Do you remember the first time you tried anything other than the lousy plastic earphones that came with your mobile device? I remember reading a forum post online, buying a pair of Shure headphones that cost $ 100 at the time, and blowing myself up when I plugged them into my iPod Nano.
This is the feeling you get when you jump from beginner-level wireless headphones like AirPods to a premium pair like the new Astell & Kern UW100. With excellent digital-to-analog conversion, bespoke drivers and a sleek design, I can see these are an easy entry point
for aspiring audiophiles.
It has taken some time for advanced wireless earphones to do something special besides looking better than the versions from Apple, Samsung and others. The UW100 proves that we’ll finally get better sound for our extra dollars, and they can get a few audio files to cut the cord when they’re out.
Form and function
If you are not into hoarding FLAC files and losing thousands of dollars on beautiful digital players, it is very likely that you have never heard of Astell & Kern. The small audio brand has been making acclaimed digital-to-analog converters, headphone amplifiers and portable players for the Rolex class for years, but only recently has it taken a deep dive into advanced mainstream audio products.
When it comes to both design and sound performance, the technological trickle-down is evident. Astell & Kern are willing to sell products for under $ 500 now, but the engineers are still reluctant to sell bad-sounding.
The jagged, pearl-like exterior of each earphone immediately stands out among a bunch of wireless knobs that look like golf t-shirts. They are like something you might see in one Star Trek spinoff, doubled as fancy space age communicators. This is not to say that the buds do not look and feel elegant, but unless your personal style is very modern, you might find them a bit flashy.
Such visual cues are par for the course from Astell & Kern, which uses jagged edges as a centerpiece in its design language. However, the case is a bit large and very plastic-like, which I would not expect from knobs that cost almost twice as much as AirPods. I like Apple’s basic buds, but the case is twice as slim and half as big.
Despite the fact that it has no ear fins, the UW100 fits extremely well in my medium-sized ears. I have been able to take them on long runs, do gardening and generally cuddle without ever losing a bud. Of course, this is partly a stroke of luck: Unless your ears are identical to mine, your mileage may vary. But as long as you do not have small ears (these are on the medium side of the spectrum, but not wildly large), they should fit you just fine.
However, the sound quality is the right showstopper with the UW100. A 32-bit digital-to-analog converter and custom balanced luminaire drivers are paired with aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec support to deliver the cleanest, most detailed sound I’ve ever heard from wireless earphones.
A wide sound picture and assertive (but not too boomy) bass are aided by the headphones’ excellent passive noise isolation. At times, I swore that these earphones had active noise reduction as they blocked the outside world so well. This is a fact that Astell & Kern’s engineers also clearly acknowledged; you can activate Ambient mode with the touch of an external touch sensor and you will find yourself using it if you purchase these knobs.