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4.4 out of 5 stars15
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 16 January 2013
My usual listening rig is iPod classic, Cypher Labs DAC and ALO amp but it can be a little cumbersome to tote around. Plus it looks like an explosive device to nervy security bods.
This is an alternative to carrying three components around plus it also plays higher resolution files.
The interface is pretty good with a touch screen and is rather more sophisticated than the Colorfly 4 for example.
Again unlike the Colorfly the software works seamlessly.
Capacity is not bad with inbuilt 32gb plus space for two, yes two, micro sd cards giving you at least another 64g and possibly another 128g if you get 64g cards.
(Make sure you format them correctly.)

Sound quality is very good. There has been some criticism on headphone forums about the high impedance of the unit and the effect it may have on IEMs.
Well with my Westone 4R it sounds just fine.

The fact it plays flac files is important to me. I have tried higher resolution files at 24 bit 96 kHz but cannot really tell the difference between 16 bit 44khz and the higher resolution files.

Machine is very well made and incredibly small compared to the Colorfly.

All in all recommended.
55 comments8 of 8 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 24 April 2013
I own the AK100 hi-res player, and several others from Hifiman, Olympus, Roland, Zoom, and Tascam. This has allowed me to compare AK100 to those other hi-res players/recorders.
None of them can compete with AK100 in terms of sound quality and usability. The Hifiman is the closest in sound quality (the Hifiman HM-601), the others sound limited, thin and weak compared to the AK100.

I use the AK100 with the Sennheiser HD650 and Hifiman HE-400. The Hifiman headphones is simply massive, a really good combination, but the HD650 is my go-to headset anyways due to acceptable sound and very good comfort.

Some 'audiophile' people on the net has said that the AK100 has a cold and lifeless sound. I wonder if those people has done any A/B testing with other similar hi-res players. I have and can confirm that AK100 sounds really excellent. It doesn't hype any frequencies as far as I can hear, it's really hi-res and neutral, and that is what I want..

There is one major drawback with the AK100: It doesn't do gapless playback. Too bad when listening to albums like Dark Side of the Moon or other concept albums.. The menu/OS is a little bit fiddly (touch screen) but better than all the others mentioned earlier except for perhaps the Olympus LS-3 (which has a limited, thin & weak sound). The price is high, let's hope that means that only quality components has been used.
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on 20 December 2013
The Good:
Superb audio. A very neutral/ balanced/ flat sound.

Able to turn gapless on and off.

AMOLED screen. These are the best, watch video on them and you'll see why.

Dual Micro SD card storage.

Build quality is good. Very smooth, good looking unit. Feels tough.

Multiple playlist creating on the go.

USB DAC with recent firmware update.

Digital in, Digital out with a Optical to 3.5mm converter (few pounds at most as it's only a connector and doesn't actually do anything to the signal)

The bad:
The battery. Unimpressive.

The buttons just aren't nice. Little circle things.

It cuts off the end of mp3s. WTF indeed. Future firmware update should fix.

This thing is quite block like. Given it's size, i'd prefer an increase in length for a bigger screen and battery. It's also awkward as hell to use one handed. This is personnel preference, but certainly would help with other issues.

The roller wheel volume control is a nice touch, but essentially pointless. It changes volume in half increments, a button can do that just as well/ quick/ precisely. Gets in the way, weak spot for potential damage. (it can be put on hold to prevent accidental use though)

The EQ. Urgh. Ever used a Cowon J3 EQ? If so you'll be disappointed. One single setting available for use, and not as precise due to the small touch screen.

The user interface just isn't that well tested. Little things like having to turn the screen on, to turn the player off are annoying. I just wanted to hold the off button to turn it off.

No "album artist" search. Either Album, Folder, Artist, Genre, Playlist, Most Played.

Searching the Genre gives the list of ALL songs. Not separated by folders/ artists/ or even album.

Doesn't play continuously from folder to folder. It'll stop at the last song.

Small screen as mentioned makes scrolling songs a pain.

Doesn't work so well with a fresh Windows 7 install. I have to plug and unplug, then plug in again for the AK100 to be recognised. I've played with the drivers etc.

The manual says "not to remove SD cards regularly". So you transfer slowly through the USB 2.0 cable instead. Not such a big issue for me, but for some.

[UPDATE]
Another slight niggle, you can only add songs to a playlist when you're playing the song that you want to add. You cannot rename the playlists.
[UPDATE END]

Conclusion.
If you want superb audio at any price, AK100 = win.
If you want convenient digital out in a small device, AK100 = win.
If you want a Walkman or Ipod feature/ style/ usable player, AK100 = loose.
If you want Cowon battery and EQ, AK100 = loose.

For me, too many looses. If i could sell this for £500 cash right now, i would.

Equipment used for sound review:
UMX3s. Excellent. Smooth, controlled, precise. Lack of warmth without EQ which i just then change to another headphone
DT990 premium 32ohm. Increased control, more precise and clear vocals.
M50. Brings out mids excellently. Not heard this headphone perform that well before.
Momentums. Removes the warmth slightly, and increases the control of lower end.
DT1350- Very bright now. Ideal for Beyer fans.

Can't be bothered to remind my myself of other bits the headphones as this isn't a headphone review. Just a guidance.
0Comment4 of 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 13 September 2013
Astell & Kern exposes a mighty chasm of difference between the so called "audiophile" experience and listening to music from your phone or an iPod but you'll require a descent set of headphones to truly appreciate the AK100's impressive capabilities.

The user interface a little rough around the edges but this can easily be forgiven given the phenomenal audio experience on offer and firmware updates are being released all the time.

I discovered the AK100 when considering a replacement iPod. Through online forums I'd discovered that the iPod classics have an older DAC (digital to audio convertor) and that the newer iPods reportedly sound better. I went in to test the differences myself and was surprised that the iPod classic actually did sound inferior to an iPod nano or touch, the music was somehow flatter, less alive but rather than leave with a new iPod touch on was now on a mission. I'd already purchased a nice set of headphones, had begun re-ripping my CD's into a lossless format... was this the best I could get? A resounding "hell no" would be the answer.

It turns out that not all zeros and ones are recreated equally and that's where the Astell & Kern shines. In fact the DAC in this player is so good that if you connect this player to a HiFi unit (via headphone jack to phono etc) you'll probably blow people away. The clarity and definition from base to treble is much more precise and pronounced with a more detailed and better represented 3D sound image. An absolutely stunning sound.

While the same 256/320Kbps MP3 will sound much (much much) better on the AK100 than on iPod etc this player supports high definition file formats of up to 24bit at 192Khz (9216Kps) and I wouldn't recommend anything less than CD quality music at 16bit at 44.1Khz (1411Kps) otherwise this would be analogous to driving around in a high performance sports car but never going faster than 20Mph.

24Bit music offers the same richness and depth of vinyl but without any of the pops or crackles. The files are significantly larger but now that now that memory isn't the premium that it use to be, with the AK100 you can finally leave the dark ages that Napster, iTunes and Spotify plunged us into and embrace a high definition future.

The AK100 provides up to 96GB of storage space (32GB on board plus another couple of slots for a further two 32GB micro SD's). Some forums are reporting that the AK100 supports up to 64GB micro SD but I haven't found this to be the case (even after careful instruction), however, it only takes a few minutes to rescan your library and if you really wanted you could purchase a number of micro SD's and carry them around in a micro SD wallet.

So where can you get HD music? In the UK & Europe I've found Lynn Records and High Res Audio (Germany) offering a number of albums that helped kick start my HD music collection. HD Tracks in the US offers the largest number of HD titles but for licensing reasons only a few albums are available internationally like The Doors, Nina Simone etc. If you were in the UK visiting from the US and wanted to purchase from HD Tracks then you could use a VPN like Witopia and use Paypal as a payment method, just remember to delete your cookies first (if first browsing HD Tracks from within the UK).

I've also noticed a recent trend of artists releasing their new albums in 24bit through their website for example Goldfrapp, Kate Bush, Muse and Nine Inch Nails all offer 24bit versions of their latest albums and if you have a look around you'll find The Beatles catalogue through the official Beatles website so worth keeping your eyes out, new stuff is becoming available all the time and checking with label and artist websites will reveal the odd delight.

This is a beautiful peace of kit with a solid build quality and was much smaller than I was expecting. Perhaps the design of the volume dial lets the unit down a little, if feels a little cheap in comparison to the rest of the build but seems solid enough and wouldn't prevent me from purchasing another. I would recommend this to any audiophile or music lover, someone who is looking for an iPod replacement and wants to try high resolution audio or someone who just wants to listen to their CD's in lossless.

This little player is amazing, the best thing I've purchased in a very long time.

NB: make sure that you update the firmware so that you get gapless playback (found within the settings) as well as any further improvements they've made since launch.
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on 3 May 2013
Ladies and gentlemen, the superior portable system has arrived.

*PLEASE BE WARNED THAT ENGLISH IS NOT MY FIRST LANGUAGE AND APOLOGIZE FOR MY GRAMAR :)

I think this is my first review ever, usually I can never be bothered repeating others opinion since they have pretty much covered everything. This time however I have to add my "two cents" because this little device really deserves all the praise.

Currently I use the AK100 with my Shure's SE535 and i am happy to report that this is a perfect marriage.

When i first got my Shure 535 IEM and hooked them up to my iphone 4 and listened to some loseless albums i was in heaven and didn't think it could get any better.... but boy, how wrong was I at that time!

Knowing that this was just the beginning in my audiophile journey I was ready to take the next step I started doing some research. I've seen many great reviews about the Ak100 and how it could play MQS (Mastering Quality Sound) music on the go! I have decided to try it out with my own ears.

I could not believe how superior the sound is compared to the Iphone 4 and that is just playing CD quality loosless audio. The sound stage is much wider, much better instrument separation and tone and so much more details that could not be picked up on the iphone even with the Shure 535's!

Now here comes the real deal....24bit/196 mastering quality music. Words can not describe how breathtaking it is, it's like every musician is performing exclusively for you in a studio environment for free all the time. There is only one thing you have to know....you really need to play the right music to appreciate this device like Jazz, blues, rock, classical...generally everything that has real instruments. I would not see any point of buying this to listen to electro, techno etc. since i does not have too much detail that could be revealed with the AK100 anyway and probably not many wouldn't see the difference between their regular portable player.

I can truly recommend this to anyone who loves music and wants the best sound quality. Now having the perfect portable solution I can start saving up for my home listening setup: ALO Audio International portable Amp and Audeze LCD 3 Headphones and obviously the AK100 as the source :)

Sorry have to go now....Led Zeppelin is waiting in my room to perform for me :)

Happy listening!
Martin
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on 7 February 2013
I use this with a pair of AKG K3003 ear buds (about twice the price of the player). The sound for a portable unit is about as close to reference as you can get. I play a range of files from MP3 up to 24/96 FLAC. The latest firmware also plays ALAC (apple lossless) plus a range of others. The Wolfson DAC is the best there is and I cannot immagine returning to the rather tinny sound from my iphone 5! Getting music onto the device is simple, copy and paste (using Mac OSX) with the library auto detect on the device. Overall an excellent device for those of us who like a superior sound in portable player. However, please note you also really need the best head phones to appreciate it!
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on 22 September 2013
Had this beaut for a while now, and it has grown on me with more use, and breaking it in with the earphones. Sounds fantastic. The impedance is apparently a factor with a lot of earphones, but I purchased a pair of sennheiser ie800, and played some 24/192 or 24/96 files through it, perfect. The new firmware download has a 'pro eq' setting, I think for improving the impedance issue with some sets. It also allows the ak100 to be used as a usb dac to output to a separate amp. I can report this works very nicely, although only through a usb 2.0 port.
There are several other firmwares that can change the sound signature to your preference.
I've listened to the larger AK120 (which has two DACs), and while the sound difference is slightly noticeable, this unit is far better value at almost half the price.
My only other gripe is that finding lots of 24 bit music files is harder thanI expected, and expensive! Make sure your collection is at least 16 bit cd quality, and you won't look back. (mp3s sound terrible on this!)
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on 11 February 2014
I'm not an audiophile but have a very large library of (British Folk and Classical) music that I need to listen to on the move. I've been using the AK 100 for just about a month now (a Christmas present!) and these are my initial findings.
This device:
+ is a handy size and seems sturdy
+/- comes in sexy packaging that is probably over-kill and must add a lot to the overall cost of the product
+ gives an excellent sound reproduction for my (mainly) .wma music files
+ seems to have an acceptable battery life
+ boot up time is acceptable, but I haven't yet loaded all my music files which will need both micro sd card slots to be used.

I can't give it any higher star rating than 3*, however, because:
- the screen size is tiny making file navigation tiresomely tricky
- the "settings" options are not very well designed and seem limited
- it took a software/firmware update to provide a facility to turn gapless playback on/off
- the "random" playback option DOESN'T WORK! I use this facility all the time with my other players and this is a "must have" feature for my listening pleasure. The AK 100, however, favours certain tracks and plays those much more frequently that it should if the "random" selection really was unbiased. I will be taking this issue up with Astell & Kern.
- the gapless selection facility (see above) DOESN'T WORK. All the "off" selection seems to do is add about one extra second to the original track before cutting it off. My tracks have generally been recorded by me so that they end where I want them to, but even with the "off" button selected, I am still losing about 2 seconds from the end of each track. This is unacceptable and, again, I am taking this up with A&K.

If anyone has any solutions to these last 2 negative points I'd be interested to hear them.
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on 3 November 2013
First, the good parts:

* Excellent sound quality, rivaling that of desktop DACs.
* Ability to handle very power-hungry headphones such as HD650.
* Good battery life (esp. compared to the competition in this market segment).
* Ability to use as a DAC via either USB or an optical cable.
* 32Gb of built-in memory, expandable via 2 microSD cards.

The not-so-nice parts:

* Price (has to be said)
* The shape is really annoying. I'd rather have something iPhone-shaped than this brick. Very inconvenient.
* The volume wheel is an accident waiting to happen.
* The player does freeze sometimes, necessitating a hardware reset.
* There was this unpleasant moment when I unboxed it and all the menus were in Chinese.
* The firmware update took about 40 minutes. Why such a long time?
* The software sucks, but then you don't need it, because you can just cut-and-paste.

To sum things up - this is an expensive, but very capable DAP that, when paired with the right headphones and good music sources, will bring you lots of joy. If you're thinking 'best portable headphone for this DAP', get the Sennheiser Momentum over-ear (not on-ear!) headphones - they are awesome!
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on 3 October 2013
Had my AK100 for about 6 weeks now and am utterly thrilled with it.It is a totally different and far superior machine to anything I have listened to , including market leaders.I can find no fault with it .Simple to use, brilliant UI and most importantly the sound is out of this world. I'm using Final audio Adagio 3 earplugs (highly recommended)and am rediscovering all my music. Just buy one if you can afford it, you will not regret it!!
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