Review: Astell&Kern SP1000 – Impressive

AK380 & WM1Z

Not a lot of comparisons are possible at the highest level but the two DAPs everyone is asking to compare the SP1000 to, are the Sony WM1Z and AK’s own AK380. If you have no idea of how the AK380 sounds and how it compares to AK’s other offering, you better check our AK380 review first:

The first impression you get from the AK380 when switching back to it after a very long time only using the SP1000, is how it sounds slightly more intimate as in less wide/spacious. The AK380 also has a little softer presentation, most audible in the mids and vocals. But to be honest these differences, while there, aren’t very huge either: the AK380 still is an awesome sounding player. The SP1000 is more spacious and has a wider stage but both have great layering and depth. To my ears the vocals in the SP1000 have slightly more focus than with the AK380, but it’s not a huge difference. Bass is awesome on both players, yet the 380 gives the impression of having more body because of the softer vocals/mids and the smaller stage. Another difference is found in the treble region where the SP1000 really performs extremely well. So is it better or is it different? On technicalities the new SP1000 certainly takes the first prize (more micro detail and better precision) but only your own ears can tell you if you prefer the new SP1000’s sound over that of the AK380’s. Both are TOTL very good sounding DAPs and while I understand people nowadays want the latest and newest (see earlier), I feel you can do an excellent deal buying a second hand AK380 right now. For the money these are going for the last few weeks, you’ll get a reference DAP with a sound quality close to the very best on the market – yes the SP1000 – for only a fraction of the price. Something to think about.

My Sony WM1Z at the moment is somewhere on an airplane on its way to me and I have only had the opportunity to listen to the Sony WM1Z at Head-Fi’s Canjam in London. While the 1Z and SP1000 both are top of the line players they have a very different way of presenting the music. Where the SP1000 goes for resolution and transparency, the Sony goes for a more musically full bodied, smooth signature. Both have a very high level of clarity and detail but they’re just presenting it in a different way. The depth and layering of the 1Z is exceptional though, and it body wise in the bass and mid region is quite a bit bigger. In that regard both players are complimentary but I doubt many people own both of these DAPs at the same time. Basically it comes down to what type of sound you like most, but it’s clear the 1Z and SP1000 are both sublime in their own way. I’ll of course be comparing the SP1000 and WM1Z to each other in more detail as soon as I’ve had some time with the Sony.

Probably Berkhan has had the most time with both players together, so at the moment it’s best to look at how Berkhan described the differences between these TOTL digital players:

“The SP1000 SS is more on the neutral and flatter side of things, whilst WM1Z going to the warmer and heavier side. The SP1000 SS has great resolution especially in the treble region, which is greatly articulated. The WM1Z has amazing and complete sounding bass notes, magical mids and still great trebles, despite its presentation. But the highs on the SP1000 are simply special, so separated and resolving. The Sony has thinner trebles compared to the SP1000 and they’re not that articulated.

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

End Words

Is the SP1000 the ultimate DAP as the A&Ultimate name says? For the moment it, to me, certainly is right up there together with the Sony WM1Z, but the AK380 isn’t that far behind at all.

The SP1000 not only looks great but it’s one of the very best technical DAPs that manages to remain musical in a neutral way. It’s great as a DAP, DAC, transport, source and even a network streamer. Sure it’s not the smallest or lightest DAP on the market but once you’ve listened to what it can do, you’ll happily carry it around with you.

Do you need to upgrade to the SP1000 from the AK380? That’s a tough call. It technically is better for sure, but let your ears decide. With the AK380 you already have an excellent DAP. The question now is what Astell&Kern will come up with next. Actually I should rephrase that and say: I wonder what AK’s marketing division will come up with next after having used “the ultimate”. On the other hand, does that really matter? Not really, as long as they keep making awesome and more advanced gear, I’m good with everything.

Astell&Kern, still rocks my boat.

The list with the full specifications can be found on the last page of the review, here.

4.6/5 - (186 votes)


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.


  • Reply September 30, 2017

    John Lee

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

  • Reply March 3, 2018


    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


      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


    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 🙂

  • Reply April 23, 2018


    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


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

  • Reply April 24, 2018


    Hello Leiven,

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

  • Reply May 22, 2018



    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


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

    • Reply July 19, 2018


      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


        Thanks for the help.

  • Reply September 26, 2018


    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.

    • Reply September 26, 2018


      desktop or portable? Budget?

      • Reply September 27, 2018


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

        • Reply September 27, 2018


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

          • Reply September 27, 2018


            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.


  • Reply October 7, 2018


    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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