2013 Munich High End Show: Astell&Kern AK120 High-Resolution Portable Audio PLayer
I've been a long time fan of iriver's iHP-140 portable media player, which was one of the only players to have an optical digital output. I still use mine regularly. Unfortunately they've been long discontinued, and subsequent models from iriver (they've changed the capitol "R" of iRiver to lower case now) did not include the digital output. Subsequently, the portable audio geek world were lured over to iOS devices with the ability to extract digital audio from the 30-pin connector, and the portable Apples became the digital audio source of choice on the go.
Now the pendulum has begun to swing and, in addition to dealing with the new iOS Lightning cable, portable DAC makers are beginning to extract digits from Android devices using USB On-The-Go. But those devices tend to top out at 24bit/96kHz at best. Disregarding the contentious question of whether or not one can hear the difference, many audiophiles have paid around $25 per album for 24bit/192kHz downloads. What if they want to listen to them portably? Tough luck. You're only option has been to spend the time to convert the files to lower resolution formats---which can be a pretty time and hard drive space consuming task.
Enter the AK120: This device is capable of playing files up to 24bit/192kHz; supports AV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC and AIFF formats (not all formats support 24/192 playback); and has a Toslink optical digital output! However, it also has dual Wolfson WM8740 DAC chipspretty much their top-of-the-line stereo DACand a 3 Ohm output impedance, which should play fairly well with the wild impedance swings of multi-balanced armature in-ear monitors. So, maybe an external DAC isn't even needed. The AK120 has 64Gig of internal memory storage, which is enough for about 10 hours of 24/192 music, but two micro SD slots let you expand to 192Gig for 30 hours of ultra high resolution listening.
Having spent some time with the AK120 now, I can say I have mixed feelings. The sound quality seems very good indeed, and the unit's look and feel are pure sex. The touch screen user interface is good, but seems to lack some features I'd like---though I'm pretty sure I haven't figured it all out yet...because the manuals and support are very poor in my opinion. If you're the kind of person that can drop $1300 on an impulse buy and have a collection of hi-rez music on your computer, sure, I'll recommend it. But if you're like me and would need to do a lot of research and thinking before dropping that kind of money on a portable rig, I'd wait for the full review here at InnerFidelity and research all the available alternatives.
Astell&Kern's AK120 website.