Review: Astell&Kern SP1000 – Impressive

 

The SP1000 – Inside

With a new flagship Astell&Kern also introduced a new DAC chip and the SP1000 is now running the AK4497EQ dual DAC where the AK380 is using the older AK4490 chip. This updated AK4497EQ chip and the upgraded CPU according to Astell&Kern allow for accurate playback of native 32bit/384kHz audio with no compromise on sound quality. The music is played back, bit-for-bit, just as the artist and engineer intended for it to be heard. The SP1000 also supports native bit-to-bit DSD playback up to 11.2MHz for the best sound possible.

We already mentioned the new High Definition HD5 display which AK introduced and it’s a real improvement over the AK380’s screen.

“The A&ultima SP1000: delivering the ultimate Astell&Kern technology.”

Compared to the AK380, the SP1000 also brings more power output to the balanced output with less noise and minimal distortion. I already find the AK units very quiet but the SP1000 just might be the most quiet they’ve built so far and picking up noise with this units is becoming a challenge. I’m not saying it’s perfectly silent with every single IEM out there, but it’s seriously quiet.

Something you easily get used to is how fast the SP1000 works and you don’t really notice it till you switch back to an older or a non-AK player like the Hidizs AP200 or the FIIO X7. Sure these players might have more features but they’re very slow compared to the super fast SP1000. This is due to the fact the SP1000 now comes equipped with an octa-core CPU which according to AK allows the player to produce the exact musical detail present in the original recording without distortion and provides a quick, lag-free operation. I have to give it to them though, this is an incredibly responsive and fast handling player.

“The A&ultima SP1000 features faster booting times, speedy file transfers, lag-free processing and a new intuitive user interface for the ultimate player experience.”

Memory-wise we on the inside find 256GB which is expandable by using the micro slot. For now the maximum confirmed accepted capacity is 256gb but AK is testing the brand new – at IFA launched – 400GB cards at the moment. Most likely the SP1000 will be able to use them but don’t order them just yet till we have an official confirmation.

Intuitive and fast, that’s what AK wants to be with the SP1000 and the choice for the next generation USB Type-C connector shows just that. It supports and allows file transfer speeds up to 10Gbps and supports both data transfer and charging from the same cable. (Unlike the AK KANN where we had double ports at the bottom of the unit). The USB 3.0 protocol transfers data twice as fast when compared to other Astell&Kern players.

Battery wise the SP1000 also impresses and depending on your screen brightness and file quality played, you easily get up to 10 hours of playtime and more. It’s also possible to fast charge the SP1000 and it at 9V/1.67A only takes two hours of charging to deliver those 10 to 12 hours of continuous playback. Awesome.

SP1000 vs AK380

I could go on about the non-sonic differences between the AK380 and the SP1000 but Astell&Kern has made it easy for me with these two pictures.

Accessories & Price

The price of the stainless steel SP1000 is the same as that of the AK380 even though you get a whole bunch of new features and better hard ware: $3.499. Officially there’s no difference anyway, but in reality the shops here are selling both of the players at different prices, giving discounts or free headphones when buying the AK380.

Accessory-wise the SP1000 comes with a top quality leather case, a USB-C cable and some screen-savers. The coolest gadget/accessory is the MicroSD slot opener/tool which has the shape of the Astell&Kern logo. I however managed to lose that little jewel within 24 hours after I unboxed the SP1000 in my living room. I blame my cats.

Firmware/ User Interface/ Usability

The A&ultima SP1000 features a revamped interface design which provides music playback from the home screen to give users a more music-centric experience.

By placing the power button on the multi-function wheel located on the side instead of on the top, users can control the volume and turn the LCD screen ON/OFF, all with one simple control. Finding your way around the SP1000 menu structure is very easy. Like any modern Android unit you can now swipe menus down, left and right. This allows for a much easier and faster use of the player. As you can see in the picture the menu structure also is very clear and learning the basic principles only takes minutes.

The User Interface, as we’re used to from Astell&Kern, is clear and straight forwarded. The player never is slow on non-responsive. Updating the firmware over the air (OTA) is easy and the SP1000 will simply alert you when a new update is ready. If you’ve ever worked with one of the latest AK DAPs then working with the SP1000 will be a piece of cake. But even if you’ve never had the opportunity to mess around with them, you’ll known how exactly they operate within minutes.

The only downside here is that you can’t just install any program you want on the SP1000. You have to go with what is available / preinstalled by AK and that’s about it. And yes, Tidal is still hidden in the “Store” menu. The overall user experience is very positive however: no flaws – no hiccups – no crashes. If there’s one thing I would improve it’s the fact that the screen blinks when you set the brightness very low. My SP1000 seems to have a hard time displaying minimal clarity but once you slide the brightness slider to the right, that issue magically disappears. This could be related to my demo unit though, I wouldn’t generalize this issue.

The part on sound starts on page three of this review, right HERE

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

23 Comments

  • Reply September 30, 2017

    John Lee

    “On technicalities the new SP1000 certainly takes the first price”
    A Freudian slip? 😉

  • Reply March 3, 2018

    Michael

    Hi Lieven,
    how is it compared to AK320 in your opinion? I run it with Spiral Ear SE5 Ultimate. They are awesome, but I’m not sure if AK320 is the perfect match. Some say AK320 was the least coloured DAP in the range of AK. What do you think, is it worth the upgrade?
    Best regards, Michael

    • Reply March 5, 2018

      Lieven

      That’s not easy. To me the SP1000 is the best DAP when it comes to BA drivers (and UI), just for sound there’s also the L&P L6. And then there’s the Sony. But to keep it to AK: after I used the sP1000 for several weeks, I went back to the 380 and the difference just was too big to go back.
      Now I’m not overly familiar with the 320 but to me the SP1000 isn’t colored. So I do think it will be a nice upgrade but it does come with a nice price tag. Are you willing to invest in a TOTL DAP (you know, the maw of diminishing returns)

  • Reply March 29, 2018

    Alfred

    HI Lieven
    I don’t have L&P L6 but I had tried SP1000 and it sounds much rich compare AK 380.
    One important thing to me in terms invest DAP is the quality of sound. How was sounds quality of L&P L6 compare to SP1000? since the price gap of the two DAPs are so high 🙂
    what I means is the sound quality of both DAPs not other goodies 🙂
    Thanks
    Alfred

  • Reply April 23, 2018

    Rryy

    Is lime ear aether a good combination with sp1000? I just bought sp1000 and beat audio emerald 8 wire cable with inear sd2.

    • Reply April 23, 2018

      Lieven

      I like it (great treble) but that doesn’t mean you will. Any chance to listen to it upfront?

  • Reply April 24, 2018

    Ram

    Hello Leiven,

    Can you please list out best IEM to use with SP1000?

  • Reply May 22, 2018

    Gideon

    Hi,

    Excellent review!
    How does the SP1000 compare to the sound of the Hugo 2?

    • Reply January 28, 2019

      Jared Crandall

      I would also like to know how the SP1000 or SP1000m fair in relation to the Hugo2. As much as I search online I can’t get a direct answer of what to expect when going from DACs to DAPs. I understand that the functions are not apples to apples, but no reason that the sonics can be compared apples to apples…

  • Reply July 19, 2018

    Nitish

    Hello
    How to connect sp 1000 balanced/unbalanced output to Violectric v281 RCA/XLR?
    Thanks

    • Reply July 19, 2018

      Linus

      Hi Nitish,

      for XLR you’d need a double-headed 2.5mm/3.5mm to dual XLR cable, where the 3.5mm is for ground only. AK sold a cable for that purpose, called PEF21. There are many cable makers that offer that one too, cheaper than the AK cable.

      If you want to go RCA just get a 3.5mm to dual RCA cable.

      Hope that helps!

      • Reply July 20, 2018

        NITISH

        Thanks for the help.

  • Reply September 26, 2018

    Thurein

    Hi, I am using SP1000 with Layla ciem.
    May I know which pure amp will be best paired with SP1000?
    Looking to maintain JH house sound, AK clarity with a touch of warmness.
    Thanks.

    • Reply September 26, 2018

      Lieven

      desktop or portable? Budget?

      • Reply September 27, 2018

        Thurein

        Thanks Lieven.
        For portable, much of my listening sessions are on daily train commute 🙂

        • Reply September 27, 2018

          Lieven

          I’m thinking Vorzamp, Woo WA11, CypherLabs Duet (if you can find one)

          • Reply September 27, 2018

            Thurein

            thanks, i could still get Vorzuge amp pure II and CypherLabs Duet.
            Woo WA11 with DAC is a bit out of my budget.

            Which AMP would you recommend for my SP1000 with Layla ciem.
            Cheers,

            Thurein

  • Reply October 7, 2018

    Joelparisi

    Very good and very helpful reviews. I want to ask one thing, if this player is compared to Altman Tera. Where is the difference?

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