Astell And Kern Go 24k Gold, Dan Clark Audio’s New E3 Closed Back

Astell and Kern A&ultima SP3000 Gold

It was only a matter of time, really. High end DAP maker Astell and Kern has thrown every fun luxury trick in the book at their line of portable audio players. Previously plated in options like copper, the Korean manufacturer has decided to finally cover one of their pieces in 24k gold.

The A&ultima SP3000 Gold is coming, and represents the latest and greatest model in their top line of digital players. More from the press release.

“Astell&Kern, a global leader in high-resolution audio products and accessories, announces the release of a special, limited edition 24K gold plated A&ultima SP3000. The A&ultima SP3000 is Astell&Kern’s current flagship product that is the essence of everything the company has learned and engineered over the last 10+ years. Available in December 2023, the A&ultima SP3000 Gold will retail for $4,400 in limited quantities at authorized Astell&Kern dealers worldwide.

Based on its innovative technology and perfect design, the A&ultima SP3000 received the highest praise from audiophiles and media outlets worldwide, for ‘opening a new horizon with overwhelming sound that reaches the pinnacle of digital audio players.’ Astell&Kern sought to commemorate the monumental success of the SP3000 by introducing the SP3000 24K Gold Limited Edition crafted with gold, the most valuable metal in human history.

Astell&Kern started with the innovative Stainless Steel 904L material used for the first time in the SP3000 and plated it with 24K pure gold to capture the pinnacle sound of the SP3000 in a metal of extreme luxury and value.

Gold has a beautiful luster, does not rust, and has excellent electrical conductivity, so it is used not only in jewelry, but also as a top-quality component for semiconductors and high-end audio, and is highly valued due to its rarity. However, the highest purity 24K gold is difficult to handle due to its low hardness, so extremely meticulous processes and work were required to complete the SP3000 24K Gold Limited Edition, which has a much larger area than jewelry, into a flawless product.

To deliver the highest quality product without compromise, Astell&Kern used a wet process for pure gold plating (plating thickness of 0.5um+/- 20%) rather than simply a surface treatment. To fully highlight the SUS 904L material and gold plating, nickel plating was first applied, followed by the 24K gold plating, and then an AF coating was applied to harden the surface and prevent fingerprints.

The SP3000 24K Gold Limited Edition is a monumental design that fully expresses Astell&Kern’s brand philosophy. Discover a new horizon for premium audio players with the unique beauty of timeless metals, and the amazing sound of the SP3000. The SP3000 24K Gold Limited Edition includes a special leather case and package exclusive to this limited edition.

When the original A&ultima SP3000 launched in October 2022, it included several new features implemented for the first time in a portable digital audio player. Some of these features are:

First Use of AKM’s Latest Flagship DAC with Complete Separation of Digital and Analog Signals in a HEXA-Audio Circuitry Structure

The A&ultima SP3000 was the first product to use Asahi Kasei Microdevices (AKM) latest flagship DAC, the AKM AK4499EX and features a complete separation of digital and analog signals in a HEXA structure design. Astell&Kern worked with AKM from the initial development stage to develop the DAC and circuit structure.

As a result of this collaboration, the world’s first four AK4499EX DACs, AKM’s latest flagship, were applied to the SP3000, and the innovative HEXA-audio circuitry structure design in which two AK4191EQs that process digital signals are applied separately, complete the amazing sound that can only be found from Astell&Kern.

Most digital players process digital and analog signals together inside the DAC. However, the SP3000’s advanced HEXA structure reduces the noise of the digital signal input using the AK4191EQ, a separate digital delta-sigma modulator, and then the AK4499EX DAC processes the analog signals separately.

By applying this unique design where digital and analog signal processing is physically separated for the first time in a digital audio player, it is possible to experience an incredible level of sound that has never been experienced before.

Stunning Audio Performance with Independent Dual Audio Circuits

To create not just a great DAP, but a truly innovative DAP, Astell&Kern tried to overcome the limitations of sound by envisioning an independent dual audio circuit for unbalanced and balanced outputs.

Almost all other DAPs, including previous Astell&Kern models, use the same internal DAC for both unbalanced and balanced outputs. Since the signal from the DAC is divided into unbalanced and balanced then delivered to the AMP, an Audio Switch is essential. When using a switch, there is a limit to the range of signal sent by the DAC, so most DAPs reduce the signal size first and then when the signal is transmitted back to the amplifier, it is necessary to restore the original signal size. This causes a limitation in improving the audio performance.

To overcome the limitations, Astell&Kern engineers designed a HEXA structure using two AK4191EQs and four AK4499EXs, creating an innovative unbalanced and balanced independent dual audio circuit design. As a result, the SP3000 achieves a Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) of 130dB, the best of any DAP available. You can feel the clean, pure delicacy of sound produced by the SP3000 that you cannot not experience in any other DAP.

Latest Snapdragon Octa-Core CPU

The A&ultima SP3000 is equipped with a Snapdragon 6125 Octa-core processor and 8GB of DDR4 memory, which is twice the amount of RAM commonly used in DAPs. Along with a redesigned 4th generation user interface, the player features a more powerful system that is stable with fast and fluid movement.

The CPU, memory and wireless communication parts are configured as one module, with the digital circuit parts arranged in the same area creating a single system on a chip (SoC). This maximizes the efficiency of the overall circuit configuration by providing more audio-only circuit space as well as reducing heat and noise from digital circuits.

New 4th Generation Graphic User Interface

With the newly developed 4th generation UX/UI, the SP3000 is focused on the process and experience of listening to music.

The new theme is designed with a focus on the experience of rediscovering songs that you have forgotten; you can quickly browse through music categories with simple gestures. A convenient search feature along with album art has been added so that you can enjoy a digital display of CD album covers of your music collection. It is designed to give you not only the pleasure of listening to music, but also to create fun when operating the device.

With the new Crimson Theme, one of the main features of the 4th generation UI, the graphics are simple and unintrusive, focusing on usability and intuitiveness. Three key concepts, Edge, Simple, and Dark Mode, were used to improve usability and increase clarity with a style unique to AK. The black and red theme colors are chosen to reduce eye fatigue, maximize battery usage and reduce heat generation.

The player includes 256GB of internal memory with support for microSD cards up to 1TB, dual-band 2.4/5Ghz a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, DLNA networking, USB digital audio output, USB-C for data transfer and charging, and the ability to use the SP3000 as a USB DAC for your Mac or Windows-based PC. A 5.46” full HD (1920×1080 resolution) touch screen provides a high-resolution display. The SP3000 supports native playback of high-res PCM music up to 32-bit, 768kHz and DSD512.

ReplayGain automatically and uniformly adjusts playback volume across different music tracks. Using AK File Drop, you can freely transfer files wirelessly through a PC, smartphone, or FTP program located on the same network. Music file management is now possible with a cableless, wireless solution.

The SP3000 adds support for both aptX HD and LDAC™ codecs to provide audiophiles with multiple options for 24-bit audio playback wirelessly. Latest generation Bluetooth 5.0 features faster transmission speed and greater range compared to Bluetooth 4.2, therefore providing a more stable wireless connection. BT Sink allows the SP3000 to connect to an external device via Bluetooth, and function as a Bluetooth DAC. Music from an external device, such as a smartphone can now be played back in high-quality, taking full advantage of the advanced audio innovations found in the SP3000.

Qualcomm QC 3.0 fast charging allows you to charge your DAP faster and more efficiently than previous models, reaching a full charge in about 3.5 hours.

In a headphone environment in which the left and right channels are clearly separated, ear fatigue may increase during prolonged listening. The Crossfeed setting in the SP3000 mixes parts of the original signal from one channel and sends that signal to the opposite channel with a time difference to center the sound image. This effect provides the headphone user with a sound profile similar to listening to the same music track in a room with full-sized speakers. Using detailed settings such as Shelf Cutoff, Shelf Gain, and Mixer Level, you can set the level of crossfeed according to your listening preferences.

The SP3000 and SP3000 Gold are certified Roon Ready.

The A&ultima SP3000 Gold will be available in December 2022 for $4,400 in limited quantities at authorized Astell&Kern dealers worldwide.”

DCA E3 Closed Back

Dan Clark newest addition is a closed back headphone in the $2k range. With a new Gorilla Glass3 construction on the earcups, the E3 showcases a new direction in design from the San Diego company. More from the press release.

“Dan Clark Audio releases all new E3 Closed Back Headphone

Uncompromising Top of the Line Performance
Extraordinary Value

Dan Clark Audio is proud to announce the Release of the all new E3 Closed back Planar headphone as you will read below and in the attached full color info this is a complete new design from the ground up. E3 will retail for $1999.99

E3 is Dan Clark Audio’s complete redesign of the iconic Ether C Flow closed-back headphone

E3’s striking black and blue design aesthetic, ergonomic shape, and Gorilla Glass 3 clad cups are just a taste of the the exciting upgrades to our midrange lineup.

E3 is a closed-back headphone that delivers DCA’s signature open-back listening experience with all the benefits of closed-cup isolation. E3s superb isolation creates an inky-black background that highlights the incredible realism created by the combination our patent-pending Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning System (AMTS) and all-new 5th generation driver. The result is a superbly smooth tonal experience, rich in detail, with a huge, wide-open soundstage free of any sense of “cup.”

Altogether E3 delivers the kick of mule when called upon to rock, yet teases out the finest nuances of your most detailed recordings.

Naturally E3 is as comfortable as DCA’s other headphones. DCAs acclaimed self-adjusting headband and ergonomics simply make extended listening a joy.

By unleashing top-of-the-line sound and comfort at midrange prices, DCA has set a new standard in midrange headphone performance, making E3 one of our most exciting projects to-date, making unrivaled TOTL performance accessible to a much larger audience.

Acoustic Metamaterial Tuning System (AMTS)

A critical feature of E3 is the enhanced AMTS tuning system, previously found only in our TOTL multi-award winning Stealth, Expanse, and Corina headphones. E3 not only brings this exceptional technology to a more affordable headphone, it does so with a new mode of implementation.

All headphones are subject to high-frequency standing waves which can make treble sound harsh, fatiguing, or synthetic. AMTS is a patent pending inline device placed between the transducer and ear that integrates waveguides, diffusion control, and resonators into one compact structure that eliminates these standing waves while giving us complete control of the high frequency response profile.

DCAs AMTS tuning architecture is “not one size fits all,” it is custom tuned for each headphone to deliver the ultimate headphone listening experience.

For E3 we developed a new mode of deployment that departs from prior implementations. We won’t bore you with the details, other than to say that the AMTS in E3 delivers an absolutely superbly rendered top-end that will surprise and delight, with a tone that is simply remarkably lifelike.

Of course while AMTS renders high frequencies with a refreshingly smooth, accurate, and detailed delivery across all genres, bad recordings will probably still be bad, we’re just humble magicians, not grand-wizards!

Planar Driver Performance Revisited

E3’s all-new 5th generation planar-magnetic driver delivers the smoothest, richest, and most detailed experience we could create to date. Its innovative diaphragms are made on an all-new tensioning system for a more uniform and consistent performance, lower distortion, and enhanced consistency.

Extensive R&D was spent optimizing E3’s planar driver. New diaphragm materials combined with highly optimized V-Planar knurling deliver low distortion throughout the listening range, with levels of detail heretofore found primarily in the top-of-the-line electrostatics.

Unlike many headphones where “detail” is created through exaggerated high-frequency energy, E3’s new drivers coupled with AMTS deliver exceptionally high resolution without the fatiguing distortions and rough frequency response users may be used to.

“What are those holes in the glass”?

That would be the Dual-Mode Bass Port, yet another DCA innovation for E3. While it’s not unusual to find a bass port on a closed headphone, our ingenious dual-mode port delivers unrivaled control of the bass frequency response, creating a superbly balanced, impactful bass experience that is full of power yet free of bloat or midrange creep.

Ok, Enough Geek-Talk, How Does it Sound?

E3’s 5th-generation driver and AMTS deliver an amazing balance of delicacy, nuance, and explosive dynamics that will have you reaching for all your favorite recordings, and cranking it up. And it’s not just about the tone and timbre; E3s soundstage is stunningly expansive, it’s all enveloping and can compete with even the finest open headphones in depth, width, and imaging.

Comfort is Still King

At Dan Clark Audio the ergonomic design is of paramount importance. After all, what good is a great sounding headphone if you can only wear it for 30 minutes? E3 takes advantage of every ergonomic trick we’ve developed, including the acclaimed self-adjusting headband suspension system from Stealth and Expanse, as well as the convenient and stylish folding gimbals that make E3 a conveniently compact travel headphone.

Why Gorilla Glass?
The E3 is a stunning looking headphone, from the stitched headband to the all new Gorilla Glass 3 finish on the cups. Gorilla Glass 3 is a thin sheet of alkali-aluminosilicate that makes the glass stiffer and more scratch and break resistant, and the styling of the pattern under the glass evokes the mesh of an open-back headphone, a design cue to highlight the exceptionally open-back listening experience E3 delivers.

And Now for the Exciting Close!

We’ve gone all-in with E3 to deliver the most exciting possible sonic experience, regardless of price, and combined that with an exciting new look and attention to comfort that make E3 the most exciting headphone we’ve released to date.

Equally satisfying with all genres of music, E3s soundstage, punchy bass, silky midrange, utterly smooth highs, and layers of detail will keep you engaged for days on end. Never fatiguing the E3 will have you revisiting your entire music library to experience your music like never before. The E3 is just too much fun!

Weight 455gr
Impedance 27ohms
Sensitivity ~90 dB/mW
Frequency response Yes, it has one
Distortion <0.1% ref 80dB White Noise”

More info: Astell and Kern A&ultima SP3000 Gold | DCA E3 Closed Back

If you are also hunting for some of the best options in audio gear this season, you can check out the Part Time Audiophile Buyers Guide 2024 that is now live. The Occasional Podcast has all the details and best of year recommendations. Available on your favorite podcasting platform (iTunes or Spotify) or the embed below.