The Astell&Kern SP3000 is crafted so delicately and sounds so beautifully.
Astell&Kern continues to set standards and pursue audio technological perfection. Their relentless hunger for innovation culminates in the latest flagship portable digital audio player, the A&ultima SP3000. Since the launch of the SP2000 three years ago, so many changes have been made, like doubling the DAC from two AK4499EQ to four AK4499EX. The SP3000 also features the HEXA-Audio Circuitry structure in which two AK4191EQ process the digital signals separately before channelling the signal to the DAC for the analogue path.
The user interface has also been overhauled with excellent touch and animation responses. The home page displays cover albums in CD jewel case design, swipe left and right to browse albums or tap the top right icon to browse other categories, while the top left icon brings up the menu. It is also possible to install streaming apps like TIDAL, Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music, KKBox, and more. Another much-appreciated addition is the inclusion of both 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced connectors, as well as the premium Bluetooth audio codecs, LDAC and aptX HD.
I was in awe after unboxing it and holding the product in my hand for the first time. People familiar with Astell&Kern DAPs would know that their players are unabashedly block-like with impossibly sharp corners. The SP3000 takes it to another level by using 904L stainless steel material never before used to build a portable audio player. It is polished to perfection and reflects everything around it, but is unfortunately a fingerprint magnet. Thankfully, the SP3000 comes with a French goatskin leather case for protection to the owner from the angular sides, as well as screen protectors that you can stick all around the glossy SP3000 body surfaces.
Listening with my Sennheiser HD 800 S on balanced cable output, the SP3000 delivers a musical sensitivity that touches me. It has an almost analogue quality in how the instrumental sounds are crafted. I should not describe too much on the frequency response because it is dependent on the headphones, but I must give credit to the SP3000 for delivering powerful, confident, pristine audio signals for equally-superior headphones to perform.
With the SP3000, I have finally heard the HD 800 S deliver its full potential for the first time since I bought it. The SP3000 does not exaggerate the output, yet it amplifies finer nuances and is therefore unapologetic in revealing recording flaws which my ears pick up much easier than what I usually experience. The sound staging is both intimate and expansive, wrapping the audio like a cocoon to soothe me with sound waves. It delivers equal footing across the frequency spectrum, neither emphasising the bass nor exaggerating the highs, even keeping the midrange very disciplined. Again, the credit might go to the headphones, but a premium DAP like the SP3000 makes a big difference.
I was equally impressed that the Digital Audio Remaster technology really improves the sound. The DAR technology upsamples the sample rate of the sound source to 384kHz PCM or DSD256 and delivers a more refined output and less “digital”. This mode works best with compressed formats like MP3, where the DAR reduces the sibilance and harshness of the treble, improves midrange details, as well as resolving some compression artefacts which sounded obvious without DAR. It also improves the sound staging from a flat plane into one with more depth, and instruments are more distinct. The upsample is genuine as evident from the LED colour indicator around the knob: it shows purple which means the output is in DSD format.
Unsurpassed audio detail and fidelity make the SP3000 sound as luxurious as it looks and retail at S$5,799
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