Red Wine Audio RWAK100 – Ampless

Which earphones/headphones?

Personally, I’m dazzled by the combination of semi-aggressive sounding phones and the RWAK100. Grado’s GR10 is my favorite weapon to sling by the RWAK100’s side. My next favorite is the Vision Ears VE6 XControl. And my favorite music? How about Bexametric’s Pressure LP, Kraftwerk’s Computerwelt, or maybe Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman. Basically, all the bass attack missing from both MKI and MKII versions of the AK100 is there replete with the psychedelic stereo image necessary to open up your mind, man.

What about amping?

If I did a poor job above, let me explain it here: if your main earphones and headphones are current-hungry portable affairs, there is little chance you’ll ever need an amp. The RWAK100 is more than enough. All but the best headphone amps will fail to match its output quality.

If your main headphones are Beyerdynamic DT880/600s, T1s, or Sennheier HD800s, the RWAK100 will do nothing to help you better enjoy your music. Those phones simply don’t benefit from lower output impedance and more current. And the RWAK100 supplies the same voltage to its output that it did before surgery. So it won’t crank your phones to crazy levels.

For my uses, it is more than enough.

This mod is suited to any earphone/portable headphone out there. And other than a bit of background noise (which is iRiver’s, not Red Wine’s fault) the RWAK100 is at least as capable as the iBasso DX90. Of course, it’s got way better battery life, does the optical/USB DAC thing, is smaller, and somewhat more stable.

Features

Other than making your AK100 perform better for headphones and earphones with low and mid resistance ratings, Vinnies mod does nothing special to your AK100. Want special? Get Vinnies AK100s mod, or dig in for the MSAK100. That means that battery life is as good as ever.

And that’s the RWAK100: Sound that lets the AK100 sing: better, clearer, fuller, more resolved.

Meh

The MSAK100, which runs in software mode, removes all line noise. The RWAK100 does nothing of the sort. The good news is that the AK100 isn’t crazily strapped with hiss. But it is noticeable from high-end earphones like the Noble Audio K10, the FitEar MH335DW, Vision Ears VE6, and the Grado GR10.

Conclusion

The AK100 is the iPod Video of its day: it is an easy-to-use platform with good format support, a decent interface, and it is stable. Like the iPod Video, its output is strapped to a bit of downstream junk. RWAK100 removes the shackles and sets the AK100 free. 250$ may seem like a lot, but considering that you won’t need a headphone amp, it’s 250$ well spent.

My only gripe is this: had I realized how badly the AK100 needed modification, I would have opted for the RWAK100 straightaway. If you know someone in trend-crazy Japan who can get a hold of a cheap AK100, definitely grab it. Send it to Vinnie. It will sound like heaven. If you’ve got one already and you don’t know what to do with it: mod it. Modded, it is a device worthy of your time and my full recommendation.

Well done.

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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.

19 Comments

  • Reply November 25, 2014

    brcmrgn

    I also have two of the AK100. One modified by Vinnie and the other stock. The RWAK100 is used standalone and the stock one is used with a Vorzuge Pure II. Love the form factor of the AK100 and the two MicroSDXC slots. I use the RWAK100 as much as my AK120 II and AK240.

    • Reply November 25, 2014

      ohm image

      Yes, the AK100 has a GREAT format. I hope that it isn’t forgotten as DAPs get ridiculously large.

      • Reply May 12, 2015

        basa71

        How would you compare the rwak100 to the stock ak120? these are the two I’m interested in to buy as my first DAP’s also thinking about the DX90 with the rockbox mod, but the AK’s would have my preference. thanks!

    • Reply November 26, 2014

      BlurRhino

      If I may ask how’s the sound between rwak100 and stock with vorzuge pure II?

      • Reply November 26, 2014

        brcmrgn

        Haven’t done any head-to-head comparison yet. I use the RWAK with IEMs and the AK100/Pure II stack with headphones (up to 600 Ohms).

      • Reply November 3, 2015

        ohm image

        Late, sorry: If you’re using an outboard amplifier the sound should be exactly the same. The modification really only affects the AK100’s ability to sustain signal under load (earphones directly plugged into its headphone output).

  • Reply November 26, 2014

    sindri1980

    Hi there,

    To use with a K10, which AK100 mod do you like better, the RWA or the MS?

    Thanks!

    • Reply November 27, 2014

      ohm image

      It all comes down to this: background hiss. The K10 is very sensitive, but not overly high-peaked, so it can withstand a bit of hiss. If you have to have absolutely black backgrounds, the only DAP on the market that does it is the MSAK100. If you want the best quality sound, the RWAK100 is phenomenal and lacks the hardware filters that change the sound as in the MSAK100.

      I’m torn. For 250$, the RWAK100 is a steal. Add 500-600$ and you can have the MSAK100, which is also phenomenal, but if you don’t want the balanced output, and if you aren’t bothered by the hiss, the RWAK100 is _the_ choice.

      I’d plug your K10 into a stock AK100 to see if you can deal with the hiss. If you can, then RWAK100 is the most economical choice. It is also a great performer.

      • Reply November 27, 2014

        sindri1980

        Mmm, so you think that the best sound quality comes from the rwak100 but with some hiss?
        Last question: have you tried the AK100II by any chance? If so, how does it compare to the ak100 mods?

        Thanks a lot for your help!

        • Reply November 27, 2014

          ohm image

          I wasn’t clear, sorry. _Both_ the RWAK100 and the MSAK100 provide excellent sound. The MSAK100 is overall better (less hiss), but has a hardware filter that rolls off the highs. If that is your thing, it is the best. If you like the stock AK100 sound unloaded, the RWAK100 is the better option, but the AK100 still will hiss.

          I’ve tried the AK100II briefly but under meet conditions. It seems a very nice device, but it is double the size, and more expensive. And, its output can’t hold a candle to the MSAK100 and is not clearly superior in anything other than processing power, to the AK100.

          If you are going to spend a bit more than 1000$, the MSAK100 is it. If you want to spend less and get tip top performance and SQ, whilst saving a lot of money for things that really matter (earphones or headphones), the RWAK100 is your best bet.

          • Reply November 27, 2014

            sindri1980

            Got it!

            Thanks

  • Reply December 11, 2014

    lorem3k

    Hi Nathan,

    I’m in the market for a new DAP and I’m trying to decide between the RWAK100 and the DX90. I would mainly be using them with a pair of SD-2s, which are fairly sensitive. Do you think you could offer a more detailed comparison between the sound of the two units?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Reply December 18, 2014

      ohm image

      I’ll try to answer this in a follow up to this review. I’m sorry this is late. I hope you can wait just a bit longer. Personally, size always trumps overall feature lists for me, but the RWAK100 is every bit as feature complete as is the DX90.

      • Reply December 19, 2014

        lorem3k

        Hi Nathan,

        I decided to pull the trigger on the DX90 because most of the reviews I could find say that the A&K player has a warmer tonality and I would rather have a more neutral sound like the DX90’s. Still look forward to hearing your thoughts though.

        • Reply August 4, 2015

          ohm image

          Late as usual: yes, the DX90 is more neutral than the AK100. If that is what you value, hit it up (I assume you already did). If a bit of warmth is your thing, a modded AK100 is great.

  • Reply February 6, 2015

    MagicGuy

    Hi Nathan,

    In fact, i’m a little lost…

    I read in July 2013 on this website (Mike) :
    AK100 Mk2
    Aside from some funky Svarovsky edition AK120 and different colored
    AK100s, they also had the AK100Mk2 with the 1 ohm output impedance. BIG
    sound improvements. Very clear, improved bass clarity, lower bass
    extension. I think it’s even better than the modded AK100s I’ve heard.

    I read your two articles about mods on AK100…
    And you find them better than AK100 mk2.
    Is that correct ?

    Obviously, you don’t agree with Mike…

    So… After reading everything, i feel… lost… 🙂

    Have you ever talk about this with Mike ?

    Thank you,
    Guy.

    • Reply March 23, 2015

      ohm image

      I’m very late, sorry.

      The MSAK100 uses a different DAC, is completely noiseless, and has balanced output. Mike hasn’t tried it. As for the MK2, it has 3Ω, not 1Ω output. Red Wine Audio’s mod is higher spec than the MK2, especially for earphone usage.

      It is brilliant. I have not chatted with Mike about it.

  • Reply December 11, 2016

    Alex Alanis

    Hi, if you had to choose between making the mod or getting a Plenue D?

    Which option you’ll choose?

    Thanks

    • Reply January 17, 2017

      ohm image

      Well, the Plenue D is cheaper. And it sounds good. The mod measures better, but hisses more. If you’re going to use outbound amps, the RWA mod is far better. Trade offs.

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