Cons - Some EMI. Larger music libraries are hard to browse. Some glitches with ALAC files. Some glitches with metadata on some tracks.
I picked up a second hand AK120 off ebay and have not regretted shelling out around 15 times what I paid for my last DAP, a Sansa Clip Zip. The difference is astonishing to say the least. I really enjoyed the Sansa, a nice sound, good detail, pretty neutral sounding with the potential to beef up the sound through Rockbox, but the AK120 wipes the floor with it.
The best word I can use to describe the difference is texture. There is an improvement in detail, soundstage and the overall oomph of the player, but the most striking thing for me is the texture of the sounds produced. Put simply I've never experienced this with a portable player before this, or even through my laptop via a DAC. Drums sound incredible, you can almost feel the impact. Guitars sound full, rich and detailed. Strings are airy and fill the room, and vocals are taken to a whole new level. The timbre of a voice is suddenly apparent, it's intimate, you really feel like the singer is right next to you. Put simply, every sound has a texture, you can almost feel it, and it is what makes this player stand out.
The sound is neutral, bass has impact and depth without being overwhelming. Mids are detailed, textured and absorbing, and the high end is crisp and clear.
The UI is where the main drawbacks are. Turning the player on takes 20 seconds or so but the overall appearance is nice enough, but with a music library of around 4000 songs, navigating is a chore. Going from top to bottom of my albums takes a minute or so of patient scrolling. I'd like to see iRiver add an option to skip to first letters easily so you can scroll through the list much easier. I've also experienced a couple of issues with metadata. Some albums aren't recognised properly and are sorted with other albums with completely different names, despite changing the info in MusicBrainz. I'd also like to see an update library feature because at the moment, if you add 1 new song and want to see it in your database, you have to update the entire library, and rescan every song which can take 5 or more minutes. Finally, I'd like an option to turn off the auto-fade when skipping songs, especially when it fades songs in sometimes.
The only other issue I have is that there is some EMI. Not acceptable for a high end DAP.
I use the AK120 with my Unique Melody reshelled Shure SE530x4 and they pair together beautifully. It also drives my Sennheiser HD-25-1 very well. I've heard that with 300 ohm monsters like the HD600 need to be amped with the AK120, but it's more than capable of driving most cans.
Overall, I'm delighted with the AK120, but it isn't perfect and for the price I'd like to see iRiver address some of the UI issues I've mentioned.
Pros - Small size, total memory capacity, user interface, charging via USB, battery life
Cons - Sound quality is bested by other (larger) DAPs
The AK120 is a portable player that is truly an ideal player for a traveler or those that prefer simplicity over complexity and the small annoyances that often come with top performing portable audio devices. Sound quality is very good with more refinement than the lower end players, but lags behind other high-end players such as the DX100 and 901, but those players do have a disadvantage in battery life, UI, and size.
The AK120 may be for you if:
- Portability and usability are two of the top qualities you are looking for in a DAP.
- You have a large music collection that you want to take with you, especially if that music is in a high bitrate.
- You want to connect to any computer anywhere to use the DAC functionality or any device with an optical output.
- You want a high quality portable transport with optical out.
The AK120 may not be for you if:
- You want the highest possible sound quality, portability and battery life be damned.
- You have headphones that are difficult to drive.
- You like very dynamic and punchy sound.
My full review can be found here. Another thing to note about the AK120 is that you can get it modified by Red Wine Audio for higher sound quality. While I haven't heard one, this could possibly make it the ultimate portable DAP.
Cons - Only uses 64GB of the claimed 192GB of memory. Indexes songs alphabetically.
Do not buy an Astell & Kern 120. It claims 192Gb memory, but it indexes and uses only the internal memory - 64gb. The external SD cards carry files but do not show up on the device. Money spent on the two mini SD cards is totally wasted - the files for all intents and purposes do not exist. The software index the tracks alphabetically so you must listen to your music in random order. When using iRiver Plus4 the software does NOT rollover automatically from one memory unit to the next, so you have to monitor your usage constantly - takes forever to load the device with music. Buy a 5.5G iPod which has the Wolfson DAC already in it. Have Rapid Repair upgrade the memory to 240gb and you will have a far more useful music player at 1/3 the price. The reviewers only transfer and listen to a few files so they have no idea how the device actually works. There is no intention to fix the software defects. There is no customer support. It is a rip-off and guilty of false and misleading advertising.