People buy the best wireless earbuds for all kinds of reasons. For many of us it's a mix of convenience and fun, but for some of us music is far too important to sacrifice even a sliver of sound quality. That's one reason I've avoided Apple's AirPods Pro so far: while they sound pretty good, they don't sound as good to me as earbuds made by actual audio firms. And when it comes to hi-res audio, one of the best audio firms is Astell&Kern: their hi-res audio players are astonishing – I've reviewed a few and tried to battle the couriers when they had to go back to the manufacturer – but until now A&K didn't make the earbuds to go with them.
If you know A&K you'll understand why I'm so excited about the new AK UW100 true wireless earbuds. And if you don't, here's a quick intro. A&K are completely mad, making audio products to standards way beyond what most manufacturers offer. I reckon these headphones won't just help you hear what your favourite artists are playing. I reckon you'll be able to hear what they were thinking.
These headphones have serious specs appeal
Let's start with what these earbuds don't do: they don't have active noise cancelling. That's because A&K believes that ANC removes too much musical information; instead, they've concentrated on creating the most effective passive noise cancellation possible, and it works so well they've also enabled four levels of transparency so you can hear things around you when required. That means you get to hear the full aptX Adaptive sound quality, which is capable of delivering 24-bit audio at up to 420kbps, without losing any of it.
There are two key bits of tech in here that differentiate the A&K AK UW100 from other true wireless earbuds. The first is the DAC, the Digital to Analogue Converter. Where many headphones have that included in the Bluetooth chip, its focus is usually on power consumption rather than sound quality. By using their own separate 32-bit DAC, the AK UW100 focus on the music. And that doesn't come with a cost in terms of battery life: these earbuds are good for 6 hours straight and another 18 via the charging case.
The second difference is that the drivers are Knowles Balanced Armature drivers, which you're more likely to find in very expensive in-ear monitors for musicians: they deliver a much more detailed, distortion-free performance than normal earbud drivers.
The AK UW 100s go on sale in April and they're much cheaper than I thought they'd be: at £249 / $260 / €299 / AU$399 they're aggressively priced for such high-specification headphones.