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: https://headfonia.com/review-astell-kern-ak380-momentary/4/
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”.
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.