After the past few years of reviewing audiophile equipment I can say there certainly is a standard much better than what the average user would consider premium.  Bose/Sony etc are top end and all a lot of people need and want but upgrade that to a set of Focal, Astell&Kern or other headphones and you will certainly notice the difference straight away.

Last year I reviewed the first generation of Astell&Kern true wireless earbuds, the UW100 and I came away incredibly impressed.  In fact, when I tested them out alongside and against the best mainstream TWS earbuds in the market, including the Apple AirPods Pro, they smoked them all.  Sure, they don’t have active noise cancellation but ANC messes with sound quality so true audiophile headphones either don’t have them or don’t recommend using it — their passive noise isolation does a pretty good job anyway though.

Now Astell&Kern has released the next generation of their true wireless earbuds, and although the naming system has used very little imagination and innovation, the UW100 MKII, the earbud technology certainly has.

Sound quality

I was going to conclude with this section but let’s face it, if you are interested in these earbuds the most important thing you want to hear about is the sound quality.  If you are also interested in the tech that produces their improved sound quality you can see that below.

We were super impressed with the first generation Astell&Kern UW100 earbuds, with them blowing away every other set of earbuds we had ever tested out before.  We thought they surely could not get any better.  But here we are.

When it comes to music, these Astell&Kern UW100 MKII earbuds are not just significantly better than any other set of mainstream earbuds but they are even better than the first generation UW100 earbuds.  Sure, the sound quality is better but for those already owning the first gen earbuds they are not that much better.  

The soundstage of the UW100 MKII is exceptional with a width and depth that sounds amazing, certainly better than you’d expect from Bluetooth TWS earbuds.  

The bass is powerful, offering a punch when needed in the bass while at the same time being crisp and lacking the muddying that we see in many TWS earbuds in the low end.  

The mids are incredibly enjoyable with the sound coming to the fore with a breadth of them along with accurate detail and reproduction of the sound that you expect from an audiophile quality headphone.

The high frequency sounds seem to be tweeting away without any overpowering.  Many TWS earbuds offer excessive highs which take over the sound producing a sound quality that sounds far too much in the upper registry.

Overall, I am incredibly happy with the sound quality for the music, across all genres.  I tested it across quite a few before settling into my usual rotation of hiphop and metal.

As for calls Astell&Kern UW100 MKII contain two mics per earbud and feature the Qualcomm cVc Generation 8.0 codec for crystal clear calls.  Not only that but the other end of the call had no issues hearing me clearly.

Technology and features

Settle in, this technology section could take a while.  

The UW100 MKII combines a “unique amplifier and audio circuit technology developed for A&K with an Asahi Kasei AKM 32-bit Hi-Fi DAC” as opposed to most other TWS earbuds that utilise a generic DAC built into the Bluetooth module.  What this means is an entirely different level of sound reproduction and audio quality from the UW100 MKII earbuds.

Pumping out the sound from these DACs and amplifier are Knowles Balanced Armature Drivers which are normally used in the extremely expensive in-ear monitor systems, thereby further increasing the quality of the sound.

You may be mistaken thinking that the MKII are the same as the gen 1 earbuds but the MKII has improved on the internal design by moving the position of the driver towards the inside of the ear more to “deliver the finer audio details more directly.”  

The AMP and circuit technology is once again developed by Astell&Kern allowing for separation of the digital parts and analogue circuits of the wireless earbud.  This allows for further noise reduction than the first-generation model with an even clearer sound.

The noise reduction is performed by passive noise isolation, cancelling unwanted ambient noise in the mid and high ranges instead of cancelling low-frequency noise that generic ANC does.  Personally, I found the noise isolation to be extremely effective although if you are in an area of extreme noise the PNI is less effective than the more traditional ANC.

If you prefer to head more of the environment you can tap on the control buttons (or use the app) to alter the level of PNI, of which there are four.

The UW100 MKII earbuds are powered by the premium Qualcomm QCC5141 Bluetooth chipset which includes support for aptX Adaptive, Qualcomm’s next-generation high-quality codec for wireless 24-bit sound quality and Bluetooth 5.2 support, offering higher quality sound than most other TWS earbuds.

The Bluetooth 5.2 support also allows for multipoint connectivity of up to two devices at a time which I find very handy considering the number of devices I often have on the go at a single time.  

As for pairing there is now support for Google’s Fart Pair service allowing you to pair these a lot easier than previously.   The first time you pair it may struggle using Fast Pair, so you’ll have to do it through the Bluetooth menu settings – this is not uncommon with the first time you pair any set of Bluetooth headphones but it is still lightyears better than that on the first generation UW100 earbuds.  Once paired it stays in your Google account so you can then pair with any other Android device easily.  

Design, comfort and fit

The design of the Astell&Kern UW100 MKII on the outside is virtually identical to the first generation which is sort of good and bad.  They screw into the ear well, but they screw into the ear.  Yes, they achieve some of their passive noise isolation thanks to this seal in the ear canal and the screwing allows this to occur.  

Unfortunately screwing them in does lend itself to over screwing them in creating a bit of discomfort in the ear.  This can take some getting used to, getting the right amount of seal without sticking them so far down the ear canal that it becomes painful.  I use my gen1 version quite a bit so had no issues with the UW100 MKII. There are five different sized sets of silicone tips in the box to help you get the best most comfortable seal in the ear canal.

If you compare them to the Jabra Elite 10 earbuds the comfort is not even close but they also feel more secure in the ear due to this tighter seal.  That seal allows for such good passive noise isolation (PNI) resulting in a much better audio experience (ANC tends to degrade audio quality).

Each earbud still has the outer surface as a touch button.  The buttons are not capacitive touch but require more of a firm press to activate them.  The required force is something you need to get used to but even then they are not as consistent in reacting to touch as they could be.    

The function each tap activates can be changed using the app, but I left it as stock tapping: Right ear, play and pause, left for ambient mode and so on – see below.

Battery life and charging

The charging case is much smaller than the gen one case, and is easily pocketable.  It supports USB-C fast charging along with wireless Qi charging with just 10minutes of USB-C charging providing one hour of playback.

The earbuds themselves provide up to 9.5 hours of playback with a total of 29 including the case.  I didn’t quite get that with the battery dying at around 7.5 hours but then I was playing around with the settings a lot along with playing the music loud to fully test the earbuds.  The battery life though was certainly very close to that.

Final thoughts

I thought the first generation of the Astell&Kern UW100 earbuds were amazing and that it would be very hard to top, but as I said, here we are. The new MKII earbuds are incrementally better than the first generation and are definitely worth buying, assuming you don’t have the gen one earbuds. If you already have the gen one earbuds I’m not sure the slightly improved sound of the MKII earbuds is enough to justify the price.

The Astell&Kern UW100 MKII earbuds offer amazing reproduction of mids and highs along with a bass very rarely heard with TWS earbuds. I am amazed at just how good they sound compared to the mainstream TWS earbuds. The quality needs to be heard to be believed.

If you have money to spare and don’t find the idea of forking out nearly $500 for a set of earbuds then I can highly recommend these to you. If you want your music to sound amazing but still want the portability and flexibility of TWS Bluetooth earbuds then the Astell&Kern UW100 MKII are for you. In my opinion, the true wireless sound quality of the UW100 MKII cannot be beat at this stage.

The Astell&Kern UW100 MK II is exclusively available at Addicted To Audio for AUD $499.