Just when you thought they couldn’t outdo themselves, Astell & Kern did exactly that with the SP1000M, a lapis blue (or black, if you prefer) digital audio player that takes all the great features of the SP1000 and packs them into a smaller package with 18 percent less volume and almost half the weight of the behemoth SP1000, which delivered incredible sound.
The shiny, bright aluminum chassis is lightweight and feels great in your hand and really accents the signature angles and curves of the. The Astell & Kern SP1000M even includes the Exynos octa-core processor and the dual flagship AKM DAC! It’s quite the feat. The UI, firmware, and streaming options are also similar to the SP1000, just packed into a smaller device, and arguably even better audio quality. This deluxe digital music player touts that it has it all--just in a smaller package.
The question here is, can the Astell & Kern SP1000M really hold up to that promise? Is it comparable, or in some ways even better than the SP1000?
The SP1000M is much more portable than its predecessor at just half an inch in thickness and 13.6 ounces. The volume between the two has been reduced 18 percent and the weight reduced by a whopping 48 percent, which places the SP1000M at being slightly larger than the Astell & Kern SR15. Both color options, black and lapis blue, are sleek and stylish, and being out the best of the lightweight aluminum body’s design.
This digital music player still has a USB Type C input on the bottom middle of the device, the 5-pin connector found on the SP1000 is not there. Instead, the SP1000M also keeps a micro SD card port on the bottom. The right side has the volume wheel, which emits a satisfying click with every turn. However, unlike the SP1000, the volume wheel does not also function as a power button. On top you will find both 2.5mm and 3.5mm headphone jacks, but no shared optical digital output to drive an external DAC or amp. However, you can use a USB OTG connection to turn the SP1000M itself into a DAC. On the left, you will find play/pause and skip buttons lined up in a row, which is a configuration more like the SE100 than its larger cousin. The leather case that comes with the SP1000M covers these side buttons and outlines them well.
Unlike the SP1000’s soft wooden box, the SP1000M comes in a sturdy cardboard box and is contained inside of a sleek blue sleeve. Because the micro SD card port is spring-loaded and no pins are necessary, it does not come with a pin for that port. You will also receive two sets of screen protectors, a thicker, study USB Type C cable for fast charging and data transfer, and a premium-looking, soft case made of genuine leather. The touchscreen, like the SP1000, is still using a 720x1280 resolution, but the screen is a bit smaller, clocking in at 4.1” instead of 5”. It’s not unlike switching from an iPhone to an iPhone SE in resolution difference, overall.
For those who don't prefer the Astell & Kern standard case, you might appreciate the sleek blue (or black, if you prefer) MITER case, made of suede, leather, and sporting a durable steel frame. The back allows it to stand and, because of the frame, is also magnetic, so you can easily stick it on a magnet-friendly service and allow it to play.
Under the hood, you can expect the find that the SP1000M has the same dual AKM AK4497EQ DAC and Exynos 74200 octa-core CPU as the SP1000. It also sports Wifi connectivity, DLNA support, and Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX HD streaming codec. The USB Type C connection comes with fast charging, and a single microSD card to expand on the 128GB internal storage. All in all, it's pretty incredible how much has been downgraded sizewise without sacrificing much of anything in terms of hardware or features in order to make it work. Sure, the internal storage is a bit smaller, but it compensates handsomely with the expanded capabilities of micro SD cards.
Since the battery size was also reduced from 3,700mAh to 3,300mAh, battery life between the SP1000 and SP1000M is different. Instead of 12 hours of playback, you can expect about 1q0 from the SP1000M, and time to get to full charge from zilch is about 3 hours.
Another thing to keep in mind is the SP100 SE (3.5mm) has 2.2Vrms and the balanced input (2.5mm) had 3.9Vrms while the SP1000M SE is 2.1Vrms and the BAL is 4.2Vrms. The higher voltage in the balanced audio out is noticeable and you won’t need to turn the volume up as high to achieve the desired loudness. The SP1000M also has 1dB higher SNR, putting it at 123dB over the SP1000’s 122dB. This audio improvement would be very difficult to perceive, but the specs allow for such improvement nonetheless.
Unlike the SP1000, its miniature cousin has no optical output (substituted for USB OTG) and no external amp docking, which makes sense, considering the SP1000M is focused on being portable while packing the same features as the SP1000. However, the audio block layout has been upgraded to improve output levels, signal path, and reduce unwanted noise. The SP1000M supports audio up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256.
FeaturesThe SP1000M comes with some pretty neat features. The user interface is the same as what you would find with the SP1000, but the streaming options are very broad and even more flexible with the Open APP Service. One unique thing about the OS is the floating back key on the touchscreen, which seems a bit tacked-on but is nonetheless very convenient for navigating the OS and menus with ease.
The SP1000M, since it runs on a heavily modified Android 6.0 OS, also comes with an Open APP service which allows developers to use the A&K API to facilitate the direct loading of apps. However, because the OS is closed, there is no Google Play access, so any apps you want to add you will have to add manually from .apk files. Updates for streaming apps will also need to be added manually, but it’s pretty easy to do, even if it’s a little less convenient than automatic updates.
Eleven music services are currently supported, including 4 that are available in all markets: amazon music, soundcloud, spotify, tidal. The SP1000 also supports Pandora, QQ Music, Melon, AWA, Bugs, Music Mate, and KKBox currently, with more services expected to be available with future firmware updates. No Qobuz support is currently available, but may be made available in the future. Tidal is embedded from the start, which for some reason does not allow full functionality for features like offline playback. Be sure to load apps in full instead of embedding to make full use of your streaming services. When you install Tidal and Spotify, you have an option to move your offline file storage to either internal or external memory.
Overall, the SP1000M is very fast and user-friendly, and was smooth to use. There were some slight pauses in loading certain graphics like album art, but the storage options and versatility allow you to do a lot with what you’re given to really customize your portable music experience. Just like the SP1000, the SP1000M also features Parametric EQ with some slight differences in the original sound signature.
The SP1000M’s sound is highly detailed, though the soundstage isn’t as wide as the SP1000, but this difference is slight. Even cranking the volume up all the way doesn’t distort the sound on various tracks. It allows for picking up on subtle differences in stereo separation and allows you to pick apart sounds while appreciating the beauty of how they blend together to create a captivating song. Vocals sound spacious and powerful, backed by punchy, demanding bass and string, driving mids that are never harsh and always perfectly balanced.
The lows are the same in both the SP1000 and its miniature cousin, while the mids are just a little more broad in the SP1000. Treble is also pretty much the same upon comparison. If you’re looking for a portable digital music player with the same power as the Astell & Kern SP1000, you’ll find that you don’t get much better than the SP1000M, considering the parts creating the audio that captivates you are essentially the same. Because the balanced output voltage is higher on the SP1000M, you may have to keep the volume slightly lower than you would on the SP1000. Frankly, it’s incredible to see such high quality reproduced in such a comparably small model.
All in all, the SP1000M sports an incredible soundstage by packing most of the same parts as the SP1000. Expect deep, powerful lows, lush mids, and sparkling, crystalline highs with no distortion whatsoever. Do keep in mind the voltage differences between the headphone ports if you're deciding between the SP1000 and SP1000M, especially for 2.5mm balanced audio out.
So, does the Astell & Kern SP1000M hold up to its predecessor? In a word, yes. And, in some ways, it outperforms it, especially in terms of size, weight, portability, and digital features. The SP1000 has only just gotten caught up with the SP1000M in firmware updates, after all. If you already have the SP1000, is it worth getting the miniature version? Not really, considering the similarity of features, especially now that the firmware updates for both are up to speed. If you want something like the SP1000, you don't get much better than the SP1000M, considering a lot of the same parts are used.
If you're particularly excited about operating system capabilities, chances are you'll be excited for what comes of A&K's Open APP program, as open source development will lead to even greater breakthroughs in streaming ability and music listening in general. Plus, you can get as many as 11 streaming services to choosew from for your music, which is pretty incredible, especially for taking advantage of the aptX HD Bluetooth streaming codec.
Astell & Kern have outdone themselves yet again with the SP1000M, packing all the same great features of the larger SP1000 into a smaller, sleeker package with minimal sacrificing of performance, features, or quality to speak of. The audio is incredible, and the potential possibilities with these firmware updates and the Open APP are virtually endless for maximizing and improving listening options. The audiophile who loves streaming music and portable digital music players in general will absolutely adore the SP1000M. In short, the SP1000M does everything the SP1000 does, just a tad smaller.