The AK120 by Astell & Kern

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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.


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.**

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