Tone – Stock AK120

I did not enjoy it. But, don’t let that sway you from buying as there are a ton of people…the majority actually that really enjoyed the sound of the AK120. I prefer a natural tone and it just so happens that I find the iBasso DX50/AK100 to produce a more dry sound signature with some hint of a coloration to it, whereas the AK120 seemed to have a more AKG house sound with a slight metallic sheen to everything, rounded edges that were not defined so well and everything just lacking overall on the CIEM’s that I own. I still found it dynamic, very clear and forgiving. This was a problem with low impedance, the stock AK120 simply was not set up to drive very efficient and low impedance headphones well, which is why the experience with my JH16 FreqPhases sounded so lack luster.

2

This was the case on all the portable headphones I’ve played with recently, even the stunning NAD HP50, something very easily driven and DEAD NEUTRAL in every way. Even that sounded bland and lacking pre-Red Wine. Directly fed into the Audeze LCD-3, the presentation is actually pretty great and highly enjoyable as a source when properly amped. My NAD HP50 seemed to really dislike the AK120 and the entire experience was passable at best. Not the fault of the HP50, it is an insanely incredible headphone that is very easily driven…but there lay the problem. Most easily driven headphones tend to sound not so good with the stock AK120.

Tone – Post Red Wine Mod

Huge improvement over the stock sound signature in my opinion, totally transformed into a different player entirely. Via the JH16, the tone of the headphone went from very bad to one of the best sound signatures I’ve ever heard for this ciem. Jet black background, finally properly driven due to the Red Wine guys messing with the resistors and improving the output efficiency. The stock AK120 was too powerful and ended up working poorly with every custom monitor I owned as well as most of the higher tier portables with low impedance. Something just didn’t sound right. Thankfully, Red Wine Fixed it…and I love it. This is how it should have sounded and I really have to take points off for requiring a third party to set things straight.

6

The experience is highly natural, a lot like switching from an AKG K712 to lets say an Audeze LCD2. The house sound signature changed completely for the better and everything is so much more well defined, articulated and dynamic due to the lack of a background fuzz with the stock AK120s higher output cap for low impedance headphones. I would never recommend you do it, but for giggles I have plugged my ciems into larger desktop amps and the result was the same general tone. Something was very wrong, over driven and receiving too much power. The Red Wine Mod reduces the output impedance down to 1ohm and is now hard wired direct from the output stage to the headphone jack. Such a seemingly simple thing fixed the dreadful performance the AK120 had with most earbuds.

Click on next page for more sound impressions…

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7 Responses

  1. dalethorn

    Is this (the stock 120) another case where the mfr. diddled with the sound to try to produce one of those “headphone soundstage” signatures to sound more like speakers? I’m not suggesting a specific DSP or whatever here, since I’ve heard 100 different versions of those soundstage processors and all were different. But I expect some of these mfrs. to sneak that stuff into their product, hoping it will get a good review.

    Reply
      • dalethorn

        Then how could they get such an awful signature? I was about to buy a FiiO X3, and I expected it to be sonically neutral. The only reason I didn’t get a AK120 is due to limited memory and the need to swap cards, which I won’t do.

      • 24bit

        I’m a bit confused by what you said at the moment, Dale. The presence of something inside the chip structure to help with sound staging would make it sound better than it is. It sounds “only good” and not great because it doesn’t have what you mentioned. The AK120 has the largest memory capacity in a hi fi portable player and the newest version comes stock with 128gb of internal memory. You get two micro sd card slots for an additional 64gb + 64gb. The 128gb micro sds are overdue, probably going to appear in 2014. The X3 can only support one micro sd card and the AK120 supports two at the same time. Also, the X3 isn’t as good as the iBasso DX50, which itself is pretty much the same in most qualities except tonality than the AK100.

      • dalethorn

        What I said was a comment on the review here which didn’t like the stock sound. As I read it it didn’t say “I dislike the stock neutral sound”, it seemed to say “The stock sound isn’t neutral or an improvement on neutral either”. But I don’t know how to evaluate that, so for all I know it might be the best sound in the world. Anyway, assuming the sound works out in the end, the memory interests me more. It seems you’re saying when the 128 gb MicroSD’s appear the player will support two of those for a total of 384 gb? That would be enough to hold my WAV tracks with some room to grow.

      • 24bit

        I don’t think the stock sound signature was neutral, it had a shimmer, it was colder than what i felt comfortable with. I don’t see why the portable players wouldn’t be able to support a 128gb card with a firmware update.

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