Review: Astell&Kern SP1000M – Magestic

I would still label the SP1000M as a player that has a neutral tuning, but because of its typical body and notes it doesn’t sound as neutral as the SP1000. You from bass to treble get bigger body and thicker notes and for many people that will make the M sound warmer and more pleasing to their ears. Sound stage wise the SP1000M scores good, but it feels more intimate than the TOTL model which has better separation and spaciousness. Depth and layering obviously are very good at this level as well as the micro detail and the dynamics. Like with the SP1000, I love the left-right balance, positioning and excellent layering. Both the decay and attack are still top level, as well as the speed the SP1000M displays. It’s a high end level and performance, it’s that simple.

It’s very clear these DAPs are using the same chips so it’s only normal the SP1000M scores as good as its big brother in a lot of ways, the SP1000 just is even more balanced, transparent, neutral and analytic sounding, where the M versions brings more life and emotion to the party by adding more weight and thicker notes.

To me there first of all is bigger bass (more quantity) and it hits harder with more impact. The detail is still great, it’s just “more”. The mids section for me is still very well detailed and layered but it’s a little less wide and spacious feeling because of the added thickness. The more “intimate” mids now are a bit smoother as well maybe, or more musical if I may call them that. The treble section is more energetic, more forward or the M is at least giving that impression because of (again) the thicker notes.

With this tuning I’m absolutely convinced more people will “like” this AK’s sound signature. It just sounds easier and more engaging with popular music or music where the recording aren’t the best. You get a less dry/analytic sound which is more engaging and expressively musical, while maintaining a whole lot of the big brother’s top qualities.

As we’re used to from Astell&Kern, the noise levels are very low. With the most sensitive gear however you hear just a tad more noise than compared to with the SP1000 but it isn’t audible at all when playing music, not even at very low volumes.

Vs The Family & Competitors– Part 2

The popular SE100 has left the HFN HQ already but from what I remember it is warmer and smoother sounding and it even had bigger body than the SP1000M. It also doesn’t play at the same level when it comes to precision, transparency, detail, speed and basically everything else. The SE100 is using a Sabre ES9038 Pro 8-channel DAC (the M, the AK4497EQ) so no wonder they’re so very different sounding.

The Cayin N8 (AK4497EQ) isn’t with us either anymore but the SP1000M does remind me a lot of the N8’s single ended solid state output, especially when taking into account the bigger body, thicker delivery and energetic treble. The SP1000M is less noisy than the N8 is, but of course the Cayin has that 3.5mm tube output…. At the same time it’s no surprise they have a similar sound signature as they’re also using the exact same DAC chips.

And then there is the SP1000 to which we’ve been referring to in this review since the beginning. The flagship SP1000 is wider, more spacious, more precise, more neutral, analytic and more balanced from top to bottom. The SP1000M is more musical and more easy to like but it’s not at the same technical high end level even though it’s still incredibly good. Both Linus and myself are lucky to have both these DAPs in our collection and even though we both agree the SP1000 is the best of the two, we both most of the time end up using and taking the SP1000M out for on the go. It’s less expensive should you break it, it’s smaller, it’s musically more addictive and technically almost as good.

Last week or so I reviewed the HiBy R6 Pro and this to me is a player with a big potential. Make it sound as or at least perform at the level of the SP1000M and you’ll have one of the best sounding, easiest to use and most versatile Android DAPs. As is, the R6 PRO (ES9028Q2M DAC ) sounds thicker with even more body and it isn’t as refined as the AK. Technically the SP1000M performs at a whole other level, but it certainly is a level where I would like to see HiBy go to.

And then finally there is the SR15 from AK’s A&Norma line. Obviously the SP1000M is leagues ahead. Not just in terms of features with double the internal storage, USB C or the bigger screen. The SP1000M also has a more advanced sound. It creates a cleaner signal, brings out more details on a darker background and stretches a bigger venue. The SR15 has more emphasis on warmth, whereas the M is more neutral, though still warmer. The treble section of the M is more agile and the bass has higher dynamics. The SP1000M is the more exciting sounding unit that keeps on wowing on a more constant note, while the SR15 is a highly enjoyable and relaxed.

There’s more on “Sound” in Part 3 on the last page of the article, right HERE


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 February 21, 2019

    Steven Zore

    I love my 1000M! I use it with the AndromedaSS earphones, and I’ve listened to them every single day since I’ve bought them, I’m constantly marvelling at how wonderful they sound! I tried the 1000M gold at NYC Canjam last weekend, and I prefer the blue; the gold’s sound had a thicker, ‘brassier’ note and a little less air between the layers. The 1000 stainless steel had a wider sound stage, and for me the copper had the best sound of all; the warmth and musicality of the blue, and the sound stage of the steel. Great review!

  • Reply February 22, 2019


    When is the comparison between the Meze Empyrean, The Utopia, LCD4z and so on coming.

    So looking forward to it after reading the Empyrean review in december. = )

    • Reply February 22, 2019


      Hi Steve

      Mea Culpa. I’ll try getting that one out in March but it’s tough with only 2 articles/writer/month. So often the normal product reviews get priority


  • Reply February 22, 2019


    Great review!
    Can we expect the Rai Penta review in the near future? 🙂

  • Reply February 22, 2019

    Timothy Lee

    Hey Lieven,

    How would you compare this to the Colorful U8? Is it similar in terms of tonality?

  • Reply February 23, 2019

    Jason Kang

    Have a A12 & Zeus XR. Definitely felt separation was a bit wanting and sound stage could be wider. I mainly pair with EA’s Hercules, though at times I’ve swapped to Mars and even pure silver/copper hybrid depending. I do agree notes are thick, and some of my albums that aren’t so well mastered don’t resolve well especially when paired with Hercules. Of course this could be all in my head…

    • Reply February 23, 2019

      Jason Kang


  • Reply February 27, 2019


    What is the best universal for very small ears and ear canals that you would recommend to pair with this? Andromeda are too large for me for example in size.

    Currently using westone ES30 but I find the detail retrieval a bit on the small side at times I feel like? Especially compared to my Etymotic er4sr.

    Thanks in advance

  • Reply February 28, 2019

    Steven Zore

    Try Xelento!

  • Reply February 28, 2019


    Xelento is the most comfortable by far. You forget it’s there with the silicones. I would like to try Meze Rai Penta though.

  • Reply March 9, 2019


    Hi, may i ask in sound quality wise only, is dx200+amp8 can be better than SP1000m?

    Thank you.

    • Reply December 12, 2019


      Seriously doubt it, sp1000m is whole nother level!

  • Reply April 3, 2019


    Hi, I’m currently using my old faithful NW-ZX2 paired with Shure SE846 IEM’s. The ZX2 is getting increasingly clunky when using Tidal, which is not going to get better knowing Sony!
    Sound wise, how much better is the SP1000M and do you think this would pair well with the 846 IEM’s?

  • Reply May 3, 2019

    Steven Zore

    “SP1000 is exceptionally good in what it does but for some people it’s too analytic, light and neutral…”

    Is this true for the 1000 copper as well?

  • Reply May 27, 2019


    I just received my AK SP1000M together with Denon AH-D9200 for total EUR 2575(!) and can’t believe my ears. What a majestic look and sound. Thank you for your detailed review that encouraged me to buy the SPKM. I love my AK240 but need Tidal offline. And thanks to your description and link installation under windows was easy. Happy, happy, happy.

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