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Astell & Kern AK10 Review and Product Info

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

BELOW IS PRODUCT INFO, RANDOM THOUGHTS, DETAILS AND IMPRESSIONS... FULL SOUND REVIEW TO COME

 

I noticed there isn't a lot of info about the AK10 out there, so I thought I'd order one and remedy that. It arrived today, so these are just my initial ramblings...

 

Basic technical info (this is just copied off the back of the box)

 

Output Level 1.7Vrms [1kHz@24bit 48kHz, No Load PC standard] / Audio Performance SNR 110dB [1kHz@24bit 48kHz, No Load], THD+N Typ. 0.008% [1kHz@24bit 48KhZ, No Load], Crosstalk 106dB [1kHZ@24bit 48kHz No Load] / Frequency Response ±0.2dB [20Hz~20kHz@24bit 48kHz No Load] / USB POWER : 5.0V, 500mA / AK10 USB cable, AK10 Lightning cable

 

Observations and thoughts:

 

The body is a mix of plastic and aluminum. It's actually a bit hard to tell which is which. The sides feel like aluminum, the rear feels like plastic. The large volume wheel is the most easily discernible as being aluminum.

 

In the box is the unit, a proprietary lightning cable for Apple devices, and a proprietary USB cord for connecting it to computers. There is also small leather form-fitting carrying case. And of course a warranty booklet and a quick start guide.

 

With regards to the cables, when I say "proprietary" I am referencing the fact that although the cables both terminate in standard UC-E6 USB ends at the AK10's body, the cable bodies themselves are molded to fit snuggly in the AK10's uniquely-shaped indent where the female UC-E6 jack rests. This indent is large, however, so I don't see any problems substituting other UC-E6 to USB or UC-E6 to lightning (if such a thing exists). The only negative I with that is that the AK10's indent and indent-shaped cable bodies appear to designed to combat cable-wiggle and subsequent issues with UC-E6 input being damaged. So standard cables wouldn't afford you that protection. 

 

Read the guide. It doesn't have much to say, but several things are key, such as how to enable your various computer to shift DAC duties to the AK10. And how to turn the power on and off. Which is not as out-of-the-box intuitive as one might think. (see below)

 

On the unit itself...

 

-A large volume wheel on the front 

 

-Traditional three button play/pause forward and reverse controls on the right side

 

-A slider button on the top. The slider button controls power and lock. Power is to the left. Slide the button left and release for on. Slide it again to the left and hold to power the AK10 off. Sliding the button to the right of center will lock the device.

 

-A UC-E6 USB jack on the bottom of the device and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top.

 

Overall fit and finish is fine. Just fine. Nothing extraordinary, and in my opinion, lacking for something that has an MSRP of $299. It is comparable to my $59 Fiio E11. My $120 Fiio E12 feels more expensive in the hand than the AK10... (But then again, my E12 is being returned because the output jack has busted, so grain of salt there, I guess) 

 

The sound wheel is very easy to turn, and I would imagine it can be accidentally spun when sliding the unit into a pocket or bag, but simply enabling "lock" defeats that issue. Even unlocked, the rotations required to increase or decrease volume are so many that blasting your ears is not a concern. Connected to an iPhone 5, roughly half a full spin (180 degrees) equals a bar of volume. It's a very nice feature, being able to micro-adjust your volume. 

 

I don't know if this has been mentioned, but when connected to an iPhone 5, the volume still shows on the screen when adjusted via the AK10. You can also adjust the volume via the phone itself. I am unsure how this works... My understanding was that if the iPhone's DAC is truly being bypassed, the phone won't be able to adjust outgoing volume. I'd love somebody with more knowledge regarding the iPhone to weigh in on this. I'll do my own research as well and report back.

 

Using it with my Mac Air is easy, and it's certainly controlling the DAC in that scenario. Unlike my iPhone 5 which I have yet to really test the AK10 with, I had a good initial listen on the Mac Air. It's definitely nicer than the stock Mac Air sound. Details on that to come. 

 

I'm still unsure if the AK10 has the juice to really make cans sing. My initial take is that this is a device designed for IEM's... Which doesn't bug me, as I'm an IEM guy, mostly. German Maestro GMP 8.35D didn't seem underpowered, but they also didn't seem like they were flying either. They are 35ohm phones. I'd be very hesitant about buying the AK10 to push anything much over 50ohm. 

 

One cool little feature nobody's discussed is the fact that the little light on the AK10 glows red when you increase the volume and blue when you decrease. No big deal, but neat. 

 

The carrying case connects to the phone with an elastic strap. No innovation here... But I will say that a device that only needs on strap is refreshing. With my Fiio E12, two straps were definitely required. My E11 seems like it was designed for two as well, although I only used one, sacrificing a little rock-solidness for ease of use. The AK10 is firmly on your phone with just the one elastic. So that's cool.

 

The carrying case itself... When I first saw pictures, I assumed the button tab held the AK10 in the case. Not so. The AK10 is held in the case by resistance alone. The button tab (and this going to be hard to explain in writing) unsnaps to unfold the back of the case so that a replacement elastic strap may be installed (basically just slid on or off that false back). Clever, but I can't help feeling a better design might have been to allow for elastic replacement AND securing the AK10 in the case. The case seems durable enough, so I don't foresee the unit slipping out over time and use... But who knows. Cases with closure systems, be they buttons, velcro or zippers, are always better in my book.

 

Speaking of the elastic, it seems durable enough, but it's also fabric, so I'm unsure of it's long-term resistance to tearing when sliding on and off a phone constantly. Another thing worth noting is that it's a very tight fit on an iPhone 5, even with no case. With a slim case, it's almost impossible to take it on and off the phone without feeling as if you're going to damage the elastic, or even the case itself.

 

 

That's all for now. I'll be giving it a full sound review in perhaps a week or so... Including specific track comparisons between a stock iPhone 5, iPhone 5 with Fiio E11 and E12, etc. etc.


Edited by Earbones - 1/25/14 at 7:55pm
post #2 of 6
Thread Starter 

 AK10 with iPod 5th Gen Sound Review:

 

Bit of a shocker here, actually...

 

No discernible difference. Exactly the same sound comes from either the iPod or the A&K. Multiple genres and specific tracks. I'm new to this site, but I've been a head for a long time, I know how to use my ears.

 

At this time I am not prepared to accept that this is possible, simply due to the fact that there are two different chipsets in play here, better or worse may be subjective, but natural differences between how Wolfson decodes digital sound and how Cirrus does it should be presenting... They are not. It's the exact same sound. 

 

Based on this, I can only conclude that while the A&K AK10 is obviously amping the headphones and controlling the music via it's buttons, it has not taken over DAC duties

 

I'm obviously a bit confused here. There's nothing in the included Quick Start Guide to suggest that I need to disable anything in the iPod to allow the AK10 to act as the DAC, it appears to be plug and play. I'll update this if and when I discover how to resolve this issue.

post #3 of 6
I own an ak10 and was also disappointed at the sound... Except I did notice quite a nice improvement in resolution and instrument separation, but to me it's not worth the price. The sound signature is the same as the stock galaxy S4.I'm going to sell it and purchase a used leckerton instead, someone here said it was way better than the ak10.
Edited by Berdugo - 1/28/14 at 4:49pm
post #4 of 6
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Berdugo View Post

I own an ak10 and was also disappointed at the sound... Except I did notice quite a nice improvement in resolution and instrument separation, but to me it's not worth the price. The sound signature is the same as the stock galaxy S4.I'm going to sell it and purchase a used leckerton instead, someone here said it was way better than the ak10.

Sorry to hear that, man.

 

I warrantied that iPod Touch 5g and got another one. This time, I was able to get the AK10 to engage as the DAC.

 

My experience was an infinitesimally small improvement in mid-bass and some vocals, on certain tracks. Definitely not worth the price of admission. I own the Galaxy S4 as well, it's my work phone, and I use an iPhone 5 for personal use. My experience has been the iPhone 5 does a bit better than the S4 in the audio department, and the iPod Touch 5g is a big improvement over both of them.

 

I'm still waiting on my new IEMs (Sennheiser ie800s) and want to see if they widen the gap between the AK10 and the Touch... I'm not holding my breath, but they are certainly more detailed than either my Westone UM2s or my Audio Technica CKM77s, so maybe I'll see something. But then again both my current IEMs are pretty damn detailed.

post #5 of 6
Quote:
Originally Posted by Earbones View Post

BELOW IS PRODUCT INFO, RANDOM THOUGHTS, DETAILS AND IMPRESSIONS... FULL SOUND REVIEW TO COME



 



I noticed there isn't a lot of info about the AK10 out there, so I thought I'd order one and remedy that. It arrived today, so these are just my initial ramblings...



 



Basic technical info (this is just copied off the back of the box)



 



Output Level 1.7Vrms [1kHz@24bit 48kHz, No Load PC standard] / Audio Performance SNR 110dB [1kHz@24bit 48kHz, No Load], THD+N Typ. 0.008% [1kHz@24bit 48KhZ, No Load], Crosstalk 106dB [1kHZ@24bit 48kHz No Load] / Frequency Response ±0.2dB [20Hz~20kHz@24bit 48kHz No Load] / USB POWER : 5.0V, 500mA / AK10 USB cable, AK10 Lightning cable



 



Observations and thoughts:



 



The body is a mix of plastic and aluminum. It's actually a bit hard to tell which is which. The sides feel like aluminum, the rear feels like plastic. The large volume wheel is the most easily discernible as being aluminum.



 



In the box is the unit, a proprietary lightning cable for Apple devices, and a proprietary USB cord for connecting it to computers. There is also small leather form-fitting carrying case. And of course a warranty booklet and a quick start guide.



 



With regards to the cables, when I say "proprietary" I am referencing the fact that although the cables both terminate in standard UC-E6 USB ends at the AK10's body, the cable bodies themselves are molded to fit snuggly in the AK10's uniquely-shaped indent where the female UC-E6 jack rests. This indent is large, however, so I don't see any problems substituting other UC-E6 to USB or UC-E6 to lightning (if such a thing exists). The only negative I with that is that the AK10's indent and indent-shaped cable bodies appear to designed to combat cable-wiggle and subsequent issues with UC-E6 input being damaged. So standard cables wouldn't afford you that protection. 



 



Read the guide. It doesn't have much to say, but several things are key, such as how to enable your various computer to shift DAC duties to the AK10. And how to turn the power on and off. Which is not as out-of-the-box intuitive as one might think. (see below)



 



On the unit itself...



 



-A large volume wheel on the front 



 



-Traditional three button play/pause forward and reverse controls on the right side



 



-A slider button on the top. The slider button controls power and lock. Power is to the left. Slide the button left and release for on. Slide it again to the left and hold to power the AK10 off. Sliding the button to the right of center will lock the device.



 



-A UC-E6 USB jack on the bottom of the device and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top.



 



Overall fit and finish is fine. Just fine. Nothing extraordinary, and in my opinion, lacking for something that has an MSRP of $299. It is comparable to my $59 Fiio E11. My $120 Fiio E12 feels more expensive in the hand than the AK10... (But then again, my E12 is being returned because the output jack has busted, so grain of salt there, I guess) 



 



The sound wheel is very easy to turn, and I would imagine it can be accidentally spun when sliding the unit into a pocket or bag, but simply enabling "lock" defeats that issue. Even unlocked, the rotations required to increase or decrease volume are so many that blasting your ears is not a concern. Connected to an iPhone 5, roughly half a full spin (180 degrees) equals a bar of volume. It's a very nice feature, being able to micro-adjust your volume. 



 



I don't know if this has been mentioned, but when connected to an iPhone 5, the volume still shows on the screen when adjusted via the AK10. You can also adjust the volume via the phone itself. I am unsure how this works... My understanding was that if the iPhone's DAC is truly being bypassed, the phone won't be able to adjust outgoing volume. I'd love somebody with more knowledge regarding the iPhone to weigh in on this. I'll do my own research as well and report back.



 



Using it with my Mac Air is easy, and it's certainly controlling the DAC in that scenario. Unlike my iPhone 5 which I have yet to really test the AK10 with, I had a good initial listen on the Mac Air. It's definitely nicer than the stock Mac Air sound. Details on that to come. 



 



I'm still unsure if the AK10 has the juice to really make cans sing. My initial take is that this is a device designed for IEM's... Which doesn't bug me, as I'm an IEM guy, mostly. German Maestro GMP 8.35D didn't seem underpowered, but they also didn't seem like they were flying either. They are 35ohm phones. I'd be very hesitant about buying the AK10 to push anything much over 50ohm. 



 



One cool little feature nobody's discussed is the fact that the little light on the AK10 glows red when you increase the volume and blue when you decrease. No big deal, but neat. 



 



The carrying case connects to the phone with an elastic strap. No innovation here... But I will say that a device that only needs on strap is refreshing. With my Fiio E12, two straps were definitely required. My E11 seems like it was designed for two as well, although I only used one, sacrificing a little rock-solidness for ease of use. The AK10 is firmly on your phone with just the one elastic. So that's cool.



 



The carrying case itself... When I first saw pictures, I assumed the button tab held the AK10 in the case. Not so. The AK10 is held in the case by resistance alone. The button tab (and this going to be hard to explain in writing) unsnaps to unfold the back of the case so that a replacement elastic strap may be installed (basically just slid on or off that false back). Clever, but I can't help feeling a better design might have been to allow for elastic replacement AND securing the AK10 in the case. The case seems durable enough, so I don't foresee the unit slipping out over time and use... But who knows. Cases with closure systems, be they buttons, velcro or zippers, are always better in my book.



 



Speaking of the elastic, it seems durable enough, but it's also fabric, so I'm unsure of it's long-term resistance to tearing when sliding on and off a phone constantly. Another thing worth noting is that it's a very tight fit on an iPhone 5, even with no case. With a slim case, it's almost impossible to take it on and off the phone without feeling as if you're going to damage the elastic, or even the case itself.



 



 



That's all for now. I'll be giving it a full sound review in perhaps a week or so... Including specific track comparisons between a stock iPhone 5, iPhone 5 with Fiio E11 and E12, etc. etc.



I'm not sure, but isn' the volume control be a digital function? Just because it controls the volume, I wouldn't think that it would mean that the iDevice dac is being used
post #6 of 6
Hey I am sorry to hear the difference was so small.
I was looking at this device to use with my iPhone 5s and um mentors.
After owning an ak100 in the past and only getting rid of it due to the high output impedance, however I loved the sound on my full sized cans.
I was hoping to achieve a similar sound with my iphone frown.gif
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