Astell & Kern SP1000M hands-on review

Smaller, cheaper, and better sounding? The A&K SP1000M does the impossible

The Astell & Kern SP1000M pulls off the impossible by being better than its sister player for far less money.
The Astell & Kern SP1000M pulls off the impossible by being better than its sister player for far less money.
The Astell & Kern SP1000M pulls off the impossible by being better than its sister player for far less money.


  • Compact and light body
  • New color stands out
  • Superb, highly detailed sound
  • Costs less than the closely related SP1000
  • Can side-load streaming music apps


  • Still expensive
  • Software can still frustrate

When any product gets smaller, lighter, and cheaper, very rarely does it get better at the same time. Astell & Kern has managed to pull off the impossible with the SP1000M, which is indeed smaller, lighter, and cheaper than its close namesake the Astell & Kern SP1000; yet the company says it has worked hard to not just maintain the same level of audio quality, but actually improve it. It’s the result of seven months of work, and we’ve listened to it to find out if such a feat is really possible.

To begin with, the SP1000M is way more portable than the SP1000, which, at more than half an inch thick and weighing 13.64 ounces, is a bit of a beast. The update’s overall volume has been reduced by 18 percent, and the weight has been reduced by 48 percent. It’s really only a little larger than the Astell & Kern SR15, which is a truly pocketable music player. While it’s still a bulky slab of metal and glass, the SP1000M is a device you can now realistically carry around with you. It comes in a new color too, called lapis blue, and it looks great. The brighter hue accentuates the mad angles and sharp corners that separate an Astell & Kern player from the crowd. You’ll want to take it out and show it off.

It’s this reduction in size that forced the company to get creative internally and push the audio quality to new heights over the SP1000. Inside is the same AK4497 DAC as the SP1000, and the same octa-core Exynos 7420 processor too, but the audio block has been redesigned, with everything getting smaller and placed closer together on the circuit board. For example, the capacitors are now closer to the DAC, which, according to the company, results in less interference and greater clarity.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

To test the Astell & Kern SP1000M, we brought along a pair of Brainwavz B400 quad-balanced armature in-ears, which we’re familiar with and have enjoyed using with a variety of music players and phones. We listened to a few different tracks, before settling on two to repeat.

Commanding power, rampant detail, and superb musical control.

First up was Blackpink’s Playing with Fire, where the strong vocals are perfectly centered right from the start, the central riff doesn’t lose its passionate harshness, and the baseline thumps throughout. From the crackle at the start of the track, and the spot-on echo in the vocals, we loved the detailed sound, and pushing the volume up didn’t change it either. You’ll lose your hearing long before the player starts to distort or run out of power. Why did we repeat the track? Because we wanted to hear the SP1000M play it again and again.

The Eagles’ Hotel California came next, and the 24-bit, 192Khz FLAC version from the studio album was already loaded on the device. It begins with some beautiful stereo separation that suddenly blends into a wonderful, cohesive sound right before the bass thump signifies the true start of the song. I was taking notes at this point, but from then until about four minutes into the song, I wrote nothing. I just lost myself in the music. The room fell away, and all that was left was Hotel California. That’s the mark of a great player. Overall, our time with the SP1000M revealed commanding power, rampant detail, and superb musical control.

The software felt smooth and moderately fast. There is still work to be done here though, with annoying pauses while the software finishes its animations, plus the new virtual back button — added for use with streaming services — does feel tacked on, despite being helpful. The SP1000M has what Astell & Kern calls an open app service, which means you can side-load Android music streaming apps using the APK file. It currently supports Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music, and SoundCloud. Not all streaming services will work, as some require data from Google Play, which does not come installed on the player. It’s still great news though, increasing the versatility of the player.

Any other changes or downsides? The smaller body means a smaller battery, which is expected to last 10 hours on a charge rather than the 12 hours from the SP1000. There’s also 128GB of internal storage space, rather than 256GB, purely because Astell & Kern could not fit the larger amount onto the circuit board. The player still has a MicroSD card slot to increase this figure.

astell & kern sp1000m music player interface
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

We’ve established that the SP1000M is smaller and lighter than the SP1000, and while we weren’t able to put it up against the original SP1000 for a A/B comparison, there’s no doubt it sounds superb; but what about the price? It costs $2,400, or 2,000 British pounds, while the SP1000 costs $3,500. The new price is still high, but who doesn’t want to save $1,100 and get something better in the bargain?

Why would anyone buy the SP1000? It’s simple, they shouldn’t. Buy the SP1000M instead. Astell & Kern told Digital Trends an SP1000 replacement will likely come in May next year, and presumably it will be an improvement over the SP1000M; but for now this does everything the wonderful SP1000 does, for less. What more could you want?

The Astell & Kern SP1000M goes on sale at the end of September.


As deaf gamers speak up, game studios are finally listening to those who can’t

Using social media, personal blogs and Twitch, a small group of deaf and hard-of-hearing players have been working to make their voices heard and improve accessibility in the gaming industry.
Home Theater

The best turntables of 2018

Vinyl records are awesome, but they also require a great player. To get the best out of your stacks of wax, it's going to take a fantastic deck. Here are the best turntables you can buy right now.

Spotify vs. Pandora: Which music streaming service is better for you?

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.
Home Theater

Genius gives Apple Music a brainy boost with new lyrics integration

Genius has announced its most in-depth partnership to date with Apple Music, bringing lyrics to the app as well as making it the default player for the Genius mobile app and website.
Product Review

For picture quality on a budget, Vizio's new P-Series is absolutely unbeatable

Vizio’s P-Series TV line has always been the best among the brand’s long run of budget-friendly TVs, but this year’s model has really stepped up. While the competition is also improving, Vizio’s latest P-Series keeps the brand among…
Product Review

Alexa, annoy my neighbors! The Echo Sub brings the boom you've been missing

Amazon’s Echo Sub is aimed at Echo speaker owners looking to inject some room-moving bass into their smart speaker experience. We quickly learned that it’s a niche product, but one that does its odd job extremely well.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: DIY smartphones and zip-on bike tires

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in October, from 'The Witch’ to ‘Black Panther’

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, subdued humor, or anything in between.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix in October, from 'Mindhunter’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

Out of movies to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this summer with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Castle Rock'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we've put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.
Smart Home

How to create spooky Halloween effects with smart home lighting and sound

This Halloween, bathe your home with eerie smart home lighting and audio effects guaranteed to spook your neighbors. Use colored light and eerie sounds to create eerie Halloween effects.
Movies & TV

The best new movie trailers: ‘Glass,’ ‘Mortal Engines,’ ‘Pet Sematary’ and more

Everyone loves a good trailer, but keeping up with what's new isn't easy. To simplify things, we round up the best ones each week. On tap this week: New trailers for Pet Sematary, Glass, Mortal Engines, and other upcoming films.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (October 2018)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.