Astell & Kern SE180 Player Lets You Switch Between ESS and AKM DACs

Astell & Kern SE180 digital player back.

Astell & Kern launch the SE180. The technological march of Digital Audio Player (DAP) designer Astell and Kern is never ending. Often times their innovations look like the internal musings of passing thoughts come to life -“what if we did this!?”. What if we created a player that lets people switch out the DAC chip? Well, now you just might be able to buy such a device.

While the Astell & Kern SE180 isn’t the first high fidelity DAP to float the idea of modularity, it is one of the first to do so with such accessibility and a video-game-cartridge-like application. Part of the mid-tier A&futura line, the newest player to join the AK family initially will ship with the default SEM1 module containing a ESS ES9038PRO chipset. The headphone connections are part of that same module, and will include an interesting selection of 3 jacks in 2.5mm, 3.5mm and 4.4mm sizes. This setup will also accommodate both SE and balanced headphones.

The first (with the promise of more releases later this year) additional module to launch will be the SE2. Available next month, the DAC chip innards will be two AKM AK4497EQ DACs in a dual-mono configuration. This changeout will also up the DSD conversion to DSD512 from DSD 256 and the highest native playback rate from 32-bit/384kHz PCM to 32-bit/768kHz PCM, although it is worth mentioning that these are resolutions that very likely never to be utilized to their fullest, but does give some sense of their specs on paper at least.

The amplification is getting some branding applied in the form of “Next Generation AMP Technology”. From the press release:

From the selection of OP-AMP parts, to circuit design, board layout and tuning, everything has been completely redesigned to produce the best sound. While it is difficult to improve the Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) while maintaining a high output, after countless hours of research, Astell&Kern’s Next Generation AMP technology solved the issue of increasing output while improving the SNR. The signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) with the default SEM1 module is an incredible 129dB, not seen in other products with this high output.

Along with new UI improvements, the Astell & Kern SE180 will also allow for wireless transfer of audio files from a computer of phone. Gone are the days of downloading finicky apps just to transfer songs from a MAC computer.

The Astell & Kern SE180 is available for preorder now, with shipping expected to start around May 17. Retail price of the player is $1,499 for the SE1 module and the SE2 will retail for an additional $349 when it becomes available in May.

More info: Astell & Kern SE180

Astell & Kern SE180 front.