Astell & Kern's striking premium buds aim to challenge Bose and Sony for true wireless supremacy

Astell & Kern UW100MKII
(Image credit: Astell & Kern)

Astell & Kern has revealed its new AK UW100MKII premium wireless earbuds, designed to bring high-quality audio and distinct styling to a very crowded, popular category that includes five-star rivals from Apple, Bose and Sony. 

The new buds are the successor to the original UW100 model and, according to the manufacturer, go one step further to set "a new standard in true wireless sound". 

The upgraded model has been refined to offer a more detailed, precise wireless sound thanks to a redesigned acoustic chamber, a new balanced armature driver, an onboard 32-bit DAC and support for aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec.

Additionally, the new earbuds feature a more advanced circuit design, which the South Korean manufacturer promises will ensure a more stable connection and reduce sound distortion and unwanted noise.

Instead of active noise cancellation (ANC), however, the AK UW100MKII are equipped with PNI (Passive Noise Isolation). Unlike standard ANC which focuses on cancelling low-frequency noise, PNI instead removes ambient noise in the mid and high ranges. It'll be interesting to see how that fares next to the fully ANC-equipped class-leaders.

The power system for the AK UW100MKII has been reconfigured as well, increasing battery life to 9.5 hours for the buds and 29 hours in total with the charging case. If you're heading out and need a boost, the charging cradle will offer an hour of playtime from a quick ten-minute charge.

Astell & Kern UW100MKII

(Image credit: Astell & Kern)

The new premium buds include Qualcomm’s cVc Generation 8.0 (Clear Voice Capture) technology to deliver clearer call audio. It's designed to keep background noise to a minimum, boosting the human voice to produce better-quality audio during calls.

The touch controls offer plenty of functions. Tap to switch between playing music, answering calls, activating ambient mode, adjusting the volume and more. The UW100MK II also feature Bluetooth Multipoint connectivity, which lets you switch between listening to two connected devices seamlessly.

Those on-ear controls can be tweaked and customised through the Astell & Kern app. From here, you can also personalise the 10-band EQ to your liking, check the buds' battery life or change the Ambient Mode's four different levels as you see fit.   

That signature starburst-style design returns, with five ridges convening into a single point to give a pointed star profile from which the company partially takes its name. According to the brand, the unique shape "symbolises the brand’s core identity of representing the centre of music while its contrasting surfaces reflected the light to embody the twinkling and scattering of starlight." Obviously!

The Astell & Kern AK UW100MKII will be available to buy from early October 2023 for £269 / $280 / AU$499. Astell & Kern is clearly targeting the premium end of the true wireless market. At this premium price, the UW100MKII will face stiff competition from the Award-winning Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II and the new five-star Sony WF-1000XM5 – both of which offer ANC and class-leading sound quality.


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Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. During his time at the publication, he has written countless news stories alongside features, advice and reviews of products ranging from floorstanding speakers and music streamers to over-ear headphones, wireless earbuds and portable DACs. He has covered launches from hi-fi and consumer tech brands, and major industry events including IFA, High End Munich and, of course, the Bristol Hi-Fi Show. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or trying to pet strangers' dogs.