The Player: Astell & Kern AK100

astell_kern_ak100_17

Disclaimer: iRiver supplied the demo unit for this review. AnalogHead (a headphone store in which I’m one of the owners) is now a distributor for Astell & Kern in Indonesia. 

Everybody is talking about the new Astell & Kern from iRiver. I don’t know who came up with the branding for Astell & Kern, but in my opinion they’ve succeeded in creating a powerful brand with just one product launch. While iRiver has been in the industry long enough to be credible, the brand name doesn’t really make you think of high end, designers goods the way Astell & Kern does.

The $700 AK100 player, the first Astell & Kern branded product, is a super-sharp product in terms of styling and build. It oozes class and craftmanship of the highest degree. The bar that was raised by Ibasso with the DX100 has been set even higher with the AK100. Receiving the box still shrink-wrapped, I did the unboxing process very slowly. Not because it was a tedious packaging to unbox, but rather I tried to be taking my time, immersing myself in the experience. It was easily the best unboxing experience I’ve had. Not even the $6,000 Canon 1Dx camera or the Macbook Air I purchased last year come close to the unboxing experience of the AK100. With the AK100, it was almost like if I’ve had just purchased an expensive hand watch.

I can go on and on about the build, the quality, and the craftsmanship but let’s cut them short and just say that nothing in the market today comes close to the AK100. This is as sharp as it gets. It reminds me of those ultra slim, only sold in Japan mini-disc players during the peak of the mini-disc era. A level of perfection I never thought possible.

astell_kern_ak100_08

 

Sound Impressions

After the whole unboxing experience, I went on to demo the sound of the AK100. They have sent a micro SD card along with the player, containing the usual high quality Audiophile test songs such as Spanish Harlem, and so I proceeded to listen to the Spanish Harlem on the AK100. It had a good black background and clear sound (after more time with the AK100 I feel that this player has the blackest background among all the different players I’ve tested). Gear impression with Audiophile recordings is a bit of a cheating in my opinion, because even the Ipod sounds good with a high end recording. Back then with the AK100, I knew that the Spanish Harlem recording is aiding the sonic performance in a pretty big way. And although the sound was good, it was not mind blowing. With a recording such as Spanish Harlem, a good player should be capable of so much more.

I then uploaded some songs, regular 16/44.1 WAVs and played them on the AK100. The player didn’t wow me at all. Although you won’t be comparing its technicalities with the likes of the Ipod and the Sansa Clip (the AK100 is much cleaner, the background much blacker) I really don’t think that the AK100 has what it takes to compete with the audiophile players out there. The Ibasso DX100, the Cypher Labs Solo, the Hifiman HM60x series. Very clean sound and a nice black background, but I was not impressed. Compared to my current favorite, the screen-less minimalistic DAP from Charles Altmann, it’s not even close. I can use a plain Sennheiser PX100 with my Tera Player and enjoy better music than the AK100 + JH5Pro combo that I am listening right now.

And so I went all disappointed with the AK100. I sent the sample unit to my friend Sem who personally collects DAPs. Same lukewarm comments praising only the build. I then sent the sample to the AnalogHead store for people to listen to. Store manager told me nobody liked it. Then over the weekend we had a local HiFi show where the local Jaben boss brought his AK100 for the gang to listen to. Not one favorable comment about the sound. All these different impressions were from numerous people and on different headphone and music combinations on two different AK100 units. Surely it can’t be too far off.

The sound has a nice black background to it and it presents the music in such natural clarity that doesn’t really need any treble boost to aid perceived detail. This is definitely a high quality player. I consider that high end technicalities. On the black background alone it easily betters the DX100, the Solo, the Hifiman HM60X series, the Hifiman HM801, and even the Altmann Tera by a slight margin. That’s pretty much all the high end player in the market today. And yet it has such a cold static feel to the sound. Un-analog. Lacks fluidity. Lacks warmth, among other things. Moderate dynamic range. Relatively flat sound stage with disappointing layering. Ugh. My interest in the AK100 went from peak high to almost zero.

A week past, and I was told that on a recent meet, my friend Sem had brought the AK100 and the group that he met with gave favorable comments on the AK100. My interest in the AK100 was resurrected. I hadn’t give the AK100 a thorough listening test, and if some people can come up with a set up that makes the AK100 sound favorable, then I should try to look into it. I proceeded to test the AK100 again, this time more headphones. The first impressive set up I’ve heard on the AK100 was with the LCD-2 (direct out of the headphone out). It was my first “this is pretty good!” moment with the AK100. Not only was the AK100 able to drive the LCD-2, but the pairing was pretty good. I let some people listened to the AK100 & LCD-2 set up. They were surprised and were impressed to hear that sound out of the AK100. Though not the best LCD-2 set up (it doesn’t have the fluidity, the body and the bloom of driving the LCD-2 from the ALO PanAm), but pretty darn good. Among the numerous other headphones I tried with the AK100, the Sennheiser Momentum pairing is also worth mentioning. It is the second most enjoyable set up I’ve had with the AK100. My feelings toward the AK100 was slowly moving to a more positive direction. It still had that cold tonality, and the mid range was still congested, but somehow the Momentum and the LCD-2 helped in making me forget about the deficiencies of the AK100.

Positive feelings building, I proceeded to give my friend Sem the Momentum for him to listen to his AK100. His comment was “Good, but still lacking dynamics.” I was pretty surprised, but he was right. Even with a relatively easy to drive Momentum, the sound lacked dynamics. The bass had a good impact (even with the Momentum which I complained lacked impact), but despite the good impact, the dynamics were not happening. It was just flat. “This is tougher than I thought”, I said to myself.

From that point on my interest never really improved with the AK100. Iriver released a firmware update on December 10th, which was firmware 1.20. Both Sem’s and my sample AK100 was already upgraded to 1.20. I doubted the ability of a firmware upgrade to improve sound, and it didn’t. All that 24/192 capability, the MQS file capability, the superior numbers as listed on this document, it wasn’t enough to make me have any feelings for the AK100. It’s flat, and it’s bland. Technicalities is good and so I believe the superior S/N and THD numbers. But I can’t feel the music with this player, regardless of what I play.

 

More on the next page…

The Player: Astell & Kern AK100
4 (80%) 5 votes

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122 Comments

  • Reply December 19, 2012

    Mike

    Photography fans: with the exception of the feature image (ISO400), everything else were shot at ISO3200, no noise reduction applied. I love the new 1Dx.

    • Reply December 19, 2012

      Gorboman

      Aah… No wonder the pictures look smooth.

  • Reply December 19, 2012

    AnakChan

    Red Wine Audio has come up with a mod that bypasses the resistors that causes the 22 ohm headphone out (which I believe is the cause of the blandness you’re hearing). That should improve the AK100’s SQ output. However that mod comes at a financial cost.

    • Reply December 19, 2012

      Mike

      Thanks for the info, AnakChan!

      • Reply March 6, 2013

        Samuel K N Kalu

        Hi Mike! So what do you think is the best portable music player out right now. If money wasn’t an object which player would you recommend? Also I have Denon ah-d7000 headphones, do you know how they sound with them?

        • Reply March 6, 2013

          Mike

          Personally, I still think the Tera Player and the HM801.

          Sorry but I don’t have the D7000 to test it with.

          I’ve tried the AK100 with the new Denon D7100 and D600 with great results though.

          • Reply March 6, 2013

            Samuel K N Kalu

            Thank you so much for the quick response! So are you say that the sound quality of the Tera Player and HM801 are BETTER than the Astell & Kern ak1000? The only thing I care about in terms of a music player is the quality if the sound/music and nothing else. Thanks again

            • Reply March 6, 2013

              Mike

              Well, other factors you have to think about…

              First of all the Tera Player’s power output is limited and is best used with IEMs, not big headphones like the D7000.
              Then there are other factors like sound signature. The Tera is pretty neutral and bass impact is not that powerful. With the HM-801, the signature is laid back and dark, may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

              • Reply March 6, 2013

                Samuel K N Kalu

                Cheers Mike once again u have been so helpful!! Despite your slightly negative opinion of the Astell & Kern AK100, I am still drawn to it (like a fly to a big glowing light bulb). Though I’ve read that the Tera Player’s music quality is superior to many other players it is also seems sooooooo impractical as it lacks a user interface and only takes WAV files. I don’t usually carry a large portable music collection but when I want to listen to a particular song i want to listen to it immediately and scrolling aimlessly through my music with a Tera Player seems like hard work (it’s like an ipod shuffle). Plus I’ve spent soooo much money getting these really really rare Denon ah-d7000 headphones that it would silly of me to then buy some other earphones for the Tera Player.

                Anyways could you answer 3 final questions for me?:
                1) you mentioned that the Astell & Kern AK100 had “great results” with the Denon D7100 and D600. How “great” were these results in comparison to the HM801?
                2) Have you compared the Astell & Kern AK100 to the colorfly c4 and what is your opinion?
                3) I’ve been looking for affordable headphoneamp/preamps and I’ve seen these Schiit amps which look great: http://schiit.com/cart/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=0&products_id=2
                Do you know about them?

                Thanks again, your the best!!

                • Reply March 6, 2013

                  Mike

                  1. I can’t give a comparison as I haven’t tried the Denons with the HM801. 2. I did a review on the C4 a long time ago. Again the AK100 was released quite recently so I haven’t really been able to A-B the two. Just based on memory, I think the two are comparable. The C4 is slightly more natural, the AK100 has a much blacker background. http://www.headfonia.com/tag/colorfly/

                  3. I’ve reviewed some of the earlier Schiit amps, but not the newer ones. http://www.headfonia.com/tag/schiit/

        • Reply March 31, 2013

          linuxprophet

          Good question Nna. I dey wait the reply.

    • Reply December 19, 2012

      ryan

      How much?

    • Reply March 13, 2013

      Anton Tynnikov

      There’s a guy in Moscow who did the same for me for an equivalent of $30 🙂 It did improve the frequency response greatly. A bit too much treble on some tracks but cutting them down just a bit with the EQ works like a charm.

  • Reply December 19, 2012

    maciux

    I have similar feelings about AK100, but it sounded absolutely great with my HD 25-1 when paired with… Objective 2 AMP. Otherwise, most of headphones I’ve tried straight from Iriver were boomy and lifeless (except Sennheiser HD 25 SP BA – 300 Ohm). Also, software on 1.13 was horrible. I do not miss it at all.

    • Reply December 19, 2012

      Mike

      I didn’t felt that the player made headphones to sound boomy. With the Z1000 it was, but nothing else really.

      Also tried it with the Denon D600 and D7100 today.

      • Reply December 20, 2012

        Vincent Paris

        Hi Mike, Thanks for this review. Can you say a little more about the AK100 paired with the Denon D600 please ? What do you think about this combo ?Thanks. (I have a D600 and i’m waiting for my AK100)

        • Reply December 20, 2012

          Mike

          I think it’s alright.. I like the Denon D600, it’s a nice headphone.

    • Reply January 28, 2013

      Mutnat

      So, HD25-1 driven directly by the AK100 doesn’t sound good? It needs another amp in(such as an O2) between?

      • Reply January 28, 2013

        maciux

        The sound from HD 25-1 on AK100 was muddy and boomy. It was not that bad and quite fun, but I like much better my HD 25-1 on O2/ODAC combo – very dynamic, clean and tight. With AK100 it was very good when amped by O2 – I still think It’s about damping effect 😉

  • Reply December 19, 2012

    ryan

    I can’t complaint on anything cause i don’t have other audiophile dap to compare with….i wonder what is causing the deficiencies that mike mention about???

    If it is the dac, as i mention previously before, probably you could connect the digital output to external dac…something like the matrix mini portable….

    If anyone have them, should try it out

    I paired it with the vestamp and dt770ae

    • Reply December 19, 2012

      Mike

      What’s causing the deficiencies? Well circuit design is never simple. I don’t think it’s the 22Ω output impedance.

  • Reply December 20, 2012

    Mohammad Ashraf

    Glade I didnt go ahead with my order. I think the new ipod touch is more than enough, fidelity on the go is still to young and needs at least a decade to mature.

    Once again another great review 🙂

    • Reply December 20, 2012

      Mike

      Thanks, Mohammad. Looks like a lot of people is disappointed with the review.

      A great product launch usually have this kind of an effect. Big hype, and people are expecting great things out of it even before they’ve listened to it.

      • Reply March 18, 2013

        Mohammad Ashraf

        Wanted to update that I ended up purchasing it, I guess I am some what glad now? Anyways I got a good deal and finally entered the “High end DAP”.
        Had a question, I own the arrow 4G and JDS lab C5, I was thinking of getting the P-51 mustang for the AK100 due to its side. Which one would be the best pairing in terms of sound if that makes any sense?

        Cheers

  • Reply December 20, 2012

    Spencer Chan

    Mike, how was the battery? Was it ok to use with Kingrex’s uPower?

    • Reply December 20, 2012

      Mike

      Battery life is great. I didn’t count but it seemed to go on forever.

      Why would you need the uPower for?

      • Reply December 20, 2012

        Julius

        I think you should totally buy me one of these for Christmas, Mike…

        • Reply December 20, 2012

          Mike

          You like it? 😉

          I’m a bit short on cash at the moment. 😛

          • Reply December 20, 2012

            Julius

            Hell ya, I want it :[

      • Reply December 20, 2012

        Spencer Chan

        Flight from NYC to HK…Looking at 18+ hours.

        Battery life is one of the main reasons I never jumped on DX100 or HM-X01

        • Reply December 20, 2012

          Mike

          Oh, any standard USB battery pack would do. I have a small one, cheap, works great for the AK100. Use it with my Altmann Tera too.

  • Reply December 20, 2012

    Mike

    I’m not sure if this should go to the review, but I thought you guys should know that AnalogHead (of which I’m one of the owners) is in talks with iRiver to have the AK100 in our store.

    I don’t want to use Headfonia as a selling tool, so I think I try to keep the review independent aside from whatever AnalogHead decides to sell.

    In a way I’m glad that the review is less than stellar, since people can easily accuse me of using the review to help promote sales of AK100s on my store.

  • Reply December 20, 2012

    Don Vittorio Sierra

    I am still waiting for the DAP that has regular digital output jacks and a terabyte hard drive. That would be the best transportable audiophile system in the market. I am wondering if I am the only one that wants a machine like that. Something that plays all formats and a decent interface at least as good as an ipod classic will do.

    • Reply December 20, 2012

      Mike

      Ipod+CLAS?

      Terabyte is a bit too much though. I don’t think you can fill a full terabyte with good music. We may have 5000 CDs, but in my experience the majority of them we don’t even listen to in the past one year.

      • Reply March 31, 2013

        linuxprophet

        Maybe Mike, but isn’t that the point of marketing laptops with drives people will probably never fill?
        It’s nice to have a car with an engine you may probably never max out. Or live in a huge house whose rooms you may never sleep in (and end up broke like those folk who buy 400 room mansions, simply because they could afford to at the time).

        • Reply April 1, 2013

          dalethorn

          I have a 1tb pocket drive and a 1.5tb pocket drive where I back up all of my files, so I don’t depend on any one computer for permanent storage. I have only 682 FLAC tracks now for 30.3 gb total (most are 44 khz), so to get 1tb of FLAC would be 22508 (twenty-two thousand) music tracks. For me with all the variety I listen to, a 160 gb iPod classic would hold 3600 FLACs – more than enough. It takes a really long time to write 1tb of data to a consumer drive like the pocket drives or a iPod classic, so for me the most important thing is reliability, since I read about drive failures all the time. One of my pocket drives, a 640 gb Toshiba (good quality) failed just 3 months ago, so I’m not keen on building a giant storehouse of data on just one drive.

          • Reply April 1, 2013

            Mike

            That’s nice, Dale.

  • Reply December 20, 2012

    ryan

    Mike, could you pls try it out with the matrix mini portable? Planning to buy the matrix soon…

    • Reply December 20, 2012

      Mike

      AK100 + Matrix Mini? Optical or analog/headphone out?

      The soonest I can try it is tomorrow.

      • Reply December 20, 2012

        ryan

        Thx mike. Pls try both.

        • Reply December 21, 2012

          Mike

          I tried the AK100 optical out > Matrix Mini. Didn’t work for some reason. Tried AK100 > Fostex HP-A3, HP-A8 and they work.

          Tried it on two different Matrix Minis.

          And I’ve used the Matrix’s optical input several time before.. so it may just be something about the AK100/Matrix combo.

          Analog/headphone out, sorry I forgot to give the two a try as there was a bunch of other gear I had to try today.

          • Reply December 21, 2012

            ryan

            Any improvement on the sound?

            • Reply December 21, 2012

              Mike

              What improvement? It didn’t work.

              • Reply December 21, 2012

                ryan

                Sorry, I mean on the fostex

                • Reply December 21, 2012

                  Mike

                  Well it’s a good transport (the AK100). Is it better than say a laptop transport? Probably just the same.

                  • Reply December 21, 2012

                    ryan

                    Are the deficiencies still there when use as a transport?

                    • December 22, 2012

                      Mike

                      No of course no. You would be listening to the sound of whatever DAC you’re using.

          • Reply November 16, 2013

            Kun

            Hi, Mike Have you took another try on this? Does Matrix Mini Portable work for AK100? Thanks!

            • Reply November 16, 2013

              Mike

              Hi Kun,
              Sorry I haven’t. Don’t have one around. I’ve tried the AK100 with tons of other DACs and they all work.. maybe it was a faulty Matrix Mini?

  • Reply December 20, 2012

    ryan

    just did a A/Bing

    A – laptop -> dacport lx -> SRGII -> dt770 ae

    B – ak100 -> SRGII -> dt770ae (less airy/spacious, narrow and flat soundstage, congested, weak instrument separation)

    • Reply December 21, 2012

      Mike

      yeah not looking very grand isn’t it?

  • Reply December 21, 2012

    Mike

    “We got this from iRiver: “Dear All,

    I think you guys already known about “RWAK100”

    Well, here are our mentions for this issue, please refer to it.

    If you change AK100’s output impedance into 0 ohm (by taking off resistance)

    PROS :

    1. Sound become powerful.

    2. enrich sound of high impedance

    3. better balance for Armature unit drive earphone.

    CONS :

    1. Each headset has limitation of maximum output. By reducing impedance of AK100, there could be deterioration of headset and it cause short of circuit. In this case, it consume over 2W electric power and make damage of AK100 circuit.

    2. When there is Static Electricity, it can easily damage of AK100. In this case, even it plays but there is no sound.

    3. VOC and PL regulation issue will be happed by causing hypacusis and deafness.

    4. Even it improves the sound power, it reduces smooth and delicate sound detail of AK100.

    With these reasons, we do not recommend reducing impedance or any modification by users.

    To prevent such unauthorized modification by end user, we use special screw driver for AK100. But if they carry out any kind of changes or modification by themselves and it cause any problem or issue, we are not obliged to provide C/S or A/S.””

  • Reply December 21, 2012

    Mike

    By the way AnalogHead is now the exclusive distributor for Astell & Kern in Indonesia.

    We were already in negotiations with iRiver when I wrote the review, so I knew this was coming. I just didn’t want to let these kind of things (my store selling the product) to affect how I truly feel about the product. As I’ve said before, Headfonia is separate from AnalogHead. What happens in AnalogHead is purely a business decision. For instance I may be a Mac guy but if I own a computer store I will still sell PCs. Or I may be a Samsung guy, but if I own a cellphone store I will still sell the Iphone5.

    Cheers

  • Reply December 22, 2012

    Astell & Kern AK100

    […] has a pretty thorough review: The Player: Astell & Kern AK100 | Headfonia Shure 1840, Sennheiser Momentum, ATH ESW9a, VModa M100, Marley Exodus, B&W P5, […]

  • Reply December 23, 2012

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  • Reply December 23, 2012

    lida

    So cool…

    The information provided in the article are some of the best available…

  • Reply December 23, 2012

    Gothika Genta

    So a disappointment then. Shame, I was quite looking forward to this during the IHEAC show in early December. It is a beautiful player, well built, very petite and quite a nice user interface, a much better DAP in terms of portability and size (I have an HP-P1 which sometimes, people give me very weird looks).
    Didn’t managed to tried it because my testing methodology is “always audition with music that you’re familiar with” in which the unit at the Jaben stand didn’t have music that I normally hear.
    How do you compare this with the HP-P1? Is the background blacker than the HP-P1?
    BTW, love your photos. I myself (maybe you already know because I visited your booth during the IHEAC show) have a 7D and a 24-105L. What lens are you using? 50 1.2L?

    • Reply December 24, 2012

      Mike

      Yes blacker than the HP-P1. Very black in fact and as I’ve said maybe the best so far in that regard.

      50 1.2L I wasn’t such a big fan of. Too heavy, too shallow DOF for a walkaround lens (which is what the 50mm focal length is really all about).

      Right now my main lenses are 24-70 II, 50 1.8 (been my main lens since the 1Ds Mk1 day), and a 40 2.8 pancake.

  • Reply December 23, 2012

    zayiflama ilaci

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  • Reply December 25, 2012

    Laurencewayne

    Mike- need a bit of advice. I went with a Fostex HP-P1 (because of you) to pair with my Fostex TH 900th (not your fault). I use iPod Classic with all music loaded in apple lossless. Do you think I would notice a difference if I go AK100 & load it with Flac from HD tracks? And thanks for being so patient with all of us!
    Best regards.

    • Reply December 25, 2012

      Guest

      I don’t think iDevices will play FLAC. I’m not using one so I don’t know if there’s any FLAC player for iOS.

      • Reply March 31, 2013

        linuxprophet

        There has been a FLAC player for iOS for over 3 years now. The newer iPods (at least from 3G AFAIK), can play FLAC 16bit/48kHz files using this app.
        I also understand it will down-sample higher bitrates.
        Native ALAC files will play on iDevices @ 16bit/48kHz max.
        Regards,
        LP

        • Reply April 1, 2013

          Mike

          Thanks LP, yes you can use third party apps to play FLAC.

    • Reply December 27, 2012

      Mike

      Not a big deal, I would just stick with the Ipod + Fostex.

  • Reply January 22, 2013

    Mohammad Ashraf

    Hey Mike hope all is well, I saw on FB that a local modder manage to bypass the 22 Ohm resistor, can you by any chance listen to his review and give us an update. I know that is a lot to ask for but I still like to try my luck 😀

  • Reply February 7, 2013

    Lower Listening

    Hi Mike, I tried out the ak100 yesterday with my glacier and er4s iems. overall i found it quite flat sounding with my setup…though it is a great little player in many ways. Q: To get the bass and musicality my er4s iems lack with the glacier, would you recommended a darker sounding amp OR a bassier iem?
    I guess this hinges on your experience of how er4s scale with different sounding amps. thanks!

  • Reply May 17, 2013

    Anonymous

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  • Reply June 20, 2013

    ryan

    Is there going to be a review on the AK120?

    • Reply June 20, 2013

      Mike

      Not a formal review. Ive posted a bit about it on the Japan Headphone festival article if you want to hear my thoughts on it.

  • Reply August 18, 2013

    Mercuryvoid

    Mike, I just recently bought AK100, and I am planning to pair it with LCD2. In your opinion, will AK100 suffice to drive LCD2 or will I need an amp for the job?

    • Reply August 19, 2013

      Mike

      It works okay, I listened to it the other day. You can get the volume loud enough near the maximum volume level on the AK. An amplifier is definitely recommended.

      • Reply August 19, 2013

        Mercuryvoid

        What is your amp recommendation for this setup? From what I read, AK100 + ALO International + LCD2 = bliss, or have I been misled?
        For reference, I listen to wide range of music genre, be it Anthrax and Michael Learns to Rock, or Chetsky and Madonna.

        • Reply August 21, 2013

          Mike

          The LCD-2 is currently very popular due to the wide genre bandwidth so yes those music are in.
          The AK100 + ALO Inter + LCD-2 is a good set up but still the Pan Am, though not quite as portable, would be better.

          • Reply August 22, 2013

            Mercuryvoid

            Thanks Mike, I will keep that in mind.

            • Reply August 22, 2013

              Mike

              You’re welcome.

  • Reply October 21, 2013

    Kanon

    Hi Mike

    How does AK100 compare to HM602 in overall technicality?

    • Reply October 21, 2013

      Mike

      Very comparable.

      Ak100 is more articulate especially in bass section. Hifiman better on soundstage depth.

  • Reply October 21, 2013

    rich

    AK is a technology driven company. But its after sales service could be improved to be as good as its stellar counterpart. An email requesting for assistance takes an average of a week for a reply. Service can be better especially for “high end” players like the AK120 which cost in the regions of US$1K. I own the AK120.

    • Reply October 22, 2013

      Mike

      What happened rich?

      • Reply October 22, 2013

        rich

        Perhaps their customer’s service people are working under pressure. It took an awful week to reply to my quires. Also AK’s web page appears like a advert page. There is no contact telephone numbers or email addresses. Only in iRiver site can one find the email contacts.

        • Reply October 22, 2013

          Mike

          Yeah, what happened to your AK?

          • Reply October 22, 2013

            rich

            When power on, after the start screen, it still takes a couple of seconds for the system to work. Next, there is the occasional “shuttering” or at best described as “shivering” of the sound. Even a reboot may or may not rectify this. Hope there is a future software update. Also my friend and I bought on the same day the AK120. When we opened these at home,we were surprised that both units’s leather cases were badly scratched. The odds of having 2 leather cases scratched is “funny”. But local distributors told us cosmetics are not under warranty. But these were brand new units for goodness sake,

            • Reply October 22, 2013

              rich

              Marketing 101 course tells us that the sale of any product is both the physical product as well as the after sales service. This is foundational.

            • Reply October 22, 2013

              Mike

              Sorry to hear that. I’ve sold tons of both players and have had none of your issues, also the leather case being scratched.

              The only issue seem to be loading the external card can be very slow if you have a full and large capacity card.

              I know it sucks to have these problems especially with expensive players. Nothing seems to be free of problems these days. No matter how expensive the product is

  • Reply October 30, 2013

    Jorge Lobo

    Hello Mike. I’m planning to buy my first “high end” player. Would you recommend me the ak100 as a good option to start? Could you suggest me any other player as a better option? I would appreciate your advice. Thanks in advance.

    • Reply October 31, 2013

      Mike

      The AK100 is our standard high end player these days.. yes.

      The Ibasso DX50 and Fiio X3 (please check the reviews) are coming very strong as well, especially the DX50. However I do find their dynamics and range a limiting factor for something I’d consider high end.

  • Reply November 18, 2013

    Chi-Hwa Michael Ting

    Thanks again for foiling my unnecessary $450 spending!

  • Reply November 24, 2013

    Nik

    Hello Mike
    I would like to take the Astell & Kern AK100.
    As we all are, however, I’m concerned about the pairing with the headphones.
    I would like your advice.
    Between Sony XBA-4 (which you’ve recommended in the review of the Ak100), Etymotic ER4 (preferably S or PT?) Westone 4r, which do you think is better? On Ak100 would listen only high definition music (especially classical and jazz, but also rock).
    Or do you think between the IEM there are other models with similar price that I could consider?
    Apart from the superior features, with headphones cost within $ 500, I could appreciate the better sound quality of Ak120?
    I own a FiiO E12: I can use it with the AK100 or will stoop the overall quality?
    Thanks as always for your patience.

    • Reply November 25, 2013

      Mike

      AK100 with the Ety ER4 pairing is superbly good. That’s the one I’d go unless you need boom boom bass.
      AK120 yes you can hear it even with a Senn PX100. What matters is the quality of the recording. If you listen to good recordings, you can appreciate the AK120 even with a cheap headphone.
      Skip the E12.

      • Reply November 25, 2013

        Nik

        Do you think it’s better ER4-PT or ER4-S with the AK-100?
        Thank you very much

        • Reply November 25, 2013

          Mike

          That’s just a question of preference. S version is more resolving with thinner bass. Personally I’d go for the P.
          I think these days they sell the PT with the P to S adapter so you get two in one.

          • Reply November 28, 2013

            Nik

            Hello MIke
            I overdid it at the end and I got the Astelle & Kern AK120 (your fault!).
            I’ve several IEMs, old and new (Shure E3c, Etymotic ER-6i, Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 5 Pro, Philips Fidelio S2) and I also have the Sennheiser PX100, Grado SR80 and AKG K701.
            But I would like a new IEM that I can do to better appreciate the quality of the player.
            I am particularly interested in the definition of the sound and the spatiality of the scene. For the AK120 what do you recommend with a price within $ 500? Westone 4R? Etymotic ER-4PT? Shure SE535? Or the new Sony XBA-H3? Other universal models easily purchased in Europe?
            I would use the AK120 especially in the hotel (which is not important eventually the insulation and I can bring with me a portable headphones): you think I would have a better quality with a Aedle VK-1 or I’d better anyhow use an IEM?
            Thank you very much for your help

            • Reply November 29, 2013

              Mike

              Nik,
              I like it when I successfully make people’s wallet bleed. haha

              IEM for sound definition and spatial performance, the ETy ER4 is better than the Shure, Westone and Sony. It just has a very flat monitoring like sound that doesn’t do a lot of bass.
              Next step up on my recommendation is Senn’s IE800. Both these IEMs should give you what you want, and they pair very well with the AKs.
              Headphones, if you want spacious sound and definition, and you don’t need isolation, go for the Fidelio L2. The Aedle is very good as well but not as strong as the L2 in technicalities. I’d go for the Aedle for bass though.
              Cheers

  • Reply November 27, 2013

    SallyMaeSusan

    “But up against lossless 16-bit/44.1KHz tracks coming out of an iPhone 5 with the same headphones, the AK100 sounds just a *little* better.”
    Jamie Lendino. PC Mag.
    Mmmmm…

  • Reply December 27, 2013

    kantx

    Thank you for all these insights.

    I use the AK100 since today.

    So far just EQ7 Ortofon.
    Will run it through other Heads and IEM.
    I appreciate its airy sound, no emphasis on any register, neutrality, but I feel it’s lacking dynamics and attack.
    I’m just pairing it directly on a Mac. It definitely improves on the internal of the MacBook Pro yet.

    I have two questions so far : first, as I don’t really need it to be portable, mais just a small form factor DAC/headphone amp side my main system, where should I look to ? ALO’s Pan Am ? second, will pairing the AK100 with an external amp give it more dynamics.

    • Reply January 15, 2014

      Mike

      Sorry I’m lagging behind my emails.

      Dynamics and attack: first, the EQ7 is not that sort of an IEM to begin with. It’s a soft and mellow sounding IEM.

      Next, the AK100’s headphone out does lack the punch and slam that you can get from a proper portable amp. That’s why I don’t use it with full sizes even though I can get the loudness just fine. With IEMs it’s not so bad though, depending on the IEMs you use. IE800 is pretty easy to get right with the AK headphone out. And so is a lot of the custom multi-driver IEMs.

      • Reply January 15, 2014

        kantx

        Well, not so soft. I feel it sharp as a razor on classical, delineated instruments and nice spatialization. Much better than all the Monster (harsh), IE80 (dull), etc.

  • Reply January 13, 2014

    rich

    iRiver is a technology driven company and accomplishes many first. At the same time because of this , there are too rapid model changes and a shorter model life is worrisome to early adopters of AK 100, Ak 120. Now within a short space of time, there is suddenly the AK240 and we are fast losing the catch up pace of change. Good for new products but may irk current owners. I own the AK100 and then the AK120. What do Mike and readers think of this rapid model changes ?

    • Reply January 15, 2014

      Mike

      As an enthusiast, I feel you. It’s too fast and it’s tiring to keep up. But this is not just on the AKs. The whole headphone world is trying to mimic Samsung’s upgrade cycle it seems. And don’t even get me started on IEMs. New model launches every day?

  • Reply January 15, 2014

    Kanon

    Hi Mike

    How do you rank AK120, DX100, HM801 and HM901 in sound quality? After reading around on internet, my impression is that AK120 is similar to DX100, both a step below HM801 and HM901?

    • Reply January 15, 2014

      Mike

      I absolutely don’t like the 901 so that one is out. The 80X and 60X series sound far more analog than the 901.
      The 801 is still the best out there IMO. Comparable to the Altmann. The AK120 is now my second favourite. Good sound with modern UI, unlike the 801 and altmann. DX100 is decent. I’d take the AK100 Mk2 over the DX100. In fact I prefer the DX50’s sound over the DX100, though the 100 is technically better, more resolving.
      When I travel I take the Altmann and the AK120.

      • Reply January 15, 2014

        Kanon

        How AK100 Mk, AK120, DX100, HM602 compare in technicality?

        I listen to classical music mainly, although some choral works. I am looking for big soundstage, good dynamic and details. I only use earbuds such as MX985 and so on.

        Oh, have you tried HM700 and Fiio X5 yet?

        • Reply January 15, 2014

          Mike

          For your music, what you need is the HM-801.

          Technicalities, I think the AK120 is best of the four there. AK100 Mk2 (soundstage width, articulation), HM602 (best soundstage, depth, three dimensionality) and DX100 (soundstage width, articulation) are comparable.

          • Reply January 15, 2014

            Kanon

            Gee, are you saying AK100 Mk2 is comparable to DX100 in Technicalities? That’s very surprising considering how small AK100 Mk2 is. What about the power? I assume that’s the only difference between the two, being that DX100 can drive full sized can, AK100 Mk2 is suited for IEMs and earbuds?

            • Reply January 15, 2014

              Mike

              The AK100 can drive a headphone just fine but not like the DX100’s built in amp, obviously.
              I never considered the DX100 to be a technicalities giant.. it just had a strong initial hype, being a serious DAC from Ibasso and all.

  • Reply February 16, 2014

    George

    Hello, Mike. I’ve purchased AK 120 recently. And I’m planning to buy a new headphone. I have searched only Korean websites, especially a website community for AK users. From there, most recommended ‘portable’ headphones were Beyerdynamic T5P and Ultrasone Edition 8. So I almost made my mind to purchase one of them. And I’ve searched some non Korean reviews. And I found Headfonia!! So many good reviews for many products. Thank you for all those reviews! And I read some of your headphone reviews, and I found that you are not a big fan of Beyerdynamic. :O

    My question is 1) what made you being not a fan of Beyerdynamic

    2)I want to feel like I am in a live concert. Which one would you recommend? How do you compare their thech? (S logic vs Telsa)

    3)I don’t know if you are aware of Whiplash Audio. They are selling ‘recabled T5P with TWag v2 and TWcu 26.’ for $1,750. It’s like $350 more than regular T5P. Is this ‘recabling’ worth the cost?

    4)My budget for my new headphone is about $2,000. And I’m gonna use the headphone w/o any amplifier, and I’m gonna use it for indoor 65%, outdoor 35%, so it should be closed back one. Do you have any other recommendation for me? other than T5P and Edition 8? or are they the right choice for me? like most people from the AK usere community said so?

    Sorry for many questions. I had so many questions, but there wasn’t anyone/place to ask. 🙁

    • Reply February 16, 2014

      dalethorn

      (Just adding a couple comments myself – hopefully someone else will make a suggestion) — You definitely don’t wan’t a bright headphone for your music, i.e. Ed8 Ultrasone. The T5p isn’t bright but most of those Beyers I’ve had always need EQ for one thing or other – especially the pricy Beyers like T5p. The recabling will not help unless the sound is very close to what you want with the stock cable. With your budget and music preference, a planar might be a good idea.

      • Reply February 17, 2014

        George

        What is ‘a planar’? I tried to search it, but I couldn’t find specific one. Can you give me the specific name? Thank you for reply. 🙂

        • Reply February 17, 2014

          dalethorn

          Audeze LCD2 or 3, HiFiMan HE400, 500 etc., Oppo PM-1, Fostex TH900, 600.

        • Reply February 17, 2014

          L.

          Orthodynamic Headphones aka Planar Technology

    • Reply February 17, 2014

      Mike

      Beyer T5p and Ultrasone Ed8 are nice headphones but they are bright if you listen to Pop, Jpop, Kpop, Rock, Techno.
      Like what dale said, look at the planar headphones. You’re going to need an amp to power the planers though.

  • Reply June 8, 2014

    Sudip Gadwal

    thanks for this wonderful and gorgeous website mike..i m a new enthusiast to the audiophile world slowly building up my set up and the latest addition to this is sennheiser hd 600..i have to say i have never enjoyed reading reviews of gears as much as in your website and oh the pictures are gorgeous and just easily the best reason to take a look ..kindly advise me a good amp dac combo for the hd 600s all i have is fiio e12,fiio x3,audinst mini and objective o2..allthough i tried different combos the o2 audinst works best and im still quite not satisfied with the level of driving power ..i feel there s something lacking and my hd 600s are not being really pushed to their limits is my feeling..under 500 dollars…thanks and you guys are doing fabulous job…keep it up..

    • Reply June 8, 2014

      L.

      Crack + dacport lx. Done. And thanks

      • Reply June 8, 2014

        Sudip Gadwal

        thank you for the quick reply..what dac chip does the dac port use ..is it significantly better than my audinst which uses pcm t1792a and my fiio x3 …also please give your opinion about matrix m stage with dac 1793 chip inegrated..and does it pair well with hd 600s since they are considered clones of lehmann cube and are hd 800 budget matching solution…thanks..

        • Reply June 9, 2014

          L.

          Google can help you with the dac chip. I would say it is bettee indeed

  • Reply June 8, 2014

    Sudip Gadwal

    sorry to go off topic..

  • Reply June 8, 2014

    Shuner Yao

    hello mike. what kind of source i should use? I listen to classic, and choir songs more often.

    • Reply June 9, 2014

      L.

      I will need more info than this. Budhet. Actual gear. Headphones. Etc.

      • Reply June 10, 2014

        Shuner Yao

        well, i use LCD-3, i can spend like 500-700 dollars for source. I’ve already have i-Pod, but it doesn’t up to my satisfactory level. And i am plan to purchase Rx Mk3-B+ as AMP and JDS as DAC. How about that?

  • Reply November 11, 2014

    Shuner Yao

    well, i use LCD-3, i can spend like 500-700 dollars for source. I’ve already have i-Pod, but it doesn’t up to my satisfactory level. How about Rx Mk3-B?

    • Reply November 11, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      The perfect solution would be to add a Cypherlabs CLAS -DB/R and MK3B or Duet amp in between.

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