Today is my first day back to the MajorHiFi office after a medical leave. I walked through the door, and almost immediately, my colleagues were exalting over what I’d inevitably be reviewing: the Astell & Kern SP1000M. They handed it to me along with the SP1000 and said, “Compare these two beauties!”. My biggest question, aside of the obviousness of their difference in size, was how they compare sound-wise. By looking at the specs– and price for that matter, it is clear the SP1000 has a few steps above the SP1000M. But does this come through in the sound? Or are the differences too minute to place such a different price tag upon them? And if there is a difference in sound, is the SP1000M good enough to warrant a purchase in order to save some money from the SP1000? Today, I’ll try to answer these questions with this Astell & Kern SP1000 vs SP1000M comparison review.
Astell & Kern SP1000 vs SP1000M Comparison Review
In the Box – Astell & Kern SP1000 vs SP1000M Comparison Review
|Astell & Kern SP1000||Astell & Kern SP1000M|
|SP1000 DAP||SP1000M DAP|
|leather case||leather case|
|USB-C cable||USB-C cable|
|micro SD card tray||micro SD slot cover x2|
|pin for tray||protective screen films for front (x2) and back (x2|
|protective screen films for front (x2) and back (x2)||documentation|
Design – Astell & Kern SP1000 vs SP1000M Comparison Review
Look and Feel
Both the Astell & Kern SP1000 and SP1000M have a spirit of class and sophistication to their looks. They have similar geometrical shapes to their borders, although there are a few differences.
For example, the most noticeable difference between the two are their sizes. The SP1000 has almost an inch of extra screen space over the SP1000M. As a result, it is longer and a little bit less comfortable to hold in the hand. By contrast, the SP1000M is shorter, but with a little bit of extra thickness to it.
Additionally, there are a few little design differences. For example, the shape of the control buttons are different, the SP1000 sporting circular buttons and the SP1000M sporting elongated rectangular buttons. Additionally, the power button of the SP1000 is one with the volume wheel, whereas it is a separate button for the SP1000M.
The Astell & Kern SP1000 and SP1000M, while so similar in vibe and look, are actually made of different materials. The SP1000’s shell is made of stainless steel or copper (depending on what you choose). By contrast, the SP1000M’s shell is made of aluminum, although the special gold one, which I’ve got my hands on, is made of brass.
As a result, and because of the difference in size, the Astell & Kern SP1000M feels lighter than the SP1000. Both certainly have weight to them, and this weight instills a sense of trust and quality in the product. The aluminum SP1000M is event lighter than the gold version, and thus makes it even more portable and travel friendly.
Both the Astell & Kern SP1000 and the SP1000M have the same operating system and GUI. Both utilize an Exynos 7420 octa-core CPU. As a result, both react quickly to touch. There are a few differences in their tech though. For example, the SP1000 has more memory (256 GB) than the SP1000M (128 GB).
Additionally, the SP1000 has a longer battery life (12 hours) than the SP1000M (10 hours). It’s worth looking at the full comparison chart of specifications between the two to see more info. I’ve included it at the end of this review.
Sound – Astell & Kern SP1000 vs SP1000M Comparison Review
Now for the part I’m most interested in comparing: the sound.
The dynamics of Astell & Kern SP1000 and SP1000M contribute to a sense of grooviness, separation, and emotional impact. Both DAPs have clarity and expressiveness in their dynamic range, which gives music a sense of excitement and energy. The differences are subtle, and to an untrained ear, you might not hear a difference at all. However, for those serious audiophiles out there, you’ll hear a few differences between the dynamic expression between these two DAPs.
I’ll admit that it is difficult to describe dynamic differences, but I’ll try my best here. The SP1000 seems to have spaciousness and quickness from the attack through the full length of notes. On the other hand the SP1000M’s headroom and space reveals the attack of notes in the high-mid area of the frequency spectrum. As a result, guitars, strings, pianos, and vocals tend to have remarkable spaciousness and separation when they hit. But they blend more as the note sustains (even if it is just a short note) with the SP1000M.
On the other hand, the SP1000 maintains that spaciousness around the note for its entire sustain. Therefore, the emphasis seems to come off the attack and feels more evenly dispersed among the entire frequency spectrum. However, while doing this, it still maintains the clarity and spaciousness that we all know and love. As a result, to me, the SP1000 has a touch of extra musicality to it. On the other hand, the SP1000M, while less musical, maintains excitement and energy.
For example, when I was listening to the song Touched by Tango by Alfredo Marcucci off the record Five Tango Sensations: Anxiety, when listening to the SP1000M, the place where I heard space and breath was around the attacks of the cello, violins, and accordian. By contrast, when I listened with the SP1000, I heard it more evenly dispersed to include the spaciousness and impact by the upright bass. I could hear more of the room microphones as the notes sustained. As a result, with both DAPs, the staccato hits of everything had great impact. But emotionally, the way the SP1000 revealed the room and low end gave it more emotional nuance.
The soundstage of both the Astell & Kern SP1000 and SP1000M is remarkable. And at first, before I started listening specifically for the soundstage, it immediately caught my attention because it contributed to such a beautiful sense of realism. Both DAPs have this quality. However, I did notice a difference between the two.
The SP1000 seemed to have a greater sense of space around individual notes, as I mentioned above. As a result, its sense of depth and width seemed greater and more expansive, especially for instruments with clear attacks. The reverb and room seemed clearer.
For example, when I was listening to both DAPs to the song Storms Are On the Ocean by Amber Rubarth, the sense of height felt very similar, if not identical between the SP1000 and SP1000M. However, the SP1000’s depth and width seemed more dramatic and realistic, especially when listening to the acoustic guitar which had more movement than the strings. This seemed to set the guitar further back in space. The SP1000M provided a nearly identical sense of spaciousness from the fiddles. However, once the fiddles started moving around and playing more notes, they seemed to feel closer to the center, with a little bit less extension. As a result, the stereo field of the SP1000 felt a bit wider.
Overview – Astell & Kern SP1000 vs SP1000M Comparison Review
Overall, the Astell & Kern SP1000M and SP1000 are truely top-of-the-line DAPs. In order to determine which one is right for you, there are a couple of things to consider:
If you want to maximize portability, go with the SP1000M. It’s smaller size and lighter weight will be a substantial upgrade from the SP1000, while maintaining much of its sound quality and liveliness. And while you’ll miss some subtle nuance in the dynamic range and soundstage, you won’t miss it because since you’re presumably traveling and/or moving around, there’s bound to be other factors that would have distracted you from the nuance of the SP1000 anyway.
However, if you want to maximize sound quality, go with the SP1000. You’ll hear a wonderful sense of spaciousness and room that really will bring the music to life in a way you won’t quite get with the SP1000M.
Both the Astell & Kern SP1000M and SP1000 are available for the best price here: