Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 DAP


Headphoneus Supremus
Astell & Kern: SP3000 compared against N8ii, RS8 and LP6
Pros: Modern UI, fast startup, pleasing sound
Cons: Closed android


I joined head-fi in 2010 after acquiring when I was looking for noise-isolating earphone Etymotics ER4S. Before then, I had no idea that portable audio was a thing, let alone a hobby. I remember plugging in the ER4S for the first time into my Sony Walkman, thinking this sounds different, in a good way, but why is it so under-power? I searched for whether there was something wrong with the earphones. Somehow, Yahoo led me to Head-fi (yes, I was a Yahoo search engine user).

At that time, Skylab, average_joe and CeliOS were the prominent reviewers of the “mainstream” products, and Mike from Headfonia provided insight into the niche product. There was no high-res music player—my research in “fixing” ER4S low volume led me to Xin super macro and Hifiman minibox E+, which I bought neither as I felt they were both expensive and, most importantly, I didn’t understand the concept of amplifier at all. I didn’t understand the language used in the reviews; it was foreign.
I remember getting my first 20GB Sony mp3 player, and thanks to its ATRAC file format, I learned about lossless music files.
I ended up never buying any amp for ER4S.
Instead, I tried various source improvements. That is how I learned about iPod cap mod, where ALO Audio offered modification services to bypass the iPod amp section[iMod], providing the cleanest lineout to most likely a Ray Samuel audio SR71A, SR71B


Source: mike from

If you wanted Flac support, thanks to the fantastic RockbFlaox community, you could turn your iPod into a flac player.

The first company to mention and push for a hi-res format was Hifiman, with the introduction of hm801. I had yet to learn what exactly that was, nor did I take it seriously for a long time.
HM801 offered no streaming, and Bluetooth audio was not mainstream, let alone in a DAP format. I remember buying the hm801 and downloading some sample songs for HDtrack, the only legal source of 24-bit audio.



I couldn't hear much of a difference, and due to poor UI, I sold my HM801, buying HM601, which I installed Rockbox and with the spare change left I bought myself ALO/cypher lab bundle for my iPod video for ultimate stack setup.
Somehow, things were more fun those days. The DIY community was buzzing with various mod, high-grade interconnects, and IEM cable started flourishing. Dac for iPod family became mainstream.
Almost everyone used an iPod for sources paired with either RSA audio intruder or ALO audio rxmk2/3.



You all remember the stack, right? Slowly, the stakes setup was replaced by a DAC/amp. Centrance Hifi M8(top image below) was everywhere, followed by Cypher Labs 720 DAC(bottom image below).

The demand was slowly growing for all in one unit. Those who could shift made, and those who didn’t, sadly, went away.
ALO audio transitioned into IEM (Campfire audio); Centrance focuses on pro audio, and sadly, Cypher Lab is no longer in business.
Companies like ALO audio decided to spice things up and added a tube amp section, but that was way after DAP was becoming mainstream.



All-in-one solutions. Digital audio players (DAPs) with high-quality DAC and amp were slowly being released. However, it was in the AK100 release that the hype of the DAP movement took place. It was the first portable, hi-res music player with a dual microSD expansion slot. It was the first of its kind, arguably leading to the DAP movement.


It had gapless playback and a modern UI with optical out and lineout features. I could continue listening to all the other products that came after AK100. Still, I would like to stop there as, in my view, AK100 started the high-quality DAP movement. An honourable mention goes to AK120, which proved that Astell & Kern is not a random brand. They mean business, and AK240 proved there is a market for high-quality audio on the go, especially one going after a slightly pro user with the inclusion of 2.5mm TRRS balance out. Was it a good idea to go 2.5mm balance out or, more importantly, needed for portable IEM usage? That would be another topic of discussion.

As you can see, it took a lot of company and an evolution in our listening habits, which resulted in industry-wide changes.
I went from single-ended(3.5mm TRS) to balance (in Kobiconn format) to 3.5mm balance TRRS (and its pro variety) to the awful 2.5mm to now what appears to be industry-wide 4.4mm pentaconn format, into WAV only play, to all about measurement focused, a tonne of voltage out, to discrete design, to R2R, class A to….
So why am I writing this article now? Basically, I spent a lot of money and want to pause for a while, but before doing so, I want to make sure what I’m leaving the hobby with is a good representation of my experience over the one and half decades.

1.1 What have I learned?
If someone were to ask me to explain what I have learned from being part of the digital portable hobby movement from early 2000, I could pretty much describe my entire experience in three words:
1. give up (something valued) for the sake of other considerations."
1. expediently accept standards that are lower than desirable."
1. having special rights, advantages, or immunities.
2. having been granted a special honour."

To me, to be an audiophile, who might be slightly more obsessed with sound reproduction than music, requires a lot of sacrifices, like giving up on a much-needed vacation to be able to afford an upgrade cable for my favourite IEM or allocating funds to buy the same album remastered release over and over, just so we can hear how new things in our favourite recording, instead of a dinner.
Selling items to try out the new one, only to repurchase the same hardware, I accept that perfection is an unachievable target set to keep us moving forward and, most importantly, keep the companies in business.
The best is what you have right now.
I realise compromise is sometimes needed; appreciate what you have now.
I feel privileged over our journey to be where we are now, knowing that going back 20-30 years, what we have in the palm of our hand, like portable audiophiles, would be nothing short of sci-fi.
I feel I'm where I need to be, and I feel I need to take a break and let science advance in the DAP world. But before leaving this hobby, I like to be sure that what I will have with me is a good representation of my audio preference evolution over the last two decades.


2.1 Sonic impression.

Writing DAP reviews is more complicated than writing an IEM review. It is much easier to hear sonic changes going from one IEM to another; however, with DAP, it is difficult. Why so? The difficulty is mainly due to the limit of one's IEM, assuming you do not have significant hearing loss.
It also requires the listener to deeply understand their IEM tonality and intimacy with one's favourite music; otherwise, when dealing with the high-end DAP segment, the truth is there is no wrong option; it is what works best for your headphone/IEM. The difference in the higher-end DAP matters if one also wants a DAP to power harder-to-driver, less efficient headphones. If not, assuming you are one IEM type, picking the suitable DAP is easy. The methodology I use for myself when choosing a new DAP is as follows:

"How is the sound of IEM X when plugged into DAP A vs. B vs. C? Can I hear the same changes in IEM Y and Z? (Do I notice the same perceived changes?)"

For this review, I will follow the same method. Where relevant, I will mention the IEM used; however, the main IEM used for this review are:

IEM used:AccessoriesWhy?
Dita PPTStockPower delivery, general tonality test. Dita PPT is the only IEM I've heard that can sound like full-size headphones and at times, a high-end near-field speaker, giving me an out-of-head experience.
JVC FW10000Stock cable, Pentacon Courier tipsSound stage test, treble sharpness, general midrange harshness.
Rhapsodio SP3Stock stip, Simphonio CS1 cableScalability, resolution, power delivery, Checking of micro-detail retrieval, and background noise.
Sony IER-Z1RStock cable, Pentacon Courier tipsChecking for S sibilance, scailibity.

Why these four? They are my favourite; I know their sound well, and each response to the source amp output changes.

Before going forward, I would like to let you know that in the world of subjective review, one's preference plays a huge part. While I do my best to be unbiased, there is no substitute for one's ear. No review can replace that. In this review, I aim to share my experience, rather than as someone who is an expert in any way, shape or form. I’m just some random guy who wants to share his two cents with the rest and, in doing so, hopefully, find what is best for him.

The science of sound reproduction is very young. Hardware maturity and generational sound preference are maturing differently. An argument can be made on even music theory on how major and minor notes arouse different feelings across different cultures. For example, how happy and sad notes are perceived in various cultures is common.

Interest in High-fidelity reproduction represents a tiny section of the population, and an even smaller portion is high fidelity in the portable format.

We are the niche of the niche, and the research in our market segment is even smaller. All one can do is share their experience. Hoping that their subjective opinion forms a data point in the larger objective research.

So, with that, I continue with the rest of my thoughts.

2.2 The art of subjective findings.

How much does each part in the portable chain matter, assuming the chain consists of an IEM, a DAP, and a cable that connects the two? Why do certain IEMs sound different from each other? For example, why can a balanced armature sound different from a dynamic driver? Why do we expect different DAPs to sound different from other DAPs? I will answer these questions below.

In a portable setup, assuming one sticks to a single-box solution, two main factors play a role:

1)The DAC: What role does DAC play?
The DAC is the part that performs all the mathematical calculations. All DACs perform mathematical operations to reconstruct the original signal stored in a digital format (data) from the data, ensuring they adhere to the sampling theorem. DACs differ in how they perform these calculations and filtering (Delta Sigma vs. R-2R vs. FPGA, custom FIR filter), but they are all constrained to the same theory.

The natural question is how important DAC plays a role. Is it significant enough for one to spend thousands of dollars versus a couple hundred dollars?

I believe the DAC is the most crucial part of the chain, as it feeds the rest of the system. The argument here is that if you start with a weak DAC, it can only get worse downstream. However, we cannot fully comprehend its true potential or impact for a portable hobby (or in a larger setup in general). In my lifetime, I may hear the effect of the DAC within the mobile usage footprint (something I can put in my pocket). Still, in most cases, we are limited to the stock reconstruction filters used by the DAC chip maker. There is nothing wrong with that, but I have to admit that I have never been able to pass a blind A/B test across all my DAPS. Reconstruction filters are needed; we can read about what they do; however, not everyone can hear their effect.
Brands like Hugo, with their own WTA filter, Mola Mola, with their PWM, and Hiby, with their Darwin filter, have attempted to move away from stock Delta-sigma chips and design their own DAC and reconstruction filters, even though they all perform the same mathematical calculations.

2) Output stage of the DAP(IV+LPF+AMP): The current/voltage converter, the analog low-pass filter section and the amplification stage of your source, which feeds the IEM/headphone. Once DAC has finished its calculation, the result is usually a current that needs to be converted into voltage. (We have cases where the DAC outputs voltage; in such cases, an IV converter is unnecessary.) Afterwards, a Low-pass filter is applied to eliminate any high-frequency nasties resulting from carrier frequencies. (If you are confused, don’t worry; me too; it is all linked back to the Nyquist-Shannom theorem. I’ve provided links where I could; feel free to read them.)

I believe it's in the output stage where all talented DAPs can make a difference. Anything beyond the DAC section (assuming they have designed a proper power supply section) is where designers can get fancy and implement various enhancements. They might, for instance, apply class A amplification, incorporate a tube here or there, or use space-grade capacitors. You can think it, and they can do it if they want.

3) Transducer use: After all is done, the voltage feeds the IEM attached. This itself can get very complicated.
This review will focus on the impact of points 1 and 2 on portable audio fidelity.

2.3 IEM vs. DAP, which is more important to get first?

My recommendation to newcomers is to start with the following purchases:

1) Try to figure out your IEM first: You can improve on the sound of an IEM, but no DAP can change the fundamental tonality of an IEM. If you don’t like the sound of the IEM, no DAP on earth can change that.

2) Experiment with various DAPs: You now know what you like in an IEM? It took you maybe half a dozen purchases, and perhaps you aren’t quite sure still, but you are happy where you are now. Only now should you start looking into DAP.

3) The cable: Only after 1-2, try with cables. (This is another topic altogether.)

2.3.1 Why this combination?

It all comes down to whether the IEM you have chosen can produce timbre to your liking. Only some have pitch-perfect hearing; only some people attend a live concert regularly to experience whether their setup faithfully reproduces that live experience, which is especially important in classical concerts. It takes time for an average audience to get to that level. So, at the start, don't buy based on the target of specific steemed reviewer recommendations. You shouldn’t even read any reviews when you first start this hobby, as it will confuse you. You should try them first-hand, form a gut feeling view about it, and start doing your research.
Hi-Fi(HiFi, short for High Fidelity) is a term used to describe audio equipment and systems that aim to reproduce sound with high accuracy and fidelity to the original recording or performance. What does that even mean to someone who started? I have been doing this for a long time, and I still don’t know if IEM/headphones can even be considered Hi-Fi.
You should aim to find what sounds best for you and start there. That is, in my view, Hi-Fi in portable audio. You don’t need a handbook for this. And if you stay, like I did in this hobby, you will notice a change in your preference over time, that is okay, as it is part of the journey.

2.4 Some other random things I learned that I like to share before the central review:

2.4.1 Why this section?

I'm not an expert in this field; I can't even consider myself a beginner. However, I try to educate myself. I've formed an opinion, and all my reviews are based on these conceived opinions. Below is my attempt to share some of my learned knowledge, so before you read the main review, you can know based on what basis I’ve written the review. Again, I don’t claim to be an expert, and most likely, due to a lack of formal education, I might have misunderstood the facts.

Timbre perception: So, how does our brain perceive timbre? Wait, what is timbre?
Timbre is that thing that allows our brain to tell, let's say, the voice of your mother apart from your father. It is the quality of sound that enables us to tell different musical instruments from each other. It is the quality that most of us consider when judging whether an IEM can naturally portray the reproduction of our favourite instrument in our portable gear.

The brain's interpretation of timbre is affected by a complex combination of elements, two of which I find more important::
1) Amplitude structure: If you are into synth music, this concept is not new,
2) spectral content.

1) Amplitude structure pertains to vibration characteristics and describes how the sound's amplitude changes. It includes:

  • Attack: The time it takes for the signal to rise from an amplitude of 0 to 100% (full amplitude).
  • Decay: The time it takes for the signal to fall from 100% amplitude to the designated sustain level.
  • Sustain: How long the single remains in its settle level
  • Release: The time it takes for the sound to decay from the sustain level to an amplitude of 0.
This all forms what we call an envelope of a sound, which essentially shows the change of amplitude of sound over time.


This is the part where various DAC filters can alter the sound/timbre of the instrument (pre-ringing vs. ringing of an impulse).

2) Spectral content: This is usually analysed by viewing a sample of sound amplitude over a period alongside its fundamental frequencies and overtones. This part can get very confusing as we can have identical spectral content but sound completely different.

With that out of the way, the review begins.

2.3 Scoring Summary:

I did my best to score the DAP for all its features and all the features I wanted from a modern DAP in this era. The scoring guide table is as follows:


Below is a quick numerical score of all the DAP tests for those who would rather see a score than a written review.










3. Review:


Disclaimer: All DAP/IEM mentioned in this review are my own except SP3000, which I managed to source from Astell & Kern directly. It is a loaner unit that I will be sending back at the end of the review. I’m not required to write any positive about it, nor any part of my review has been edited by anyone other than me. I like to thank AK, especially Eileen, for trusting me. I’m in no way, shape, or form an established reviewer; I’m not even a reviewer, but just some random dude obsessed (and tired) with portable fidelity.

As I own the other DAPs, the format of the rest of the review would be SP3000ss vs. the rest. This review aims to determine whether I need SP3K before leaving this hobby for a while. Comparing the sonic signatures of the Astell & Kern SP3000, Hiby RS8, and Cayin N8ii is probably something I am dying to do, but most other folks on head-fi. Not everyone can afford to buy all this DAP and keep them simultaneously. More importantly, not everyone would have the time or patience to compare this fantastic DAP against each other. Once you enter the high-end bracket, there is no bad (at least in the DAP world, the IEM world is different).

To my ears, all of these devices cater to different tastes, and understanding their unique sonic characteristics will help you make an informed choice.

Before I go forward, all reviews use 4.4mm out, as that is where N8ii and RS8 sounded their best.

3.1 Astell & Kern SP3000: The modern gentleman's DAP, with music performance in mind.



Give credit where it deserves: The only DAP I didn’t have to think about whether I’m getting the best I can from its 3.5mm vs. 4.4mm was SP3000. Both performed well, which is essential as not all my IEMs are balanced. I have several IEMs where I cannot change the cable, and it is good to know that SP3000 is not designed based on optimising balance output and 3.5mm as an afterthought.
What makes SP3K unique in independent dual audio circuit design is that the balance is not differential into single-ended, which usually degrades the sound.

-Tonality: The Astell & Kern SP3000 possesses an accurate sound signature with a gentle warmth enough to make the DAP sound more than just a soulless tool of sound playback. It strives to faithfully reproduce music as recorded without adding excessive colouration or emphasising specific frequencies. SP3000 delivers clarity and detail, making it ideal for audiophiles who appreciate a transparent and revealing sound, and thanks to its low distortion, the sound is never bright. It unveils subtle nuances and textures in the music, allowing you to hear every instrument and vocal with precision.

The sound of the SP3000 is well-balanced across the frequency spectrum. Bass, midrange, and treble frequencies are presented with an even-handed approach, ensuring that no part of the audio spectrum is disproportionately emphasised. Perhaps some might consider SP3000ss to highlight the lower-end spectrum slightly, but this could be due to low THD.
I never once was fatigued due to the tonality of the DAP, which is the benefit of having well-engineered hardware with excellent measurement.

- Soundstage: The SP3000 typically offers a comprehensive and accurate soundstage, providing a sense of spatial realism. Instruments and vocals are precisely positioned, creating a three-dimensional listening experience.SP3K does not add artificial space to the recording; it only shows its ability when the recording asks for it. Compared to RS8, which somehow adds a vertical stage of all the soundstage.
In this regard, SP3000 is very similar to LP6. N8ii is more restricted in this regard and does not allow music with large soundstage perceptions to show them off. - Versatility: With the DAR feature, one can alter the dynamic of the sound: DSD allows a more mellow sound, suitable for Jazz and chamber music, and PCM is suitable for EMD music, providing more of an impact.

The stock warm/neutral sound signature makes the SP3000 versatile, as it works well with various music genres. Its perfect pitch-black background makes it suitable for all IEMs, and it managed to power the source-sensitive Rhaposodio Supreme 3 with plenty of voltage in reserve.
Whether you're into classical, jazz, rock, or electronic music, the SP3000 can handle them all with finesse.

3.2 Hiby You said you like soundstage. Do I have a surprise for you?



- Tonality: The Hiby RS8 have a different sonic signature than the SP3000. Sonically, one might perceive it as a W or, at times, RS8 leans toward a neutral to slightly bright sound signature, with a big lower end to match it. RS8 sound requires an hour to reach its best.
RS8 may have a bit more emphasis on treble frequencies, which can make cymbals and high-frequency instruments sound exceptionally crisp. This might be due to poorer THD performance.

RS8 sound changes with different filter settings. I’m enjoying the Ultra setting release not long ago by Joe Blogg. The strength of RS8 is the ability to have a custom FIR filter designed for it, and they make a different, quiet, audible one, too.

- Soundstage: The RS8 excels at macro-detail retrieval, making it ideal for genres that benefit from a focus on complex passages and large orchestral pieces, so it is just a joy to listen to via RS8 thanks to its ability to let the entire stage present itself perfectly. RS8 typically offers a spacious soundstage, allowing for precise instrument placement and a sense of airiness in the music.

-Versatility: The Darwin filter and the turbo mode make a difference. The user can switch between class A or class AB amplification. I couldn’t tell them apart, so I usually have class AB with turbo on, as I feel it increases bass fullness.
We also can change the gain setting.

3.3 Cayin N8ii: I’ll give you some tube goodness, just some.



-Tonality: The Cayin N8ii has a distinct sound signature known for its warmth and musicality. Its warm and lush sound signature characterises the typical Cayin house sound. It adds a touch of richness and smoothness to the music but doesn’t quite reach the typical syrupy sound one would expect from a tube.

-Soundstage: The narrows of the bunch, slightly below LP6.

-Versatility: Much like RS8, users can choose between class A and class AB. Once again, I couldn't tell them apart. The user also can increase the output voltage swing, which made an audible improvement for headphone usage; however, for IEM usage, I felt the sound felt more force and was not ideal.

What makes N8ii unique is its dual Nutube, which I loved and consistently used. This is what made N8ii so memorable.

3.4 Luxury & Precision LP6 Gold: savant of the DAP.



- Tonality: Neutral, natural, and revealing. Treble has a particularly vivid presentation, where vertical and horizontal soundstage es are not emphasised. LP6 does an excellent job of not over-emphasising it.

-Soundstage: Same as N8ii, not the widest, but slightly better than N8ii.It can scale, provided the IEM can show it, and the recording has captured it, but I feel it is less obvious than SP3K and RS8.
However, on symphony recording, where the stage is captured within the recording, assuming your IEM can reproduce it, Lp6 is less expansive than Sp3000 and RS8. You get a sense of it but would experience it like RS8 or as accurate as SP3000.

- Versatility: For its time, it was the most advanced DAP. It has a coaxial out that lets you feed your hi-fi system. It is a darn good one, too. It also could become a desktop DAC by allowing you to provide it via coaxial in. It sounds best from this setting. But it offers far fewer bells and whistles than the rest of the DAP—no streaming, no Bluetooth, heck, not even a gapless playback.
We were promised both would be fixed with future firmware, but we are now told there isn't enough memory on the MCU chip.

In summary, the Astell & Kern SP3000 offers a neutral and accurate sound signature, the Hiby RS8 leans toward analytical detail retrieval, and the Cayin N8ii provides a warm and musical listening experience. LP6 is the most honest sounding of them.

Your preference for one of these players should align with your preferred sonic characteristics and the genres of music you enjoy most. I'd like you to know that auditioning these devices with your preferred headphones or IEMs is best to determine which fits best with your sonic preferences.

If judging based on the overall score, RS8 wins, followed by SP3K( overall score of 4.1 for RS8 compared to 4 for SP3000ss from a maximum score of 5. If you want to focus purely on sound, this review believes SP3000 is the best from the one compared in this review, scoring a 4.8 out of a total of 5.

1. Emotional responses in Papua New Guinea show negligible evidence for a universal effect of major versus minor music,
2. Interesting articles on industry expert and their view of what Hi-Fi (High-Fidelity) means nowadays.
3. What the hell is the purpose of LPF:
4. What is timbre:
5. What drivers perception:
6. Pretty cool:


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Awesome read. Txs for the effort!
The first part of this review should be a guide for all to read! Thanks for sharing your journey.
Thank you, this is awesome!


1000+ Head-Fier
I'm Going To Get Hate Mail For This One
Pros: Beautiful Build Quality
Green Case Included!
Lots of Jacks
Good Power
Has Tidal
Cons: Expensive
Sound tuning can be sharper than I like
Don't like the UI - not really built for streaming
The button layout can be annoying
SP3K Front.jpg

Original Logo Small.png


Yeah, I'm going to get hate mail for this review - inevitable any time you write a bad review of a $3,700 product. As always, I just write what I think, and I don't really care if you don't agree - write your own review. That said, this is just my opinion on a product I bought with my own money, and that doesn't mean you won't like it - you REALLY don't need to write me telling me how you feel - I REALLY don't care. Go listen to it for yourself, make your own opinions, agree with me, don't agree with me, and write a review (the guy I sold this to has heard it before and likes it). I'm sponsored by no one and I've made $0 on this silly hobby. This DAP just so happened to do poorly on my grading criteria, maybe it'll do well on yours. Cheers mate!

Up for review today is the Astell&Kern (A&K) A&ultima SP3000 (SP3K) DAP. Yeah, that name is way too long and has far too many & signs and random letters. I’ve been putting this review off for quite some time because I’ve been going back and forth on this DAP for quite some time. More on that later, first, let’s talk about the DAP itself. The SP3k is the update to the…SP2k. Cool, at least that naming convention makes sense, unlike a LOT of companies' naming conventions. So…what are you getting for your $3,700?

SP3k Side.jpg

Build Quality / Design / Specs (15/20):

First off, the build quality is fantastic, though I don’t love the idea of having to apply a screen protector on the front and back yourself. It’s a pain and you’ll almost always get some piece of dust under the protector, giving you an obnoxious bubble. The body itself is really nice with that fancy 904L steel. The downside of being that it picks up fingerprints like glass. Luckily, there’s a case, but more on that under accessories.

The design is also nice and feels like a luxury product. The power/volume button/wheel is pretty great and protected by the body of the player so you don’t accidentally press it – at least in theory. In practice, it still sticks out enough that it’s pretty easy to hit on accident – it’s also a very easy button to press, so you’ll accidentally turn it on and off repeatedly when putting it into a pocket. Additionally, the buttons are on the opposite side of the power/volume button. That’s actually pretty annoying because if you’re pushing the volume button in to turn the screen on or off, you’re also probably hitting the stop/play button or the next/back button – that’s not a good design. Other than that, the design works well and I appreciate having the outputs on the top of the player so I don’t have to do goofy acrobatics when pulling it out of a pocket. Oh, and the power/volume button/wheel glows the color of whatever file quality you’re playing, so that’s cool – though mine stayed Red or Green most of the time for some reason (even when using MQA.) Points off for design since it wasn’t well thought out.

For the specs, the SP3K has independent Dual Audio Circuitry and the latest DAC with HEXA-Audio Circuitry structure – whatever that means. I guess it means it sounds really good – it also supports MQA, and Native DSD512, 32bit/768kHz with Roon and LDAC wireless. It also has Quick Charge 3.0 and a Qualcomm 665 with 8GB of DDR4 – although A&K insists on calling it the Qualcomm 6125, which is the same thing. This is the same flagship CPU you’ll find on…well…everything else. That includes the $400 Shanling M3 Ultra and just about every other modern DAP. What the Shanling M3 Ultra does not have are two AK4191EQs and four AK4499EXs. A&K doesn’t really mention the wattage output levels, so it’s tough to compare that to other DAPs.

Accessories (10/20):

The SP3K comes with just a few accessories – Top, bottom, and front/back protectors, a USB C cable, and a Green leather case. The only accessory worth talking about is the Green leather case – it’s made from French goats (and I love Green.) How are those different from U.S. goats? I have no idea. But apparently, they are fancy AF because a replacement case is $200. Odd because it looks a lot like the Shanling M6 Ultra case, which is only $40. So, those French goats are just really fancy. Once again, this is a luxury product with luxury product prices, but it’s the only nice accessory that comes with the SP3K. The Cayin N7, which is $1,700 cheaper comes with much nicer accessories including multiple adapters. The iBasso DX240 also comes with nicer accessories for almost $2,000 cheaper. Maybe make the body of the DAP out of a cheaper material and you’ll have money left over for an actual luxury experience when the buyer opens the box. But at least it came with a case.

SP3K Back.jpg

Software / Setup / Ease of Use (5/20):

Hate it. The locked Android ecosystem just sucks. There’s a built-in Tidal app, that after you log into it doesn’t show your normal Tidal home screen, but some random stock version. To get to your music, you have to tap the symbol in the upper left corner and select My Collection, then, swipe left to get to your normal playlists, etc. It’s a pain and one that you don’t have to deal with on the N7 or M6U. Once you’ve logged in, you still have to go through 3 button presses to get to the built-in Tidal app, and while the normal Tidal app is downloadable and doesn’t have the interface issues the built-in does, it doesn’t work as well with the SP3K either – and then you have two Tidal apps.

So, not for streamers then. If you just put your music onto an SD card, you’ll have a better time of it since the built-in player is always the homepage. A&K went through all of the efforts of having MQA and allowing streaming, unlike the LP6, and it just feels like an afterthought – a bit of a bummer.

SP3K Button.jpg

Performance / Sound (15/20):

The battery life on low gain is just mediocre - not amazing or even good. It’s about 8 hours, which is about as average as you get. It’s still likely capable of powering most full-size headphones though for a good amount of time. Just don’t expect to power a Susvara for 8 hours…or possibly at all, I still don’t know the balanced output wattage amount. It is nice to have a 2.5mm on here as well, but I can count on two fingers the number of IEMs I’m gotten that came with a 2.5mm cable stock.

OK, sound, if everything else is just OK, the sound must be great right? Just like everything else on the SP3K, that answer has caveats. My initial impression of the SP3k was sharpness. Over the next few days, the sound grew on me, but what I realized was that the SP3k is exceptionally detailed, with good resolution, and a very neutral sound. I personally prefer a warmer sound like the M6U, the DX240, and the N7 over the sound of the SP3K, but, that doesn’t mean that the SP3K is bad at all – in fact it’s extremely good, but it will highlight the weakness in your music very quickly. If you have a treble sensitivity like me, it may be best to avoid it. Keep in mind that a lot of people absolutely love this DAP, so keep in mind what you like when purchasing.

SP3K USB.jpg

Comparisons / Price (3/20):

This is where I really think this DAP drops the ball. For less money, you can get the HiBy RS8, the Cayin N7, the iBasso DX320, etc. I prefer the sound of these and I definitely prefer the price. Without the space-ship steel body and the goat leather case, this feels like it should run about $2,000. But, for some people, the luxury touches make it worthwhile, and it’s definitely cheaper than the L&P LP6. I’m more of a function-over-form sort of person, so the luxury touches don’t do it for me. Also, the N7 has just as much luxury (other than the metal-glass body) with a sound signature I prefer, better accessories (although the Yellow case isn’t for me), and a sound signature I prefer – all for $1,700 less.

SP3K Ports.jpg


Yes, some people love this DAP; yes, some people think the price is worth it; yes, that’s OK. I suggest that you go listen to one before you buy one – the cost of travel may be worth the difference between this and something cheaper. Just because I don’t love it, that doesn’t mean you won’t. Get the best you can afford, but make sure that you like the sound of the SP3K before you buy one!

Wolfhawk’s Rating: 48/100
Wow what a great review. I have the Cayin N7 and sold my Cayin N6ii to get it - just wanted an upgrade nothing wrong with N6ii. I absolutely love the N7 and the yellow case - Qobuz works a treat on it and the ui is so fast. I used to have Astell and Kern products from the 120 to 240 and was not impressed and got the Lotto Paw Gold which did impress. A&K products are grossly overpriced and I don't know why they should be and seem to be now making a new ones on a regular basis just like Sony Walkman but with nothing special about them. Using the Cayin N7 with Meze Liric and it's a dream pairing.
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For me its the question:

Wm-mw1z mk2 or sp3000 is THE totl...?
I do not like so much Wm-mw1z (without streaming) and sp2000 was cool but with terrible software. Paw gold touch was cool (little, quickly, good signature).

Sp3000 not driving big cans, price.

Think: price of sp3000 you can buy alltogether:
Paw gold touch

The best in this hobby patience.
Just wait 2 years and get it used for 1700uss.
and so i sold my Cayin N7 and replaced it with the Cayin N8ii its big brother, could not be happier. They Lirics are outstanding and getting better by the day. Would like to see a comparison with the Luxury and Precision.