Article Index
Astell&Kern AK120 portable player
Page 2
Sound Quality
Measured Performance
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    Music can be stored on 32GBs of internal memory, or on two 32GB MicroSD cards that plug into a slot in the base of the player, totalling a massive 96GBs of memory in all. That’s roughly 145 CDs, but as 24/96 hi-res files are four times larger, that figure drops to 36 CDs, unless they are FLAC (losslessly compressed), in which case it jumps up to 72CDs, or 720 tracks storage capacity in 24/96 FLAC.  Whatever, there’s enough memory to store a lot of music in high resolution form and it’s a doddle to pre-load MicroSD cards by plugging them into a computer’s USB port, using an adaptor. The cards are so small – fingernail size – that a matchbox full would store tens of thousands of tracks; a 32GB card costs around £15 at present.

    The AK120 will play WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, OGG, ASF and APE files. I played AIFF and AAC from Apple iTunes, plus WAV and FLAC up to 24/192 resolution, without problem, including through the optical connectors; there are no limitations here (some optical outputs work to 96k only).  iRiver say DSD files – found on SACD discs – can be played too. However, I tried DSD64 and 128 with the DFF extension, and a DSF file, and none would play; we were then told this was a future upgrade.
    I found the AK100 a little awkward to use but acclimatised to it. So I was pre-conditioned for the AK120. It has a small, colour touch screen of good resolution and I now realise I have hardly ever used the operating buttons. The player can be operated by touching the screen, but when it’s in your pocket you’ll be needing the buttons. It cannot operate from a remote control in a headphone lead.
    The small black case looks featureless, but it disguises many inputs and outputs, and a lot of associated functionality. One of the small 3.5mm jack sockets on its top face accepts headphones, just like any other portable but – like Apple – iRiver fit a dual-role connector: it also acts as a digital output, using an optical S/PDIF cable fitted with an adaptor. This can feed an external DAC or digital amplifier.
    Similarly, the analogue signal from the headphone output can also feed a hi-fi amplifier, because it uses line drivers, rather than the usual noisy headphone amplifier of other portables. To do this either a 3.5mm-to-phono plug adaptor cable is needed, or a 3.5mm plug-to-phono socket adaptor, budget versions of which can be found in Maplins, in the UK.

    The AK120 delivers no less than 1.6V from its headphone output, close to the 2V figure of a CD player, and way higher than the 0.3V of most portables. It is here also that the AK120 reveals its advantage over the AK100, measurement showing a massive 115dB dynamic range, against 110dB for the AK100. This is very good from 24bit digital and rarely bettered. That’s 15dB better than CD, by the way, and 22dB better than other portables – and you can hear this, more of which later.
    A second ‘headphone socket’ is in fact a digital optical input, allowing the AK120 to be used as a high quality, battery powered DAC.
    On the bottom face sits a Micro USB B input that is used for charging and for data transfer from a computer, both Mac and PC being compatible without special software.
    And finally it also has a Bluetooth short range radio link on board. If your system has a Bluetooth receiver, this is a convenient wireless connection, but at present aptX streams at CD quality, compressed 5:1 to reduce data rate, so quality isn’t maintained.




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