We’ve seen a lot of variety in Astell and Kern’s recent releases, and with the new AK UW100 true wireless, they are keeping to that notion. I never really expected them to make a true wireless earphone, but the UW100 is real, and I’ve had the chance to listen to it. Let’s see what A&K can do with this $299 true wireless.
What You Get
- AK UW100 Earbuds (L/R) x 1
- Charging Cradle x 1
- Eartips (XS, S, M, L, XL)
- USB Type-C Cable x 1
- Quick Start Guide x 1
- Warranty Card x 1
Look and Feel
Astell and Kern have established an identifiable aesthetic for their products outside of their DAPs. This edged design makes its way to the UW100, in a pentagonal form that makes up the earphone’s housing. It makes sense stylistically with the rest of A&K’s product line, and the earphones themselves are a solid fit even with their larger size. I would have preferred a smaller charging case to go along with the UW100, as it can be cumbersome inside of a pocket.
Design and Functionality
The UW100 is built using a Qualcomm 5141 chipset, and an AKM DAC. It is also one of the few IEMs to feature a Knowles balanced armature, which is a major feature in the marketing of this product. Noble’s Fokus Pro also features balanced armatures, so I’m hoping there’s a future for hybrid driver systems in true wireless earphones. Dual mics are also used for phone calls and voice assistants with noise suppressors in order to maintain clarity. The touch sensor interface is extremely responsive and also very sensitive, as I mistakenly activated some of the controls a few times.
Bluetooth 5.2 is supported on the UW100 for high range and bandwidth. No dropouts were experienced while testing. You also get support for SBC, AAC, and aptX Adaptive CODECs.
You should get around 6 hours of playtime off of a single charge, while the case should extend its life to about 24 total hours.
In terms of its width, there aren’t a lot of true wireless earphones on the market that can rise to the standard of the UW100. The pure size of its stereo imaging is far greater than your common AirPods and even outperforms the popular Sony WF-1000XM4 in some cases. I would compare its sound field to that of a linear IEM rather than a pair of true wireless earphones. I don’t think it’s anything blow-away great, but I found its level of separation and accuracy very consistent. It makes the various elements of the mix easy to localize and presents them with an equal presence within the sound signature. There’s even a companion app that Astell and Kern have made with its own in-app EQ and ambient controls.
You won’t get the biggest response from the bass on the UW100, but it is still a tight, quick, and detailed signature. Not much sub-bass presence is granted, but the mid-bass pops and its tone creates some really smooth textures that accompanies bass guitar grooves. It is clean and well balanced in the mix, pronouncing its frequencies with just the right amount of gain that makes the region sit well within this specific profile.
One thing is for sure, and it’s that the UW100 has a ton of power behind its midrange. Its best attribute is how full-bodied this response is, and it makes a lot of instruments and vocals clear and commanding. There’s a tone of force here that not a lot of true wireless earphones on the market can replicate, as many fall into recession and v-shaped patterns. It’s perfect for heavy rock tracks and energetic pop tunes, but the level of fidelity may fall with other genres and instrumentations.
There is a hard limit on how far the treble frequencies can extend. Around the upper highs, you have a considerable roll-off that lessens the bite and resolution on the treble as a whole. You get some bright tones here and there, but they aren’t showcased with the level of gain seen in the midrange, lessening its crispness and clarity. Overall, the treble is not all that remarkable, and it weakens some of the complete impacts the sound signature has.
Astell and Kern bring an impressive first outing to the table with their first true wireless earphones. I had some issues with its treble response but its specific sound profile works in making itself stand out from the pack. Its mids are powerful and its soundstage is all standouts, highlighting sound quality in a significant way. In terms of its features, the touch sensors give you great feedback, and the controls are completely customizable too. For their price, I think the UW100 stacks up with the true wireless heavy hitters quite nicely.
|· Good soundstage
· Tight bass
· Full mids
· Responsive touch sensors
· In-app EQ
|· Weak treble
· No ANC
The Astell & Kern AK UW100 is available at Audio46.