Astell&Kern cuts the cord with first true wireless earphones
Korean mobile audiophile brand Astell&Kern has entered the crowded true wireless earphone space with the angular UW100 earbuds, which rock a 32-bit DAC, balanced armature drivers, Bluetooth 5.2 and aptX Adaptive.
Very much a shiny novelty only a few short years ago, true wireless earphones of all shapes and sizes are pretty everywhere now, with major brands like Sennheiser, Cambridge Audio, Sony, Apple and Technics already leading the way for top quality cable-free music listening on the move.
Following the launch of the multi-driver Zero1 in-ear monitors last year, Astell&Kern has now entered the true wireless earphones market with ear candy sporting the company's signature angular aesthetic and coming with the promise of "a class-leading, truly wireless hi-fi-grade sound."
Instead of using digital-to-analog conversion already integrated into a Bluetooth chipset, the AK UW100 earphones have been treated to their own dedicated high-performance 32-bit DAC, which works alongside the company's proprietary amp technology found in its high-end digital audio players and the Knowles balanced armature driver housed in each earphone "to deliver a realistic and distortion-free audio across all genres of music."
Meanwhile, the aptX Adaptive codec dynamically scales the bit rate to adjust playback quality to help nip wireless latency issues in the bud, and supports 24-bit audio at up to 420 kbps – the upshot being, CD-quality and above streaming quality with little in the way of lag. Bluetooth 5.2 allows for greater connection stability than before, as well a more range between ear candy and source device, and A&K also says that listeners can expect a solid connection between each earpiece thanks to Qualcomm True Wireless Stereo Plus technology.
The UW100s don't feature active noise cancellation, but A&K claims that its passive isolation design "developed through countless simulations" efficiently blocks unwanted ambient noise across all audible frequency ranges, rather than just focusing on lower-end rumble like many ANC setups.
Unusually for a passive system, listeners can opt to allow sounds from the outside world through by tapping the outer housing of the left earphone or via a companion mobile app, with four ambient noise levels available. Users can also control playback, adjust volume, take calls and chat with a digital voice assistant via touch, with the app allowing for touch control customization as well as EQ adjustment.
Total per-charge battery life is reported to be 24 hours, which shapes up as six hours for the earphones and 18 more from the charging case. That charging case supports both fast charging (for an hour of playback in exchange for 10 minutes on charge) and wireless charging via a third party pad.
The UW100 earphones go on sale from April for US$260, and ship with five sizes of silicone tips but no foam options. That price tag is significantly cheaper than A&K's wired earphones, but puts them at the premium end of the true wireless earphone market.