Astell&Kern AK120II & AK240: Reference DAPs

Disclaimer

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.

The Internals

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

Astell&Kern AK120II & AK240: Reference DAPs
4.1 (82.96%) 27 votes

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Lieven is living in Europe and he’s the leader of the gang. Coming from a musical family he’s always been interested in good sound. Unlike his family members the only musical instruments he plays are amps and DACs. He loves playing with old tubes and discovering new products while staying faithful to the good old Sennheiser HD650.

52 Comments

  • Reply July 10, 2014

    dalethorn

    Are the 10 EQ bands/frequencies fixed or user-defined? Is there a graph on-screen that shows the result curve as you change the settings?

    • Reply July 10, 2014

      L.

      • Reply July 10, 2014

        dalethorn

        The photo doesn’t tell anything, but I read this on AK’s site:

        “A more accurate EQ setting is featured by doubling the bands from 5 to 10 and halving the dB steps from 1dB to 0.5dB. With the user EQ settings, you can make custom EQ settings to fit each music genre and change them when desired.”

        So you can make your own and possibly save it (back it up? – don’t say), but the bands must be fixed as they don’t indicate otherwise.

        • Reply July 11, 2014

          ohm image

          I wish they labelled them, but if impatient, you could just play a flat tone and boost each to measure to see exactly how much is boosted per channel and where on the frequency spectrum the movements occur.

          • Reply July 11, 2014

            dalethorn

            I’ve sort-of discovered a much better way to equalize a headphone. One example (and there are various ways to do this) is to listen to a series of test tones, say, 1, 1.5, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 khz, about 2 seconds each played in sequence, then write down your impressions of how they compare in volume to each other. Now go into the equalizer with the result graph and move the sliders until you see a result curve that approximates the inverse of the relative volumes of those test tones. You have to remember that changing one slider affects (or should!) the settings of the adjacent sliders, so a bit of back-and-forth should get you close. The main thing is to try to even out the largest variances in the different frequencies, since those variances are big soundstage killers.

            • Reply July 11, 2014

              ohm image

              Sounds good. I will try this out. I tend to, like Lieven, not work with EQs very often.

              • Reply July 11, 2014

                dalethorn

                I would prefer to never have to myself. But if I do, the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) visual method is a big time-saver.

    • Reply July 10, 2014

      warrenpchi

      No, the bands are fixed and as follows: 30Hz, 60Hz, 120Hz, 250Hz, 500Hz, 1kHz, 2kHz, 4kHz, 8kHz, 16kHz. Yes, there is an on-screen display of the curve you are drawing that appears as you’re drawing it.

      • Reply July 10, 2014

        L.

        Thanks for posting here Warren. Hope you can agree with the review 😉
        Look forward to your review!

        • Reply September 14, 2014

          warrenpchi

          Thanks Lieven! Yeah, I think you and I are hearing the same things. My impressions haven’t changed much since T.H.E. Show, so now it’s just a matter of formalizing them in print. 🙂

      • Reply July 10, 2014

        dalethorn

        10 fixed bands are better than nothing, so that’s good. Now if the settings can be backed up and reloaded that will be so much better. There are interesting things happening in this business – the efficient K812 for example. That and a AK120 would make a nice mobile system for quiet listening locations.

        • Reply September 14, 2014

          warrenpchi

          Agreed. 🙂

      • Reply September 12, 2014

        Eric Thompson

        Way better than the old 5 band

  • Reply July 10, 2014

    George Lai

    I’ll need to give up caviar for breakfast to afford these.

    • Reply July 11, 2014

      ohm image

      Where there is a will, there is a way.

  • Reply July 18, 2014

    Jeff

    I’m saving up for the AK240 to replace my pewny DX50 atm and I’m a little scared to hear about the headphone output noise. Well, I guess the solution is to get the DX90 as well? or is it? Obviously this isn’t going to out-play my desktop set-up so I haven’t got too much to worry about I reckon.

    • Reply July 20, 2014

      L.

      Getting the DX90 soon!

      • Reply July 20, 2014

        Jeff

        Cheers! I hope iBasso releases a super software that will make my DX50 outperform everything lol.

        • Reply July 20, 2014

          L.

          I doubt it 🙂

    • Reply September 25, 2014

      willy vlyminck

      On the price/quality related issue the DX-90 might be the best DAP avaiable for the moment, the only negative point is, at least for me; you can´t stream with it. Both AK topmodels can but at a price 4-6 times the DX-90, Maybe a DX-95 bring the solution? 🙂

      • Reply September 25, 2014

        Headfonia_L.

        I don’t think most DAP companies consider streaming a priority

        • Reply September 25, 2014

          willy vlyminck

          Not yet, but companies like Wimp and Qobuz offer HiFi sound, and no doubt others will follow, so it will be only a matter of time, as the streaming market is constantly growing, if however companioes like A&K ,FiiO, and iBasso are happy to operate in the marge you could be right, but I am optimistic 🙂

          • Reply September 25, 2014

            dalethorn

            Streaming on my DAP? What’s going to be next, a front-facing camera? Sorry to sound cynical, but streaming might make sense for a DAP if it has the facility to capture a bit-perfect lossless file for repeated playback.

            • Reply September 25, 2014

              willy vlyminck

              Streaming will be the future if you like it or not . Wimp and Qobuz prove that good sound is possible. I use my iPod touch strictly for music in order not to waste any memory and no, i don’t use the camera either

              • Reply September 25, 2014

                dalethorn

                When I loaded the Beats music app, it asked me to name my favorite genres, and once I did that it then asked me to pick artists from a list in all of my chosen genres, and each time it asked I found a few, then it kept asking until I filled a page of maybe 50 or so.

                When I was done, it then offered streaming based on the information it had about me, so I could pick a song and listen and decide if I liked it or not. So the long story short – the Beats app had an algorithm that found more of what I like than any other service. And most of that was not urban music, which most people associate with Beats.

                So the way I see it, most streaming I’ve tried is for casual listening while reading or surfing etc. – i.e. ‘background’ music listening, while the difference with the Beats service was research – each tune I found that I liked, I would then go to Amazon or iTunes and listen to that tune and others by that artist, then possibly download it or even buy the CD – then rip the CD to FLAC and save on my music player.

                Anyway, I don’t buy a DAP for background music, nor do I want to keep paying to stream the same composition several times so I can compare it to other things. My main focus is on my permanent high-res music collection, and streaming is just a way to help add more goodies to that collection.

                If DAP mfrs. (besides iPhones etc.) want to add streaming, then they’ll no doubt want to add the other features that the iPhone has, like Internet and camera and so on, since streaming requires the Internet connection anyway. Then the DAP is just another iPod Touch without the phone.

                • Reply September 25, 2014

                  dalethorn

                  BTW, when you pay for streaming, you pay 2 bills – one to the streaming service and one to the cellphone service provider. A few people may stream over free wifi, but most will have to use cellphone service. So I don’t see people buying upscale DAP’s so they can pay money to stream mid-fi sound, when the reason they buy the better quality DAP is to hear high-res sound. But there will be a market for streaming perhaps, for cheaper DAP’s, assuming those users don’t just buy cellphones instead.

                • Reply September 27, 2014

                  willy vlyminck

                  You can not compare Beats with WIMP, the latter have also loads of mainstream music, that is where they live from, but beside that, they are specialized in prog-avant rock like no other streaming providor and this all in true HiFi sound. Unfortunately WIMP is only to have in a few EU countries, but this might change, as they keep investing.

                  • Reply September 27, 2014

                    dalethorn

                    Different people will like different services for their own reasons, which is OK. I only point out that Beats has (or did have before Apple) the best search engine I’ve experienced since the original Napster in 2000-2001. The reason I’m a very fussy customer is because I like most genres, but I pick only about 1 track out of about 50 tracks I listen to, to keep in my collection. So I don’t really care about streaming per se – I just use it to identify new music I want to buy.

  • Reply July 20, 2014

    Ahmad Parapat

    how about the sound and ui if compared to hifiman hm 802 and 901 ?

    • Reply July 20, 2014

      L.

      Couldn’t tell, sorry

    • Reply August 25, 2014

      ohm image

      The 801 and AK240 are rather different. I can’t comment on the AK120ii. The iRiver is cleaner, sounds better extended, and, in both a good and bad way, sounds more _digital_, while the 801 sounds a bit more like a traditional HiFi, waiting for a comfy chair and whisky.

      Which you prefer depends on your listening habits and preferences.

      I prefer AK240.

  • […] You can read the full review here. […]

  • Reply September 12, 2014

    Eric Thompson

    LOL yeah im guna buy a $700 player to listen to it via bluetooth, get outa here

  • Reply September 25, 2014

    willy vlyminck

    The prices for these Daps are ridiculous, so I stick with my Apple Touch 64GB, which allows me to stream Wimp, who offer a soundquality close to High-res recordings, I listened to both, and the High-res have the last word in detail,but at which price? Today the Touch cost only 299 Euro after Aplle did drop the price from 420 Euro, and for what you get, the price/quality is unsurpassed. I know it is a mainstream product from an anti-social company but for people on a budget who wants to stream and enjoy good quality sound, there is no alternative yet.

    • Reply September 25, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      I can only agree. And there’s always Cypherlabs!

      • Reply September 25, 2014

        willy vlyminck

        I use the Beyerdynamic A200p,good on the train, but not practical in pocket of shirt, due to the fact it can´t form a unit with your iPod/ iPhone, but with the IE80 or Grado GR10 the results are more than good enough for the daily bus trip and or walk.But soon we will have headphones with build in Dacs from Philips and Sony, this could be the way to go,looking forward to your reviews of these 🙂

  • […] last DAP review I did was of the top of the line Astel&Kern AK120ii and 240. Together they are worth about forty Fiio X1s. In a market where very expensive gear seems to sell […]

  • Reply November 30, 2014

    Dietmar Gsell

    Read M.Mercer’s article about his A&K,ALO International and LCD2 combo and sold all my desktop gear as I don’t want to be tied up in front to the chair in front of my desktop system.
    Right now I have FiiioX5,ALO International and LCD2F and think about upgrading to the new A&K100 but unsure about the sound improvement.I would use it balanced as well.Do you think it is a path worth pursuing?

    • Reply November 30, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      I do think there will be an improvement over the X5, yes

      • Reply April 26, 2015

        Dimitry Kolbaskin

        absolutely, X5 sounds BAD.

  • […] (1 week old) Selling a 1 week old Astell&Kern AK120 II Product Page // headphone.guru // Headfonia // Head-Fi Thread Purchased date is 27 Dec 2014 with local 1 year warranty by SKM. Protective […]

  • […] – AK120 II Selling a super mint Astell&Kern AK120 II Product Page // headphone.guru // Headfonia // Head-Fi Thread Purchased date is 27 Dec 2014 with local 1 year warranty by SKM. Protective […]

  • Reply May 5, 2015

    Rain

    what the difference in sound between ak100mk2 vs ak100ii or even AK Junior?
    and how about AK120 vs AK120ii?

  • Reply June 14, 2015

    Synyster Jasnizam Paget

    I also interest on Ak120II beside chord hugo cuz this is DAP+amp+Dac..really what i dream off..
    so does this ak120II/AK240 good to drive both beyerdynamic t1 and also audeze LCD XC?thanks again..

    • Reply June 14, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Only when using an external amp. I tend to use the AK120ii + Hugo

      • Reply June 2, 2016

        digitldlnkwnt

        I just picked up the AK240 and i plan on using it with my Violectric v100 and my ZMF’s at the office. Using it now with just the Lyra and no amp and listening to the Cassy side of Cacoon Heros (newer techno/tech house) and the sound is so immersive I can barely type this without drifting away.

  • Reply September 6, 2017

    devilnevacry

    Will I need and amp with the AK120 II if it is used with ATH-MSR7, HE400i and Shure SE535?

    • Reply September 7, 2017

      Lieven

      I wouldn’t say you need one, but you’ll get even better sound from the 400i i example 🙂

  • Reply September 30, 2017

    peter

    So AK240 and AK120 II, which sounds better?

  • Reply November 28, 2017

    Steven Zore

    Let me take a poll: What do people hear think the best player is in terms of price/quality sweet spot?

    If the AK’s are sooo expensive, but sound great, what players sound great and have reasonable price?

    I’ve been researching and the more I research the more confused i get.

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