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Astell&Kern AK100 Mastering Quality Sound (MQS) Portable System
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- High-resolution music track support up to 24bit/192kHz; Natively supports FLAC, OGG, WMA, MP3, WAV, APE (AAC Support Coming Soon)
- Integrated Wolfson WM8740 high-performance DAC; can be used as an external optical DAC
- 2.4" capacitive 16MM IPS touchscreen (320x240); Bluetooth 3.0 supported
- Dual Micro SD Memory Card slots (32GB support in each slot); 32GB of internal flash memory; total memory space of 96GB
- 12 hours continuous audio playback (FLAC 24bit/96kHz)
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- Brand Name: iRiver
- Model Number: 3AK1006C-CMBLN2
- Connectivity Technology: bluetooth
- Display: LCD
- Display Size: 2.4 inches
The Astell&Kern AK100 is the ultimate portable high-fidelity audio system capable of studio Mastering Quality Sound (MQS) support and playback. MQS (24bit, 96kHz -192kHz) is considered as the digital music format with the most amount of information and commonly saved as a lossless 24bit WAV/FLAC format. The difference between MQS and MP3s/CDs (WAV) can be heard and felt because the sound is distortion free because no data loss occurs within the MQS (24bit) source. The Astell&Kern AK100 does not need external MQS encoding and results in a more refined and pure sound.Features:
Bit-to-bit Mastering Quality Sound (MQS) playback
World's first portable device equipped with the Wolfson WM8740 24bit/192kHz DAC
Dual MicroSD card slots with 32GB of internal flash memory - 96GB of music storage space
Use the Astell&Kern AK100 with or as an external optical DAC
Refined design w/ integrated volume wheel & brushed aluminum body
Intuitive user interface experience with touchscreen LCD & control buttons Technical Specs
Dimensions: 2.32” x 3.11” x 0.55” (in)
DAC: Wolfson WM8740 (24bit/192kHz)
Display: 2.4" IPS Touch Screen (320 x 240)
Memory: 32GB Internal / Dual Micro SD card slots (32 GB each)
Audio Formats: WAV/FLAC/MP3/OGG/WMV/APE/AAC/AIFF/ALAC
Output Level: 1.5 VRMS
THD+N: < 0.0008%/1kHz ; < 0.001%/10Hz ~ 20kHz
Signal to Noise: 110 dB
Frequency Response: ± 0.14 dB/10Hz ~ 20kHz
Jitter: 90 PS
Top Customer Reviews
[UPDATE July 22, 2013] I have been using AK120 quite some time (See my review here: Astell&Kern AK120 Dual-DAC Mastering Quality Sound Portable System) instead of this one. But AK100 is still a keeper; the small form factor in light of sound quality is a winner. Besides we now have a new firmware update: 2.01. Now you no longer need to rely on the Russian unofficial version to enjoy the gapless play or significantly enhanced UI. As of now, the only major "functional" differences between this one and AK120 remain DSD playback and USB DAC. There is a sound difference of course but when it comes to value AK100 is the better of the two.
[UPDATE June 10, 2013] The Russian man has done it again! He came up with an even improved version of his previously excellent AK100 firmware; it is being being called "Listrid 2.0" in the community. Sound is better. Operation is faster. In response to this, I-River, the company, came up with its own Beta 2.0 as well. You basically have 4 firmware version choices now and 1.33 is the worst. To download these firmwares, Google "The New iRiver AK100: A High-End DAP" to access the relevant Head-fi site, locate to Page #384 and then Post #5747 for detailed instructions and impressions. You will be glad you did.
[UPDATE May 27, 2013] A most amazing thing has just occurred. A Russian programmer, as the story goes, has developed his own firmware for AK100 based on AK120's firmware, a higher model, and uploaded it for everyone to use on this product. I tested it myself, along with tens of thousands of AK100 users all around the world (this product has a huge cult following in Asia and Europe, not unlike Apple in the older days), and I must say the firmware counts among the best I have used for a DAP. AK100 became much faster and smoother (even browsing folders with Gigabytes of files was blazing fast!), easier to navigate with its home button, has gapless playback feature and sleep timer now, has pro-EQ, and is practically bug-free. The UI looks beautiful as well as convenient (See above user photos I uploaded).
Furthermore, what is truly amazing, some users are reporting sonic improvement as well: the sound gets deeper with mid-range boost and volume level has significantly increased (4-5 decibel or 0.5 vrms) while maintaining the totally black background. The change is just too apparent. It can drive much more difficult and/or powerful headphones with relative ease now. I even tested my Senn HD800 with this one (without amping) and it was eminently listenable for most songs. In other word, this device has been transformed.
Now it is considered a must-update in the community of AK100 users, and all AK100 users are thanking the Russian for this service. If you do not like the firmware update (which I doubt), you can always revert back to the company's 1.33 official version.
For the download site address information, review the threads under AK100 in the Head-Fi site -- at around page 350 of the threads.
Just download the file and then copy it to the hard disk of AK100 (OUTSIDE all folders). The moment you take out the USB cable, it will automatically start the firmware update. CAVEATS: (1) You MUST do this from version 1.33 (if your player does not currently run on 1.33 you must update it to 1.33 first), and (2) once it's done, make sure you do the Library Scan to see all your albums.
Iriver, the company, has commented that it will soon update its firmware to incorporate all the features of this Russian firmware. Until then, you can enjoy this unofficial version, which makes AK100 simply incomparable in the pack (eg Colorfly C4, HF 901, iBasso DX100) when all things considered such as sound, size, UI, battery life and storage capacity.
[UPDATE May 6, 2013] I am using this product everyday when jogging, walking etc. It's a joy to operate this inside my pocket without taking it out. I dropped this a couple of times on the road, and it was OK -- I guess the protective film unremoved from the backside helped.
[UPDATE April 7, 2013] I have owned this product for 4+ months now. All the while, my I-Pod Classic 160 G has been sleeping on my desk, untouched. I just cannot listen to I-Pod any more. Compared to AK, I-Pod's sound is plain dismal: cramped, fatiquing, shrilling and empty. I am only keeping it because I have a Wadia Transport and I can take the contents digitally out of I-Pod, and also by the force of momentum -- I have used I-Pod for the past 8 years and I am emotionally attached to it, though never using it anymore. I am using my AK every single day; the music out of it is just too clean, fresh and soothing. I am even beginning to like its user interface -- once you get used to it, it is not that inconvenient. With 1.33 firmware upgrade, the booting time is a lot faster and overall operational speed has improved.
Of this I am certain, once you try AK, you will never want to listen to your I-Pod again, especially if you are a classical music fan like me. You realize what you've been missing, how much sound you've been compromising for the sake of convenience. To be sure, convenience is nice, but not at the cost of so much sound. I feel passionate about this product as this is the first product that shook my belief in I-Pod, exposing its limitations to such a degree as night and day.
[UPDATE January 23, 2013] The company has kept promise! Now with 1.30 update, this little device plays all Apple formats (AAC, Apple Lossless, AIFF) natively! OMG. Apple formats never sounded so beautiful through a non-APPLE portable device! I am listening now to a good old George Winston's December in AAC format, and my ears are feeling the winter chill! This has to be experienced to be believed! It is like HD sound -- a Retina display to my ears! Apple, you'd better produce something better. I was a die-hard I-Pod Classic fan for the past 8 years; nowadays I almost never listen to it.
If you are not familiar about what this strange looking device is for but if you know about the ubiquitous I-Pod, I can explain about this device in comparison to I-Pod by summing up the major differences as follows: (i) this device can play all music I-Pod can play but with much, much better sound largely thanks to the better DAC (poor DAC is the weak spot of I-Pod); (ii) this device can play certain music I-Pod cannot play at all (such as those encoded in FLAC - the de-facto standard on lossless format); (iii) this device has far worse User-Interface than I-Pod, with much poorer file organization system (poor UI is the weak spot of this device); (iv) this device has much better blind maneuverability than I-Pod (ie you can control this device inside your pocket much more easily than I-Pod); (v) this device can be used as a stand-alone DAC whereas I-Pod cannot (ie you can listen to all the files stored in your MacBook with much better sound if you connect it to this device); and (vi) you can take the sound out digitally from this device very easily thorough a S/PDIF optical port (to utilize your "reference quality" DAC in home or car system) whereas, for I-Pod, you need to connect it to certain "Apple-licensed" docks such as Peachtree Audio or Wadia Transport, which tend to be very expensive, not portable, and need power supplies.
So where do I get my "high-definition" source files? Amazon and I-tunes Stores do not offer them. Currently their offering are limited to MP3 or AAC compressed files (256 kbps), which are more compressed and thus worse than CD qualities (and cheaper). You can rip your own CDs and get 16/44.1 FLAC, which should sound better than MP3 or AAC. If you want higher, you can get 24/96 or even 24/192 FLACs from the following sites: Bleep, Qobuz, HDtracks, Rhino, Gubemusic, iTrax, Bandcamp, Juno Records, Blue Coast Records, Audioporn Records, 2L the Nordic Sound, High Definition Tape Transfers (my favorite), Linn Records (awesome!), Naim Label, Society of Sound (B&W), Groovers.kr (A&K's own).
[Background] Initially I bought Astell&Kern ("AK") and returned it shortly because it could not play my AAC files. I gave it a one-star rating for the flawed description, for its uselessness for a great deal of music files currently on the market, and admittedly out of my own frustration. It was not much of a review as I listened to only a few files. Understandably I received much negative feedback from audiophiles who were happy with this product, much of which were valid in my opinion and also valuable tips. Since then I learned how to convert all my AAC files to MP3 files. (Just google "how to convert AAC to mp3 on itunes.") It was a snap. Furthermore, I-River promised that it will include AAC playability in its next update. That changes the landscape. I decided to re-purchase it because I felt the AAC issue was moot now. I also liked the design immensely, especially the classic feel of it. So I made the plunge and below is my finding after extensive listening and testing for several days. Also see the photos labeled as "Sky Blue Review" above.
My conclusion: AK is a qualified masterpiece, with all its shortcomings. Its interface looks outdated, operating software far from ideal, craftsmanship not perfect, but the sound it produces is nothing short of phenomenal, going shoulder to shoulder with the most expensive source equipment on planet I have listened to. If you are prepared to forget all minor sins for the sake of sound, you will be very happy with this.
Headphones used: Shure SE530, Etymotic hf2, Beyerdynamic T1, Sennheiser HD 800
Digital amp used: Goldmund Mimesis 30, Meridian 861 Digital Surround Controller
Speakers used: Goldmund Epilogue 1+2 (Active), Meridian DSP 8000 (Active), Goldmund Logos Mini (Active)
Car audio used: BMW 328i stock audio
Source: Goldmund Eidos 36T, Nagra CDP, Apple IPod+Wadia 171i Transport
DAC: Meitner MA-1, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC, NuForce Icon HDP
A bit of background info on me. I am a musicphile, less of an audiophile, and certainly not a techphile. I do not know much about digital technology (eg conversion, upsampling, jitter etc.), but I play the piano, have very perceptive ears and extensive knowledge on classical music, and have access to some of the most expensive equipment at my home or at my friends'. I had not believed source files could make much difference in sound quality; amplifiers and speakers were much more important to me, and I enjoyed the sound of LP records a lot. Little did I know. AK was my first experience with FLAC files. I have two Super Audio CD players, which I mostly use as Red Book CD players because I hardly feel much sound improvement of SACD over well-recorded Red Book CDs.
[Test] All test hearings were done with classical music, as I mainly listen to that type of music.
(1) AK used as a portable player
First of all, forget about using Beyerdynamic T1 or Sennheiser HD 800. AK cannot drive them - the sounds are tiny. The high output impedance (22 Ohm) makes AK very finicky about matching headset selection, so you should definitely shop around. For me personally, Shure SE530 and Etymotic hf2 were very nice. In-ear type earphones (ie "kernel type" headsets) seemed to be better fits with AK so long as perfect seal was achieved. Although I have not tested myself, I would think Sennheiser IE 800, AKG K3003, Audio Technica ATH-CK100PRO and certain Ultrasone models (Edition 8, for example) would go very well with AK based on the specification and online reviews of those transducers. If you have the access (and the means) to those expensive gears, make sure you test AK with those. But as I said, AK sounded fine with my relatively "humble" earphones.
Having long been an I-Pod user, I was immediately surprised by AK's amazing clarity and sound stage. Absolutely non-fatiguing - you can listen to it for several hours without getting tired of it. At maximum volume, white noise is absent and background is totally black. At low volume, the sound still maintains "full body" so that you can hear everything, which is a crucial requirement for me; reduction in sound should not degrade the sound quality. A very important test of an audio equipment is how "thick" the sound is at low volume; at high volume almost any equipment can deceive us. AK passed this test with flying colors. However, if you are a tube enthusiast, you will not feel the type of warmth from this AK. One may say the sound is a tad bit too analytical and clinical (ie cold), but that is precisely the hallmark of most high-end audio equipment; the sound reproduction is extremely accurate, with no exaggeration and very tight bass -- ideal for classical music. It may be cold, but it is never dry like some CD players; the sound is creamy enough to make me smile. The overall sense of ease and relaxation was apparent; this is the way music is meant to be heard.
I tried various bit rate / sample rate files: 24/192 Dena Piano Duo (Mozart), 24/96 Gustavo Dudamel (Beethoven), 24/88 Anne-Sophie Mutter (Sarasate), 24/96 Salvatore Accardo (Vivaldi), 24/96 Concordi Musici (Vivaldi), 24/96 Sviatoslav Richter (Beethoven), 24/96 Dinu Lipatti (Chopin), and countless 16/44 files and MP3 files. 24/192 and some 24/96 sounded as if someone right next to you is playing the music -- extremely "clean" sound with hyper resolution. Remastered 24/96 sounded sublime, as if a veil from the music has been taken off - lucid and rich at the same time, with multiple layers of nuances alive. 16/44 sounded eminently "high definition", and even 252 kbps or 192 kbps MP3 files sounded superb - as if they had the perfect sonic shape right there but just needed some detailed elaboration. Mind you, AK could be quite ruthless in exposing and revealing the imperfections of any recordings - if the recording is bad, you will hear them loud and clear. Dinu Lipatti was an example. But then of course you can also hear the sound of finger nails touching the piano keys or each gasp or breathing of the cello players. A truly ear-opening experience.
(2) AK used as a main source equipment for home audio (see my photo above)
I connected AK to both Goldmund system and Meridian system first using the analog connection (ie using AK's DAC) and then using the optical digital connection (ie bypassing AK's DAC). As expected, digital connection sounded better, although not by a big margin. My guess is that the difference is not so much from the superiority/inferiority of the DAC but from the impedance requirements and overall tuning/fit. When connected digitally, AK sounds indistinguishable from the most expensive transport including Goldmund Eidos 36T and Nagra CDP when using 16/44 files, and sounds distinctively better when higher definition files are used (I tested this with files with the same track but different compression levels). No matter what, it sounds vastly superior to I-Pod with Wadia 171i combination when tested with exactly same file. I do not quite understand this, since Wadia is supposed to bypass the DAC inside I-Pod and hence should sound the same. However, my Goldmund Mimesis 30 does not support 24/192 and hence cannot play 24/192 files through digital connection (but can play them through analog connection of course). Meridian system, however, was able to play all 24/192 files digitally, and what a sound! Somehow they sounded far better than a notebook computer with exact same files digitally fed to the system. I do not know exactly why. I should not think so since I am bypassing the DAC inside AK, but there were clearly audible differences in the sound stage and richness of the sound. A remote control would be very convenient if AK is to be used as a source equipment for your home system -- something I-River should consider seriously in the future.
(3) AK used as a DAC (see my photo above)
I connected AK to my Apple Macbook Pro's headset port using an optical digital cable. Of course I set my Window 7 (installed in bootcamp) in the following way to take the digital signal out from my Macbook: click sound on the lower right hand, select S/PDIF, right click and go to advanced and select 24 bit / 96000 HZ. This way, I am using AK merely as a DAC. I listened mostly AAC files (yes, you can listen to AAC when using AK as a DAC) on my I-tunes. Quite expectedly the files sounded so much better than listening directly via Macbook's headset port. I could also change volumes as well using AK's volume knob (you can use 3 ways to change volume: AK knob, Macbook's sound volume and I-tunes' sound volume). What was amazing was AK DAC sounded easily better than NuForce Icon HDP. Only compared to Meitner and Berkeley, which are not portable at all and many times more expensive, I could then hear AK's shortcomings: less defined, similar resolution yet less low-level detail, similar transparency yet less freedom from timbral grain, less smooth treble, much less dynamics, and much narrower sound stage. Still, I was impressed with the result as these are some of the world's finest DACs.
(4) AK used as a car audio (see my photo above)
There were 2 ways I could connect AK to my car: USB digital and analog (my car does not have an optical digital-in port). When you connect AK's mini USB port to your car's USB port, AK asks you if you want to use it as a battery charger or an external storage disk. When you click the latter, you can hear the files through your car audio. They sounded great, but my car audio could not play any 24/96 or above files connected this way. When connected analog, the car audio could of course play all the files including 24/192, but the sound has slight distortion and noise at high volume, mainly due to issues related to connection, grounding and/or impedance. AK as a car audio would be my last choice at least without some modification to my car audio system; the sound through analog connection had noise and digital connection was too limiting in the type of files my car audio could play.
(5) AK used in a simplest possible system (see my photo above)
When AK was connected to Goldmund Logos Mini (Active) via analog, the simplest possible set-up, the clean, delicious sound was not at lost much. However, somehow I could not control the volume using AK's volume knob when connected via digital; maybe I am missing something since the volume knob worked when I used it as a DAC on my Macbook. This is something I need further experiments. But analog connection sounds good enough, although not fantastic.
[Additional Finding] Although I-River says you can use two 32 GB micro SD, you could actually use two 64 GB micro SD as well. (See my photo above.) I tested this myself. You simply have to re-format the SDXC to FAT32 from Ex-FAT. You can do it using MacBook's disc utility. So the total capacity equals 64+64+32=160, which is exactly same as that of I-Pod Classic.
[Quirks] AK does not come with a charger. You can connect it to your computer via USB to charge, but it will take forever. Best way to charge would be to connect it to any tablet charger such as Google Nexus 7 or Amazon Kindle. Battery life is extremely long and seems to go on forever. (Spec says 16 hours.) Also there is no headset included. This is understandable -- when I buy an I-Pod, the first thing I do is throw away the horrible stock earphone. It also has bluetooth 3.0, and I don't understand what that is for. Nobody would want to listen to these 24/96 files through the horrible bluetooth. Perhaps this is for remote control (for future)?
[Biggest Minus] Interface and operating software leave a lot to be desired. They are archaic. This is the weakest spot of AK compared to I-Pod, I think. I am not just talking about the aesthetics of it. Music search and organization system should be improved; when people have only a few files it is not an issue but when they have thousands, a big issue. If file names are long (and they are always long in classical music!), all I see on the screen is a truncated description such as "Wolfgang Amadeus Moz..." or "Ludwig Beethoven Piano Concerto in ..." and I am supposed to guess which piece that is! Booting time is too long: over 20 seconds. (But you can set the automatic turn-off time, including never.) You have to push too many buttons to go up the menu. (But if you push the back button long, it will get you to the first menu.)
[Maneuverability] For AK, beauty is in the palm of the holder; it is pretty to look, but prettiest to hold. It feels great to grab it, as it fits my hand perfectly. At first I thought the volume knob was an eye-sore, but after using AK inside my pocket I completely changed my mind. Volume control is one function I use most often when listening to any music, and having a big knob that sticks out helps tremendously. The knob also has a nice analog feel with its 150 levels (according to the I-River brochure) and is a lot more fun than I-Pod's volume buttons or wheels. Even the forward/play-pause/backward buttons are truly blind-friendly: the middle button (play-pause) is slightly more protruding so that one can distinguish it easily from the adjacent two buttons just by touching it (see my photo above). Operationwise, AK is not as creative or refined as I-Pod, but somehow I find AK not only more fun but functional to use especially in dark or in pocket. (I always had hard time turning off I-Pod with locks and everything, for example.) I could just turn off the screen and operate AK perfectly inside my pocket.
[Craftsmanship and Material] AK is made in Korea. I-River has factories in China but to better control the quality, it says it makes them only in Korea where it is headquartered. The overall quality is OK but falls short of, say, a Sony or a Samsung. I find room for much improvement. To nit-pick, volume knob rotates too easily and has too much free play, I feel. I wish the knob had tighter, heavier feel. I wish the back panel were made of aluminum instead of fortified glass -- I fear dropping would break it. AK does not feel as sturdy as I wish.
[Value] Is AK's price of $700 too expensive? Depends on your perspective. Personally, I think it is the best bargain. For one thing, I personally know of no product with price tag below $1,000 that has a Wolfson VM8740 chip inside. True, I-Pod classic 160 G goes for only $230, but you are comparing apples and oranges here as AK is a totally different player -- it plays FLAC files up to 24/192, which is more than 6 times the information on your standard CD, and the quality of AK's DAC chip belongs to an entirely different league. Furthermore, in terms of functionality, it really is an I-Pod plus an external DAC plus a digital transport all rolled into one, and its sound quality, even when playing compressed, lossy files, easily trumps over I-Pod classic + Wadia 171i + Wadia 151i combination (total price of which would be some $2,000). If added to a high-end system, this $700 may be the most value-enhancing addition, dollar for dollar, in almost any high-end system. Nordost Odin reference speaker cables go for $20,000 a pair per meter and yet you still cannot get this kind of sound improvement.
[Bottom Line] How else could I feed 24/96 files to my Goldmund audio system through digital connection and carry the music with me at the same time, all the time, while using it as a perfect external DAC for all my music on I-tunes listening from my MacBook? I-Pod is no solution here.
[Bottom Line 2] Day by day, I find one of my greatest use of AK is using it as a DAC for my Macbook, to listen to all those AAC files on Itunes, only to rediscover them all over. (Just make sure you set the Windows 7 digital output setting at 24/96,000 and not anything lower.) The fact that these compressed, lossy files now sound awesome and non-fatiguing tells me a lot about VM8740's capability. Even in the absence of any FLAC files, the way AK brings me the joy of listening to my compressed music on my computer through its superior DAC alone makes it worth its weight in gold. I love it. Music from my computer never sounded so good.
Another thing I did was to purchase Amarra (software). I connect my headphone (AKG Q460) to A&K; then I connect A&K to my MacBook Pro using an optical cable (ie I am using A&K as a DAC to listen to Itunes). Amarra sounds gorgeous with A&K DAC.
[Conclusion] As you can see from my other reviews, I am usually very critical in my reviews, and the only other product I enjoyed this much was Fujifilm X-e1, a camera. To be sure, AK is not for everyone. In the age of tech convergence, this is an anti-convergence device adamantly asking you to carry one more device about half the size of a cigarette pack. If you cannot distinguish or do not care about the difference between the music through your radio and the same through your CD player, you need not bother with this one. It is not a mainstream product, and not meant to be. Getting high-definition audio files is cumbersome, limited and expensive. In a way, this ordeal reminds me of my in-law who drives an old Ferrari. I noticed his Ferrari is in the service garage half the time so I asked him why he keeps such a "junk" instead of, say, a new Mercedes. He said "Because this junk makes a grown man weep with joy when it is not in the service garage." At its best, AK can be equally special and rewarding -- you will be carrying your audio bliss in your pocket.
On to the AK100.
As all of the reviews I read prior to purchase stated the build quality is outstanding, the controls are well done with a mix of digital and the volume potentiometer, the screen is clear and large for a personal player. The case is smooth and durable. I liken the build to a Mercedes G class.
USER INTERFACE: 6/10
The UI was the reason for my delayed purchase. The versions previous to 1.33 had some issues that caused me concern for a high end consumer personal player. When I received my unit V1.30 was loaded. I immediately updated to V1.33 before loading audio or doing any setup. The update is fast and simple. With V1.33 loaded boot is reliable, a large library (mine is 86GB) takes about 90 seconds to scan. In the 3 weeks I have had the unit I have had 2 issues with the interface. On boot it will scan and then miss the data loaded on SD1 and the internal memory. A reboot resolves the issue. I have not "lost" any data with this issue.
One other slight issue I have reported to iRiver is occasionally an MP3 will clip the end of the song and end prematurely. I have not experienced this on FLAC files.
Use of the OSD is less responsive than I had expected. A "flick" to scroll only moves a few items at a time. Initially I found this annoying but as I use the player more it does allow for more accurate control of positioning as with a large number of songs.
USB INTERFACE: 3/10
This level of unit should be equipped with a USB 3 interface. The USB 2 takes a couple of hours to load 32 GB into the unit memory. The optional microSD cards are also very slow when interfaced through the unit. Syncing with a large library is an overnight process.
Other than the USB 2 the port works well with WIN 7, WIN 8, Ford/Lincoln Sync.
BLUETOOTH INTERFACE: ?/10
If I could get it to connect to any device I would rate it. This is a frustration point as of this review.
SOUND QUALITY: 8/10
The sound of this unit is truly exceptional which you expect for a $900 personal player. This is the area that has me in love with the AK100. I have ¡§tested¡¨ the unit with 3 headphones and to the analog input of the NovaPre. The headphones were Sennheiser HD800s, Sennheiser IE80s and Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10. Each of the 3 headphones have their own pluses and minuses, so not to cloud my review of the sound quality I will refer to my direct analog connection to my listening room system.
In a side to side comparison with the NovaPre and the AK100 with levels adjusted on both to 0dB it was a tight race. I only have high praise for Peachtree components and the AK100 is a very close second.
Overall the sound is full, not over tight and not boomy, excellent sound stage and there was no fatigue with 2 hours of listening. This is something I cannot say about many high end consumer transport/dac units I have listened to. I personally get fatigued with units within 10 to 20 minutes if mids or highs are exaggerated. This of course is all a matter of personal preference. Of note is the use of the built in EQ. I am not a fan of modifying MQS, but on MP3s it will make the difference between liking a song and loving it. The finger swipe is unique and can be fine-tuned by audio band. A very nice feature.
A few notes on the sound through IEMs (Sennheiser IE80). The separation is very pleasing and exact. I have not noticed cross fade on any FLAC. Again I found no fatigue while listening for almost 4 hours. The replication was very true to my listening room system.
There is only 1 case for the AK100. Although very nice and made by AK it is pricey at $49.00 for a small piece of leather (but your springing $900 for a personal player so live a little and get the case) º. With or without a case there is no fastening clip. If you are wearing shorts without pockets this thing can be a pain the butt while walking, running or playing air guitar.
MY OPINION and SOME THOUGHTS:
OPINION - I gave sound quality an 8 out of 10. I would give my entire listening room that I have spent months tweaking and spent 24 times more money a 9 out of 10. The final 10% will delay my retirement an additional 10 years.
OPINION - This unit is not for background music. It is far too precise and lovely to not immerse yourself into a joyous listening session.
OPINION - If you are technology addict this unit is not for you. Most cell phones today are prettier and have more glitz. But it will be a very long time before a phone will compete with the AK100 for sound and build.
OPINION - If you are happy listening to your favorite music through a home theater or ipod dock I don¡¦t believe this will make much of a difference. I don¡¦t know that by taste I could tell a $70 bottle of wine from a $5000 bottle as this is not my passion. I do believe I could tell this player from any other player within a few notes as this IS my passion. You need to have this passion for MQS to appreciate this unit.
OPINION - Your spending almost a grand for the player and case, don¡¦t forget to get a quality set of headphones or IEMs. WalMart does not carry what you need to ride this baby to bliss.
THOUGHT - I spent months positioning my speakers and audio boards in my listening room. If I had just bought this unit I would have probably not completed the speaker project.
THOUGHT - It would be great if they expanded the size of the SD recognized. While 2 32GB slots are nice, I still need to swap cards when I want to listen to my overall collection of FLAC which is now at 700GB. Someday......
Most Recent Customer Reviews
only thing I am not comfortable is the volume button on the right which may be turned...Read more
This is it. You won't regreat it.