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Mezzo Hifi - New AK120/AK100 Mods (WM8741 in software mode) - Page 2

post #16 of 101
Thanks so much Anak! Look forward to more impressions from other users... Curiosity is killing this cat before I pull the trigger and mod my ak120
post #17 of 101
Hey guys, I've been lurking around head-fi for years now, but never saw the need to post anything. I got the MS-AK120 though, and since opinions on it are needed, I thus appear to save the day (or at least satiate curiosity till AnakChan has his full impressions up)

Soo first off, I'm one of the South East Asians customers Birdoffice mentioned, and not related to Mezzohifi in any way. Gotta say though, that the owner, Phanom was really helpful in providing info (especially about the assorted filter modes) and letting me bounce between options. Couldn't possibly ask for better service.

Right, on to the juicy bits. The version i had initially had balanced line out, and "soft knee" and "apodising" filters on the switch. These options exist only when the wm8741 is implemented in software mode.

First impression it makes on either mode, is the sheer width and depth of the soundstage. Maybe it's because I was transitioning from a amp-side balanced rig with the ODAC to RSA Intruder, to a fully balanced rig, or maybe it was the dual wm8741s doing their bit well. Either way, I find the soundstage the most immersive and expansive i have heard from any source (bearing in mind that I have not heard any of the really high end DACs).

Assisted by the wide soundstage, detail resolution is likewise top notch. I'm inclined to think that it is not the case that these micro details are not rendered by the ODAC or Intruder in-built DAC, but rather the limited soundstage causes them to be swallowed up by the main focuses and instruments in the song. The extra wide soundstage thus helped me hear new parts in songs i thought i was familiar with.

As for its' tone, I found it to be fairly neutral, with a very slight tilt toward warmth. While the ODAC is merciless as a frozen tundra, and the Topping D20 is warmer than your average sauna, the MS-AK120 strikes a balance somewhere in between. I found it to be voiced similarly to the Intruder's in-built DAC, albeit with much better resolution.

With the "soft knee" filter, I found music to be slightly too smooth for my liking. But then, considering my preference for very neutral iems (er4s, fitear f111...), and dislike for the smoother than silk westone 4, this smoother sound may be to your liking. Personally, I prefered the "apodising" filter, which sounded to me more "raw", with more punch, not just in the bass, but across the spectrum. When I eventually got Phanom to change the switch to swap between "aposdising" and "oversampled apodising", i still found myself veering toward the apodising filter. Honestly, these are up to personal preference, and indeed, Phanom advertises as such.
I daresay that if you're looking for a player with a balanced line out, the ms-ak120, especially given the customisability of its voicing via switchable filters, is probably the best on the market at the moment.

Please do note that I am only talking about the DACs. I practically only use it for the balanced line out, so i cannot comment on the (probably excellent) headphone out. Also, I only had a too-brief chance to try the RWAK120, and in single-ended line out only. So i shan't make the mistake of attempting to compare the two here.

That's about all I can think of at the moment. This is one of the very few times i'm doing a write up, so... questions and criticism are welcome!!
Edited by ckryan3 - 6/18/14 at 9:07am
post #18 of 101
Awesome ckryan3. I'm just about to get mine modded (ak120) and hopefully have it in time for the Bay Area meet July 19. I just have to second that Birdoffice has went above and beyond to patiently answer any questions related to his mod. It definitely eases the anxiety about sending my ak120 overseas for the mod.
post #19 of 101
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the impressions guys! Very interesting. Hopefully we can get a stock AK120 vs MS-AK120 impression soon too.

 

Phanom, I have some questions about your mod if you don't mind answering in the thread.

 

Anak mentions that the volume knob function has changed, can you explain this further? Have you implemented changes in the software or is it hardware? How does it function now? 

 

Are there any other changes to how the AK120 hardware or software functions? Other than the obvious switch and balanced line out.

 

Also, is it possible to install the switch elsewhere on the sides or top of the AK120 or does it need to be on the bottom? The bottom does seem like the easiest place for me to break it for my usage.

post #20 of 101

I've just passed the MS-AK1x0's to @shigzeo. Hopefully he'll be able to share his thoughts about it.

post #21 of 101
Quote:
Originally Posted by likearake View Post
 

Thanks for the impressions guys! Very interesting. Hopefully we can get a stock AK120 vs MS-AK120 impression soon too.

 

Phanom, I have some questions about your mod if you don't mind answering in the thread.

 

Anak mentions that the volume knob function has changed, can you explain this further? Have you implemented changes in the software or is it hardware? How does it function now? 

 

Are there any other changes to how the AK120 hardware or software functions? Other than the obvious switch and balanced line out.

 

Also, is it possible to install the switch elsewhere on the sides or top of the AK120 or does it need to be on the bottom? The bottom does seem like the easiest place for me to break it for my usage.

Here is the explanation related to change

1. Replace WM8740 with WM8741

2. Add extra micro controller to control WM8741 in Software mode. This controller also control the attenuation function of WM8741 so we can volume control it output.

3. Due to volume control is manage outside the current AK firmware, the in screen volume slider will no longer work

4. Good news - since we not change any AK firmware, you still be able to upgrade it when new firmware come out.

5. Due to space limit, switch only be able to put on the bottom, it work perfectly with the case or pouch  (we can make the hole for you)  No report from customers so far on breaking the switch or another alternative if you don't want to have 2 filter selection you can pick one and we don't need switch

- Minimum phase soft knee - sweet sound audiophile (switch with light off)

- Minimum phase apodisizing - fast cut off, more bass impact, pop rock (switch with light on)

6. Apart from balance out, Single end line out is on the headphone out when you turn max volume (attenuator function off)

 

Phanom


Edited by Birdoffice - 6/18/14 at 10:09pm
post #22 of 101

Phanom, can you change the switch to a flatter profile switch instead of the LED toggle switch? Maybe a flatter slider may allow customers to still use their existing leather cases.

post #23 of 101

Good idea but might not be practical due to

- limit space inside the ak100/ak120

- slide switch required CNC on the case to make the rectangular hole look nice

post #24 of 101

This is totally an awesome mod. Totally. I didn't like the AK100 or 120 much at all. The software volume control adds delays, but it's worth it. Perfect balance at the very lowest volume. As noiseless an output as there exists among today's players. Yes, lower even than the DX100/90. The advantages of the AK100 series with these mods are many: small, well made, not easily smeared, good possibilities to add storage, usable interface, and great line out/optical functionality. This mod really brings out the best. I mean it. Wow.

 

Performance is very good. The filter system is elegantly implemented in software, fading in and out with a flick, no pops or screams. The switch needs to be changed. Something short that you can nudge with a thumb is all that's necessary. The colour helps you see what's going on. 

 

It drives earphones flawlessly. I mean flawlessly. This is territory that is slightly beyond the DX90, which until now, has been the best proper performer I've used. I haven't properly put it against big headphones, but I suspect it will hold well. If not, its line out is strong and will work great with external amplifiers. Honestly, I'm amazed. And I'm the dude that really doesn't like portable audiophile players.

post #25 of 101

Testing out MSAK100 and MSAK120. Very interesting, feels way better than AK120. These units were modded and lent to me by Mezzo Soprano aka Phanom. Unlike the stock ak, these have replaced dac chips with 2 settings, one slower sounding meant for audiophiles and accuracy while the other (denoted by the red switch lighting up) provides the synergy required by modern genres such as pop and rock. Also the volume knob does not have the tone dial instead, it can me smoothly increased and reduced with a half second delay in the command input. Really love that feature but I got a shock when I didn't know about the delay time, almost blasting my ears!

 

When I first tried the MSAK100( just a few minutes ago), I felt that it beats a stock AK100 hands down. MSAK120 on the otherhand surpassed the stock AK120 in my opinion. The switch option is really neat as you can switch between an audiophile setting which gives less synergy to the track but increases the detailing, most notable for me would be the quality of the bass. The other setting(denoted by the switch lighting up), provides the synergy boast required on modern genres like pop and rock.

post #26 of 101
Is the balanced output terminated the same way as the Hifiman HM901 and 801?

3.5mm TRRS
Tip: L+
Ring: R+
Ring: L-
Sleeve: R-
post #27 of 101
Not the same as hifiman or ak240
901 base R-, L-, R+, L+ tip
MS AK base L+ L- R+ R- tip

Phanom
Edited by Birdoffice - 8/12/14 at 12:28am
post #28 of 101
Quote:
Originally Posted by shigzeo View Post
 

This is totally an awesome mod. Totally. I didn't like the AK100 or 120 much at all. The software volume control adds delays, but it's worth it. Perfect balance at the very lowest volume. As noiseless an output as there exists among today's players. Yes, lower even than the DX100/90. The advantages of the AK100 series with these mods are many: small, well made, not easily smeared, good possibilities to add storage, usable interface, and great line out/optical functionality. This mod really brings out the best. I mean it. Wow.

 

Performance is very good. The filter system is elegantly implemented in software, fading in and out with a flick, no pops or screams. The switch needs to be changed. Something short that you can nudge with a thumb is all that's necessary. The colour helps you see what's going on. 

 

It drives earphones flawlessly. I mean flawlessly. This is territory that is slightly beyond the DX90, which until now, has been the best proper performer I've used. I haven't properly put it against big headphones, but I suspect it will hold well. If not, its line out is strong and will work great with external amplifiers. Honestly, I'm amazed. And I'm the dude that really doesn't like portable audiophile players.


While I agree with all that, the AKs had all those attributes before the mod other than, not to be ignored, sounding better. I do understand the price performance objections but this only increases the price, albeit increasing the performance. :smile: I guess you like the price performance ratio better at the increased price. Sounds like it may compete for the crown this way. I have no issue with it's 2+ ohm output impedance which I suspect hasn't been changed. Perhaps Phanom could comment. I personally think it's plenty low enough and the resistors are likely there for a reason. Also, congrats to him for getting the dac in there with full functionality. Well done.:beerchug:

 

 I quite liked the AK120 when I had it, not as the best sounding DAP ever made but as the best all around device at the time. I did sell it off so I get it and I feel similarly to you regarding DAPs in general.

 

I'm also a DX90 fan and  it wouldn't surprise me if one of the FW updates (along with the right battery)takes it up a notch or 2 as well. Next time you listen, try flipping the iem connectors on your customs to phase invert and see what you think.

 

Haven't heard the Mezzo and am sure it's all you say it is. Nice to see that wonderful platform optimized.


Edited by goodvibes - 7/4/14 at 5:00am
post #29 of 101

I have both the AK100 and the Mezzo (going back this week) and I must say that the Mezzo is better sounding in every single metric I can think of. Firstly, no noise from the headphone output. The AK100 has a low noise floor, but not a zero noise floor. The DX90's noise floor is slightly lower. Second, its internal amp really does have problems driving earphones. Audibly lower contrast is the biggest problem. The Mezzo mod brings it back, again with noise floor that is negligible. In fact, I would wager in all earphone use, it beats the DX90 for raw performance. There is, however, a small low pass filter, but that seems to be a function of the DAC. The original AK100 doesn't have this filter. 

 

I will be sending my AK100 off for the optimisation. The difference is noticeable. And here in Japan, AK100 are selling so cheaply. People literally throwing them away for the new model. I just saw a unit in great shape go for 250$. iRiver ruined the value of their own players in one stroke. Prior to the announcement of the AK100ii, the AK100 was still selling used for over 500$. 

 

It's crazy. So the benefits of the mezzo, if you can get a good price on a used AK100, or have one already, are huge, especially if you are a high-end earphone user. And, it has balanced output as well as single ended. Both appear to perform very very well.

post #30 of 101

 

I've written a small pre-amble to a full review of Mezzo HiFi's mods. Suffice it to say that I approve of this mod. 

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