The AK120 by Astell & Kern

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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.


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.


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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