Totally Tubular? | Astell&Kern SP3000T Review

Totally Tubular? | Astell&Kern SP3000T Review

While micro tubes have been making waves in portable audio for quite some time, Astell&Kern waited until 2021 to dive in with the SP2000T, which combined the brand’s flagship design with  Korg Nutubes and the ability to adjust the blend of tube and solid state output. SP3000T brings a number of upgrades, adopting the new flagship platform pioneered by the SP3000 and offering a step up in the sound, design, and UI performance. Is SP3000T the flagship tube DAP we’ve all been waiting for?

Build and Design

SP3000T starts with the same size and shape as the flagship SP3000 and offers the same sort of flagship build and materials. There are a few basic changes: the power button is now separated from the volume wheel, and the super-glossy back panel has been replaced by a matte panel with a window to see the tubes light up when they’re active. The case also has a different texture, with different color options. Maybe I’m just not sufficiently en vogue, but the yellow-ish color case that is packaged with the device is an odd choice, and sticks out next to the classic colors selected for other players.

Astell&Kern SP3000T Review

Astell&Kern is keeping the 2.5mm connection alive, and provides 2.5mm, 3.5mm, and 4.4mm output on SP3000T. The USB-C port on the bottom can be used for charging, file transfer and using the device in DAC Mode. SP3000T features the same 5.5” 1080p screen and Snapdragon 6125 SoC as the SP3000. It supports the same range of codecs with Bluetooth 5.0 as well, including aptX HD and LDAC. The DAC uses the same setup of a AKM AK4191 modulator with the AK4499EX DAC, but where SP3000 used a dual modulator and quad DAC, SP3000T uses the dual modulator with just a dual DAC.

Using SP3000T

SP3000T is built on the same platform as SP3000 and has the same interface with essentially identical UI performance. Astell&Kern’s UI puts your downloaded music collection first, but provides easy access to download a selection of streaming music service apps onto the device. With the launch of the SP3000, A&K vastly improved their user experience, especially for streaming apps, and while SP3000T doesn’t offer any improvements there, the speed and responsiveness still feels solid.

Astell&Kern SP3000T Review

All of the standard Astell&Kern features are here, including a very flexible Crossfeed implementation, Digital Audio Remaster upscaling, and connectivity options like AK File Drop and AK Connect. SP3000T, being a hybrid tube DAP, features the ability to switch between solid state, tube, and hybrid amp modes. The amp control also allows you to select high, medium, or low gain, and hybrid and tube mode have a “high current” mode available, which improves performance with planar magnetic headphones.

While Astell&Kern has made consistent improvements to both the system performance and connectivity options in their current generation of players, SP3000T does come up a little short in the WiFi speed compared to the rest of their recent DAPs. I didn’t have any issues connecting to various networks or general streaming, I experienced some slowness in downloads and buffering and occasional interruptions when streaming high resolution music with SP3000T. It’s possible that this is connected to either the level of electromagnetic shielding the device uses or some kind of throttling to prevent interference, because this is the only portable tube DAP with WiFi streaming that I’ve used that didn’t have any noise or interference in the signal while using the combination of streaming and tube mode.


SP3000T offers two distinct sounds and the ability to blend the sounds to find something in between. In solid state/op amp mode SP3000T gives you a neutral delivery that hits very close to the original SP3000. The key differences from the original are that SP3000T’s bass is a little more reserved and the treble has a stronger presence.The imaging and soundstage presentation is strong, but SP3000T doesn’t feel quite as expansive as SP3000. Overall solid state mode is clean, detailed, and gives you performance that’s very close to the original.

Astell&Kern SP3000T Review

Tube mode changes things up in subtle but impactful ways. You get a little more punch in the midbass and more warmth in the mids. Along with that, the treble has the liquidy smooth feeling of the classic SP2000. Where it really excels though is in the imaging. SP3000T’s tube mode gives you a clear, immersive image, giving each element of the music weight and body. Vocals in particular stand out, offering an incredibly lifelike, personal presentation.

SP3000T performs well with a wide range of headphones and IEMs. The combination of tubes and IEMs – especially sensitive ones – is usually a recipe for noise and EMI issues, but SP3000T operates with a completely black background, even with sensitive IEMs. IEMs like Campfire Fathom and Andromeda which are notorious for noise issues did great, as did other highly sensitive IEMs like Raven. The low gain mode also provides a greater range of volume control.

Astell&Kern SP3000T Review

On the other end, SP3000T has great performance with over-ear headphones too. Whether in solid state or tube mode, you get a great presentation with good headroom in planar magnetic headphones like Arya Organic and high impedance dynamic headphones the Sennheiser HD650. The combination of tubes and the new high current mode offer the right combination of power and body in the sound to offer a desktop-like sound in a portable device.

Comparison: SP3000, SP2000T

SP2000T was a very intriguing DAP when it was released. It added some new features to Astell&Kern’s player platform to improve the streaming app experience, and, in addition to the tubes, switched out Astell&Kern’s signature AKM DAC chips for ESS. SP3000 was a revolutionary player that completely changed our expectations for Astell&Kern’s UI and performance while introducing a new flagship DAC from AKM. While SP3000T isn’t as big of a change for the brand as these two, it offers a unique experience with a little bit of both.

Astell&Kern SP3000T Review

SP2000T in op amp mode has a more incisive presentation than previous Astell&Kern players, while the tube mode offers just the slightest bit of smoothness on top of its reference sound. The one problem with SP2000T’s tube mode was the interference that was fairly common when you combined WiFi and tubes. It wasn’t a deal breaker, but it could present a roadblock for streaming users, especially when used with IEMs. SP3000T in op amp is slightly more incisive than SP3000, but still closer to the classic romantic sound of A&K DAPs than the SP2000T, while the tube mode takes it further in the warm, smooth, and relaxed direction.

One of SP3000’s best features is the imaging, which combines an expansive soundstage with lifelike, holographic presentation of instruments and voices. SP3000T doesn’t quite match the width and depth of SP3000’s stage, but it doubles down on the instrumental and vocal imaging, offering an even stronger sense of immersion that puts you in the room with the musicians. SP3000T also offers a bit more sonic range, with a solid state mode that’s a little more “reference” than the original, and a tube more that’s more relaxed. Put it all together and SP3000T gives you the versatility of the SP2000T, with sound quality and UI performance that’s neck and neck with the SP3000.

Astell&Kern SP3000T Review

The Bottom Line

Without any need for comparison, SP3000T is simply an incredible tool for listening to music. From the build and design to the user interface and features to the sound quality and power, SP3000T exudes excellence. While it offers a strong flagship experience across the board, if you want something more relaxed with a focus on vocals and immersive, personal presentation of music, SP3000T is as good as it gets.