Ok so its not ugly, thats totally unfair, it is kind of cute and oh so portable but it does convey a very spartan minimilist feel to it that may polarize users and it does sort of stand out there on there on it’s own, doing its own thing. Compared to the FiiO E18 or the V-Moda Vamp Verza it certainly lacks all the nerdy buttons and “effects” both of them carry. Instead, in keeping with the AK line the AK10 has only the most basic of button setups targetting the most critical needs of any DAC/AMP portable and on the go desktop user.
In the hand the AK10 is small, light weight and looks to be a mix of plastic and aluminum with a super large volume control dial right in the middle of the unit. In fact when you look right at it, the volume dial is pretty much the focus of attention. You simply cannot miss it. To the top and bottom you have the usb connection and the headphone output socket (3.5mm) which doubles as the line out to amplification if required. On one side you have raised circular track controls (foward, back and pause/play) and the rest is just fluish or plain with no controls. It’s not gaudy, quite discreet and all connect tightly or press down accurately without any wobbles or delayed response.
Sadly the USB connection is not the run of the mill micro USB. You cannot put any old cable in it due to the shaping of the case around it. That is a shame since babying cables is somethign I hate doing. It could be argued that it gives a stronger connection for moving around and there is some validity in that but it does mean you are forced to buy their cables only as replacements. The existing set of cables are pretty good though with Android, iOS and PC/USB all catered for though in the current edition of the AK10 so depending on your source there should be the right choice of cable available.
So back to that big volume dial (aka the ‘turntable’) just staring at me. The last dial of this proportion was the ALO Audio Island but the implementation was actually very good indeed given the dial had a start and end point. The problem with the AK10 dial was there is just little or no indication at what volume point you are at when you use it for a period of time. It is not stepped in anyway so you can literally go round and round non stop with only the blue and red lights to indicate if you are decreasing or increasing the volume. True its analog type interface is in keeping with the analog pot on the AK100/120/240 series and it spins very smoothly and precisely but I found this experience to be less satisfying simply because I had no clue what volume I was really at before churning out any noise from my source. The blue and red LED lights do indicate if volume is decreased or increased though but I think I spun the wheel about 15 times once connected to the PC as a USB DAC to get the volume back down to a reasonable level when used in conjunctin with Foobar’s own level adjuster. In short it lacks context without a limit to the turning ability or a small digital display to show the volume level you are currently at. Pressing the play and pause button together will reset the volume to zero but at $299 I might actually expect this to be a bit more controlled if an analog feel is what they are aiming for.
The form factor itself runs against the grain of other similar devices. Usually they are patterned to be seamless with the source device such as mobile phone or a slimline DAC. In fact the AK10 closest form factor buddy is the AK100 and I honestly cannot see them being paried together for obvious reasons. So whilst its small and cute and well made it doesn’t gel for me with modern slimline mobile phones such as the iPhone or the Galaxies as does the Verza, the Solo DB, the E18 or even the bulky Theorem. It is more of a low profile extension on the cable to a source device than a mirror of the device form factor. Of course plenty will love that small form factor much like the FiiO E6 but given the AK10’s purpose is not to double amp in the same way as the E6 it does mean smaller DAP’s such as the Clip which paired beautifully with the E6 are out.
On the flip side the tiny carry case is very well done and fits the AK10 just perfectly and unlike the AK100 case thankfully it comes free of charge in the retail package. It also sports a small strap for attaching say to a belt or even a slim type portable device which reminds me of the late 90’s paging machines. The button control of the AK10 is easily accessed meaning you can place your source in one pocket and the AK10 on your strap and manage your playback fairly easily without touching your source. In fact for me the belt gives the AK10 form factor purpose, without which I am not entirely sure how I would have paired it with my source as mentioned previously.
Overall the AK10 looks modern and minimalist and in keeping with many of the current gadget fashion trends. It is built well and does convey the feel of an Astell & Kern product but it does also feel like a bit of an oddball with some design decisions that dont quite meet up to expectation and without the little belt type case it just doesnt quite gel with any of my devices I might expect to use it with.
Click on next page for functionality…