Astell & Kern has launched its first pair of true wireless earbuds - and if they live up to the specs, they could be an excellent alternative to the Apple AirPods Pro for audiophiles.
The AK UW100 wireless earbuds come with a host of features designed to eke out as much detail from your music as possible, including a high performance 32-bit DAC and aptX Adaptive support for hi-res audio streaming.
The new buds take inspiration from the company's range of high-end in-ear headphones, using balanced armature drivers that should deliver an extremely detailed listening experience, and what Astell & Kern describes as "realistic and distortion-free audio across all genres".
Bluetooth 5.2 support should ensure the AK UW100 will connect seamlessly with your devices - and, if your smartphone runs Qualcomm True Wireless Stereo Plus, you'll get a "more robust connection between both earbuds and the compatible device" and a reduction in power consumption.
Touch-sensitive housings mean you can control your music playback by tapping the earbuds, while a 24-hour battery should be long enough to soundtrack a few commutes.
Are the Astell & Kern AK UW100 better than the AirPods Pro?
Without having tested the Astell & Kern AK UW100 for ourselves, we can't speak to their performance, but we do think they'll be a better choice for audiophiles than the AirPods Pro.
That's because they offer hi-res audio support, which means you'll be able to enjoy high quality streams. Despite many Apple Music tracks working in lossless and hi-res audio, none of the company's earbuds or headphones are actually capable of handling these higher quality files - and that's a big sticking point for anyone that wants to hear the most accurate reproduction of their favorite songs.
We're pretty confident that the AK UW100 will sound good, too. While Astell & Kern is well known for making some of the best portable DACs on the planet, the brand already offers a range of premium in-ear headphones, and has a great reputation when it comes to delivering natural, detailed audio performances.
In any case, Astell & Kern's new true wireless earbuds are a similar price as the AirPods Pro, so you're not paying a huge premium for those audiophile-friendly features. The AK UW100 will set you back $260 / £249 (about AU$350) when they're released in April, while the AirPods Pro cost $249 / £249 / AU$399 - though AirPods Pro deals are available from time to time.
One thing that might put you off buying the AK UW100 is the fact that there's no active noise cancellation (unlike the AirPods Pro). However, Astell & Kern says that the passive noise isolation afforded by its new earbuds - that is, the ambient sound that's physically blocked out by the eartips - is good enough to stop your music from being interrupted by your noisy surroundings.
The company says that, unlike generic active noise cancellation, the passive noise isolation provided by the AK UW100 doesn't only concentrate on blocking out low frequency noise, and will efficiently minimize unwanted ambient noise in the mid and high range.
If you do want to hear your surroundings, you can tap the left earbud to activate ambient mode, which will allow some sound to filter through the buds. There are four ambient levels, so you can decide how much of your environment you want to hear.
If active noise cancellation is a big draw for you, the AK UW100 probably won't cut it - and you'd be better off trying the AirPods Pro, or other noise-cancelling earbuds such as the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds and the Sony WF-1000XM4.
However, if you're all about audio quality, Astell & Kern's first true wireless earbuds are a very attractive prospect indeed.
- Need something cheaper? Read our guide to the best budget wireless earbuds