Bass

The quantity of the bass bumped a bit after the Red Wine Mod but not much, I am not even comfortable saying it is there, but something inside me saying there was more bass than before. If there really is, it’s a small amount and I can attribute it to the clarity boost and the background of the player feeling much darker, thus allowing for more POP on the bass. I found the stock bass highly satisfying and never boomy, artificial or boosted. I enjoyed it very much and only that much more in post-mod. It is rich and well textured but still a step behind the Hifiman HM901 and even the HM801 on the low end, both of which seemed more pure and solid but also less forgiving. The AK120 bass seems softer, more gentle and not nearly as solid on my gear.

7

This is a great thing if you desire that type of a sound like I do. I hate punchy bass. I prefer that soft, lush and velvet like low end experience and I find it much more musical than most other hifi portable players. Musicality seems lost in most of the expensive audiophile grade music devices. I’m unwilling to allow musicality to take a hit just for the sake of accuracy, thankfully the AK120’s low end is highly musical. There are a few tracks from Jamie Foxx that and the Ministry of Sound that I really enjoy that worked out very nicely. I’m not into the pounding bass thing, but I am into the heavily weighted feel of low end. The softer and weightier, the more happy I become. I pretty much got everything I’ve always wanted on the low end in the stock form of the AK120.

The Mids

Very lush, very soft and forgiving yet again on the stock version, but more sharpened and well defined on the Red Wine version. The tone of the stock AK120 ruined the natural midrange I often desire, so I was happy to hear the RWAK120 drastically improve the definition of darn near everything. Vocals seem more clear as they are now properly driven and as a result sound noticeably sharper in a good way, they have just a little bit of bite to them, just enough to consider it highly engaging and never painful or annoying. It’s just right. In fact, even the stock AK120 mid range was my favorite of the really expensive players that I’ve messed around with. I find them really nicely set up and perfectly spaced, I’ve never felt they were overly intimate, nor have I once felt they were too distant or lacking.

5

This is a vocalist Dap in my opinion, due to the entire experience being softer and more rounded on the edges. Male or female, doesn’t really matter, most of my vocal track favorites sounded incredible when the stock AK120 was used as a source and paired with an amp. When used with the easier to drive headphones I own, the experience wasn’t as nice. It wasn’t until Red Wine modified it for me that the experience leveled out and allowed the player to finally shine. All that hidden potential is in there, hiding and beginning to be released. You just have to pay $250 extra to get it out. I think it is certainly worth it. If you like the tonality of the JH customs or any similar sounding headphone, the Red Wine RWAK120 is a must. It really meshes well with them and as I mentioned previously, the JH16 FR and RWAK120 is just about the best portable experience I’ve ever had.

The Highs

Oddly enough, I found the stock AK120 upper region to be superior and more enjoyable than the Red Wine version. Why? I’ve not a clue and was unable to figure it out. The stock AK120 has the most beautiful and sparkly upper areas in a portable player that I’ve ever heard. The HM901 sounds bland by comparison and the Colorfly C4 doesn’t even come close. It’s beautiful and shimmering, exceptionally clear and very enjoyable. I prefer a hint of brightness to it, with that magical sparkle quality. Just a bit of snappiness to it, just like the midrange and far from painful or annoying. The Red Wine version seems to tone everything back down to unwanted levels to my ears and I find myself always wanting that shimmer back. The Stock sound signature of the player worked for only the upper region in my opinion, post mod I find it lack luster. Still very clear, maybe more so than the stock version but still very natural and lacking any special qualities on the upper regions. I find violins, screaming guitars and vocalists shoulder shrug worthy now, but I must bring back up the fact that the Red Wine mod really helped the Bass and the Mids significantly over their stock sound. There is always a trade off…but the post mod upper region is still extremely clear and textured. It is just lacking that bit of sparkle that I lust for and became something more natural.



Sound stage.

The stock sound stage was very nice on this player, but I cannot say that the player had any special qualities in this regard. It’s an all star player with soundstage. Good width, good height, good separation and good depth…but nothing is great. Sadly, it’s still not that good post modding and I think the HM901 certainly had a more realistic and layered approach to the stereo imaging, yet was about on par in width. I find the presentation itself very enjoyable and more than satisfactory for portable needs. As a Dac, you might want to look elsewhere for a better deal. Expect most qualities to be pretty good, but nothing truly amazing.

Click on next page to read about the DAC and build quality…

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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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