Astell & Kern A&ultima SP1000 SS/CU

Pair up.

Due to SP1000 SS soundstage expansion and its unique neutral signature with transparent revealing tonality, I was looking forward to hearing how it pair ups with many of my IEMs and some full-size headphones. I was especially pleased with SP treble control (in fw 1.08 specifically) which helped to keep upper end of many full size and iems under a smoother control. In each pair up I noted the cable, either balanced (BAL) or single ended (SE) connection, and the volume level. Keep in mind, balanced output of SP1000 model is 3.9Vrms (roughly 475mW based on 32ohm load), and because single ended output has less power, volume had to be pushed harder.

Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd gen (TWag v3 BAL cable, Vol 85) – nearly holographic soundstage expansion, in all 3 dimensions. The signature is very balanced with a natural tonality, deep sub-bass extension with an excellent textured rumble and punchy faster mid-bass impact, mids are natural, resolving, transparent, but a little on a smoother more organic side, not the usual more analytical side; treble has a great extension, crisp but not harsh or too bright, airiness is more under control here. A very natural balanced sound, probably one of the best pair ups with T5p2 I heard to date.


Audeze EL8C (stock SE cable, Vol 111) – very wide soundstage with a nice depth expansion as well. The signature is close to balanced w-shaped, though leaning a little toward v-shaped with bass and treble being a little more forward. Tonality is on a leaner more revealing brighter side, but under control without even a hint of metallic sheen which these are prone to. Bass has a leaner sub-bass and balanced punchy mid-bass, lower mids are lean, while upper mids are more revealing, brighter, micro-detailed; treble is very crisp and airy, but non-fatigue. Again, with a good control of treble these have a more natural revealing tonality.

Oppo PM3 (BAL OFC cable, Vol 85) – wide soundstage with a little more depth than width in stage expansion. The signature is balanced with a warm smooth and less resolving tonality. Bass has a very good balance between sub-bass rumble and mid-bass punch, though bass itself is not very fast and spills a little into lower mids which are on a thicker fuller body side. Upper mids are smooth, organic, warmer, clear but not very detailed. Treble is well defined but not as crisp or airy. It’s a nice smooth warm laidback tonality, though not the best PM3 pair up I heard.

VE Zen (stock SE cable, Vol 108) – wide soundstage with lots of depth. A balanced signature with a natural detailed tonality, and a touch more emphasis in mids. Very good sub-bass extension with a nice doze of well controlled rumble without being too overwhelming, fast tight mid-bass (definitely more controlled than usual), leaner lower mids, organic detailed upper mids, and a nice well controlled treble sparkle. Here, Zen sounds a little leaner and tighter.

UM Mason V3 (stock BAL cable, Vol 71) – holographic soundstage expansion. A balanced sound signature, leaning a little more toward V-shaped due to mids being slightly pulled back, with a neutral and very natural tonality. Very deep textured sub-bass rumble with a fast and punchy mid-bass, very layered articulate well controlled bass. Lower mids are lean yet still with a nice body presence, upper mids have a great retrieval of details, with a very neutral, natural and smoother tonality. Treble is crisp, well defined, under control without being harsh or splashy, very natural and airy and with a great extension.


HiFiMAN RE800 (stock SE cable, Vol 86) – very wide soundstage expansion. V-shaped sound signature with a bright revealing tonality. Bass goes deep and has a thick texture; sub-bass is very analog like and mid-bass is rounded and hits hard. Lower mids are lean, lacking some body, while creating a dip to accentuate the bass; upper mids are clear, detailed, slightly pushed back, brighter and crisper. Treble is very crisp, vivid, revealing, and airy. I’m typically bothered by upper mids/lower treble of RE800 with other sources, while here it’s a lot more tolerable and actually enjoyable because SP keeps treble under control.

HiFiMAN RE2000 (stock SE cable, Vol 87) – very wide soundstage expansion. Sound signature is more balanced with a fuller body and a more natural tonality. Excellent balance between sub-bass and mid-bass with a more linear rendition in comparison to RE800, sub-bass goes deep but not as thick, though still has an analog texture, mid-bass has a nice impact with a moderate speed of attack and decay. Lower mids are closer to neutral, with more body, upper mids are very detailed and natural in tonality, slightly pushed back but still balanced with the rest of the spectrum. Treble is crisp and very well defined without being too harsh or sibilant; nice treble extension with plenty of controlled airiness.

64 Audio Fourte (HSA RedCore BAL cable, Vol 62) – wide soundstage with out-of-your head expansion. Sound signature has a very distinct W-shape with a brighter tonality thanks to upper mids and lower treble. Bass is very analog-like and dynamic, deep sub-bass and well rounded mid-bass slam, but overall bass is a little slower and with a longer decay. Lower mids are fuller in body and upper mids have a good balance between natural and revealing tonality, not exactly micro-detailed but still with an excellent retrieval of details. Treble is crisp, on a brighter side, with a good extension and airiness, not splashy or harsh, but more vivid. I have to add that I’m using Symbio eartips here which add a little more body to the sound.

64 Audio U18t (EA Horus BAL cable, Vol 60) – holographic soundstage expansion. Very balanced sound signature with a coherent tuning of a more natural revealing tonality, a very resolving sound. Bass is tight and articulate with a deep textured sub-bass rumble and fast punchy mid-bass, all under control with a nice overall impact. Lower mids are close to neutral with a nice body presence, upper mids are very detailed, closer to micro-detailed level without being analytical, still have a natural tonality, layered and transparent. Treble is crisp and well defined, perfectly balanced without being too forward to rolled off, not harsh or splashy, yet extended and airy. In this pair up I hear a little more bass presence and more natural treble extension.


Empire Ears Legend X (stock Ares II SE cable, Vol 75) – nearly holographic soundstage expansion. L-shaped sound signature with a smooth natural tonality. Bass slam is huge with an elevated sub-bass rumble and fast analog-like quality mid-bass punch that hits very hard. Lower mids are neutral with a nice body presence, upper mids are organic, smooth, natural, and still very clear and detailed. Treble is crisp, brighter but not harsh, not super extended, but with a moderate level of airiness. Bass could get a bit overwhelming, and unfortunately SP EQ is not as effective to reduce it here.

Sennheiser IE800S (stock BAL cable, Vol 76) – holographic soundstage expansion. Slightly V-shaped sound sig with a natural revealing tonality. Deep sub-bass textured rumble, a rounded slower mid-bass punch with an overall analog quality smoother bass. Lower mids are neutral, a little leaner in tonality, upper mids have a natural tonality with an excellent retrieval of details. Treble is very crisp with a sharp definition, but not harsh or splashy, and with a controlled level of airiness.


Westone W80 (stock EPIC SE cable, Vol 63) – very wide soundstage expansion. Balanced sound signature with a smooth natural tonality. Deep textured sub-bass with a rounded slower mid-bass punch, analog textured less aggressive bass. Lower mids with a fuller body, a little north of neutral, and smooth natural clear upper mids with excellent rendition of vocals. Moderately crisp well-defined treble with smoother tonality and moderate airiness.

Westone ES80 (stock ALO Ref8 SE cable, Vol 88) – very wide soundstage expansion with a nice depth. Balanced sound signature with a more revealing natural transparent tonality. Deep sub-bass extension with a controlled rumble, punchy fast mid-bass, very articulate layered bass. Neutral lower mids with a good presence of body, very natural upper mids with an excellent retrieval of details. Crisp well-defined treble with an airy extension. Overall tonality is very transparent and natural.

CFA Andromeda (ALO Ref8 SE cable, Vol 51) – wide soundstage with more out-of-your head depth. More V-shaped fun signature with emphasis on bass and treble where mids are pulled a little bit back. Bass has a nice textured deep rumble with a strong mid-bass impact, where bass is not too fast or too slow, but well controlled. Lower mids are on a leaner side, while upper mids are more revealing, brighter, with excellent retrieval of details, but slightly pulled back presentation. Treble is crisp, airy, on a brighter side, nicely extended.

CFA VEGA (stock ALO spc BAL cable, Vol 59) – nearly holographic soundstage. V-shaped sound signature with a serious bass slam and sparkly treble where mids are a pulled back. Sub-bass rumble is deep but doesn’t have as much impact as the hard-hitting mid-bass which slams hard and spills a little into lower mids which are still on a leaner side. Upper mids are clear, detailed, transparent with a brighter tonality. Treble is crisp, a little splashy, airy, extended. Here, bass definitely dominates the sound.

oBravo RA C CU (stock BAL cable, Vol 95) – holographic soundstage expansion on a level of open back headphones. The signature is a little more mid-forward with a very neutral super transparent tonality. Bass is extended, goes deep, but rather neutral, very articulate and multi-layered; lower mids are lean while upper mids are very transparent, layered, micro-detailed, a little colder, literally on analytical level, yet they are not bright or harsh at all. The same with a treble which extends pretty far, very crisp and sparkly, super resolving with a very vivid definition thanks to its 12k peak, but it’s not sibilant or harsh or fatigue. The treble control of SP allows to exercise RA to its full potential without being harsh, while still retaining their super transparent tonality.


Page 5 – Wire and wireless connections, and Conclusion.

37 thoughts on “Astell & Kern A&ultima SP1000 SS/CU

  1. Interesting that the Plenue 2 Mk 2 has the same AK4497EQ dac as SP1000 but the SP has 2 of them! The EQ controls on the Plenue are really good. Maybe A&K will fix them on the SP with firmware updates since everyone is saying they have little to no affect.


  2. Hi Alex
    Have you had the chance to compare Dx200 and Amp8 with the Sp1000 ?. Since Amp8 is slightly better than Amp4 I’d like to know how you think it stacks up against the sp1000 . Thanks


    1. Yes, amp8 has a little better technical performance, but SPK still has this magic in tuning where the tonality just feels right. But of course, it lacks a lot of features of DX200 if you want streaming or app access or more audible eq adjustment or akm dac filters changes. But strictly based on tonality and sound performance, SPK still has an edge. I do have now DX200Ti, even better than DX200 😉 getting closer to SPK. For someone on the budget, DX200 is an excellent recommendation!


  3. Hello ,
    Wanted to ask you how would you compare SPK to the AK 380 ? I want to upgrade from my ak300 but I have a chance to get new ak380 for 1/3 of the price of the Spk. Is it worth it ? Or should I save more and get the latest flagship. What would be your take on it ?
    Thanks a lot


    1. sorry, no experience with ak380, and from what I read it’s not that great without add-on amp. If you want to save money over SPK, why not look into SPKM? It’s $1.1k cheaper, close in sound quality, smaller, and can support all the streaming apps, and I have no doubt spkm will be noticeably better than ak380.


  4. Hello,
    There is a promotion in my country on spk and sp1000M. Is it worth adding money to get the top spk ? I also want to use it as a file source in my home rig. I have an Ayon cd player but there is a coax and balanced input so I could use it as a DAC. What would you suggest in this situation ?
    Thanks a lot 🙂


      1. Hello ,
        Thanks , the pocket isn’t as important as ability to plug it to a stationary high end setup , so you think versitality wise there isn’t much difference between the two ?
        Also my IEM 64 audio U 18t are coming this week so I am also chose great setup for it.
        Thanks again


  5. Ok,
    That sounds great. Thanks for honest opinion !! :):):)
    Should I order a balanced jack ? Is that the cable you are using ?


    1. Always balanced and then you can get 3.5mm adaptor later, but yeah, get it 2.5mm terminated. But first, spend some time with a stock cable, get used to the sound. Figure out later if you even need an upgrade.


      1. Hello ,
        Thanks a lot. 🙂
        I saw on the AK site that there is a brass housing version of sp1000M. Any news on the sound of that one ?


  6. Hello,
    I finally have the sp1000 copper. !! With my 64 audio u18 it sounds fantastic !!! I have a question. What would you suggest in terms of burning the CD collection . Would you suggest getting the AK CD ripper or if not on a Mac how to burn the CD in a best quality to enjoy the sp1000 ?
    Thanks a lot 🙂


    1. I never used AK CD ripper, but maybe it’s not a bad idea. Laptops don’t come with CD drive nowadays. You will have to buy something external anyway. Might as well get from A&K since it should integrate nicely with SPK dap.


      1. I have no idea, never used it. I’m sure it comes with some instructions, or better yet, search YT for videos… When ripping CDs you have to convert to lossless CD-quality format which is 16bit 44.1kHz and save it in FLAC. Anything higher will mean the upsampling which going to make files a lot bigger in size and artificially adding bits that were not there before.


      2. Thanks
        I was asking more how do you transfer CDs into your sp1000? Do you use a program or how does that work for you best ?
        Thanks for your time


      3. in the past I used Windows Media player (but it’s no longer available with Win10). I’m sure you can google and find lots of different freeware and shareware programs.


  7. Twister6
    Have you had a chance to compare the effect audio Leo II with the original ?
    I have a possibility of purchasing the Leo original. And am wondering if that would be a good choice or would you advise to add cash and get a Leo II cable ( also second hand) ?


      1. Twister6
        I have the leo II and it is quite wonderful. The stage is great and the separation, but it is not forgiving on poor recordings. Than the sound is a bit sharp. To make this a perfect system would you advise an amp that would add more warmth to the sound especially to the midrange ? Would WA 8 be a good choice ? Or would you advise something else. ? I find the sound to be on the brighter side than normal termination but than the separation and stage are great .


      2. What iem do you have? You can fine tune with an even warmer cable, like OSLO, but I have a feeling it might not be enough. So, warmer tube amp is a good solution. Don’t have the experience with WA8, but heard it’s good.


  8. Just to clarify , with my sp1000 copper and 64 audio u 18t I am missing some ” slam” in the base depertment and a bit more body to the mids. :)thanks a lot


  9. Sorry
    It misspelled my name.
    I have so 1000 copper and 64 audio u18t. Like in the posts above.
    What would be your advise to get some extra warmth to the sound ? Or did you find your setup with u18t sp1000 perfect sounding without the amp ?


    1. Leo II was perfect for me w/SPK. What eartips are you using? If silicone, can you try foam tips? Maybe U18t is just not for you and you need more neutral warmer sig iems instead?


      1. Hello
        I use custom tips from custom arts . I did love the U12t they were more on my sound signature but the stage and resolution were much worse than the u18 t. And in more busy or classical music the u18 shine. With good recordings they sound fantastic but poor come off sharp a bit to me ‘(


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