Build, Software and Dac

The player feels rock solid in my hand and has a noticeably better build quality than any of the mid-fi level music players. Nuked the iPods and even the iBasso DX50 for sure. It is heavier than I originally thought it would be and I enjoy the overall grip I have while holding the player on the go. It fit my hands perfectly and to be honest I thought the protruding volume knob on the side of the Dap would annoy me, but I was very wrong. It offers great grip and is also solidly built. I was worried about damaging the knob with continued usage over time but it never took a scratch over all this time. The knob itself lays perfectly in between my middle and pointer finger when I hold the unit with my left hand. This is pretty cool, actually. I can toggle the volume knob and hold the player with one hand. The same cannot be said for any other player with a natural approach to gripping and actually holding the player itself. Awesome. It comes with a cool leather carrying case for protection and seems very rugged, but is prone to scuffing. It’s stiff hard leather and seems to take damage quite easily. A protective screen is a must for this player, thankfully it also came with one. Overall, I think the build quality earns top marks and shines above most others. It is wisely designed and not huge, it is my pick for the only real portable hifi music player. Sorry Altmann, but you guy’s don’t even have a pause button on yours.

The Firmware and software seems solid, slick, easy and properly setup. Everything has an easy access and hey would you look at that? A home button, EQ, Presets, and oh my gosh is that a Playlist favorites feature on a hifi portable music player? No…it can’t be!? Yep, it is! Thank you Astell and Kern for being the only expensive hifi player who put a Playlist function that works perfectly into your product. To date, this is my favorite OS on a digital music player. I enjoy it very much and I find navigating all the menus a breeze. The problem is that the player is capable of large storage with dual micro sd cards as well as an internal 64GB spacing. So, if you wanted to browse your tracks via track listing, forget it. It is going to take forever if you have a track that begins with a letter near the end of the alphabet. Thankfully, other menu search functions work nicely and as they should. However, I want to see a “back to the beginning” function added to the scrolling experience windows, one that lets you skip from Z back to A instead of needing to scroll back up through all the alphabetized artists, tracks or albums just to get to the early entries. Beyond that, I’ve no experience in general gripes, it’s a great thing and stress free.

3

It isn’t without bugs though, I’ve encountered minor freezing, slugishness and stuttering often, but nothing serious that required a reboot. The player isn’t quick on the draw and takes a long time to scan your library, 128gb of flac took about 15 minutes for me each time I ran the Library Scan. The player also isn’t fast to cycle through now playing tracks, there is certainly some hang time between each track if you are tapping track skip, too fast on that tap and you are likely going to freeze the player completely for a few seconds. But again, it held firm and never once bricked or needed a manual override. The player caught up and resumed playing usually within a few seconds of a freeze.

**The Dac section is a big bonus for anyone looking for the entire package deal. You can find comparable dacs for 1/3 the price in a full size, but none of them are portable in my opinion. Some claimed a few HRT models were better, I disagree. I found the dac section on the stock AK120 to sound very nice. The high res track capabilities are also a huge plus. I don’t want to spend any more time on this section because this should stay a portable music player review and not a Dac experience review. However, despite that sentiment the Dac is still good and I find no issues with it. It sounds fantastic with my JH16s and NAD HP50.**

Click on next page for final thoughts…

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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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