Curiosity and frustration got the better of me. This is a really, really, expensive DAP which easily costs 2-4 times the price of other DAPs. After re-selling your fifth DAP, however, you start to do the math and come to the conclusion that you better buy the one DAP which does everything you want — no concession.
You might have gathered from previous reviews that I was looking for a DAP which can stream, yet with a music-centric UI as I mainly listen to downloaded music and only use Spotify for discovery. This requirement pretty-much eliminates the majority of Android-powered DAPs out there. Adding the requirement of a pocketable form-factor (i.e. a DAP with a screen under 5-inch and a weight of under 250 grams), there’s not a whole lot left and, after some thorough research, I chose the Astell & Kern A&ultima SP1000M. As the saying goes, buy once, cry once… right? Let’s see how that went…
Astell & Kern A&ultima SP1000M / Firmware: 1.41CM – EQ: none / Music app used: Stock & Spotify – Official site
HEADPHONES & IEMS
Astell & Kern T5p 2nd Generation (Dekoni Audio Elite Sheepskin Replacement Ear Pads) with stock 2.5mm balanced cable and 3.5mm via stock adapter
Campfire Audio Andromeda Special Edition: Gold (silicone tips, medium) with stock Smoky Litz Cable, 3.5mm, Single-ended
Campfire Audio Comet (silicone tips, medium) with stock Litz Cable, 3.5mm, Single-ended
Dunu Titan 6 (balanced (blue) tips, medium) with stock cable, 3.5mm, Single-ended
Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, Never Going Back Again / Quality: 24-Bit 96.0 kHz – Stereo, FLAC
Iron Maiden, Fear Of The Dark, Fear Of The Dark / Quality: 24-Bit 44.1 kHz – Stereo, FLAC
Joni Mitchell, Blue, California / Quality: 24-Bit 192.0 kHz – Stereo, FLAC
Nina Simone, Pastel Blues, Sinnerman (Live In New York/1965) / Quality: 24-Bit 192.0 kHz – Stereo, FLAC
Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here, Wish You Were Here / Quality: DSD / SACD
Plüm, You’re the one, You’re the one / Quality: 16 bit 44.1 kHz – Stereo, FLAC
Simon & Garfunkel, Sounds Of Silence, Anji / Quality: 24-Bit 192.0 kHz – Stereo, FLAC
Stevie Wonder, Talking Book, Superstition (Album Version) / Quality: 24-Bit 192.0 kHz – Stereo, FLAC
Various Artists, Atlantic Jazz: Soul, Comin’ Home Baby (LP Version) / Quality: 16 bit 44.1 kHz – Stereo, FLAC
48 hours balanced & 48 hours single-ended / Perhaps a more controlled lower end?
Coming from the Sony NW-ZX300 and reading a lot about TOTL DAPs, I was afraid to end up with something analytical/clinical given my tastes. The bottom line is that the A&K SP1000M offers an upgrade very much akin to what I experienced with the Campfire Audio Andromeda Special Edition: Gold.
The SP1000M sounds engaging and musical. It is also detailed and transparant without being annoying. English being the third language I learned, what struck me above all else was how articulate and clear the lyrics sounded compared to any other DAPs I tested. Lows, mids, highs, soundstage, instrument separation is simply done right. The only caveat, price aside, is that poor recordings immediately stand out as such.
Battery life is good, with or without WiFi on, as well as when the DAP is turned-off for a few days. WiFi signal is good, nothing bad nor exceptional. One point of attention: when using specific APK music streaming apps with the device such as Spotify, make sure to use the 64-bit (arm64) build of the app in order to benefit from the DAP’s Octa-Core CPU. While you can use 32-bit apps, they’ll feel slow compared to the rest of the UI which provides an overall smooth experience.
The volume wheel on the right-end side is a nice touch and can easily be operated one-handed. The Previous – Play/Pause – Next buttons on the left-end side provide positive controls though not as much when the DAP is used with its leather case — yes, the SP1000M is one of the few A&K DAP which actually comes with a really nice leather case so, yay 😃
Last but not least, since the SP1000M is equipped with a USB type-C port, file transfers are a breeze (using MacOS, YMMV) and charging is quite fast (note that the DAP charges faster when it is turned on).
So, buy once, cry once? Yes, most definitely. However, I wouldn’t recommend the SP1000M to anyone who is making a concession when choosing it — not in this price range. At this price, you should get something which is perfect according to your requirements.
May 29, 2020 edit: 1 star has been removed following the release and review of the Astell & Kern A&norma SR25