On paper, the new parametric EQ is great. But thanks to lousy touch-tracking, not to mention an awkward portrait orientation, changing the height or width of frequency points is counter-intuitive. But being able to change both the frequency, and the rise/fall of that frequency is incredibly powerful. I’m hoping A&K fix this in a software update.
Like the 240, the 380’s volume is spread over 151 stops. But because it does away with fractional steps, and is numbered from 0 to 150, rather than 0 to 75, it is immediately easier to suss. This is a good move. And with 150 steps, you don’t have to worry about sudden jumps from one setting to the next like you do with the iPhone. Bravo.
Gapless playback works pretty well. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn close. As long as you have properly encoded files, and have turned the drop-down menu’s greyed-out G black, you can get gapless to work even when file A is lossy and file B is lossless. Outside iOS devices, I’ve not worked with a better system.
Performance and sound
Disclaimer: While I have compiled, edited, re-taken, and averaged hours and hours of hardware tests, I have yet to publish them at ohm-image.net. I intend to do so tomorrow morning, Tokyo time, after which, I will update this paragraph with a link to them. Until then, you will have to take my word metrics such as stereo separation, dynamic range, load effects, etc.
As I type this, the AK380 is massaging my FitEar DW335 at a volume of 70. Remember, I’m a dude that, when reading in his bed, finds a volume setting of 1 through his IEMs and iPhone 4s too loud. Naturally, I’ve set the AK380’s amp to low gain. And, I’m at a Starbucks where white-collar meetings are de rigueur. At a volume of 70, I hear nothing but silly, sexy audiophile jazz. I really want to hear trance, but I know that audiophile buggers want me to talk about jazz. I also know a number of people that would happily step the volume up to 100.
After extensively testing the AK380 via oscillator, and its performance against amateur audio metrics such as RMAA, and square waves, I am ready to lay down the following:
Depending on the load, and volume, the AK380 is either the paramount of portable audio performance, or a merely good quality source. Unloaded, it remains nearly perfectly stable up to a volume of 150, at which AK have set the line output. At 0, it is perfectly silent.
Of course, at 3500$, that should be a given. And, across the industry, hiss has, in largest part, been solved. Neither my iPod nano 7G, nor my iPhone 6 hiss much in comparison to the AK380.
Where the AK380 truly excels is its portrayal of stereo detail and space. Not only does it cast a stereo image that practically wraps around your head, every step outward is accompanied by depth, minute detail, and delicate contrast. It is believable, and reverent. What it isn’t is powerful. Of the AK Jr, I said:
The sound stage Jr throws is wide and tall wall, a wall-of-sound that maximizes surface area in lieu of ploughing deep z-axis fields.
The AK380, in contrast, ploughs deep along the z-axis whilst maintaining stereo width and detail that easily surpasses the Jr. It is buoyed up from the shoulders to about ten centimetres above your head while the third dimension ploughs forward a half metre or so. The entire edifice wraps fairly around your head. Unlike some x-only wide stereo images, the AK380’s doesn’t confuse or disorient. It is filled with enough natural detail to keep you grounded.
It is a more liquidy-sounding player than the AK240 or the Jr, and is certainly more so than the iBasso DX90. Personally, I prefer a drier, more muscly sound; which is why the Jr is my favourite AK DAP. But the word liquid gets thrown around a lot. This DAP isn’t your typical smooth-to-no-end liquid-sounding source. It is never clogged by distortion, or circumcised stereo detail. It is just uber smooth, and lined by loads of micro contrast.
Plan to use the AK380 with an excellent amp. The truth is that most amps will fail to keep up with its output, which even through my amateur setup, nets:
-117,8dB noise level
117,7 dynamic range
0,0005 THD (%)
0,0009 IMD (%)
-117,3dB stereo crosstalk
These numbers are so stunning that I assume my measuring rig, the phenomenal Lynx Studio Technology HILO rig is the bottleneck.
Loaded is a different story.
Of all my headphones, and as is typical to low-current loads, the DT880/600 presents the least load to the AK380. After that, it’s the planar magnetic Oppo PM-2. After that, things fall apart to varying degrees of severity.
Single-ended, the AK380 holds a pretty good to excellent signal even when driving the torturous Earsonics SM2 even at a volume setting of 150. Sure, distortion bumps up to nearly audible levels, and stereo crosstalk jumps to -77dB, but overall, the effect is small. The same earphone balanced is a wreck of THD and IMD distortion that exonerates poorly-designed valve amps. But that’s at the unlistenable volume setting of 150.
Even if it were up to snuff, I have serious doubts that the AK380’s balanced out could sneak one past its prodigious single-ended out. But let’s continue.
When set to typical listening levels (100 and below), the AK380 suddenly tests similarly to an iPhone 4. And that makes sense. Most of what 24-bit audio boasts above 16-bit audio depends on noise contrast and the dynamic range applicable to sustained volume levels of over 110dB at which no one listens.
Which is to say: the AK380 has the ability to perform, but you have to really coax it. It is held back by a poor balanced output the use of which I cannot with good conscience endorse outside of passing signal to outboard amps.
That is to say that when all is well and good, all is well and good. The AK380 can sound like a thousand bucks. But just as easily, it can sound like 500$.
Continue to the next page to read about headphone pairing, DAP comparisons, and more: