Aster&Kern AK120

Astell&Kern AK120

Though this player is getting a little long in the tooth, I believe it is still one of the finest available to date. With the price reductions, the new price performance, and the comparative diminishing return on the higher priced investments, the AK120 is even more compelling now. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of some of the Android devices, but pair it with a good Hi-Res IEM (I use JHAudio Roxanne), or good Hi-Res Headphones (I use Sony MDR-1A…try it before you laugh), and load it with the right Lossless source like; DSD, FLAC, ALAC, etc. and you will be amazed. I own, a couple of Sony Hi-Res Walkmans, a Fiio X5, and I auditioned this unit against AK100, AK100 II, and AK240 – all great units of course. AK120 made AK100 sound underpowered. AK100 II still didn’t sound Twin DAC’ed like AK120 sounds (more on that later), with a sweet separation and width. AK240 wears a little too much makeup for my taste, and though it sounded somewhat more refined, I knew I’m reaching the end of educated hearing capabilities to justify almost four times the price. We all have different hearing capabilities and frequency range abilities, so, you may feel different.

AK120 is a serious piece of very portable audio fidelity Hi-Res player, for those who are serious about their choice of listening. If you are an iPod, MP3, with iTunes, person, you really shouldn’t be playing with these gadgets. It will be a waste of your money. Unless, you are intentionally making the move up.

This is really a medium for listening to tracks with 24-bit/44 to 192kHz details, or what Astell & Kern calls, “Mastering Quality Sound (MQS)”. Improved listening with MP3 is noticeable for sure, but hard to justify for the investment. Go to real Hi-Res source files that you make from original analog sources or SACD, or buy/download them from the likes of, and you’ll know this is Formula 1 class Audio compared to public transport MP3 quality.

AK120, is sculptured finished in construction. The volume control is a joy to use. The Italian leather case that comes with the unit is a classic. And the all-important sound is brewed with the finest organic ingredients of not one, but two separate outstanding Wolfson WM8740 DAC’s, one for the pleasure of each ear. That also gives you an excellent Crossttalk spec of -129dB for excellent separation of left/Right. The powerful smooth internal Amp, being one of the best there is. Generally, the higher the SNR-signal-to-noise ratio, the clearer the sound is. AK120 has an enviable signal-to-noise specification of 113dB-115db. The CPU is a “Telechips TCC 9201”.

AK120 connections

AK120 connections

Not the latest four core CPU, but no lazy dog by any means – even now, after more than two years.

This player is quite small and light. It’s about 2/3 hight of an iPhone 5S and and slightly narrower too. Connections – Dual 64GB SD cards, 64GB Internal memory. Earphone socket that doubles as an Optical and a Line out. Optical IN port, Power switch, and a Micro USB 2.0 only port (does not currently support USB 3.0 at all). There are three physical buttons on the left of the unit for; Next, Previous, and Play/Pause.

I have two 64GB SD’s and the AK120’s internal 64GB memory fully loaded with >3000 titles, and the unit navigates just fine on the adequate and responsive 2.4 inch touch screen . That is 192GB capacity. Not too shabby really.

As for the firmware (currently 1.42) it’s fine, but an upgrade is surely due. I do wish to see USB 3.0 “compatibility” for external DAC use. I think iRiver has a responsibility to fix this, as no new computer comes with USB 2.0 anymore. I would like to see more refinement in the EQ bands. I would like to see easy & friendly playlist naming. Quick alphabetic grouping & jumps in the artist scrolling, I think, iRiver can take queues from Apple and introduce swipe from right, left, top, or bottom enhancements to the firmware. That would really rejuvenate this unit and increase customer loyalty to the AK brand.

The entire interaction with AK120 feels analog. I love that! And in the end, what really matters is your experience, when the song starts to play. This is when you’ll know, you’re holding one of the finest Hi-Res players made to date, and the sound you hear is so very analog. Look up what DAC stands for, and you’ll appreciate why AK 120 is for those who really know their stuff with Audio and are after that analog sound.

With the right pair of IEM / headphones, you really do feel you are carrying your entire LP and SACD collection, a Thorens turntable, a tube Amp, and a pair of high-end B&W 800 series Speakers, all in your pocket.

** Highly recommended

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