Astell & Kern A&ultima SP1000M – Launch Event

Astell & Kern A&ultima SP1000M – Launch Event

I was delighted and honoured to be at the Launch Event yesterday of the new flagship Astell & Kern A&ultima SP1000M portable music device (PMD). In a nutshell a lapis blue baby brother to the beautiful A&K SP1000 Copper PMD that sounds so good, only the M on the end means it is truly portable, and lighter!

Astell & Kern

Astell & Kern are on a journey, built on the highest standard and a desire to produce the best quality music players on the planet.  Approaching seven years of success the Astell & Kern SP1000M (henceforth called by its correct tag  A&ultima SP1000M, I’ll explain…) represents these years of progress and seven months developing a truly excellent portable music device.  A&K is a Korean venture owned by SK telecom and other partners.  A&K has Samsung executive roots, which is a good thing, and it is developing products in portable, earphone, home audio and other market segments but it is the portable sector where their success has come from.    To this end A&K have created four brand price points to differentiate their portable  products.  These are A&ultima (premium products), A&futura (high end) and A&norma(high quality retail).  They have a further brand callled KANN that is more for experimental A&K development products.


Frankly, it feels like this is the one if you are after a premium truly portable music player.

The A&ultima SP1000M was launched at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden on a beautiful day with many London Fashion week people flitting around the building.  In attendance was Mr David Jang (Senior Marketing Manger) and Alex An (The Product Manger and technical wizz)  who gave an excellent (and concise) summary of Astell & Kern’s ambitions.  After that we were all left to our own devices (literally) with pristine A&ultima SP1000M and some Audeze LCD-04z headphones (that I promptly ditched I have to say, not withstanding their quality) and a playlist of 24 bit downloads.  I went straight in and plugged in my preferred ACS Evolve (3 drivers).

Changes on the A&ultima SP1000M from the SP1000

A&ultima SP1000M

A&ultima SP1000M Top side with balanced output

David Jang explained the The A&ultima SP1000M sounds sonically the same as the SP-1000.  It does however feature an improved circuit layout.  It features the same two 32bit/384kHz (and DSD256) Asahi Kasei DACs, the same as the SP1000, one for each channel.  There is also an octo-core CPU in the The A&ultima SP1000M as before however there is less memory inside and a slightly smaller battery, both of which are a function of the smaller size and weight.  The new internal storage is down to 128GB and of course there is one micro SD slot.  You can now buy micro SDs to 528GB!  Mr Jang did suggest an internal 256GB option may be available with the latest tech but this was not an possibility during development of the 1000M.  The battery capability falls to 10 hours.

One of the key differences between the products is the weight, with a reduction of 48% to near 200g.  This is mainly due to the aluminium chassis.  The 1000 was steel or copper.  The screen is also smaller at 4.1″ fron 5″ which makes the product 18% smaller than the 1000 (it is now pocket sized compared to the 1000 in reality).  The dimensions of the player are 67.9mm x 117mm x 16.9mm.

Price wise, considering the sound is sonically similar (i.e. very high end) , the A&ultima SP1000M will be SRP £1,999.  The 1000 is £2,999.

Mr Jang commented in his interesting talk about App openness, something I had not appreciated.  He was suggesting that Apps like Tidal need to be made more open to support downloading features for example.  Mr Jang told me in conversation that MQA licensing issues are almost resolved and he thinks MQA will come to the Astell & Kern SP1000M next month.   This is great.  The 1000M has Groove and Tidal embedded and working now with Spotify, soundcloud and Amazon Prime all coming soon.  Streaming services will vary by country, Roon is also on the horizon for this product.

What does the M stand for?  Nothing specifically, the product is just Mini, Mobile and Maximum (producing the best possible sound).  Works for me.

A&ultima SP1000M Aesthetics

A&ultima SP1000MThe player is lovely in the hand and fits like a glove.  I want one.  It is presented in a lovely Lapis Blue to differentiate it from the straight SP1000.  It is a bit smaller in size to a Pixel 2 XL, a larger smartphone, though thicker.  It is about the same size as the Pioneer XDP-100 or an A&futura SE100 (review to follow).   It weighs 203g which is considerably less than the big brother SP1000.    The case is made of aluminium as features the irregular split planes on the side and a large volume bottom on the right (it is noticeably large), meaning you can just walk and adjust easily.  The right hand side plane slopes away and down to the left creating a sharp angle on that side, the left hand side slopes to the right towards you, creating a complimentary edge for grip.  On the left there are three buttons only for pause, skip etc.  On the top there are outputs to a smaller 3.5mm headphone jack and a 2.5mm balanced output.  On the base there is a USB C for fast charging and ONE micro SD card slot.

There is a thin leather wallet available, I was not clear on the price but that too was very comfortable and fitted without adding to the bulk particularly.

First Impressions of the A&ultima SP1000M sound

The 24 bit/192kHz ‘Hotel California’ was glorious, sparkling with this vibrant music player

USB C and micro SD slot

First off, I’ve had have limited exposure to A&K thus far, mainly I’ve seen and heard them at trade shows.  As I say above, it feels lovely in the hand and the leather case adds something to the aesthetic.   We were presented with the 1000Ms with Audeze LCD-04z headphones which I have not heard but didn’t really get on with.  They are just too heavy and, being open, of limited use in a noisy space with limited time.  I went in for the ACS Evolve three driver in ear monitors I brought with me that I am familiar with, they are absolutely excellent and the isolation qualities enabled me to hear the resolution on offer.  And what resolution, blimey! The 24 bit/192kHz ‘Hotel California’ was glorious, sparkling with this vibrant music player.  Cymbals crash crisply in the middle of the song and it really was a very revealing and wonderful experience.  Of all of my first impressions, it was the vibrancy and dynamic presentation that impressed most.  I am really looking forward to hearing the review samples when they come along.

Frankly, it feels like this is the one if you are after a premium truly portable music player.


The A&ultima SP1000M will be available worldwide in October at an SRP of £1,999.



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