Perfectionism in the masses – money in the cash registers / Blog company Pult.ru / SurprizingFacts

At one time iRiver was the leader of the mass market of portable players. Not infrequently, beginning stories about their products, many of my colleagues remind readers of this fact. On the contrary, I want to say something else. Today the situation has radically changed, since Astell & Kern is a technique for those not many who are not ready to put up with any compromises in portable audio.

Such people are often not enough to just listen, they need to know that the devices they use are unique, and the capabilities of these gadgets outperform any analogues. It is absolutely natural that the prices for such "toys" are as uncompromising.
 In this post we will talk about a device that can be called without exaggeration not only the flagship of the company, but one of the best in the history of the industry.

Looking ahead, I can say that I adhere to a reserved, often skeptical view of most high End solutions. I consider these devices somewhat irrational, partly due to astronomical prices, and also because of the hypertrophy of investments in development. In this case, Astell & Kern Ultima SP1000 is, in my opinion, one of those devices that, in principle, justifies the existence of High End technology as a phenomenon.

Under the subjective listening experience, a review of the hardware and functionality of the device , As well as a few words about ergonomics and design

The first acquaintance

Further very subjective evaluations and results of blind comparison with the list of test compositions will follow. Those who are interested exclusively in describing the functionality, iron and characteristics I recommend to skip this part of the article.

The people who visit our showrooms and at the same time read our blog could draw attention to the fact that the opinions of some of our experts, Approaches to sound and equipment are very different from mine. So, one of my ideological rivals, an ardent supporter of the High End and concurrently, our expert invited me to listen to the first-ever Ultima line from Astell & Kern.

I agreed, thinking that Whether someday the natural zhblobstvo will allow me to pay 250 000 rubles for the player. But I just did not want to listen – I offered to conduct a blind test and compare it with my not-so-old COWON (so as not to make an anti-advertising to a good manufacturer, I will not specify the model; I will only note that my player is more than 20 times cheaper than SP1000 ).

I always had great respect for iRiver devices, but, frankly, I did not expect to hear a significant difference. Since I am convinced that the sound quality is almost independent of the source. For the purity of the experiment, we used the same HiFiMAN headphones HE1000 V2 (which is interesting, despite the low sensitivity, there was no need for additional amplification for SP1000).

The following tracks were used as test tracks:

  • WA Mozart – London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir under George Sholty – Requiem in D minor – "Dies Irae". (Format wav);
  • Metallica with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (Live – 1999) – "Ecstasy of gold" (Envio Morricone cover) (format wav);
  • Death – "Lack of Comprehension" (remastering 2011 of the original composition of the album "Human") (DSD format – 2,822,400 Hz);
  • Pink Floyd – "comfortably numb" (The Wall) (DSD format – 2,822,400 Hz);
  • Steen Jørgensen – "Yesterday Is Here" (Tom Waits cover) (DSD format – 2,822,400 Hz);
  • Steen Jørgensen – "Help" (Beatles cover) (DSD format – 2,822,400 Hz);
  • Alfred Schnittke – (State Chamber Choir of the Ministry of Culture of the USSR, Valery Polyansky) Concerto for Choir – 1. "O, Thee the sovereign …" (format wav);
  • Alfred Schnittke – (State Chamber Choir of the USSR Ministry of Culture, Valery Polyansky) – Concerto for Choir – 4. "This work which I begin …" (format wav);
  • Eduard Artemiev – "Eternity" (OST of Siberiad) (format flac – converted from SACD).

The result – in eight of the nine tracks, I unerringly identified the Astell & Kern Ultima SP1000 (I did not notice any significant differences only in the Metallica track, I think, due to the nuances of the concert recording). I can note that the source more accurately conveys the features of the stereopanorama, making it realistic and voluminous, in other words – this is what audiophiles call a deep and wide scene.

The apparent sources of sound (KIZ) in the Astell & Kern sound picture were more Exactly. TN. The detail is ideal, so the level of distortion (at high power) in the audible spectrum of frequencies is minimized. Astell & Kern SP1000 made it easy to concentrate on individual instrument parts in symphonic works and individual voices in choral ones. With my device, this "listening" required effort, especially when listening to wind and chorus parts.

Both players did not make any significant differences in the timbral coloration of the sound, which, incidentally, is not surprising. The sound of the device is very smooth, noticed certain small accents on the medium low, but it tends to write them off on the HiFiMAN HE1000 V2, at my native COWON these accents were completely the same. I can not say that I experienced a shock, but I expected a lesser subjective difference, and therefore was very surprised. And yet, I can not say with certainty that I heard a significant difference between DSD, FLAC and WAV, but perhaps these are not for my ears.

Hardware and software

Performance SP1000 is provided by 8-core processor octa-core (clock in datasheets the manufacturer does not specify). Apparently, it (performance) is large enough, because the device provides an instant response and the absence of failures associated with performance. Yuzal is an expensive miracle during a week quite actively: there are no delays and problems with the loading of processes. Downloading is almost instantaneous, everything is fast when you use it. The firmware deserves a special mention – it's convenient, intuitive and completely free from bugs, which is in contrast with some devices of this type (and not only with budget ones).

USB Type-C and octa-core support allows 256 gigs of internal memory (Speed ​​up to 10 Gbit / s). If necessary, you can add microSD media for another 256 GB. The device uses as many as 2 AKM AK4497EQ DACs capable of reproducing high-resolution sound that far exceeds the capabilities of human hearing (including hard-burned, demanding audiophiles). Those. Each channel is provided by its DAC.

The practical recording resolution ceiling is 32 bit / 384 kHz, its own two-bit playback of DSD (with a sampling rate of up to 11.2 MHz). This is for those who need a bit in bits (like a musician and the producer's sound at the studio). I treat such things with a share of mercantilistic skepticism, but without it, of course, the audio-perfectionist can not survive.

Describing my subjective sensations, I already noted that the player used a rather powerful amplifier. The SP1000 easily manages headphones, where the resistance exceeds 35 ohms and has a significant margin for loudness. In addition, the built-in amplifier does not introduce significant distortion.

Among other things, developers took care of fans of wireless devices by equipping the device with the codec aptX HD codec developed by Qualcomm. In this way, a hayrez (24 bit, 48 kHz) audio transmission without a wire is realized. The codec is interesting in that it has 2 additional bits in each sub-band, which allowed to reduce the signal-to-noise ratio and reduce distortion when reproducing high-resolution format via bt-headphones.

Functionality, ergonomics, design

A five-inch touchscreen display with a resolution (HD5) breaks the stereotype that in hi-fi / high end players save on image quality. A lithium polymer battery with a capacity of 3400 mAh allows the device to operate continuously for about 12 hours, while charging in 2 hours. I think this feature is important for those who regularly wear headphones. Taking into account the energy intensity of the technologies used in the player, and the computing power of 12 hours is very much.

The volume and power buttons are adjusted on the multifunctional wheel, which allows you to conveniently control the device. Of the functional elements, you can also note the playback control buttons, rendered on the side panel. However, this is almost the standard for devices of this class. Despite the aggressive form, which has long been a visiting card of Airiver design, the player is comfortable to hold in hands. With management, too, no difficulties arose, as I already wrote, everything happens at the level of intuition. A useful feature is the integration with the phone. Using the Bluetooth interface, the player is able to notify the user of calls and messages coming to the phone.

The outer casing is made of steel and is resistant to wear. I can not say anything about the copper version as I did not hold it in my hands. But, if I intended to buy this player, I would certainly have taken it from steel, for personal aesthetic reasons. The sharp, rather aggressive lines of the case underline the "pedigree" origin of the gadget. Anyone who has ever seen Astell & Kern immediately recognizes the features of the manufacturer. I say more, in my opinion – this is perhaps the most original design among devices of this type.

According to the manufacturer, the main design intent is to call the user for an analogy with a precious stone, Which has undergone a thorough, jewelry, professional cut. Very conceptually, given the quality and positioning of the device on the market.

And one more important point, our customers using Astell & Kern, note the tremendous endurance and mechanical survivability of the devices of this manufacturer. In particular, this applies to functional wheels, buttons, connectors. It seems that the South Korean manufacturer ignores deliberate obsolescence and does the old-fashioned thing for ages. Probably this is a justified step, especially if we take into account the market value of the devices.

Passport data:
Audio Audio DAC: 32 bits;
The sampling frequency of the audio DAC: 384 kHz;
Outputs: balanced, unbalanced;
Signal-to-noise ratio: unbalanced – 120 dB (1 kHz), balanced – 122 dB (1 kHz);
THD + noise: unbalanced – 0.0005 (1 kHz), balanced – 0.0008 (1kHz);
Playable formats: MP3, AIFF, AAC, WAV, WMA, OGG, DSD, ALAC, FLAC, APE, DSF;
Output voltage level (without load): unbalanced – 2.3 V rms, balanced – 3.9 V rms;
Recommended impedance of headphones: up to 40 Ohm;
Built-in memory: 256 GB;
Screen: 5 inches 720 at 1280;
Wireless interfaces: WI-FI, Bluetooth;
Material of the case: metal (steel / copper).


Astell & Kern SP1000 is designed for people who need to not just hear the perfect sound, but know that even on a theoretical level it can not be different. Given all the technical data of the device, you can safely say that the player is the embodiment of the technological maximum, which is hardly necessary for a common man in the street or even an experienced music lover. In my opinion, this device will be in demand by two categories of customers. Extremely demanding audiophiles who want to complete (or suspend) a tedious search for flawless (divine, transcendental) sound and people for whom such devices are an inalienable element of status. Simply put, the SP1000 is ideal for sound and for pontoons.