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Styled in black, the AK300 Digital Music and Media Player from Astell&Kern is a media player and...

Astell & Kern AK300 Digital Music and Media Player

Rating:
4.5/5,
  • Styled in black, the AK300 Digital Music and Media Player from Astell&Kern is a media player and USB DAC (digital audio converter) that supports a wide variety of audio formats including WAV, FLAC, OGG, AAC, MP3, WMA, and more. It is also capable of handling DSD audio, as the device is outfitted with an AK4490 chip that converts DSD directly to PCM playback, thus skipping the DSD to WAV stage that usually occurs prior to analog conversion in common portable DSD players.

Recent Reviews

  1. gordec
    Beautiful design and UI. Excellent highs, mids, separation and soundstage. Bass left more to be desired.
    Written by gordec
    Published Aug 4, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Excellent sound quality. Almost perfect UI and external design. Good price-to-performance value when compared to competition.
    Cons - Bass is weak compare to the mids and highs. May not synergize well with some BA IEMs. Not the cleanest of background.
    Disclosure: I have no financial interest with Astell & Kern. This was not a review unit as I purchased it myself.
     
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    Introduction:
    My portable audio journey started when I was a poor medical student with the Nationite s:flo2 and the Leckerton UHA-6S MKII Portable Headphone Amplifier combo feeding my Sennheiser IE80. I think the whole package was around $500 total pieced together over time while I vigorously sought out the best deals I can find. That was a lot of money back then for someone deeply in debt. Now 10 years later, so much has changed. There is something beautiful about being able to take high quality music with you anywhere you go. Back then it was my escape from the stress of school and uncertainty of future. Today, music is my oasis after an entire day of dealing with the physical and emotional needs of patients. The most enjoyable moment of my head-fi journey, was early this year when I discovered Cowon P1 and Westone ES60. I have never enjoyed music so real, so visceral. Two weeks ago, a buddy asked me if I’ll be interested in trying AK300 because he can hook me up at a slight discount. I said why not. Astell & Kern Players have always intrigued me with their aggressive designs.
     
    Design:
    The AK300 box was designed with quality in mind. The unboxing experience was simplistic yet elegant. You open the box, there is the AK300, under the player, you will find a blue leather case and USB cable along with some manuals that most of us never touch again.
     
    The AK300 measures 75.2 x 112.4 x 15.5 mm and weighs 205 g. In terms of external appearance, the AK300 can be described as the offspring of Lamborghini and Cadillac if they were to give birth to a DAP. The lines are dramatic and aggressive. Without the leather case, it feels sharp to touch but not in an uncomfortable type of way. Most of the owners will use the leather case, so it is not an issue. On the top you have your single end 3.5mm headphone output, 2.5 mm TRRS balanced output. On the right side, the bezel slants inward to meet in the middle where the volume rocker is. The rocker is design to be operational when holding it with the right hand even for small-medium size hands. It’s a very satisfying experience to roll the thumb up or down the silky smooth volume rocker. Something I really missed from the Cowon P1. Just below the volume rocker is a single microSD slot. The play, skip and previous buttons are situated on the left upper end. They have a nice tactile click and travel but can be a little difficult to find with the leather case on. Once your muscle memory develops, they can be found with ease. The bottom center houses the microUSB input. The home button is on the front of the DAP, but it’s impossible to trigger with the leather case on.
     
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    Internals:
    The heart of the AK300 is the AKM AK4490 DAC but in a single-DAC configuration versus dual-DAC configuration for the AK320 and AK380. I cannot find any information on the amp section of the AK300. Internal storage is 64GB with a single micro-SD card slot for expansion. I wish AK would include 128GB of internals given the price point. I can only fit about 1/3 of my lossless library on 64GB. I know many people have much larger music collection. 
     
    The AK300 will play PCM, up to 24-bit 192kHz bit-to-bit, and also supports both 32-bit 192kHz and DSD via conversion even thought the AK4490 DAC can do native conversion. I think this is part of AK’s pricing strategy. The AK380 will be a lot harder to sell if the AK300 and AK320 can playback DSD natively.
     
    User interface:
    The AK300 runs a slim, custom version of Android. Upon firing the power button, the AK300 boots to home screen in 25 seconds. Cowon P1’s Linux based OS takes less than 5 seconds to boot. The Onkyo DP-X1 took 35 seconds. The AK home screen features the album art of the last song played. A 7 button layout sits below the album art which includes songs, albums, artists, genres, playlist, folder, and store. If you swipe down from the top, you get the setting panel which allows you to turn on wifi, Bluetooth, lock setting, switch from USB DAC or MTP mode, equalizer setting, repeat and shuffle and screen brightness. Having Wifi to run OTA updates is a refreshing change. You also notice in the settings section, there is an amp section to be used with the external amp. Otherwise the settings section is self-explanatory, please see the images in the review.
     
    Overall navigating through the AK300 is smooth with very little hiccups. It’s not as efficienct as the P1, but the difference is negligible. The Onkyo DP-X1 and FiiO x7 are clearly behind in terms of UI. Both players’ music app crashes at least once a week. The benefit is obviously the ability to run apps such as Spotify and Tidal. AK promised to bring Tidal to their AK line of DAPs. I’m waiting patiently because that was the only thing I missed with my wonderful Cowon P1 which doesn’t even have Wifi.
     
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    Sound:
    This is done with Westone ES60 through the single end. As of this review, the firmware version is 1.04.
     
    I’m not one who likes to dissect sound with highs, mids, and lows. Sound quality is so subjective. I feel the only objective analysis can be made is background noise and impact. When I say impact, I mean how much the sound pops with your headphones or IEM as if you were listening to the music live.
     
    On the background, with the high sensitive Westone ES60, the AK300 is hiss free. There is a constant background hum. It’s barely noticeable only at the beginning and end of a song.  Sometimes you hear faint click in between songs. With Sennheiser IE80, the background becomes pitch black. The P1 and DP-X1 are both pitch black which speaks volumes especially for DP-X1 since it has both wifi and BT.  The FiiO x7, on the other hand, will hiss randomly with sensitive IEMs.
     
    The AK300 has excellent impact and presence across the highs and mids. There may be slightly too much treble spark for my likings. The weakness of the player is it's bass. It sounds thin and recessed with my ES60. It does sound more balanced with my Sennheiser IE80. It makes me wonder if this player is designed to compliment AK's line of T8ie mkii. However, there is a lifelike quality to the instruments you hear. In photography, people often describe certain lenses give a 3D pop character to photos. If there is such thing as 3D pop to music, AK300 fits that description. You don’t only hear the music, you feel it. The Cowon P1 shares that property. The DP-X1 and x7 do not have the same intensity.
     
    Overall the sound signature is neutral with a touch of warmth. Music sounds thick and lush. It’s not as thick and lush as P1, but certainly outperforms the ESS Sabre based x7 and DP-X1. The soundstage is about a small to medium size concert hall. AK300 makes any music sound dynamic, resolving and fluid. The instrument separation is one of the best, if not the best, I have ever heard. Some describes it as analog. It certainly has that character, but it’s not as analog as the P1 which may not be a bad thing. Some people feel the P1 sounds "harsh" because it's too analog. The vocals tend to be more forward than the P1 but similar to x7 and DP-x1. Many users on the AK320 forum say the AK300 sounds almost identical to the AK320 with twin DACs. 
     
    Conclusion:
    I like the AK300 but do not love it because the sound does leave a little to be desired, at least with my ES60. The bass and slight background hiss are the main reason I took 0.5 stars off. I think if you have an IEM that works in better synergy with the AK300, you may feel otherwise. I definitely prefer my beloved P1 over the AK300, but it certain excels in soundstage and separation. Also you benefit now from 3 generations of design advancement from AK. I think this DAP would cost much more 2 years ago than today. Everything from external design, software, and SQ are very polished. It’s hard to find a flaw. $900 is not cheap by any means, but the cost-to-performance ratio beats out many of its competitors.

    At this price point, many will consider FiiO X7 ($600), Onkyo DP-X1 ($700ish), AK300 ($900), and Cowon P1 ($800-$1000). From external design, I rank DP-X1 and AK300 above the other 2. The P1 is next because it doesn't have a volume rocker. Otherwise, it has a clean and simple rectangular design. The X7 just feel unpolished to the other 3. I particularly like how AK300's volume rocker is placed in the perfect location. From UI, I would rank P1 then AK300 close behind. The P1 boots up in 5 seconds. You just can't get that time with any Android based OS. However, once it loads, AK300 and P1 are both very polished. There is no wasted space, lag or graphical imperfection. The AK300 and DP-X1 have the best displays. Followed by the X7 and P1. For me personally, it's not like you are watching movies on it, so it's not as important as UI. Sound wise, the P1 and AK300 are clearly in a different league. The quality of layering, depth, punch/impact across the spectrum is quite noticeable. I may give a slight edge to the P1 because it's got a slightly cleaner background and more analog sound. If you want Tidal and Spotify, you have to stick with X7 or DP-X1. If you are in the market for a DAP and don't need connectivity, the P1 would be my #1 choice because it can be had in the classified section for around $500 in excellent condition. That is a steal. If you want Tidal now, I would go for DP-X1. The AK300 or maybe the little brother AK70 which I have not heard, but be the best all around package, if Tidal actually comes to the AK Players.
     
    1. View previous replies...
    2. MrOTL
      That is my favorite everyday DAP.
      THX for nice review :)
      MrOTL, Oct 29, 2016
      Ahmadsabry likes this.
    3. Ahmadsabry
      How is Ak300 compared to AK380? Is worth the upgrade?
      Ahmadsabry, Feb 15, 2018
    4. mrmoto050
      Well I'm late to the party,but just purchased one of these because Astell and Kern have such fluid UI and are so very musical. I'm actually listening with Audeze LCD2 and it sounds superb, . plenty of bass. Great review B TW.
      mrmoto050, Mar 31, 2018

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