Mezzo Hifi MS-AK100 And MS-AK120 – Perfect Nipples

Features

One of the best features of the MS-AK mods is the removal of the software-tied volume pot, which ridiculously calls to action the touch screen. MS-AK mods add hard stops to both minimum and maximum volume settings. No more interference from the touchscreen. A simple eyeballing of the nipple on the  volume pot will show you where on an analogue scale the volume is set.

Inexplicably, the original AK100 and AK120 have nipples, but lack hard stops.

Useless nipples?

What in the hell were iRiver thinking? Visual cues overriding blind interfaces is poor programming/engineering. If you’re a user of the original AK100 and AK120, you’ve probably accidentally blasted your poor ears whilst plumbing your album queue for John Denver after barely tapping the bloody volume pot. The MS-AK mods do away with that.

Second, both mods add balanced output. These are line outs, not headphone outs, so it is necessary to own a balanced amp to enjoy the upgrade. Third, at a 100% turn of the volume pot, signal amplification is removed, giving a pretty damn accurate rendering of line-level output.

In effect, Mezzo Hifi’s modifications remove much of what made the AK series a joke. They add what I feel are the bare necessities of a high-end portable audiophile device: noiseless outputs, and high current to low-Ω loads. To that, they add balanced output and remove the ridiculousness of blind interface volume calls.

Meh

If you bought the AK100 or AK120 because of its decent battery life, you may be miffed. MS-AK mods do a hell of a lot of good. But the do so at the expense of battery life. The prototypes got by with like 10 hours of battery life. Production units manage 12 to 16 hours- John Denver dependent.

And if you’re a frequent pocketer, you may nudge the volume control up or down. Gone is the software volume lock. I’ve had very little problem with that, but then I’m just one dude with a very small selection of jeans. Beware: when you adjust the volume, voltage increases after a small delay. If you nudge the pot up, it won’t be too loud for about a second or so. Then, WHAMMO! Ditto when you nudge it down.

The short: be careful. Jus like when you pocketed your iPod/iBasso amp you had to be careful with the analogue volume pot, you will have to be careful now. Of course, the sound is now much better than it was then. We have come full circle.

Ironically, that circle is complete with iRiver’s first, and now abandoned, AK device.

Conclusion

Sean Chan’s brown paper bag changed my life. I had accepted that so-called audiophile devices to be riddled with problems, and therefore, to be skipped as rubbish extravagance. Mezzo Hifi’s MS-AK upgrades do away with some of the worst interface design this side of auto-squirting bidet, and produce sound quality that no portable amp, and no portable DAC at any price can come close to approaching. They add functionality, and do so in a tight and orderly package.

Well done.

3.7/5 - (3 votes)

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

35 Comments

  • Reply November 14, 2014

    dalethorn

    Wow!

  • Reply November 14, 2014

    l3A7VA7VA

    I was offered a lend of an early prototype after the Tokyo Show to try out, but i was too busy to do it justice and pointed the way to other Tokyo head-fiers. I have regrets….. 🙂

    • Reply November 14, 2014

      ohm image

      Really this thing is awesome. I didn’t expect much at all. Considering I’m not a fan of the AK100 or AK120, my surprise, and later, praise, for the MSA mods is big.

  • Reply November 15, 2014

    Ronen Weiss

    intrested to know how do these two compaire to the dx90 you recently reviewed?

    • Reply November 15, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      I reviewed them, not Nathan. But he does have or knows the DX90 so he should be able to reply

      • Reply November 19, 2014

        ohm image

        I own both. Both are awesome, but the MSAK100 is the more impressive sounding device. That said, stock, the AK100 is poor by comparison to the DX90.

    • Reply November 15, 2014

      digitldlnkwnt

      +1 – especially given the significantly higher price of admission.

    • Reply November 16, 2014

      ohm image

      The MSAK100 and 120 both have LESS background noise even than the DX90, both have balanced 3,5 TRRS outputs, and longer battery life. You cannot rockbox the MSAK100 or 120, but apart from that, there is no real competition. THat said, the MSAK100 is the better performing part for low-Ω / high-current earphones than the MSAK120.

      I have never, ever, been as impressed by a portable DAP or MD, or anything – soundwise. The problems inherent with iRiver’s navigation, etc., can’t be fixed, but soundwise, there is no equal.

      • Reply November 16, 2014

        gagetbOy

        how does the msak100 line out compare to the dx90 line out sonically?

        • Reply November 17, 2014

          ohm image

          Both are excellent. The LO on the MSAK100 has the low-pass filter, but apart from that, there’s nothing between them.

          The balanced output on the MSAK100 of course is something which only the MSAK mod has.

      • Reply November 17, 2014

        Marc

        Damn… maybe I should have waited a couple more weeks before buying my DX90… not that I regret my DX90 though. Far from it.

        • Reply November 17, 2014

          ohm image

          Like I said, stock, the DX90 is unrivalled. Between them, the differences I expound upon are, when enjoyed back to back, minimal. But if you listen FOR something, say, like hiss, you will notice the difference.

          I’m the dude known to headfi as “the hiss king”. I hate it. And I do what I can to eliminate it. Until the Mezzo mod, the DX90 was about as good as I’d heard.

          • Reply November 18, 2014

            Marc

            I wasn’t expecting it to sell in my country but it appeared less than two weeks after my DX90 purchase. Part of the appeal was due to the balanced line-out as I have a CL Duet. Then again, I bought the DX90 so I wouldn’t have to lug around a separate amplifier when going portable.

            I’ve asked before on the HP-V1 review if you’ve gotten the chance to compare the HP-V1 with the A2P TUR-06 but haven’t gotten a reply. I’m assuming you haven’t seen it? Although not the place for it, may I ask for a comparison in terms of bass quantity, level of warmth, and soundstage? Thanks oh and I love the podcasts. They’re quite… comical.

            • Reply November 18, 2014

              ohm image

              Hello Marc, I may not have gotten back to you, or I may have, but indirectly. Either way, I’m sorry. I do not own the HP-V1. It was loaned to me for 2 or 3 weeks. I can no longer compare it to anything. It was awesome though.

  • Reply November 16, 2014

    SallyMaeSusan

    Er…why couldn’t iRiver have done all that in the first place? They make enough noise about their players.

    • Reply November 17, 2014

      ohm image

      Noise is one of the major things the Mezzo Hifi mods fixes. RWA’s modification fixes the impedance problem of the AK series. The Mezzo adds bells and whistles that audiophiles really dig.

      It is a serious hardware mod, so not something iRiver would have done. That said, at its current used prices (in Japan), it would have been awesome had iRiver done it right in the first place.

      My players were got for 350$ and less. Today, you can sometimes find them for 250$ here.

  • Reply November 18, 2014

    Michael Amouyal

    So how do they perform vs. AK240 and 901?

    • Reply November 19, 2014

      ohm image

      Lower noise than the AK240, and by the numbers, better all-around performance. Ditto the 901, but a somewhat similar high frequency roll off. Not as aggressive, though. Imagine the HM901 with a perfectly performing output but with the same great signature. Then make it smaller, with better battery life.

      This mod isn’t as powerful but it makes the AK100 by far, the most impressive portable hi-end DAP out there. It is worth the 1000$ or so investment.

  • Reply November 19, 2014

    Randy

    does the MSAK100 still have the high output impedance that the original AK100 has? (just wondering in relation to lower impedance CIEMs – Thanks

    • Reply November 20, 2014

      ohm image

      No, it does not. It spits a lot of current into low Ω loads, and is able to sustain incredible signal quality even with the hardest to drive low-Ω earphones. Excellent. No noise. Perfection.

  • Reply November 23, 2014

    Calvin Xin Ci

    I was looking to get the DX90 soon and this came up. Nathan oh Nathan, such poison. My wallet is dying..

    • Reply November 25, 2014

      ohm image

      It’s very very hard to keep up, but I suggest this: decide what you NEED. Decide what you want. SQ is great on both units, though I argue very strongly that it is better on the MSAK100 than the DX90.

      That said, the differences are probably not as large to the ear as they are to the reviewer and the benchmarks. I favour size over everything. Then good interfaces and format support. Next up is battery life. Finally, the other stuff.

      And the MSAK100 delivers on ALL fronts. It’s noiseless output is a dream. Once you experience it… trust me, there is no going back.

      • Reply November 26, 2014

        Calvin Xin Ci

        Now there is a product that came to play, the Glove Audio A1. Seems to have very good reviews. I’m planning to get an used AK120 from Japan, then send to mezzo audio.

        • Reply November 27, 2014

          ohm image

          The AK120 MSA mod isn’t as good. The AK100 has better all-around performance. But if you prefer the sound style of the AK120, it may be a better investment.

          Also, the MSAK100 gets its DAC replaced with the one (just not dual) in the AK120.

  • Reply November 27, 2014

    Patrick

    Nice review Nathan, especially the pockets for the dacs are lovely, would definitely get one if you can share the info 🙂 Greetz P.

    • Reply December 11, 2014

      ohm image

      The pockets come with the modifications.

      • Reply December 11, 2014

        Patrick

        Sadly to hear, the spread a nice atmosphere, probably because of my memories in the alps. Maybe I will sew a pair, shouldn’t be that difficult – I hope.

  • Reply December 26, 2014

    Nick P

    Hey Nathan – I have the AK100mk2 and have a chance to upgrade to either the MS-AK100 or MS-AK120. Can you confirm that the MS-AK100 actually sounds better than the MS-AK120? I was wondering whether the MS-AK120 is better overall but there is a bigger improvement in SQ between MS-AK100 vs AK100 compared to MS-AK120 vs AK120? Thanks!

    • Reply December 27, 2014

      ohm image

      I prefer the MSAK100 to the MSAK120. That is personal, but measurements bear out that the MSAK100 may perform better. The difference is minimal, but present.

  • Reply May 3, 2015

    whatever

    Hi Nathan,
    after a few months, what is your thought, do the good impressions last? i’m having the chance to get a second hand unit of the msak100, but curious if, unamped, this unit is a long time keeper or if it dies of AK’s in my opinion horribly slow interface screen…
    thx for any opinion

    • Reply August 4, 2015

      ohm image

      Hello whatever. I’m sorry I’m late.

      The unit I originally tried performed wildly better than the unit Mezzo later modified for me. I hope it was an anomaly. If not, I will have to update this review with serious provisos.

      • Reply August 9, 2015

        Shoghi Sadeghi Afshar

        hope you give us an update soon, I nearly went and bought a AK100 for this mod.

  • Reply January 2, 2016

    Lee ZH Edgar

    Hi Nathan,

    Could you comment on the improvements between the MS-AK120/MS-AK100 and their stock versions when using the line out to a portable amp?

    Thanks!

    • Reply May 15, 2016

      ohm image

      They measure better. There is some voltage instability, but it is inaudible.

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