Skip to main content

With Astell & Kern’s latest hi-res audio players, there’s something for everyone

Astell & Kern A&futura SE100 Image used with permission by copyright holder

If you think a portable audio player is no better than your phone, then you’ve certainly never encountered the likes of Astell & Kern. We’ve long been fans of the company’s players, from its previous flagship to the more recent A&ultima SP1000. Now the company has debuted two new series of similar players at the High End 2018 show in Munich, Germany, for those who are looking for high-resolution audio on the go, but don’t want to shell out $3,500 for the flagship.

Both new models are encased in sturdy aluminum casing with a similar look and feel to the flagship A&ultima. While that model shot for the moon when it came to components and build quality, both new series cut the price tag without sacrificing the quality that Astell & Kern players are known for, which will quickly become apparent when looking at what goes into the new models.

The first model in the A&futura series is the SE100, which packs an Octa-core processor as well as the professional-grade ESS Sabre ES9038Pro DAC chip, which offers four channels of processing powers per left and right stereo channels, making for fantastically clear and detailed audio. Capable of playing Quad DSD audio natively, the SE100 can also play back up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM audio, making it perfect for your hi-res audio needs. This model features 128 GB of internal storage and can play back roughly 10 hours of audio before needing a charge. While most of the controls are accessible via the 5-inch touchscreen, a dedicated volume knob is a nice touch.

For those taking their first step into the world of hi-res audio, the A&norma SR15 is designed to be an affordable but still high-quality entry level player. This model features a quad-core processor and Cirrus Logic CS43198 DAC, providing plenty of power to play back high-resolution formats. This model supports single-rated DSD natively as well as PCM audio up to 24-bit/192kHz. The interface remains the same as the higher-end Astell & Kern players.

Astell & Kern is also showing off its latest collaboration with Jenn Harvey Audio, the Billie Jeam in-ear monitors (IEMs). These use a two-way dual balanced-armature design to provide excellent frequency response, with an Acoustic Chamber Sound Bore design that provides a wider soundstage than you’ll find in many IEMs.

The A&futura SE100 retails for $1,700 and will launch in May, while the A&norma SR15 will sell for $700 and will begin shipping in June. The Billie Jean IEMs are available now for $350, but if in-ears aren’t your thing, check out our list of the best headphones you can buy.

Editors' Recommendations

Kris Wouk
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kris Wouk is a tech writer, gadget reviewer, blogger, and whatever it's called when someone makes videos for the web. In his…
Tidal CEO says hi-res lossless is coming, raising doubts about MQA
best buy offers free tidal with select products

While participating in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit on April 11, Tidal CEO Jesse Dorogusker, said that the music streaming service would soon add the option to listen to hi-res lossless audio in the FLAC format. The new format will be exclusive to the service's HiFi Plus subscriber base. Dorogusker did not provide specific timing for the change.

"Breaking news for my reddit peeps:" Dorogusker wrote during the session, "we will be introducing hi-res FLAC for our HiFi Plus subscribers soon. It's lossless and an open standard. It's a big file, but we'll give you controls to dial this up and down based on what's going on."

Read more
$2,199 Hed Unity Wi-Fi headphones are the first to offer lossless hi-res audio
Hed Unity hi-res Wi-Fi wireless headphones.

They won't fit a lot of budgets, but if you're an audiophile who has long wished for a set of wireless headphones that can deliver truly lossless, hi-res audio, the Hed Unity are the first product that can grant your wish. The over-ear cans use Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth and can store hi-res music within their onboard storage for access to those hi-res tracks even when you're not at home on your Wi-Fi network. The price for this ultimate level of wire-free listening? $2,199 and you can order them starting April 12 at

The Unity is the first set of headphones from Hed, a Swiss audio company. The company calls the Unity's Wi-Fi-based audio Full-Fidelity. "We believe that everyone should be able to listen to audiophile quality audio, whenever and wherever, simply and without compromise," said Tim Degraye, Co-Founder of HED Unity in a press release. "It’s time to demystify the process. Once you hear the difference it’s impossible to go back."

Read more
What is hi-res audio, and how can you experience it right now?
Dlyan Wireless Headphones

High-resolution audio, hi-res audio, or even HD audio -- whatever you decide to call it (for the record, the industry prefers "hi-res audio"), it's a catch-all term that describes digital audio that goes above and beyond the level of sound quality you can expect from a garden-variety MP3 file and even CDs. It was once strictly the domain of audiophiles, but now that major streaming music services like Apple Music, Amazon Music, Tidal, Deezer, and Qobuz have embraced it, almost everyone can take advantage of what hi-res has to offer.

But what exactly is hi-res audio? What equipment do you need to listen to it? Where can you download or stream it? And does it actually sound better? We've got the answers.
What does the term 'hi-res audio' mean?

Read more