Astell & Kern AK120 impression thread
May 25, 2013 at 11:22 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 765

audionewbi

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I took the liberty to make a separate impression thread for the AK120 as the introductory thread was becoming too complicated to follow. There was too much going on and not enough about how the product is actually performing. 
=-=-=-=-=-
Part 1-Early impression
 
Construction: Compared to the AK100 there have been few key improvement which consist of a much more stable and stiffer volume knob with built in volume protector which the AK100 lacks. This makes taking out the unit a much easier task. The unit feels considerably more solid with the provided leather case. AK120 feels heavier than its older sibling due to the larger battery used. 
 
Accessories: AK120 comes with a well constructed brown leather case which I find to be an essential accessory for me. I don't know about you guys but I always had to be extra careful when I was handling the AK100 due to my sweaty hands! The larger dimension of the AK120 with the provides leather case makes handling it a less cumbersome task.
 
The unit is shipped with the same micro-USB cable as the AK100 and it is pre-loaded with some HD tracks and unlike the AK100 there is no micro-SD with pre-loaded songs. 
 
Power and sound: Before mentioning anything out of all my IEM the only one that I felt I could benefit with adding an amp in the chain was again the ER4S but take what I have said with a grain of salt since as I am typing this I am recovering from a nasty flu and my ears are not quiet what they normally are.I got the etymotics back today and I was no able to listen to them when I did not have the flu.
For now I have tested the AK120 mostly with EX-1000, CK100PRO and ER4S. I hope by end of next month I will have an extensive listening session with all the IEM I can get my hands on.
 
In short CK100PRO and EX-1000 sounded their potential best.
EX-1000: I found the pairing with EX-1000 the most enjoyable.  The treble spike of EX-1000 seem to have been tamed mildly when paired with AK120. The sound is nice and open, full bodied and revealing. In terms of amping I was lurking between 50-60/75. 
 
CK100PRO: Paired with CK100PRO it just too transparent and full of energy across all frequancy the pairing is capable of handling. Perhaps too transparent and it become too much energetic at time. I did not have such an experience when I paired this with AK100. 
In general I do not find CK100PR0 and IEM that requires a dedicated amp to sound their best however I did find that CK100PRO source and material used matter  in general. However CK100PRO paired with AK120 it became apparant having nicely recorded album is essential. Volume wise I could not find self going passed with the 30-44/75 with one few occasion where I had to be at 58/75. This is 
 
From early listening experiments I enjoy the synergy EX-1000 and AK120 have with each other. If I was told that I was to live with this setup for the rest of my life I would not have any problem as this setup seem to do just find for all genera of music I listen too (Jazz, rock, alternative rock, pop, trance, classic, neo-classic)
 
UI: First thing first AK120 is gapless ready! All you have to do is ensure that the gapless playback is enabled using the setting->Equalizer->gapless. The UI is much more improved from what the AK100 has. As I type this a russian modder was able to root the AK120 UI on the AK100 which enables the gapless feature on the AK100. Please note this is not an official release and it is not guaranteed  that by doing this you are not damaging your unit. 
 
The UI improvement is more than noticeable and while still not as good as the UI apple implements on is iDevices I believe with few more tweaks it will satisfy the need of a large portion of us, I for one would love to see the grid album display and track number display next to the song in album viewing format. 
 
Part 2: Headphone and IEM list that sound great right out of AK120 (without any need of amping):
 
I thought to make a list of all the gear that sound great right out of AK120:
  • CK100PRO
  • F111
 
UPDATES
#1-  28/05/2013:

I have around 110 hours of operation time on the AK120 and I've noticed that the bass has tighten and over all the unit sound more neutral. It is not as war as I first heard it. I enjoyed the warmer tonality more. I need to get it with my other gears to know for sure. 
 
 
Part 2-My future detailed review: AK120 vs DD socket 1+ portaphile 627X+ipod touch nano 7G
 
For the last few days I was thinking how can I make a fair comparison review thread, there was simply to many factors involved. As it stands right now AK series are the smallest unit in the market of high end DAP and in terms of portability nothing can compete with them which has the same playback support. On the other hand in our world portability is still has only a second degree importance and what it ultimately comes down to is how good it sounds. So as a result I decided to review this with a setup that cost the same as the AK120($1299 AUD). 
For my review I decided to use the following setup: 
 
DD socket 1,-Muses 01 edn($498)+ portaphile 627X($599)+ipod touch nano 7G($145)=$1242(AUD)
 
While size-wise surely AK120 wins without any doubt however I thought the only fair way to approach this is to see what other combination I can achieve with the same budget. I am hoping to get the portaphile 627x within 4-5 weeks and I know AK120 will struggle against this as AK120 simply does not have the power to handle everything so for my review I will only stick with IEM and nothing more. I think that is a fair way to approach this as there is really no point on having a tiny unit as AK120 for on the go high fidelity portability to have it paired with a giant beast like HD800. So for those who think AK120 lower power is a design flaw I think it is not for that very reason I explained earlier. 
 
May 25, 2013 at 11:22 AM Post #2 of 765

audionewbi

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Part A)Technical details:
[size=12pt]Brand name[/size]
[size=12pt]Astell & Kern AK120[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Body color[/size]
[size=10pt]Solid Black[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Recording media[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Built-in capacity[/size]
[size=10pt] 64GB (NAND flash) , including five songs * system area / Hi-Res sample sound source[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Expansion slot * 1[/size]
[size=10pt]microSD card slot × 2 slot (supports only SDHC / XC up to 64GB exFAT)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Music reproduction[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Body recording possible number * 2[/size]
[size=10pt](FLAC/192KHz/24bit) about 390 songs 
about 2,470 songs (FLAC/44.1KHz/16bit)[/size]

[size=10.0pt]Continuous playback * 3[/size]
[size=10pt](FLAC/192kHz/24bit) about 12 hours 
about 14 hours (FLAC/44.1kHz/16bit)[/size]

[size=10.0pt]File format * 4[/size]
[size=10pt]WAV, FLAC, APE, MP3, WMA, OGG, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DSD[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Sampling rate[/size]
[size=10pt]8kHz, 16kHz, 32kHz, 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Quantization bit rate[/size]
[size=10pt]8bit, 16bit, 24bit[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Bit rate[/size]
[size=10pt]FLAC: 0 ~ 8, APE: Fast ~ High, MP3/WMA: 8kbps ~ 320kbps, OGG: Up to Q10[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Folder Management[/size]
[size=10pt]○[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Tag information[/size]
[size=10pt]ID3 V1 Tag, ID3 V2 2.0, ID3 V2 3.0[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Database management[/size]
[size=10pt], By album, by artist, Genre, only 24bit sound (/ Views Order / playlist all) music[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Resume function[/size]
[size=10pt]○[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Album art display[/size]
[size=10pt]○ (Full Size, Fit size)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Lyrics display[/size]
[size=10pt]LDB format (embedded lyrics)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Playlist function[/size]
[size=10pt]○ (PLS format)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Playback method[/size]
[size=10pt]Normal playback, shuffle[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Repeat mode[/size]
[size=10pt]Repeat, one track repeat[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Equalizer function[/size]
[size=10pt]User EQ (5Band: 62Hz/250Hz/1kHz/4kHz/16kHz), PRO EQ (fixed)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Gapless playback[/size]
[size=10pt]○ (On, Off)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Audio[/size]
[size=10.0pt]D / A converter[/size]
[size=10pt]Wolfson WM8740 × 2 (L / R independent)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Input and output terminal * 5[/size]
[size=10pt]3.5mm earphone / optical digital output terminal × 1, 3.5mm optical digital input terminal × 1 microUSB terminal × 1[/size]
[size=10.0pt]USB-DAC function * 6[/size]
[size=10pt]44.1kHz ~ 192kHz/16bit, 44.1kHz ~ 96kHz/24bit[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Output Level[/size]
[size=10pt]1.5Vrms + 1.5Vrms (no load)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Output Impedance[/size]
[size=10pt]3Ω[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Frequency characteristic[/size]
[size=10pt]20Hz ~ 20kHz (± 0.02dB) / 10Hz ~ 70kHz (± 0.2dB)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]S / N ratio[/size]
[size=10pt](1kHz/0dB, 48kHz/24bit, no load) 113dB[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Stereo Crosstalk[/size]
[size=10pt]-128dB (1kHz/0dB, 48kHz/24bit, no load)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]THD + N[/size]
[size=10pt](1kHz/0dB, 48kHz/24bit, no load) 0.0008%[/size]
[size=10.0pt]IMD[/size]
[size=10pt](48kHz/24bit, no load) 0.0005%[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Clock jitter[/size]
[size=10pt]50ps (typ)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Physical key[/size]
[size=10pt]Power-screen on / off, rewind, play / pause, fast forward, volume dial[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Physical key lock function[/size]
[size=10pt](Changed from the setup menu) screen off volume dial lock[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Volume control[/size]
[size=10pt]152 steps (0 to 75/0.5 steps)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Bluetooth[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Version[/size]
[size=10pt]3.0[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Profile * 7[/size]
[size=10pt]A2DP, HFP, HID[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Display language[/size]
[size=10pt](Japanese, English, Korean, Chinese (Simplified / Traditional), Russian, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Thai) 10 Languages[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Corresponding OS[/size]
[size=10pt]Windows ® 8 (64bit), 7 (32bit/64bit), Vista (32bit), XP, Mac Os X 10.6.5 or higher[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Power[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Battery[/size]
[size=10pt]Built-in lithium polymer battery (2,350 mAh/3.7V)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Auto-off function[/size]
[size=10pt]Auto Power off (no operation), backlight off (no operation), sleep timer[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Charging method[/size]
[size=10pt](Power off), charging and playback, charging and data transfer only charge[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Charging time[/size]
[size=10pt]30 minutes about 6 hours (USB charging / 460mA)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]USB type[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Shape[/size]
[size=10pt]microUSB (5pin)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Interface[/size]
[size=10pt]USB2.0 High Speed[/size]
[size=10.0pt]USB class[/size]
[size=10pt]USB mass storage[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Screen[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Display[/size]
[size=10pt]2.4-inch IPS type color TFT LCD[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Resolution[/size]
[size=10pt]QVGA (W 320 × H 240 dots)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Color display number[/size]
[size=10pt]Approximately 16 million colors[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Touch panel[/size]
[size=10pt]Capacitive[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Size (W × H × D)[/size]
[size=10pt]About 59.2 × 89.1 × about about 14.4 (mm)[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Weight[/size]
[size=10pt]About 144g[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Operation temperature[/size]
[size=10pt]-5 ℃ ~ 40 ℃[/size]
[size=10.0pt]Included items * 8[/size]
[size=10pt]microUSB cable, Italian leather case, screen protection sheet (preliminary) × 1, back protection sheet (preliminary) × 1 [/size]
[size=10pt]Quick Start Guide, Warranty (one year body / accessories 90 days)[/size]
 
Source: http://iriver.jp/products/product_94.php#2
 
Part B)Firmware updates:
Method 1- To upgrade simply extract the hex file to the root directory of your player and restart it. That is just drag and drop the HEX file inside the internal memory of your device.
 
Method 2-
 
The advantage of iriver plus 4 is that you use it to update your AK120 database faster than what it is when you do it via the device alone.
 
Before firmware upgrade:
  1. Make sure your AK120's battery level is at least at 80%.
  2. Make sure your AK120 has at least 50MB of memory remaining.
  3. Don't unplug the AK120 from your PC during hex data transfer.
 
 
1)Firmware 1.21 updates 14/06//2013:
 

[ Improvements ]

  1. Prevents Power off / Sleep mode when connected via optical-in.
  2. Fixes intermittent failure to recognise certain SD cards (Samsung).
  3. Adds USB DAC function.
  4. Thanks to http://www.soundfidelity.co.uk/products/astellkern/ak120/
 
Download
 
May 25, 2013 at 11:31 AM Post #4 of 765

audionewbi

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Quote:
Very nice!
 
Subscribed

You are probably the only person on planet who can provide the most comprehensive review in terms of product pairing with AK120 as I dont know anyone else who has as much CIEM as you (maybe average_joe but that is a maybe ) :D
 
May 26, 2013 at 9:38 AM Post #6 of 765

kkcc

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Thanks audionewbi!  Subbed and hopefully I will be able to give a more detailed impression with my IEMs in a couple weeks.  Most of them are loan to others except the RE400 and TG334.
 
May 27, 2013 at 10:28 PM Post #7 of 765

audionewbi

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Added update #1;
#1-  28/05/2013:
I have around 110 hours of operation time on the AK120 and I've noticed that the bass has tighten and over all the unit sound more neutral. It is not as war as I first heard it. I enjoyed the warmer tonality more. I need to get it with my other gears to know for sure. 
 
May 28, 2013 at 1:20 AM Post #8 of 765

Stonemanty

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Hi audionewbi,

Have you had any problems with your AK120 recognising the SD cards? Mine intermittently drops them ie on booting one time it will see both and all the tracks, the next it might register one or neither - very frustrating

Other than that, I think it's a great player - a significant, albeit expensive, improvement on the AK100 - I really don't like the brown case though!

Thanks
Andy
 
May 28, 2013 at 1:47 AM Post #9 of 765

audionewbi

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Hey Andy welcome to head-fi, at the moment I only use one microsd card, it is a sandisk 64 GB SDXC, I have to purchase another one in order to test the dual SD card for you., The UI is still buggy for sure. For example when I load an album which has two CD it will not order the album correctly. Instead of compiling the list in a way that instead of making the list with CD 1 and CD 2 tracks in proper order it will create a list where tracks 1 are complied first followed by tracks 2 and so on and so forth.
 
Sonic wise it is an improvement over AK100, for me personally it was easy to hear the difference however for a product of its price I expect that such bugs are dealt before release considering it was the exact same problem I had with the AK100. 
 
In regard of the case I have noticed that part of it is fragile and requires care but the leather used will age nicely. I do not have any major issue however I do wish they provided their other case which has a protection face cover instead of the brown one provided.
 
Quote:
Hi audionewbi,

Have you had any problems with your AK120 recognising the SD cards? Mine intermittently drops them ie on booting one time it will see both and all the tracks, the next it might register one or neither - very frustrating

Other than that, I think it's a great player - a significant, albeit expensive, improvement on the AK100 - I really don't like the brown case though!

Thanks
Andy

 
May 28, 2013 at 2:19 AM Post #10 of 765

spkrs01

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Quote:
Hi audionewbi,

Have you had any problems with your AK120 recognising the SD cards? Mine intermittently drops them ie on booting one time it will see both and all the tracks, the next it might register one or neither - very frustrating

Other than that, I think it's a great player - a significant, albeit expensive, improvement on the AK100 - I really don't like the brown case though!

Thanks
Andy

 
I have had this occur on my unit many times. A reboot or two will suffice. I am not too bothered by it although it was a bit of a shock the first time it happened!
 
May 28, 2013 at 3:04 AM Post #11 of 765

kkcc

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What brands of micro sd card are you using? SanDisk had produced a batch of potentially defective 32Gb and 64Gb cards and is offering replacement.


If you have problems you may want to get replacement card:

http://www.phonearena.com/news/SanDisk-says-it-produced-some-bad-32GB-and-64GB-microSD-cards_id40986

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/03/18/galaxy_s3_sandisk_msd/

I am also using 2 SanDisk 64g sdxc (class 10) and never had any issue thus far.
 
May 28, 2013 at 6:04 AM Post #13 of 765

audionewbi

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That is a really hard one to answer. As I said before for me the difference was there but it is hard to put a dollar value to the improvement. At the end you are the one who needs to decide for yourself.
 
My advice is if you want to spend such a large sum of cash hear it first before making the decision. If you can try to audition the modded AK100 and compare it against the AK120. Remember I only had the stock AK100 and the modded AK100 might sound as good and it will still be a cheaper alternative.
 
My review is not done yet, I have to wait till the firmware update is released and the portaphile 627x arrives. The future firmware will enable DSD and USB DAC feature. While I do not care much about the DSD as it is not a true DSD playback for me the USB DAC makes a difference. I am interest to see if used as USB DAC are they going to increase the VRM (which seems to be possible with a few firmware tweak)
My plan is to compare the setup state above with the IEMS I own, I know that portaphile will sound great with headphones but for IEM it might be an over-kill. For me if AK120 can perform as good as the portaphile setup than purchasing it as a one time investment is worth it. 

Hope that helps.  
Quote:
Hi audionewbi,
Can i ask you something?
If i already have an ak 100 is it worthed to sell my ak 100 and buy ak 120?
Thank you for your help

 
May 28, 2013 at 10:10 AM Post #14 of 765

D K A

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Quote:
That is a really hard one to answer. As I said before for me the difference was there but it is hard to put a dollar value to the improvement. At the end you are the one who needs to decide for yourself.
 
My advice is if you want to spend such a large sum of cash hear it first before making the decision. If you can try to audition the modded AK100 and compare it against the AK120. Remember I only had the stock AK100 and the modded AK100 might sound as good and it will still be a cheaper alternative.
 
My review is not done yet, I have to wait till the firmware update is released and the portaphile 627x arrives. The future firmware will enable DSD and USB DAC feature. While I do not care much about the DSD as it is not a true DSD playback for me the USB DAC makes a difference. I am interest to see if used as USB DAC are they going to increase the VRM (which seems to be possible with a few firmware tweak)
My plan is to compare the setup state above with the IEMS I own, I know that portaphile will sound great with headphones but for IEM it might be an over-kill. For me if AK120 can perform as good as the portaphile setup than purchasing it as a one time investment is worth it. 

Hope that helps.  


Wow really this one is so helpful
Yea i think i will hear it first at local store
Cause my AK 100 already sounds good with alo international
so i'm curious how much the difference is , thanks for your help btw
 
May 28, 2013 at 11:48 AM Post #15 of 765

Stonemanty

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The cards are 64gb Kingston - they worked (and work - I checked) just fine in my AK100. I tried rebooting and even a factory reset but the problem remains I'm afraid.

I noticed one of the firmware updates on the AK100 mentioned fixing card reading issues, but then I'd have thought this would have been inc in V1 for the '120... I've been in touch with Jaben and they're going to contact A&K about it - maybe I just have a dud one.

As for the brown case, I cannot like it :wink: I looked at the A&K100 OEM original but it looked dreadful quality - like I'd made it in beginners leatherwork class. The Dignis one from Korea is far superior quality, albeit not quite so protective - talking of which, I'd be well p1$$ed off with such a blatant copy of my work by the supposed Italians who make the brown one!

I concur with the upgrade advice too - we are well into the law of diminishing returns here ie doubling the money for a relatively incremental sonic gain - what I wanted to achieve was what I'd originally hoped for with the AK100, namely to have great sound in a small package. When I noticed a post on here with it strapped to the Vorzugge Pure (that I also have) I realised the pair is better - but they are rather cumbersome IMO. Hence the AK120 gives me what I want - more power and quality in a small unit. Of course, I may be back to square one when temptation gets the better of me and I plug the amp in!

Either way, the AK100 is for sale, and the VZ Pure too, probably.

Regards
Andy
 

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