Picture Sunday: Sony WM1Z vs. A&Ultima SP1000 SS and A&K AK380cu

Disclaimer: The A&Ultima SP1000 SS and A&K AK380cu is provided by Bircom, Turkish Distributor of Astell & Kern. Sony WM1Z is my review sample from Sony Japan. This post is a part of our Picture Sunday series.

BATTLE OF THE TITANS

Last week, I was invited to the launch of A&Ultima SP1000 SS and A&K KANN in Turkey. I of course accepted the invite so that I could listen the new flagship from A&K and their weirdest DAP yet, the KANN.

The launch was held at Bircom’s very nice and comfortable store yesterday. I had a great time chatting and sharing opinions with my fellow audiophiles. Also, I had a chance to directly compare probably 3 of the 5 best DAPs in the market (the others are Paw Gold and HM901S). So I spared a lot of time listening to these players. Here are my short impressions:

A&Ultima SP1000 SS vs. Sony WM1Z:

This was really a tough one. I enjoyed both as they’re both amazing DAPs, and probably the best 2 in the market in my opinion. They have different approaches to the music in terms of presentation. SP1000 SS is more on the neutral and flatter side of things, whilst WM1Z going to the warmer and heavier side. SP1000 SS has a great resolution especially on trebles, which are greatly articulated. WM1Z has amazing and complete sounding bass notes, magical mids and still great trebles, despite it’s presentation, which is the most special part of it in my book. But highs on the SP1000 are simply special, so separated and resolving. Sony has thinner trebles compared to SP1000 SS but not so much articulated.

SP1000 SS sounds so resolving and it has a great positioning. But bass is simply better with WM1Z in terms of texture and definition. Mids are equally good I think, with WM1Z having a little bit warmer and more musical touch. Trebles I think are better with SP1000 SS with a little more resolution and articulation. Stage-wise SP1000 is wider a notch but WM1Z is deeper. Overall presentation is more organic and fuller with WM1Z, while SP1000 SS gives a more seperated sound. So in the end, I cannot say one is better than the other, it all comes down to matching and preferences. It was a great experience listening them head to head.

A&K 380cu vs. Sony WM1Z:

I listened to standard AK380 versus the WM1Z first, and it was easy for me to tell that AK380 is no match for it. It sounds narrower and with more midbass focus, whilst the WM1Z easily surpasses it in terms of lows. Better soundstage dimensions, better seperation and better mids are the other strong points of it. AK380 has thinner mids but thicker trebles in comparison. Overall, I think WM1Z is simply better than AK380.

I switched to the copper version after, and I found 380cu better than the duralumin version. It sounds fuller to me, warmer and has better bass notes and better tonality in mids. The sounds is a little more wider and feels that it has more room, versus the more intimate AK380. So I think 380cu is closer to WM1Z, with having a reminiscent tonality. Once again, trebles are thinner on WM1Z with Ak380cu reproducing them thicker. On the other hand WM1Z’s bass still has no rivals in my opinion, as well as the organic and analog-like signature. The live recordings are amazing with it, thanks to it’s great note weight and deep soundstage performance. Treble articulation and general resolution is close, but WM1Z has better resolution on mids.

SUMMARY

I had an amazing time listening to these DAPs and I’m thankful to the guys who organized the launch of new A&K players. The drinks were great and hosting was top notch.

Remind you that all those impressions are formed through the single-ended outputs of these DAPs. To summarize; SP1000 SS is technically the best IMO. In terms of joy and musicality though, Sony WM1Z is the best of them. AK380cu was just a little behind but it’s sound was also very enjoyable and I plan to visit again and listen to it more. By the way, it’s really hot in terms of looks

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A lover of personal audio from Turkey, Berkhan always seeks the perfection. He chooses a simplistic expression of sound at all times, and tries to keep his photography enthusiasm at the same level with audio. Sometimes photography wins, and sometimes his love for music takes him over and he puts that camera aside.

33 Comments

  • Reply August 20, 2017

    Audio Asian

    But A&K themselves say that the AK Duralumin and copper should sound the same, same components and firmware…?
    Why do you say that they sound different? It’s not logical.

    • Reply August 20, 2017

      Berkhan

      When and where did A&K say they sound the same?

      • Reply August 21, 2017

        Bernie

        Berkhan, your description of AK380 vs AK380Cu is very good. I only have to add that to my ears also the soundstage depth is different (Cu soundstage is deeper). I own both units, so I had ample time to compare. đŸ˜‰

        SP1000 SS is slightly more resolving and slightly more airy than AK380Cu, but with my Focal Utopia I still prefer AK380Cu + Cu over SP1000SS . Very close call, however.

        • Reply August 21, 2017

          Berkhan

          I agree. Thanks for the support!

    • Reply August 21, 2017

      Martin

      There is also no way that a different “housing” could change the sound if all of the other components are identical. Those components are on a pcb. None of those components on the pcb are touching the outer housing. So how in the world should an copper housing sound different then an duralumin housing, if the headphone socket on both is connected to an pcb that is not touching the housing due to shortings. Is it because the “aura” on the cases is different? Come on guys. That is physics 101.

      • Reply August 21, 2017

        Berkhan

        Maybe it’s a software thing. I don’t know but what I do know is they don’t sound the same.

        • Reply August 21, 2017

          Martin

          Then they “sounded” the player within the software (under the hood). That could be one reason. Sure. But the different materials of the outer housing are not sound-altering.

          • Reply August 21, 2017

            Berkhan

            People say some things about “conductivity” but I’m not a technical guy. I just listen and comment đŸ™‚

      • Reply September 2, 2017

        PRaT.kaki

        The housing affects the sound in 2 ways; resonant signature, and better isolation from RFI (Radio Frequency Interference) and EMI (Electro Magnetic Interference).

  • Reply August 20, 2017

    Headfinewbie

    Although this passage did not go into very detail, it is clear enough information to fantasy for people like me who wont able to have any of these players soon.

    Cheers!!

    • Reply August 20, 2017

      Berkhan

      I would like to get all of those but can’t afford! Thanks for the comment.

  • Reply August 20, 2017

    Brandon

    Not going to lie, I took out an interest free loan to get the WM1Z, there is no point of the day no matter where I go that this player is not on or near me. Best electronic I have ever purchased hands down. The sound is incredible as you say, I did have the WM1A, returned it and got the WM1Z, yes…..yes it is worth it.

    • Reply August 20, 2017

      Berkhan

      Happy for you. Enjoy it!

      • Reply August 21, 2017

        Brandon

        Thank you! I do have one question for you Berkhan, is there a way to stack a portable AMP to the WM1Z, I see so many AMP’s with DAC’s in them which defeats the purpose of having the 1Z, so I am just curious if you know of any portable amps that do just that and allow me to plug my headset into the 1Z balanced and have an attached amp that can boost power to my headset?

        • Reply August 21, 2017

          Berkhan

          If you want to stack an amp to your Sony DAP, you should get a Sony LOD cable. Many cable manufacturers produce Sony LODs. When you connect that cable to the charging port, then you use your player as a standalone DAC, and your amp is handling the amplification.

          This is the best way to do it but I think there’s no point doing that because using a 3200USD DAP only as a source makes no sense to me.

          Btw, if your DAP is on EU firmware which has a sound limit, you can change the firmware to a version which does not have a sound limit so you can have a really good power from the player.

  • Reply August 21, 2017

    Mori

    I think you forget Dx200 ,because it’s excellent Dap in the market .read all reivews and comparsion between 3 top DAPs.

    Regard Mori

    • Reply August 21, 2017

      Berkhan

      DX200 is indeed excellent, but it doesn’t belong to these levels I think.

      • Reply August 22, 2017

        Brandon

        Thank you for the advice. My Sony WM1Z doesnt have the volume limiter on it. I finally was able to find an AMP that actually had a truely balanced in and out input on it (not an easy task) and no dac, I called so many manufacturers and in the end I needed a Analog Balanced Portable amp, and I found only 1, the Ray Samuel’s SR-71B. I actually got to speak to Ray himself and he got Drew from Moon-Audio on the phone and told him what I was wanting to do. Drew said I would need new balanced cables for the 2 headsets I am using (Sony MDR-Z1R and HD800S) and then a cable running from the balanced out on the WM1Z to the SR-71B. I was so excited on the phone and they both laughed and said this is about the only portable AMP that will actually push and more with the HD800S in balanced and produce that hidden bass and strong dynamics that usually only show up when you connect to a desktop amp. So for me I wanted to be able to have the portable option of just using my WM1Z solo or if I needed an AMP I wouldnt be chained to desk (not carrying my desktop amp to work and home everyday lol).

        • Reply August 22, 2017

          Berkhan

          Wow. It seems you have a super rare portable setup there. Enjoy it.

          I bet HD800S sounds great with that rig.

      • Reply September 7, 2019

        ameer

        please dont state something by thought or ur opinion… dx200 with amp8 brings it near towards this level..amp 1,2 and else is simply garbage sound

        • Reply September 7, 2019

          Berkhan

          It doesn’t, in my opinion. Sorry.

  • Reply August 22, 2017

    Spidermeng

    Nice review ; )

    I feel surprise your wm1z impression based from single-ended outputs.

    Hows your impression with 4.4 balanced out?

    Thank You.

    • Reply August 22, 2017

      Berkhan

      Balanced has a better separation and better imaging overall.

      Thank you.

    • Reply August 26, 2017

      Brandon

      Just got the balanced cables from Moon-Audio and SR-71B, Ill post pics later and thoughts. So far………these drive the crap out of the Z1R’s and HD800S with no problem at all, I have the volume on the 1Z set to 90, the AMP is at 20% (extremely loud and full dynamics and the bass……lol im going to poop myself! Will say this if this says anything, Im selling my Bryston BHA-1, theres no need for it anymore. The HD800S bass slams VERY hard and clean and precise with this setup!!! I didn’t realize how small the SR-71B is haha its half the size of the Sony WM1Z and the same width.

  • Reply August 25, 2017

    Blacktulip

    Good day! Thank you for nice review!

    Coud you tell what EIMs and style of music did you use in test?

    Best Regards, Nikolay.

    • Reply August 25, 2017

      Berkhan

      Hi.

      IEM was Oriolus V2. I listened to Jazz and Vocal Jazz most of the time. Also some Pop and RnB for testing out the bass.

  • Reply September 4, 2017

    click here

    It’s wonderful that you are getting ideas from this
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  • Reply February 11, 2018

    Nikola

    Is it possible to connect NW WM1A to my HiFi system and to use it as source/dac? (Vitus Audio apm and Nepper Perfection One speakers)

    • Reply February 12, 2018

      Berkhan

      It’s not possible as a standalone DAC as far as I know. But you can hook it up directly from the headphone output.

    • Reply November 10, 2018

      Nishy

      Dear Nikola, Did you find an output solution you liked? I also am wondering if with NW WM1A’s “no line out” socket and European version sound restrictions (ok this can be bumped up via an unofficial change), whether using the headphone jack as an output into a really good electrostatic amp and super headphones brings one good quality sound? I tend to use my DAP as an all-round source. I would appreciate knowing if this is worthwhile, to consider upgrading to NW WM1A or SP1000M. Currently HM901s provides such an excellent transfer and additionally it has a Dock too.

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