstage presentation where 300 has more width and brings sound closer to you, while 180 has a narrower soundstage and extends the sound further out of your head. 300 tonality is smoother, more analog, more textured, while 180 is brighter, more revealing, and more digital in comparison. One thing that stood out was the punch and the extension of Jewel’s bass with SE300 while with SE180 the bass was more relaxed, slower, and not as layered. I used SEM1 with ESS dac due to its smoother tonality in comparison to another SEM2 (w/AKM), but still, SE300 felt more analog and smoother in comparison. Not to mention that SE180 is built on an older SE platform with a slower processor and older interface, making SE300 operation a lot of faster and smoother, like SP3000.
SE300 vs Cayin N6ii w/R01 – A few differences in this comparison. While the soundstage expansion is not too far off, SE was just a touch wider in comparison with R01. Tonality of SE is a little warmer and smoother in comparison to R01. I also can hear a little blacker background with R01, but all these intimate comparison details will depend on the sound sig of your IEMs or headphones. For example, it was easier to pick up differences with Jewel, and not so much with RN6.
SE300 vs L&P P6 Pro – relative to testing and comparing with Jewel, their tonality is not too far off. P6 Pro is just a little bit smoother, but you can get close when switching SE300 from Class AB to Class A. Also, P6 Pro soundstage is a bit wider, and I did find P6 Pro to have a blacker background. And of course, even with its closed Android system, SE300 still has more functionality in comparison to audio playback only P6 Pro which has a more limited interface.
SE300 vs Hiby RS6 – Another R-2R comparison some might be interested in. From a soundstage perspective, I thought SE300 was just a touch wider. Other than that, they both have a similar technical performance, including a similar level of vertical sound dynamics expansion and the level of background blackness. But their tonality is different. RS6 is brighter, more revealing, while SE300 is smoother, with more analog texture, and warmer coloring.
SE300 vs Hiby RS8 – Decided to compare this one as well. Relative to Jewel, SE300 soundstage width is very similar, maybe with SE being even a touch wider than RS8. RS8 tonality is more revealing in comparison to smoother more analog tonality of SE300. I also noticed RS8 to have some improvement in vertical dynamics and layering of the sounds, but SE yields a much better bass impact, stronger and more articulate punch in comparison to RS8 having a little slower and more laidback presentation of the bass.
BONUS: After publishing this review, I got a flood of questions asking me why I didn’t compare SE300 with Cayin N7 considering the same price point and discrete DAC implementation. Since I only received SE300 on loan a week ago and considering I just loaned my N7 sample to another reviewer, I can’t do direct side-by-side comparison, but I can comment from not-so-distant memory. The tonality of SE300 and N7 shouldn’t be too far off, but I remember N7 having a little more sparkle in treble and slightly wider soundstage from its balanced output, maybe as a result of more sparkle which changes the perception of how we hear soundstage expansion in our head. So, SE300 is a bit smoother in tonality when compared to N7. Other than that, SE300 has a better battery life and you can play PCM files directly without automatic upsampling to DSD if that is your preference. N7 up-samples PCS files to DSD, as part of its 1bit discrete DSD dac design, and has open Android interface where you are not limited to which app you want to install.
Page 4 – Pair up, Wired/wireless connections, and Conclusion.
10 thoughts on “Astell & Kern A&K SE300”
I upgraded to the SP-3000 from the SP-1000 and have been enjoying it immensely. The only downside I’ve experienced are the three buttons on the left side which are too easy to trigger and which therefore interrupt normal playback. Soon after I bought the unit, Astell & Kern support assured me they’d be addressing this in a future firmware update but this has not yet taken place. Perhaps they’ve dealt with this problem in designing the SE 300.
buttons spaced the same in SE300. Are you using it inside the leather case, I assume? From my experience, it is less prone to a mistake by pushing the adjacent button when in a leather case.
No; I figured it would be more prone to triggering the buttons in light of how the 3000 case is set up compared to the 1000
I will try it
How does SE300 stack up to Cayin n7 ? which one is the better player in your opinion ( meets your subjective preferences ) ?
Just updated Comparison section, at the end of it.
Nice review, would love to hear this (and buy it), but still happy with my M8!
Steve, you probably should look into M9 Plus, heard it carries the same warm tonality 🙂
When will you review the M9 Plus ?
As I hesitate also between the N7 and SE300, I look for a relax airy detailed sound with good separation not too punchy, what might you suggest, need also enough power to drive my ZMF VC.
I don’t have M9 Plus, Shanling said they are still trying to figure out if they want it to be reviewed and who will get review samples. But from people who already got it, everybody agrees it’s one of the warmest daps on the market, maybe even warmer than original M8.