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Astell&Kern AK120 portable player
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Uprated line amplifiers put the new Astell&Kern AK120 portable music player ahead of the field. Noel Keywood has the numbers.

Back in our March 2013 issue I was stunned by the quality of the Astell&Kern AK100 portable music player. It plays the highest quality digital formats available and has a headphone output with sound quality that blows others away. Now, iRiver (Korea), makers of this player, have released a 'better' model, the new AK120 reviewed here. I was a bit puzzled by this, since there wasn’t so much you could do to the AK100 to improve it.

    Having measured the new AK120 thoroughly, I see what iRiver have on their mind. The company is technology driven; no one puts top Wolfson DACs into a portable player – but this player has them. They are serious audiophile items.

    If you want to inhabit top-end territory, you have to pay attention to the numbers. The only valuable F1 car is the one at front and it’s lead can be slender. I said in our original review the AK100 “approaches the limits of what’s possible”, so whilst being way better than any other portable it still wasn’t technologically in front of the best stand-alone hi-fi DACs. Well, the AK120 has been devised to run at the front – and that’s why at £1140 it is double the price of the AK100.
    In the AK120 iRiver have come up with a digital player able to deliver the very best from high resolution digital music. This is a serious audiophile device that can be used both as a portable and a digital player good enough to feed a top quality hi-fi system: think of it as a high resolution CD player and you start to get where iRiver are coming from.

   As audiophile CD players go, the AK120 is not expensive, yet it plays digital files right up to 24/192 quality,  where CD is limited to 16/44.1 –  the best possible in the early 1980s. So where the AK100 is a great quality portable, the new AK120 is a top digital player that is also portable – and it sounds way better than CD. But then, since it arrived 30 years later perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.
    To lift quality further, new output stages have been used, to better complement the twin mono Wolfson DACs. As a result the AK120 is slightly larger than the ‘100, measuring 89mm high, 60mm wide and 15mm deep. Height has grown by 10mm, the 100 being 79mm high. Note that the width value is that of the case only, it does not include the volume knob that adds another 5mm. That still makes the AK120 easily pocketable and at 126gms it feels weighty but isn’t actually heavy.
    On board is a 2000 mAh Lithium Polymer 3.7V re-chargeable battery to keep the player boogying for up to 16 hours, iRiver claim, and I recorded 14.5 hours on repeat play.




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