These AK UW100 earbuds from Astell & Kern are honestly, crazy good.
So let’s talk design first, starting with this chunky boy. The case is one of the biggest I’ve seen so far. It was a bit of a shock when I got these because I looked at the case and I was like, that’s definitely not going to fit in my jeans pocket. And yeah, I typically only bring these out when I’ve got a bag with me. The case is huge, but, well, at least it looks nice when it’s sitting on my desk I guess? On the front, you get an LED indicator for battery status and charging, and there’s a USB-C port on the rear, although there’s also wireless charging here, which is nice.
Moving on, the earbuds are pretty in line with Astell & Kern’s aesthetics. I tried the T9iE a couple of years ago, and there’s that same angular design on the UW100 as well, which is pretty nice. The earbuds themselves are also quite big though, and people with smaller ears will definitely start to feel a bit fatigued after a couple of hours.
These use the AK TWS app, but I had a major problem with pairing the earbuds to the app, until I forgot them on my phone, then repaired via the Bluetooth menu and then through the app. Small matter, it probably was just a hiccup with my unit, but worth taking note of. The app itself looks pretty nice. You get individual battery levels, the ability to turn on ambient mode as well as choose between four levels of ambient mode. I did find the ambient mode at the strongest level 4 to be quite distracting through, with my fan’s whir being amplified quite dramatically. Voices though, don’t sound too distorted thankfully.
There’s also an EQ feature here, although it’s limited to just presets for bass, treble, vocals and game mode. I left it on default anyway. You also get touch control customisation here, although it’s limited to the double and triple taps on either side. Single taps are preset and fixed to Ambient mode on or off, and long press and holds on either side either raise the volume on the right or lowers the volume on the left. No play/pause control here, which is a bit of a bummer, but there is in-ear detection which pauses music when you remove an earbud. That being said, the detection isn’t the fastest, taking almost two seconds after I removed an earbud to actually pause my music.
There’s also no other feature like ANC, although A&K does tout their passive noise isolation, which I do have to say, is pretty decent, but come on, almost every earbud nowadays comes with passive noise isolation. It’s just slightly better here because the earbud is so big that it does block out your ear canal. But yeah, I would have preferred ANC for sure.
As for connectivity, these are running on Bluetooth 5.2 and it’s pretty much rock solid. I didn’t get any dropouts or stuttering, and you get SBC, AAC and aptX Adaptive codec support, which is nice. Additionally, I need to point out that the DAC here is actually separate from the Bluetooth chip, and you’re getting the AK4332 DAC here, so yeah. For most consumers, it’s a piece of /shrug knowledge, but good to know.
Astell & Kern claims six hours in the earbuds with an additional three charges in the case for a total of 24 hours, and well, it’s okay. It’s not fantastic but six hours is a good amount to have. I listened to music at a lower volume, around 35-40% with these, so yeah, I did get close to that amount.
There’s no IP rating here though, so do be careful if you’re planning to wear them while exercising. Personally, I wouldn’t take these out for a run anyway, because they’re quite bulky in the ear, but to each his own.
Microphone quality is alright, there’s a single mic on each earbud and it’s not too bad. Don’t expect a lot of background noise suppression though, so you might be better off taking calls at home or in a quieter environment rather than outside or in a noisy cafe.
As for sound, gosh, that’s really why you would be looking at these right? So these are actually running with a balanced armature driver, instead of the dynamic driver that you typically see with most earbuds. Unfortunately, it’s a single-driver setup, which is a bit of a disappointment considering how big these earbuds are. I mean, take a look at the Noble Fokus Pro, they’re smaller and Noble managed to fit two BAs and a dynamic driver into that space. There’s really not much of an excuse for A&K here.
But no matter, because these sound fantastic. The bass is tight and clean, very well controlled even though they’re not the most powerful. The midrange, though, is where these earbuds shine. You get a lush, detailed and very full-bodied response here, and the vocals are just beautiful. There’s also a bit of sparkle in the treble, although I’d say the BA doesn’t seem to perform up to how I would expect in this region. That’s not to say it’s bad, just that I would have preferred a bit more energy and bite here.
Soundstage is great, it’s honestly one of the better ones I’ve heard out of a true wireless earbud. Separation is fantastic, layering is on point and accurate and, well, A&K definitely showcases their audiophile expertise here. Everything is distinct but cohesive and balanced as an overall presentation. It’s just a really enjoyable listen with these.
Even the price is very decent. These come in at US$299 or S$379. That’s a fair bit cheaper than the Noble Fokus Pro, and more in line with the likes of the Sony WF-1000XM4 and such. And honestly, if you’re just looking for great sound quality and you don’t need ANC, these are definitely better in that aspect than the XM4s. If only the case was smaller, then it would certainly be a much better product.