Whilst using IEMs, the SP3000 has a decent level of efficiency and produces a noise-free background with zero hiss.
The lack of noise or hissing can be attributable to the “HEXA-Audio Circuitry Structure” and the “Independent Dual Audio Circuit” technology used in the DAP.
Even with the “Replay Gain” setting applied, there were no issues with hissing or background noise.
The SP3000 can produce 3.3 Vrms using the unbalanced output and 6.3 Vrms using the balanced output. Compared to other DAPs within the same price range, the output level is quite comparable.
However, as there is no “additional power” setting, the SP3000 did produce some mixed results during testing.
Although the DAP can power IEMs with ease, it did require a higher-than-normal volume/decibel setting to achieve the same result as compared to other DAPs in the same price range.
This indicates that although the circuitry is running in an efficient state, it takes extra power and volume to properly drive IEMs.
The SP3000 has varying impedance ratings for balanced and unbalanced output which are on the lower side when compared to other DAPs.
For balanced output, the 2.5mm output results in a 1.7Ω impedance whereas the 4.4mm has an impedance rating of 1.6Ω. The 3.5mm unbalanced output has an impedance of 0.7Ω.
With the Empire Ears ODIN, which has an impedance of 3Ω and sensitivity of 108dB, and the Nostalgia Audio Camelot, which has an impedance of 13Ω and sensitivity of 114 dB, both were able to produce a lush and highly resolving mid-range.
Vocals and instruments sounded natural with a high level of detail. It was evident that both IEMs paired well with the SP3000 and were able to utilize its strength in mid-range reproduction.
All select comparisons were made using the Empire Ears ODIN and Nostalgia Audio Camelot using their stock accessories and cables with 4.4mm balanced output.
The Cayin N8ii is a flagship-level and highly technical DAP featuring dual ROHM DAC chips and dual Korg Nutube outputs.
The Cayin N8ii can provide higher power output levels through its “P+” setting and A and A/B Class amplification modes. It features an open Android system including the Google Play store.
Compared to the SP3000, the Cayin N8ii comes loaded with more features, especially regarding the timbre settings, amplification, and its more flexible OS.
The Cayin N8ii sports a stealthy yet classy appearance with a jet-black casing, black playback control buttons, and a gold volume knob.
The Cayin N8ii has a 5-inch AMOLED 1280x720p touch display, and a 10,000mAh battery, weighing in at 442 grams.
Quite noticeably, the SP3000 is heavier than the Cayin N8ii although the SP3000 does have a more vibrant display.
The highlight of the Cayin N8ii’s design is the left side of the DAP which features a translucent window into the Nutubes when they are in operation.
Compared to the SP3000, the Cayin N8ii is thicker and has more height and length but less width. Weight-wise, the N8ii is noticeably lighter than the SP3000.
The Cayin N8ii is a technical beast capable of satisfying the needs of most end users with its diverse timbre, power, and amplification modes. The SP3000 falls behind here as it does not provide such a diverse catalog of options.
With its solid-state and Nutube timbre, the Cayin N8ii produces a highly satisfying sound without too much coloration. Hence, the Cayin N8ii comes off as neutral under solid-state mode which is similar to the SP3000.
The Cayin N8ii in solid-state mode produces more oomph in the lower end resulting in better depth in the sub-bass and increased slam in the mid-bass.
The bass itself has more detail and better texturing which is most likely caused by the extra amounts of voltage from the P+ mode on the N8ii.
There is slightly more resolution in the mid-range and energy in the treble on the Cayin N8ii which is also benefiting from the larger soundstage.
With Nutube mode activated, the overall timbre becomes warmer. This results in a much more natural and organic timbre compared to the AP SK3000.
The soundstage on the Cayin N8ii has more height giving in a more 3D effect compared to the SP3000. Furthermore, its imaging capabilities are superior as the Cayin N8ii can utilize the extra space and layering.
The HiBy RS8 (RS8) is a flagship-level DAP featuring a balanced R2R DAC which is very different from the Hexa-core setup of the SP3000.
Compared to the SP3000, the HiBy RS8 features dual amplification and is capable of utilizing Class A and Class AB output settings.
The RS8 comes loaded with Android 12, Snapdragon 665 processor, and “Turbo” mode which acts as a power or voltage booster.
With normal 4.4 balanced output and A/B amplification settings, the RS8 can produce 5 Vrms of maximum output which is lower than the SP3000 which can go up to 6.3 Vrms.
Hence, the Turbo mode becomes an important factor when trying to drive headphones effectively.
The HiBy RS8 comes with a brushed metal finish and weighs in at 584 grams which is much heavier than the SP3000.
This is due to the RS8’s casing which is made of pure titanium. The RS8 comes with a large 5.5-inch 1920 x 1080 screen which is powered by a massive 12,000mAH battery.
It is also larger than the SP3000 and measures 14.3cm long, 8.2cm wide, and 2.2cm deep.
The HiBy RS8’s R2R DAC produces a much warmer and more natural sound which is further exemplified by the additional features such as Class A and AB amplification and Turbo mode power settings.
As such, the SP3000 comes off as more neutral sounding without too much coloration.
The sub-bass and mid-bass on the RS8 are more pronounced, well-textured, and slower to decay compared to the SP3000 which is might tighter and faster to decay.
Within the mid-range, the timbre on the RS8 is much warmer and more organic sounding. Vocals and instrumentals sound incredibly lush and smooth on the RS8 which does not skimp on the technical details either.
The SP3000’s reduced warmth allowed it to bring out the mid-range, thus pulling it further forward whilst maintaining similar amounts of detail.
Treble extension and energy were about equal between the two. The soundstage on the RS8 was wider and taller compared to the SP3000 where the RS8 came off with better imaging capabilities due to the additional space and layering.
The Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 is a luxuriously designed DAP with an impressive sound performance that is neutral, crisp, and detailed.
If having superior vocal performance is your thing, then the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 will satisfy your groove.
However, its sound performance is somewhat limited to its lack of power “boosting” features and amplification settings which can impact pairings, especially when compared to other DAPs in the same price range.
Furthermore, its closed Android system creates limitations on one’s “freedom” on using the DAP and makes the SP3000 fall behind its competitors who have moved forward by fully utilizing open android systems to allow users to get the most out of streaming music.
Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 Specifications
- Model: SP3000
- Body Color: Black or Silver
- Body Material: Stainless Steel 904L
- Display: Full HD 5.46-inch 1080 x 1920 Touch display
- Supported Audio Formats: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF, MQA
- Sample Rate: PCM – 8kHz ~ 768kHz (8/16/24/32-bits per Sample), DSD Native: DSD64 (1-bit, 2.8MHz), Stereo / DSD128 (1-bit, 5.6MHz), Stereo / DSD256 (1-bit, 11.2MHz), Stereo / DSD512 (1-bit, 22.4MHz), Stereo
- Output Level: Unbalanced 3.3Vrms / Balanced 6.3Vrms (Condition No Load)
- CPU: Octa-Core
- DAC: AKM AK4191 x2 (Dual Modulator) & AK4499EX x4 (Dual + Dual DAC)
- Decoding: Support up to 32-bit / 768kHz Bit-to-Bit Playback
- Input: USB Type-C input (for charging, PC & MAC)
- Outputs: Unbalanced Out (3.5mm) / Optical Out (3.5mm) / Balanced Out (2.5mm, only 4-pole supported / 4.4mm, only 5-pole supported)
- Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz)
- Bluetooth: V5.0 (A2DP, AVRCP, Qualcomm® aptX™ HD, LDAC)
- Dimensions: 3.24” (82.4mm) [W] x 5.48” (139.4mm) [H] x 0.72” (18.3mm) [D]
- Weight: About 17.39oz (493g)
- Feature Enhancements: Firmware upgrade supported (OTA: Over-The-Air)