Chapter 5: Audiophile DAPs: Astell & Kern, Hifiman, and Fiio
There were an abundance of Audiophile DAPs as Astell & Kern had their AK120, extremely expensive, dual-Wolfson player, Hifiman with their long awaited HM-901 and Fiio with the X3. Let me start with the player with the biggest hype.
Astell & Kern AK120
I was surprised to find that Astell & Kern is already out with their 2nd product. Though AK100s are selling like hotcakes on the Headfonia Store, I am still largely unimpressed and never really was impressed with the Wolfson based player.
I compared the AK120 to the AK100 and the Altmann Tera and thought that while slightly better than the AK100 (similar sound signature, smoother treble and bass extension, slightly more spacious and more open), it still can’t touch the Altmann’s much superior soundstage depth, black background, and overall a much more analog sound from the Altmann. Apparently the impressions of folks back home (someone has already gotten an AK120 from Hong Kong) rhymes with my impressions from Japan. The price for the AK120 is going to be extremely expensive, easily upwards of $1,000 and maybe even up to $1,500. Incremental upgrades for double the price, I think this is exactly like the case of the LCD-2 and the LCD-3.
The Hifiman HM-901, sadly now based on the Sabre chips instead of the legendary PCM-1704 (HM-801), takes on a more mainstream oriented sound, somewhat a more Ibasso DX100 like but with more warmth, midrange and bass body. The sound is more forward, faster paced and punchier than the laidback and spacious tuning of the HM-801. I like the build and the design, but sound quality wise the only thing I can say is that Hifiman is clearly going after the mainstream market with a tuning geared more to make mainstream recordings sound good. For audiophile class Chesky/Stockfish recordings and classical recordings, the HM-801 should easily be the better player.
Somehow with the presence of the AK120, I felt that it’ll be tough for a big sized player as the HM-901 to gain market share. It would’ve been a perfect product had they launched it last year, but perhaps they’ve waited a little too long and now the Korean AK120 seems to be the player everyone is talking about (at least here in Indonesia). Also with the abundance of i-Devices DACs, the competition is extremely tough for the Hifiman. Although I liked the warmer sound of the HM-901 better than the AK120’s flatter sound, I can’t really say that the Hifiman is technically superior than the AK120. It did have a monstrous power output that’s capable of driving the HE-6, but I think a true pocketable size is what people are really looking for in a portable device.
All these high end players and instead I keep on thinking about the Fiio X3 after the festival was over. It’s a great little device that should be a very popular player in the lower price range that it’s playing at. It’s relatively small, about Fiio E07K/E17 size, and while the UI was a bit laggy when I tried it, I extremely enjoyed the sound out of it. It’s very close to the sound of the E07K which is the latest DAC from Fiio. Smooth dark tonality with a clean black background, good instrument separation and overall unoffensive treble and good bass. It doesn’t try too hard to sound impressive with technicalities, but it has just enough to tackle the majority of recordings out there. The result is an enjoyable clean laid back sound with a semi-dark tonality and good bass. While it doesn’t have the technicalities to challenge the AK100-120 and everything else that’s priced above its price, what’s important is that like the budget-minded E07K, I find Fiio’s tuning in the X3 to be extremely enjoyable just like its USB DACs.
Continue to the next page: Luxman, Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic Amplifiers…