Article Index
Astell&Kern AK100 portable player
Using The Player
Sound Quality
Measured Performance
All Pages

Initially I found the AK100 difficult to use. The instructions do not explain basic menu structure and its logic, simple operational sequences such as hooking up to a computer or even which operating systems are compatible. Providing it is switched on, the AK100 comes up on a Mac or a PC as external memory, like a memory stick. Files can be quickly saved or deleted into its folders. Neither my Macs (Snow Leopard and Lion) or Windows System 7 on a Mac’s Bootcamp sector had any problem seeing it. Music player software is available for PC only, but it installs Active X files and System 7 spewed out warnings.
    Switch on is slow as the internal DSP winds up, lasting 30 seconds, and I found operational sequences less obvious than you’d expect from an iPod for example, but this is a matter of familiarity. After learning its operational methodology I found the AK100 easy and fast to use, although if I missed the graphic screen controls it would change screens, and this is why the small hardware buttons are provided. The capture area of the screen buttons needs expanding to reduce this irritation.
    The player is beautifully built: its machined alloy case feels rigid and solid; its buttons have a short, firm action. Warnings are automatically provided for most actions. So when I plugged an optical lead (with adaptor) into the input the AK100 detected it and re-configured itself as a DAC, providing an on-screen warning. The underlying hardware/software interface is very well thought through and intelligent, but this is a specialist machine and the screens are opaque in meaning and in logic sequence.

    There are lots of nice details though, including a large on-screen digital volume readout (0-75) accompanied by a graphic display, the valuable bit depth and sample rate readout that warns of truncated or rate changed files (this happens a lot during computer processing but few realise it) and there is even a graphic equaliser.
    This player has been designed as a portable hi-fi player – think super CD player – rather than an iPod rival; it isn’t simply an upmarket portable. So I used it to drive a variety of systems, including the new Quad 2812 electrostatic loudspeakers featured in this issue, a pair of Martin Logan Electromotion electrostatics, and two home systems, one AV and the other stereo with a WAD 300B valve amplifier and WAD KLS9 loudspeakers.  The point being that to appreciate what the AK100 can do means using a top quality replay chain. But I kicked off with headphones and some properties were immediately obvious.




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