Disclaimer: The SPM1000M pictured below was in my studio for a magazine shoot, which concluded last week. I had ears-on time for less than an hour, including RMAA tests. It’s a nice looking device with bloodletting Korean angles and Astell & Kern’s fingerprints all over it. It’s the sort of device that I’d never buy. But I’m sure it will make someone happy. It goes for 2400$, has four cores, dual AK4497EQ DACs and appears to allow some UI and application customisation. In short, it is a slightly downgraded SPM1000. You can find out all about it here: A&ultima, SPM1000M. And for an extra 600$, it comes in gold.
In my latest YouTube video, I fawned all over Cowon’s Plenue D2 and I’m miffed. Miffed that, loaded or unloaded, the 2400$ SPM1000M shows a sizeable step back from Cowon’s little engine. And, in several categories (mainly loaded), the SPM1000M is worse than its older, bleeding-edge, sibling, the AK380. Sure, we’re splitting hairs- atoms even. Dynamic range differences between 110dB and 120, let alone 117dB and 121dB, are minuscule on a test bench, and positively homeopathic at the ear. And if you’re listening to music louder than 100dB, you’ll not be listening to anything for long. I doubt anyone even listens to sensitive earphones at iPhone maximum volumes. But if you do, note that matched to that output level, the SPM1000M certainly tests better than an iPhone SE, but apart from stereo crosstalk, not by leaps and bounds. And it hisses more.
Of course, I’m a hi-res audio agnostic. If a device is marketed as a hi-res portable player, it at least needs to measurably conform to a certain minimum standard when driving portable headphones and earphones. By and large the SPM1000M’s signal dies under load. FiiO’s M6 never leaves 16-bit land. But the M6 is 170$ and arguably its impressive Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities are its standout features. It also holds signal quality under load better than the SPM1000M. This conversation shouldn’t be happening. No 2400$ audiophile device should drag next to a so-so device with a price tag of 170$. But the SPM1000M does. And, like the M6, it hisses, albeit less. But with the AK240, Astell & Kern bucked the hissing trend from their high-end players. It’s a shame that it’s back.
On the bright side, SPM1000M has glorious screen and a well laid out and easy to use GUI that puts to shame the non-Sony competition. I just wish there were more bright sides about which to shake the pompoms.
RMAA: Astell&Kern AK380 24-bit
RMAA: Astell&Kern AK70 MKII 24-bit
RMAA: Astell & Kern AK70 Kai (Ryuzoh mod) 24-bit
RMAA: Astell&Kern AK70 24-bit
RMAA: MS-AK100 24-bit new
RMAA: GloveAudio A1 24-bit
RMAA: Cowon Plenue D2 24-bit
RMAA: Cowon Plenue D 24-bit
RMAA: Cowon Plenue J 24-bit
RMAA: iPhone SE 24-bit
RMAA: Apple iPhone 6 24-bit
RMAA: Onkyo DP-S1 rubato 24-bit
RMAA: Onkyo DP-X1 24-bit single-ended and balanced
RMAA: Pioneer XDP-100R 24-bit
RMAA: Fiio M6 24-bit
RMAA: FiiO M3 24-bit
RMAA: Sony ZX300 24-bit
RMAA: Sony NW-WM1Z 24-bit
RMAA: Sony NW-ZX2 24-bit
RMAA: HiFiman Megamini 24-bit
RMAA: The Bit Audio Opus#1 24-bit
RMAA: Venturecraft Valoq 24-bit
RMAA: Shozy Alien Gold 24-bit
Source: Astell & Kern SPM1000M
ADC: Lynx Studio HILO LT-TB
Computer: 2012 27" iMac
Cables: 1,5m Hosa Pro 3,5mm stereo to dual 3-pin XLR (around 8$); bespoke y-split 2,5 TRRS to dual 3-pin XLR made by Musashi Sound Technology.
NL - no load
SM2 - Earsonics SM2
ES7 - Audio Technica ES7
DT880 - Beyerdynamic DT880/600
24-bit VOL (Full) @+6dB - all targets
24-bit VOL (Full) @+6dB - summary
24-bit VOL (Full) @0dB - SPM1000M @VOL137 (volume matched to iPhone SE MAX) VS iPhone SE
If ever I get a chance to borrow one, I’ll make a full review. Astell & Kern nail the interface. They really need to batten down audio performance under load- because, if you can’t get ultimate performance from an ultimate player from your ultimate earphones, what’s the point?