Astell&Kern AK UW100 review

True wireless hi-fi audio done right

Astell&Kern AK U100 review
(Image: © Alex Bracetti/Future)

Laptop Mag Verdict

The AK UW100 earbuds are an excellent addition to Astell&Kern’s portfolio of elite audio products, but they can only be enjoyed at a premium.

Pros

  • +

    Best-in-class sound

  • +

    Robust specs

  • +

    Luxe, distinctive design

  • +

    Responsive touch controls

  • +

    Impressive noise isolation

Cons

  • -

    $299 price

  • -

    Call quality doesn’t live up to its promise

  • -

    Middling battery life

  • -

    No ANC

Why you can trust Laptop Mag Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

ASTELL&KERN AK UW100 SPECS

Price: $299
Colors: Black
Battery life (rated): 6 hours, 24 hours (with charging case)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2
Water resistance: No
Size: Not stated
Weight: 0.24 ounces (per bud); 2.2 ounces (charging case)

Astell&Kern is a name that is familiar among hardcore audiophiles. The South Korea-based brand has put out some of the fanciest and best-sounding hi-fi portable audio players ever made. The company's line of digital-to-analogue converters (DACs) and in-ear monitors are also considered top tier by critics and industry experts.

Recently launching their first-ever wireless earbuds, the AK UW100, expectations are high for this model to be one of the category’s finest audio offerings. They are, and then some.

Proprietary technologies, powerful drivers, and current Bluetooth codecs give these buds enough sonic firepower to outperform all other competitors. A contemporary design boasting responsive controls and respectable noise reduction capabilities add to their flair. Not everything hits the mark, but any criticisms you have will likely be forgotten once the music starts playing. 

Here is our full rundown of the Astell&Kern AK UW100.

Astell&Kern AK UW100 price and availability

The Astell&Kern AK UW100 earbuds are pricey at $299, but bear in mind that this is a fraction of what the company sells their hi-fi portable music players for. Not to mention the buds are more affordable than other audiophile-grade rivals like the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 ($399) and Bang & Olufsen Beoplay EQ ($380). If you’re looking for something less expensive with strong audio performance, the Sony WF-1000XM4 ($279) and Beats Fit Pro ($199) are worthy alternatives.

You can purchase the AK UW100 in Black or Gunmetal Grey exclusively through Astell&Kern. In the box comes a wireless charging case, USB-C charging cable, five pairs of different-sized ear tips, a quick start guide, and a warranty card.

Be sure to bookmark our headphone deals page for the latest sales.

Astell&Kern AK UW100 design and comfort

Aesthetically, the AK UW100 earbuds maintain the distinctive and high-end look of the company’s music players, from the dark colorway to the signature pentagon-shaped detailing on the front. This gives them an avant-garde appearance that very few models could pull off. Build quality is sturdy, which is impressive for buds without an IP rating. They will survive scuffs, scratches, and hard drops to the concrete, but are vulnerable to excessive moisture and dirt.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Astell&Kern’s charging case is just as attractive as the buds. The large design isn’t something you can toss into tight pockets, but more so a travel bag. It also tips the scale at 2.2 ounces, yet it’s a lighter carry than some of the larger cases out there (Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, Beats Powerbeats Pro). Adding to their flair are a debossed logo and a pointed pentagon design on top. 

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

You may be wondering whether the AK UW100’s bulky design leads to comfort and fit issues. Answer: yes and no. Wearing the buds for a few hours daily was fine. Fatigue would set in after lengthy stretches (2.5 hours straight) and the thick cavity progressively applied pressure to the concha the longer I wore the buds.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Adjust the buds properly to establish an optimal fit that forms a tight seal and keeps them locked in. Five different sets of tips come in the box to accommodate listeners with different ear sizes.

Astell&Kern AK UW100 controls and digital assistant

Astell&Kern got creative with the controls. Input gestures are standard, consisting of single, double, and triple taps and a 3-second-long press. The list of media controls is what stands out the most. All of the essentials are accounted for such as playback, call management, digital assistance, and listening mode activation. However, you also get preprogrammed volume controls and the option to enable different ambient listening levels.

The touch sensors are some of the most responsive I’ve tested on a pair of wireless earbuds and immediately register taps to execute intended commands. They also register swipes if you choose to make that your input preference.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Not everything runs smoothly. The ambient mode level function doesn’t work as intended. Rather than cycle through the four different settings, it turns the feature on or off. Lag is another issue and only occurs with on-ear detection; it takes about 2 seconds for auto-pause to occur.

Google Assistant, Siri, and Bixby are all supported for voice commands, thanks to an intelligible dual-mic array that picks up words with precision. Even in rowdy settings, all three AI bots stepped up to the task and responded quickly to verbalized inquiries.

Astell&Kern AK UW100 audio quality

Many wireless earbuds makers push for low power consumption DACs to get the most battery life out of their models, but that often compromises audio quality. Astell&Kern decided to go for it, installing the Asahi Kasei AKM AK4332 32-bit DAC into these buds, which brings together the amplifier and audio circuit technology found in their digital audio players. Combine that with Knowles Balanced Armature Drivers and aptX Adaptive codec support and you get phenomenally accurate hi-fi sound with minimal transmission delay.

The deep house vibes on Miami Horror’s “Cellophane (So Cruel) – Syre Remix” put the AK UW100’s frequency range on full display. I thought the high-pitched synths and whispery, echo-layered vocals were reproduced superbly and blended nicely over the bass-powered beat. Mariah Carey’s “Honey” had me appreciating production details I never gave much attention to in the past. Those finger snaps and two-key melody at the beginning sounded so crisp. Then the bouncy bassline and staccato piano line took over — both delivered with such liveliness.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

These buds also bring an intimate presence to orchestral recordings, as exemplary on Jazz classics like Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage.” Crisp cymbals, delicate double bass, and energetic horns resonated so well that it felt like the legend was performing live in my TV room.

Cinematic soundtracks like Inception immersed me deeper into the soundstage. Tracks like “Old Souls” sound incredibly atmospheric and depth-filled like what you would hear from Apple’s Spatial Audio feature, but not as multidimensional (head tracking makes a difference).

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Astell&Kern’s sound profile is already exceptional, but if you feel it needs tweaking, there’s an Equalizer feature accessible in the AK TWS app. You can’t manually adjust frequencies like the EQ on other models, but there are four selectable modes — Bass Emphasis, High Emphasis, Vocal Emphasis, and Game Mode — with the majority being well-engineered for highlighting specific frequencies and content. You can go either way with Bass or High Emphasis on instrumental-heavy tracks, depending on your preference, and Vocal Emphasis elevates the mid-range on ballads. 

Very little time was spent playing mobile games, but I can say that Game Mode slightly decreased latency when streaming videos.

Astell&Kern AK UW100 noise isolation and transparent listening

These high-priced wireless earbuds do not come with active noise cancellation (ANC). The reason for that is Astell&Kern believe ANC isn’t “essential to achieve both reduced ambient noises and increased musical focus." So, the company focused on creating an ergonomic design that reduces external sounds physically, a technique that is moderately effective on the AK UW100.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Low-frequency sounds are neutralized extremely well. I couldn’t hear any of the tumbling noises coming from the laundry room, nor any landscaping work around the neighborhood. The buds can also put a muzzle on most mid-frequency sounds like dog barks, loud TVs, and neighborly chatter. High-frequency sounds are what tend to enter the soundscape. My cat’s incessant meowing was audible, but it didn’t pull me away from my work. My toddler’s hunger cries were distracting, as well as ambulance sirens and whistles. 

Astell&Kern did include a four-setting Ambient Mode that is terrific for increasing environmental awareness. Level 1 gives you a sense of things transpiring around you, whereas Level 4 opens the mics more to hear conversations and incidental sounds clearer. It came in handy when I needed to communicate with the missus about baby duties without removing the buds. I also used the feature a lot outside, keeping tabs on oncoming traffic when strolling with the baby.

Astell&Kern AK UW100 app and special features

All personalization features are found in the AK TWS app (iOS (opens in new tab), Android). Outside of Ambient Mode, Equalizer, and Tap Settings, there’s very little else to digest. Battery level indicators for each bud, firmware updates, and a speech language setting are what remain.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

I wish there were more extras to toy with. If Astell&Kern ever decide to add features in the future, my recommendations are as follows: Apple Music/Spotify integration, customizable EQ with more presets, Soundscape mode, and something basic like a music player or volume slider.

The AK UW100 earbuds have a hidden feature that isn’t shared in ads or the product page and that’s a battery life overlay that hides in the notifications bar. It’s a nice shortcut to see how much juice you've got left without entering the app.

Astell&Kern AK UW100 battery life and charging case

Seeing non-ANC wireless earbuds carry a max playtime of 6 hours is disappointing. High volume and special features decrease it to 5 hours. Then again, this is understandable considering the horsepower this model harnesses. At least you’re getting more listening time than the AirPods Pro (4.5 to 5 hours).

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

The charging case holds up to 24 hours, placing it in the same company as the AirPods Pro charging case. Four extra charges are sufficient for a week’s worth of listening for most users. A 10-minute quick charge generates 1 hour of use, and wireless charging comes as part of the package.

Astell&Kern AK UW100 call quality and connectivity

According to Astell&Kern, it employed acoustic echo-cancellation and noise-suppression technologies to ensure call stability on the AK UW100. The mics were fantastic at picking up vocals. They also picked up every little sound around me, which people on the opposite end could hear clearly. In addition, my wife mentioned muffling several times during chats that took place both indoors and outdoors.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Bluetooth 5.2 operates at a high level. Range extends up to 45 feet (13 meters). The initial pairing process is a pain to deal with, but once you get past it, the buds automatically pair to recognized devices. One-tap Google Fast Pair would have been a sweet addition, but I won’t hold this omission against the AK UW100. 

Multipoint technology (pair to two devices simultaneously) is flawless. The feature made switching from my Pixel 6 Pro to MacBook Pro seamless, prioritizing audio on the latter, while still allowing me to take calls on the former when necessary.

Astell&Kern AK UW100: Bottom line

The AK UW100 are pricey, but compared to Astell&Kern’s other products, which carry an average MSRP of $1,000, they should be considered a steal for audiophiles that want first-class audio in true wireless form. These buds are also gorgeous, responsive to commands, and offer solid noise isolation.

A high price doesn’t guarantee perfection. Battery life and call quality are two areas where the AK UW100 could have performed better. The lack of ANC is another drawback that might convince you to look at alternatives.

If not, then know that the AK UW100 are a tempting investment for music lovers who want category-leading sound and have the Benjamins to spend.