Dual-mono 24bit/192kHz portable Digital Audio Player
Astell&Kern's new flagship portable DAP has arrived.
Building on the strengths of the AK100, the AK120 provides a true dual-mono audio output giving a lower noise floor, wider dynamic range and a broader sound stage. Other new and improved features include gapless playback, 64GB of internal memory, an updated user interface, support for streaming to the DAC over USB (in addition to optical) and playback of DSD files. Compared with the AK100, the AK120 also has a lower output impedance at 3ohms, which makes it easier to match with lower impedance IEMs.
A shade longer than the AK100 to accommodate the upgraded electronics, the AK120 still fits easily in the palm of the hand or a shirt pocket.
The player comes pre-loaded with a selection of 24bit studio quality music from Chesky Records and is packaged with a finely crafted Buttero leather case.
- Equipped two high-performance Wolfson WM8740 24bit 192kHz DACs in a dual-mono configuration
- Sets a new high watermark for portable audio:
Frequency Response ±0.02 (Condition: 20Hz ~ 20kHz) / ±0.2dB (Condition: 10Hz ~ 70kHz) Signal to Noise Ratio 113dB (1kHz 0dB, 24bit 48kHz, No Load) Crosstalk -128dB (1kHz 0dB, 24bit 48kHz, No Load) THD+N 0.0008% Typ (1kHz 0dB, 24bit 48kHz, No Load) IMD SMPTE 0.0005% (800Hz 10kHz (4:1)) Output Level L: 1.5Vrms + R: 1.5Vrms (Condition No Load) Output Impedance 3 ohm Clock Jitter 50ps (Typ)
- 64GB built-in memory plus two microSD card slots giving a total capacity of 192GB
- Can be used as an external DAC or a digital source via USB 2.0 or Optical TOSLINK
- Elegant design and sturdy build, housed in a brushed aluminium case
- Side buttons and an analogue-style volume knob compliment an intuitive 2.4" QVGA IPS touch-screen display
- Graphic equalizer easily manipulated with the swipe of a finger
- Plays back DSD, WAV, FLAC, APE (Normal, High, Fast), ALAC, AIFF, WMA, ASF, OGG, AAC & MP3 files
- Gapless playback of all file types
- 2,350mAh 3.7V Li-Polymer battery gives up to 14 hours of playback on a single charge
- 59.2mm x 89mm x 14.4mm, 143g
Manufacturer's product page
Sound Fidelity say:
“This is a wonderful player. The sound quality is arguably the best in the world for a DAP, and because it can also be used as a USB-DAC directly, it's really useful in the home (or on holiday or at work) as well as on the move. We love that it has such a large storage capacity - the twin microSD card slots give a total of 192GB with the 64GB cards currently available (and 128GB cards will be available soon). You can carry hundreds of CD and better quality albums around with you in any of the formats commonly available, including DSD.”
Astell&Kern AK120 Firmware v1.37 (34.5 MB)
Upgrade your firmware either using iriver's plus4 software (Device - Update firmware) or simply by copying the hex file to the root directory of your player and then restarting it.
[ Warning ]
- Before firmware upgrade:
- Make sure your AK120's battery level is at least at 80%.
- Make sure your AK120 has at least 50MB of memory remaining.
- Don't unplug the AK120 from your PC during hex data transfer.
[ Newly added functions ]
- Comfortable USB mode:
- USB mode can be changed while the AK120 is connected to PC via USB cable (Settings / USB mode).
- USB DAC <-> Removable disk
- Charge battery <-> USB DAC
- Removable disk
- USB mode can be changed while the AK120 is connected to PC via USB cable (Settings / USB mode).
- Folder playback:
- A "PLAY ALL" option has been added for each folder, which plays all songs in the selected folder and its subfolders.
- 32bit stereo wav files supported.
[ Improvements ]
- Enable to power off at charge & play mode – (Also applied for auto power off and sleep off).
- Optional home screen themes added (Settings / Advanced / Home Screen Theme):
- DSF files are shown in MQS menu.
Astell&Kern AK120 Manual (English) (3.3 MB)
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Posted by cheznous on 24th May 2013
As a hifi aficionado the portable avenue is a tricky path to follow.
I have gone down the iPod Classic with Cypher Labs DAC and iBasso amp playing lossless files.
This was a good start but the word portable started to mean large house brick equivalent thereof.
The problem with the alternatives to this was that they were subject to restrictions in battery life and in most cases the software was poor. I tries the Colorfly C4 but it was so buggy it was a drag to use.
Then IRiver brought out the Astell & Kern AK100 and this was a game changer.
Sure it had some faults in terms of impedance and lack of gapless playback.
And yes, on a MAC loading music is slow compared to using iTunes and an iPod.
But it sounded wonderful with my Westone 4R and Sennheiser ie800.
Then they bring out the AK120 and raise the bar that much higher. The GUI is improved, the impedance is improved and it plays gapless files. More importantly the sound is improved too.
Listen to HD tracks or indeed standard FLAC rips of your favourite CDs and be prepared to retire any other portable set up. My iPod is now for car use only.
Downside, only one. It is bloody expensive.
However if you continue to seek portable musical nirvana this will help you on your journey.
Posted by milinddhuru on 10th June 2013
Fabulous Five Star service. Checked in on Friday afternoon , had the unit in hand Saturday morning 8 AM nicely and safely packed. Was kept up to date on entire process via email. Will certainly deal with SoundFidelity again.
As regards the DAP itself, while this was an impulse purchase, no regrets at all! I also own the predecessor unit the iRiver Ak 100, and the Ak 120 is miles better in terms of transparency, resolution of detail and the sheer speed of response from the GUI. Clearly a case of getting what you are paying for. Sounds very analogue like when paired with right pair of IEM's( JH 16 Pro's Customs , UM Miracle Customs and AKG 3003i's in my case). Does not really need an external amplifier, but if you have one of high quality( Fostex , ALO International or similar), it does shine through.
FLAC or MQS files are a must. Poorly ripped MP3 files at high compression ratios sound terrible.
Not powerful enough to drive full sized Cans like the Senn HD 800's or Audeze LCD 2 loudly , but with a decent portable external Amp, this is the DAP of choice.
Unit is very well made, and is of a very handy size. Far more portable and mainstream looking than the Hifi Man 801, IBasso DX 100 or Colorfly C4. battery life is above average.
The complimentary handmade italian leather case is a very nice touch( At this price point would expect it to be so!)
Posted by space on 14th June 2013
Edited 14th June 2013
Having seen the AK120 at the Munich High-End Show, I put in an order with soundfildelity immediately after, and 2 weeks later it lovingly arrived, apparently there being a shortage and high demand, and selected dispatch, but soundfidelity kept me informed during the whole purchasing and delivery process. I highly recommend soundfidelity.
Then came the question of headphone pairing, and instead of the Grado PS1000's that I thought would be good, was recommended and opted for the Sennheiser Momentums as a balance between street cred, portability and sound quality, in that order as I know that listening on a train and plane is not going to be conducive to an environment where I can expect perfect sound reproduction. Apart from the power, my main concern was sound leakage of the Grado's on the plane (having also tried these in Munich), I want to keep my music to myself.
Next came the hunt for high quality music files, and here is my biggest problem. Not getting too hung up the genre of the available flacs/apes/etc, which, can I say, I find strangely eclectic, the set up of the AK120 and the Momentums immediately recognizes bad rips, which is great because I can now delete the files that do not sound good knowing that its the file and not the system, and then trying to find a replacement to the deleted music. Guaranteed 24/96 or 192 would be nice from a secure source, and am searching just now.
Updating the firmware on the machine itself was a doddle, extract the hex file (from the zip) into the root directory of the AK120 and then unplug from the computer (I used my linux laptop system for this). Worked perfectly.
At the moment I am thinking about augmenting the Momentums with a pair of Sennheiser ie800's. Any thoughts anyone ?
Posted by hydrophil on 24th June 2013
Like another reviewer, I was carrying around a wall of mini-bricks: CLAS -dB, RX MkIII, classic iPod, custom interconnect cables, custom carrying case and then the headphones of choice.
Even the ability to remove one of these bricks without any compromise on quality is a great benefit for someone like me, who works offshore for 6 months a year and can only take 12kg of luggage (clothes, personal effects and personal protective equipment included).
The progress has been slow over the years and the advent of mass market mediocre audio equipment has not really helped audiophiles that much. There is a preponderance of snake oil and cheap components everywhere. A shiny case and slick marketing do not make good sound.
I still think that the AK120 does better with a separate amp, but with some 25ohm impendence CIEMs it doesn't need them. In fact, even with my Ultrasone Ed. 8s the AK120 doesn't benefit a large amount from a powerful pocket amp.
The dual mono DAC setup does what it says on the box, a great, clean uncluttered soundstage. There is a notable absence of jitter, which is the main benefit of a good DAC.
My desktop setup is an Icon Audio HP8 MkII fed by a Schiit Bifrost. The first time I heard this through my headphones I was awestruck by the crystalline nature of the sound waves. The sheer lack of murkiness was a huge step forwards in my listening enjoyment.
When I took delivery of the CLAS -dB I swapped out the Schiit desktop DAC and fed the Icon Audio with that tiny little CLAS -dB, expecting it to be not as good being a portable component. The CLAS far outperformed the Schiit to my ears. The experience blew me away and I still remember my shock. Bucketloads more clarity and a darker backdrop and somehow more musical.
I am an acoustic engineer and from my experience introducing even a few milliseconds of lag in a system introduces an intolerable smudginess to the sound waves. It is easy to get a few milliseconds of lag and very hard to not have much at all. As such, I was skeptical about the dual DAC approach in a small box. If you split the channels you have to have a very well synchronised dual channel processing system to ensure you don't reintroduce a different form of jitter with each separate circuit having a different level of lag. One of the reasons a lot of people pay good money for a DAC is to ensure this doesn't happen.
Well, I am very pleased to say that the DAC stage of the AK120 is remarkably good. At least as clear as the CLAS and yet opens out the soundstage even wider. A lot of people have stated their belief that the AK120 has recessed trebles and broader bass/mids. I think this is not quite accurate and relates back to what you pair the unit with.
Bear in mind the unit is designed as a high end portable unit. This infers that the vast majority of pairings will be low impedance cans. If this is the case then I have found the AK120 to be very well balanced across its frequency responses.
However, if you plug in something with 100 ohms or more you can expect to start getting some degree of colouration. More an effect of the cans than the AK120 to be fair. If you stick an amp in the middle in this situation and just use the AK120 for its Storage, GUI and DAC elements you'll find it rewarding as well.
The build quality is superb.
The GUI is very usable but don't expect something as flexible as an iOS interface. It's not an iPad.
The only thing that irritates me about it, being absolutely honest, is that for extended travel 14 hours of battery life is not enough and the ability to swap the battery out for a fresh one would make a huge difference to me. The alternative is to use an auxiliary portable power source, like a power monkey. However, this is a common problem with units today. I do get more than 14 hours with the CIEMs though.
While the CLAS -dB and iPod combo faces the same battery limitation, at least when you unplugged the dead CLAS -dB you still had a fully charged iPod.
This is a relatively small niggle, but for me it is relevant and may be for someone else considering the AK120.
Overall I am happy to leave the CLAS/iPod at home and if I use my Frogbeat C4s (which are amazing) I don't need an amp at all.
So, for an ultra high quality ultra portable set up: AK120 and a good pair of CIEMs beats every other combination I have tried and easily fits into the smallest of pockets.
Audio Quality (portable): 10/10
Audio Quality (referenced against home setup): 8/10