Astell&Kern sent us samples of both the AK120II and AK240. The new 100II will be sent later as they didn’t have any samples available at this time.
Looks & Build quality
I usually don’t like the design of most DAPs on the market but that is personal. Same goes for the Astell&Kern AK120II and AK240: you either like them or you don’t. After a few glances at online pictures I decided that I didn’t like the 240’s design. Once it arrived, however, it quickly grew on me. It looks so much better in real life than it does in pictures. The 120II looks completely different but personally it is the one I think looks the best. I have to admit though the 240 is a bit easier to use as the volume button is closer to the screen and more “in reach”.
Both devices have a build quality like no other DAP I have ever seen before. The 120II is made out of aluminum and the 240 out of Aircraft Grade Duralumin. AK’s build quality should be the reference for all other companies out there. The 120II measures 2.16 ”(55 mm) [W] x 4.64 ”(118 mm) [H] x 0.58 ”(14.9 mm) [D] and weighs 6.24 oz or 177g. The AK240 is 2.59 ”(66 mm) [W] x 4.21 ”(107 mm) [H] x 0.68 ”(17.5 mm) [D] and weighs 6.5 oz or 185g. So basically the 240 is a bit wider and the 120II is the taller one. For pocket use, I found the 240 the easiest to carry around.
Lay-out wise both players are pretty much the same: On top you find the 3.5mm headphone out (which also is the optical out) next to the 2.5mm balanced out and the power button. I’m still not sure why they decided on using a 2.5mm plug for the balanced out. On the left hand side you find the play/pause and skip buttons, and the SD slot. Volume dial is on the top right side and is better protected on the 240 but both are easy to use. The 240 volume dial is smoothest to turn. You feel the steps/mechanical clicks more on the 120II.
Both players feature an awesome 3.31 inch AMOLED screen that is approximately 82% larger than the screen used in the first-generation original AK120. And screen quality is excellent. It should be the reference for all other makers to live up to. Both are fully touchable, as a course.
Not a lot is known of what’s inside of both players beside that they are both using a double Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC chip on both. The big difference is the AK240 does Native DSD using the XMOS processor and the AK120II decodes DSD over PCM. All the tech specs of both units can be checked here. As you can see there is no specific difference between both the AK120II and the 240 besides the use of the XMOS chip for DSD and the USB DAC. There are a number of differences with the AK100II which will be reviewed later on.
Another “internal” difference is that the AK240 can take external memory up to 256GB while the AK120II can “only” take 128GB. That gives you a total of 256GB of storage for the AK120II and 384GB for the AK240.
Both players are equipped with Wifi and Bluetooth. Wifi is used for updating the firmware and for streaming music directly from your server (in case the internal memory isn’t enough. Check http://www.qobuz.com/uploads/cms/files/presse/20140507_CP_AK_Qobuz_EN.pdf). Bluetooth functionality allows connecting wireless headphones directly to the player. Both players can also be used as external USB DACs after installing a driver on your pc. While this is a great extra I didn’t find myself using this feature after I quickly A/B tested them vs. the Resonessence Herus and found the Herus DAC to suit me better in combination with my desktop amp. All my desktop setups at work and at home have dedicated DACs. While traveling light with my laptop, I can see using either the AK240 or the AK120II as a USB DAC. However my preference in a transportable DAC, is for the Herus.
On the other hand I have used the Line Out of both players. Just select LO, single click to set the volume to MAX and connect your device to an external amplifier/Minidisc. (Unfortunately I couldn’t try the optical out to my MD as the cable has gone missing.) I especially used the LO when I was using the harder to drive headphones like the HE-500/560 and LCD-2 but more on that later.
Before getting to the very important sound part I do want to talk a bit about battery run-time. As most of you know I often end up using Cypher Labs products for my personal entertainment. CL products are known for excellent battery life; the Theorem even charges your iDevice. It will easily get over 15 hours of use. Both the AK240 and AK120II use the same 3,250mAh 3.7V Li-Polymer Battery and neither get anywhere close to the battery run-time I am used to. When playing high resolution audio you will be very lucky to get to 10h of usage, I haven’t really measured the lifetime exactly but neither of the devices manages to complete my weekly 10 hours of traveling to and from work. They both also do get warmer than any other of my portable players. The AK240 especially gets warm when charging.
More on the next page