Astell&Kern (A&ultima) - SP1000M Digital Audio Player - Official Thread

dap
astellkern

#1

Astell&Kern’s latest Digital Audio Player, the “SP1000M” is part of their flagship sub-brand “A&Ultima”, is a more compact take on their flagship SP1000. It features the same dual-AKM4497 DAC design and base operating system/software capabilities, a slightly more powerful output stage, a super-responsive UX running on an 8-core SoC, and the ability to act as a USB DAC, a USB transport (feeding an external USB DAC), Bluetooth source, and a self-contained WiFi-capable streamer (with built-in support for DLNA, TIDAL and Deezer, and the ability to side-load various Android streaming music clients), among many other features:

Thanks to the “Community Preview Program” I’ve been listening to, and exploring, this little guy for the last few days and it has gotten an entirely un-expected portion of my listening time. Paired with the tia Fourté it’s the first player I’ve heard in a long time that has genuinely rivaled my current reference-player, the Sony NW-WM1Z, and it does so in smaller, less expensive and much lighter package.

First impressions are entirely positive, even using the single-ended output into proper headphones. And the only niggle I have so far is that macOS users have to use the rather janky “Android File Transfer” tool to access the unit’s internal storage (for microSD cards, you can just mount them in a card reader and access them directly).

I’ll have a full review in the near future, but am happy to answer any questions in the mean time.

This is the place to discuss this new state-of-the-art DAP …


Favorite-Gear-purchase-of-2019
#2

Some things I’ve tried with this unit already … beyond plugging in headphones/IEMs and playing files off local storage:

  • USB DAC (macOS) - Instantly recognized, with support for all PCM formats directly via the OS, as well as via Audirvana+ and Roon (as a local unit - network “Roon Ready” support is supposed to be coming imminently).

  • USB DAC (iOS) - from both an iPhone XS (via the Lightning to USB adapter) and an iPad Pro 11" (via a standard USB-C to USB-C cable). Again, instantly recognized - but make sure you maximize the volume on the source device as the SP1000M presents as a DAC with variable volume but STILL has it’s only amp-stage that is also variable-volume the level for which is not controlled by the source).

  • USB Transport - using a standard USB-C to Micro USB cable my Hugo 2 worked flawlessly as a DAC simply by changing the USB-mode of the DAP (available in the notification bar).

  • WiFi Streaming via TIDAL, using the built-in client, works very well. Navigation is a little more limited than with the full TIDAL client (which you can side-load via the “Open APK” service … and doing so gets you OFFLINE TIDAL replay as well) - ideally you want your music added to your “My Music” collection.

  • I stuck a full 512Gb microSDXC card in the thing and it read and indexed that without issue. The files on it are indexed in the background and as each one is indexed it becomes available in the normal UI (you don’t have to wait for indexing to finish to use the player). You can also use folder-browsing mode to access both a storage card and the internal storage directly.

  • There is no discernible hiss/noise with any of the IEMs I’ve tried so far, either via the 3.5mm single-ended or the 2.5mm balanced outputs. That’s not untypical of A&K units (my original AK120 was similarly silent), but most of the other DAPs I’ve used over the years exhibit some hiss/noise with sensitive/low-impedance IEMs.

  • Battery life is pretty much the 10 hours A&K claim with my tia Fourté, Zeus XR(A), Focal Utopia and HD820. Fast-charging is supported. The unit will play and charge at the same time, also.

That’s a quick run-down of things that are often problematic with highly-featured DAPs and that I wanted to check out sooner than later.


#3

After nearly two weeks with this unit, and almost a week of that spent in and out of various doctors offices and skilled nursing, this thing has been a god-send and an absolute delight to listen to.

And while it could, reasonably, be argued that I have, at best, a tenuous grip on sanity on a good day - this SP1000M, a micro SDXC card stuffed with half-a-terabyte of locally stored tunes, coupled with TIDAL streaming, and a pocketful of IEMs, most notably the tia Fourté, has helped me maintain a grasp on those last remaining slivers of said sanity.

Yes, I’d like it a little better if it had more onboard storage (there’s a new “Gold” version, with a brass body and actual gold-plating that has 256 GB internal storage for $600 more and an increase in weight of nearly 50%). I’d certainly prefer it if I didn’t need special software to address that internal storage (I’ve ditched the free “Android File Transfer” for “Commander One Pro” which is a marked improvement). And I wouldn’t complain if it had more than the 10 hours or so of battery life it has consistently gotten, even when streaming via WiFi.

Beyond those three niggles … which really are niggles … I love this thing. The relative lack of storage vs. my Sony WM1Z is easily made up for by the SP1000M’s ability to stream. Keep a bit of space free on the internal storage and it’s easy to download a few last-minute albums on-the-go (tethered to my phone) for off-line listening - including TIDAL Masters. The interface, while excellent on both, is a bit more fluid on the A&K unit. Yes, the Sony will run for more than twice as long on a charge, but it takes twice as long TO charge too. And the Astell&Kern wins by a mile in terms of weight and size … I do love the Sony, and especially it’s 4.4mm connection, but it’s a bit of a commitment to travel with it.

Sound-wise … there’s really nothing in it. They’re different in signature/presentation and technicalities, but both are superlative and it’s a definite case of six-of-one and half-a-dozen-of-the-other.

I could, and have, listen to either all day.

Full review still coming, and there is quite a bit to this player beyond how wonderful it sounds, but this is so good that it has me wanting to check out the other new A&K players - for those times/places when it probably isn’t smart to be toting around something quite so expensive and portable in a pocket.


#4

Nice! I loved Norton Commander back in the day. I hate Android File Transfer so much that I actually just use adb push from the command line.


#5

It’s not a full replacement for something like the old Norton tool, nor for the “Total Commander” tool on Windows, though I haven’t really played with it in anger for general macOS file-management yet … but it is much nicer than “Android File Transfer” for the A&K DAP at least.


#6

Some size/weight comparisons between the DAPs I have now …

Unit Weight (Oz) Height (in) Width (in) Depth (in) Volume (cu in)
Sony NW-WM1Z 16.05 4.89 2.87 0.78 10.95
Questyle QP2R 7.54 5.27 2.56 0.57 7.69
Astell&Kern SP1000M 7.16 4.6 2.67 0.66 8.11
Astell&Kern SR15 5.43 3.92 2.26 0.63 5.58

The SP1000M is already very portable - a lot more than the Sony, and more than you might expect just looking at/comparing from the picture. The SR15 (proper thread for that sometime today) is even smaller - and seems smaller still in actual handling/use. Reminds me of the original AK120 … which was half the size I expected it to be from pictures … only the SR15 feels more solid, is vastly more responsive, and sounds better.


#7

We’ve had the SP1000M in our office for over a month now and it’s probably a criminal shame that we have not been using it for headphones more often but it has found a permanent place in our two-channel set-up using the line-out on the player.

SP1000M —> SPL Director —> 2 x bridged SPL S800 —> Focal Sopra 3

We’ve tried a couple of different sources with the set-up but so far the SP1000M has stood above them all. It’s genuinely the first DAP that I am actively considering purchasing for myself. As you mentioned, it’s light, very light and has plenty of juice to power most headphones. And with the ability to do Tidal offline now with A&K players, the convenience factor is also there.


#8

Interesting that you’ve been using the SP1000M as a transport!

I’ve tried that with it feeding both a Hugo 2 and the DAVE and it does an excellent job - they must have paid an unexpected level of attention to detail on the quality of the output implementation.

And my experiments there were mostly to see a) does it work, b) how well (it’s excellent) and c) in advance of the Roon-Ready firmware update, which will let me use it via the Roon interface with TIDAL and Qobuz as well as my local library, as well as in full-blown portable-DAP mode.


#9

It performs at a level that neither @andrew or I were expecting. It is just a fantastic little unit. We are looking to add the Nucleus+ to our set-up though so we will see where the SP1000M ends up after that.

I really need to get more head-time with the SP1000M and some full-sized headphones (Utopia, LCD-X) rather than just the Elegia though. Hoping this weekend will be a good time for that!