Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000: the ultimate DAP?


Mis à jour le 10 March 2023.

The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 DAP is the latest model from the Korean manufacturer and features the best components available. Its fully balanced structure uses four state-of-the-art AKM DACs for music playback up to 32-bit/768kHz and natively decodes DSD512, as well as MQA files. The amplification section promises to efficiently power any headphones or IEMs thanks to a high power output coupled with a wide range of balanced and unbalanced outputs. Will all of these bells and whistles costing €4,399 succeed in making the A&K A&ultima SP3000 the best high-end DAP on the market?

The A&K A&ultima SP3000 DAP promises to enhance listening sessions with headphones and IEMs, thanks to its quadruple DAC and high-quality components.

Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000: packaging & accessories

The packaging containing the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 opens very elegantly, like a butterfly opening its wings. The player is securely wedged inside a foam recess. It comes with a USB-C to USB-A cable to recharge the DAP, transfer files and use it as a USB DAC. A genuine leather protective case is also included. 

The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 HD DAP comes with a USB-C to USB-A cable for charging, a protective case and a quick start guide.

Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000: presentation 


Replacing the popular A&K A&ultma SP2000, the new Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 DAP impresses with an exemplary finish worthy of the finest hi-fi electronics. It 904L stainless steel monobloc chassis is precisely machined and features no traces of assembly. The steel is polished to achieve a perfect mirror-like effect. It is lavish and jewel-like. The sides of the player are adorned with several angles and indentations that recall the geometric shapes of the brand’s previous models. However, the charm of the premium finish is broken by the fingerprints that quickly accumulate on the different shiny surfaces. This phenomenon is even more pronounced with the silver version of the Astell&Kern DAP.

The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 player is built like a jewel, with its polished stainless steel chassis and rear panel with geometric patterns.

With a width of 82.4mm and height of 139mm, the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 is smaller than the latest smartphones. It can be easily slipped into a pocket to be used on the go, despite its thickness of 18.3mm. The grip is good, but with a weight of 493g, this player quickly becomes heavy. Moreover, the pointed angles of the device can be uncomfortable depending on how you hold it. Consequently, it is best to use two hand when using the DAP for more than a few minutes.

With a width of 82.4mm and height of 139mm, the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 is smaller than the latest smartphones. However, it is a lot thicker and heavier.

The front of the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 is almost entirely covered by a 5.46 inch (14cm) Full HD touchscreen. Very bright, it offers a clear display no matter the conditions. Thanks to the use of an eight-core Snapdragon 6125 processor, navigation is smooth and fast. There was no charging delay, unlike previous models.

The large touchscreen is very bright and perfectly clear, even outdoors.

Quadruple AKM DAC 

The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 player is the first ever model to physically separate digital and analog signal processing. The goal is to limit interference, maximize the signal-to-noise ratio and reduce distortion to 0.0006% in unbalanced mode and 0.0004% in balanced mode. Moreover, while DAPs typically use the same DAC for the unbalanced and balanced outputs, the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 uses completely separate chips. Each section therefore features a double AK4499EX DAC, designed in close collaboration with the specialist AKM. It is paired with an AKM AK4191 delta-sigma digital modulator to increase processing precision. As a result, the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 DAP ensures optimal playback of most formats up to 32-bit/768kHz. It can natively decode DSD files up to DSD512 and play MQA streams.

The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 audiophile player uses separate DACs for the balanced and unbalanced stages to limit interference and optimize dynamics.

Triple headphone output

The amplification section of the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 DAP uses separate and isolated modules for the unbalanced and balanced outputs. In accordance with Teraton Alpha’s proprietary technology, these modules offer “the purest sound possible” thanks to particularly effective noise cancelling that ensures a perfect synergy between power supply and amplification. This results in impressive specifications, with a signal-to-noise ratio of 130 dB and a crosstalk of -145 dB. The assurance of perfect channel separation, with a real sense of space. The output power is equally impressive, with a capacity of 6.3 Vrms balanced and 3.3 Vrms unbalanced.

The volume is adjusted smoothly and precisely using the knob on the right side of the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000.

Thanks to this high output power, the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 DAP can power the majority of headphones and IEMs on the market. To do so, there are three headphone outputs: one unbalanced 3.5mm jack output, one balanced 4.4mm jack output and one balanced 2.5mm jack output. It can handle both high-impedance headphones and highly sensitive in-ear monitors with the same efficiency.

Thanks to a high output power and triple headphone output, the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 can power any headphones or IEMs efficiently.

It is also possible to use Bluetooth headphones and earbuds with the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 player. Music can be streamed via aptX HD and LDAC Bluetooth to optimize the bandwidth and preserve every detail of the music.

Interface & streaming 

The Korean manufacturer has once again used its proprietary operating system. The experience is less user-friendly than with Android players, but the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 benefits from a new interface that makes it more intuitive than its predecessors. The new theme makes it easier to navigate through the music library, with the ability to quickly browse music categories with simple gestures. Music can be browsed by albums, songs, artists, genres, playlists or folders. The tracks can be stored on the device’s 256 GB internal memory or on a micro SD card (1 TB max).

The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 benefits from a new interface that provides more intuitive navigation.

Although it doesn’t feature a Play Store, the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 DAP allows you to install the vast majority of streaming apps thanks to an alternative catalog. These apps include Spotify, Qobuz, Tidal, Deezer, Amazon Music and Apple Music. The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 player is also compatible with Roon and DLNA, allowing you to play music shared over the local network.

It is possible to install the majority of streaming services, such as Spotify, Qobuz, Tidal and Deezer on the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 DAP.

Power supply

The A&K A&ultima SP3000 DAP has a 5050 mAh rechargeable battery. The manufacturer promises up to 10 hours of playback with FLAC files and the volume set to 80%. During this review, the battery life wasn’t as generous, especially when streaming Hi-Res tracks via WiFi and using a balanced output. We rarely exceeded 7 hours of playback. The DAP is charged in 3h30 using the USB-C port.

Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000: key specifications

  • 4 x AK4499EX DAC (2 for the unbalanced stage and 2 for the balanced stage)
  • 32-bit/768kHz, DSD 516 and MQA compatible
  • Separate analog and digital stages
  • Separate balanced and unbalanced stages
  • 256 GB of internal memory
  • Compatible formats: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF, MQA, DSD
  • 3.5mm mini-jack, 2.5mm jack and 4.4mm jack headphone outputs
  • Dimensions (WxHxD): 82.4 x 139.4 x 18.3mm
  • Weight: 493g

Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000: listening conditions

For our review, we paired the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 DAP with the Meze Empyrean Elite and Focal Utopia 2022 headphones, as well as the new Astell&Kern Odyssey IEMs. We listened to Hi-Res FLAC and DSD files stored on a micro SD card. We also installed the Qobuz app to enjoy the 24-bit/192kHz tracks available to stream on the platform.

Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000: listening impressions

Like the brand’s previous models, the transparency of the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000’s soundstage was impressive. The music had room to breathe and was expressed freely. Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 explored every frequency range with even more finesse than the SP200. The mids were softer and richer. The vocals were warm and very natural-sounding. The highs had incredible definition and were very vivid. They were delivered smoothly without a hint of harshness.

The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 is the brand’s most sophisticated model. It perfects transparency, richness and extension.

The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000’s excellent signal-to-noise ration ensured that it worked silently. No background sound masked the details or disrupted the listening experience. Noise was totally absent, with real blackness between musical breaths. We could clearly perceive the extinction of the notes and the most subtle details. Even with ultra-sensitive IEMs like the Astell&Kern Odyssey with their impedance of 2.1 ohms, the A&K SP3000 provided a transparent sound free of interference and hiss.

The soundstage offered by the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 was even more grandiose. It became more open and spacious, providing a truly three-dimensional listening experience. The amplitude was striking and allowed the music to be expressed with ease. Each sound level was layered with great precision in a particularly vast environment. The instruments were very natural and were embodied in a holographic way. They were perfectly outlined, and we perceived the slightest nuances. The vocals were perfectly defined and stood out from the rest of the stage. They provided a wonderful feeling of proximity with the artists.

The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 provided great amplitude, with a wide soundstage and a three-dimensional sound.

The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 showed a great sense of balance. Everything was precisely positioned with the greatest respect for the recordings. We enjoyed a very nice extension in the low end of the spectrum, with lively, deep and perfectly controlled bass. The weight offered by this frequency range added substance and helped to embody the instruments. The midrange was particularly rich and very soft. The sound was similar to that of tube electronics, with a lot of naturalness and warmth in this part of the spectrum. However, the dynamic range was much greater, which guaranteed an energetic and exciting listening experience. At the top of the spectrum, the highs were consistently smooth. They responded to the slightest requests with agility and without any excess. Their extension seemed to be deliberately softened to avoid any sibilance or auditory fatigue. As a result, we could listen to the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 for hours without the slightest discomfort.

Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000: compared to…

Cayin N8ii: available for €3,499, the Cayin N8ii DAP has the particularity of allowing you to choose between tube or transistor amplification in class A or AB. An incomparable modularity that lets you adapt the sound signature according to your needs and preferences. In tube mode, the Cayin N8ii takes the advantage with a richer midrange and an even warmer and smoother sound. In transistor mode, the Cayin N8ii remains one of the best in its class, but the A&K A&ultima SP3000 reveals greater dynamics and openness.

The Cayin N8ii DAP offers a warm and smooth reproduction thanks to its tube amplification. 

Sony NW-WM1ZM2: available for €3,690, this Sony DAP offers a more analytic sound. Its signature is more neutral, sometimes too much so depending on your preferences. It lacks the rich mids and fun nature of the A&K A&ultima SP3000. The Sony NW-WM1ZM2 is also a lot less powerful, making it suitable mainly for high sensitivity or low impedance headphones.

Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000: who is it for?

The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 DAP is designed for the most discerning music lovers who want to enjoy an uncompromising listening experience with portable equipment. It provides a high quality headphone audio system to enjoy music from room to room in the house or on the move. This DAP will impress those who prefer a natural sound, with a lot of texture throughout the entire spectrum. Ideal for use with hi-fi headphones or IEMs, the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 player will be comfortable with both high impedance and highly sensitive models.

The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 DAP is an unbeatable portable solution to get the best experience with a pair of high-end headphones or IEMs.

Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000: conclusion 

The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 DAP is a huge success and supersedes all the brand’s previous models. It is a serious leap forward compared to the A&K A&ultima SP2000, with richer timbres and even more smoothness in the midrange. The highest degree of transparency is achieved, as well as the impression of space provided. The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 is a real pleasure for the ears. We would have liked to enjoy it for as long as possible, but its limited battery life in balanced mode pulled us out of the incredible musical experience all too quickly. This is not a problem at home, but long trips (more than 6/7 hours) will require an external battery or a charger.

We liked

  • The excellent signal-to-noise ratio
  • The wide and transparent soundstage
  • The soft timbres
  • The extremely rich mids

We would have liked

  • For it to weigh less
  • Softer angles
  • A longer battery life

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