Article Index
Astell&Kern AK120 portable player
Page 2
Sound Quality
Measured Performance
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With both Philips Fidelio X1s and my small Jays V-Jays travelling 'phones, the AK120 went appreciably louder than any other player, like the AK100 before it, but the Philips 'phones were insensitive and I found myself up to 65 (75Max) on the volume control, which surprised me. Most players would struggle to drive the Philips loud so I was grateful for the grunt of this player.
     Like the AK100 the AK120 sounded silky smooth and silences were chocolate dark. As before I found myself cranking volume up with clean tracks like Diana Krall’s ‘Narrow Daylight’ (24/96). Piano sounded gorgeously large centre stage and a plucked acoustic bass provided a firm under-pinning to this track. Ms Krall had a close, breathy presence, on both 'phones and Martin Logan Electromotion loudspeakers.
    The player images with slick precision, due to its low jitter.
    Put all this together with the lovely cleanliness of 24bit and the sonic result is fabulous precision, without that clinical sterility of so much digital. This makes everything so much more enjoyable and accessible. The soaring Hammond organ at the start of Tom Petty’s ‘Refugee” (24/96) swirled through my lounge and the drum kit delivered a firm thump through the Electromotions: this is Rock wrought large and the AK120 delivered it with an easily enjoyed gusto. Detail was unforced but abundant, and dynamics obvious; I fancy this player has slightly better bass strength and definition through its upgraded output amplifiers, against the AK100. My attention was repeatedly drawn to percussion, like a solo drum exercising one bass bin on Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” (24/192).  Yes, this is an analogue recording from 1973; I also played Otis Redding’s ‘Dock of the Bay’ (24/192) from 1967 and both transcriptions were captivating, delicious insight into the original analogue master making both songs come across as raw and moving.
    Classical music arguably fares better with a player like this. With the Minnesota Orchestra’s rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Dance of the Tumblers’ the orchestra had a scale and might that was convincing, the canvas large and spacious. Horns had a deep fruity quality, strings were lush and smooth as silk – no screech from this player (assuming a good original 24bit recording of course). Switching from 24bit originals to 16bit CD rips on this player made obvious the screech of CD.




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