A&K’s latest digital audio player debuts interchangeable sound modules

High-end audio brand Astell&Kern (A&K) has added a new music player to its A&futura line, which slots in just below last year’s SE200 model. The stand-out feature on the SE180 is the ability to pop out the existing sound module and swap it for another.

The A&futura SE180 will ship with a module named SEM1, which contains an ES9038PRO eight-channel digital-to-analog converter (DAC), supports playback of 32-bit/384-kHz PCM audio as well as native DSD256, and includes 2.5-mm, 3.5-mm and 4.4-mm headphone jacks.

But, if this setup doesn’t quite match a user’s chosen headphones or the music being played, the SEM2 module may be a better fit. This unit boasts two AK4497EQ DACs in dual-mono configuration, supports playback of 32-bit/768-kHz PCM and native DSD512 audio, and comes with 2.5-mm, 3.5-mm and 4.4-mm headphone connections.

The idea is that users just pop out one sound module from the top of the players and pop in another. Just one additional module will be available at the launch of the SE180, but more are due to follow in the second half of this year and the first half of the next.

The A&futura SE180 wears a similarly blocky vibe to other audio players in Astell&Kern's product line
The A&futura SE180 wears a similarly blocky vibe to other audio players in Astell&Kern’s product line


Elsewhere, the new digital audio player is the first to sport the company’s new Teraton Alpha audio technology, which is promised to help deliver “audio playback that is close to the original sound through the use of effective power noise removal, efficient power consumption and amplification without compromise through the audio output interface.” With the SEM1 module in play, signal-to-noise is reported to be 129 dB while maintaining high output, and 127 dB with the SEM2 module.

The player’s five-inch Full HD touchscreen features a navigation bar to allow for one-touch operation, and the user interface supports the Open App service, which brings Android APK to allow for the installation of supported streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify, Qobuz, Bandcamp and Deezer.

Audio files can be sent wirelessly from a PC or smartphone over a common Wi-Fi network, and BT Sync makes connecting to a smartphone over Bluetooth easier than before. The Bluetooth flavor in play here is BT 5.0 with support for LDAC and aptX HD codecs.

Buyers can expect the familiar angular design and the funky LED status lighting around the volume wheel, there’s MQA decoding built in for handling streamed content from the likes of Tidal, and the unit comes with 256 GB of solid-state storage included, with the option to expand that by up to 1 TB via microSD cards.

The A&futura SE180 (with SEM1 module) is up for pre-order now, and carries a US$1,499 price tag. Shipping is expected to start from May 17. Pre-orders for the $399 SEM2 sound module start April 29, and it will also ship on May 17.

Product pages: SE180, SEM2