I have been an audiophile for years now and I have been through so many in-ear earphones, earbuds, headphones, amplifiers, audio cables, and of course DAPs or in layman’s term, digital audio player / portable music player. Before, it was the Walkman that rules the portable music scene, then the iPods dominating the Millennium. Now, it is a much harder battle as there are a lot of companies churning out music players aside from cellphones being able to do the job. Portable music has been an easier access for most of us as there are a ton of selections and our cellphones of capable of doing the deed. The only true playground to battle for portable music now is with audiophile music players. FiiO and iBasso has been a great deal in creating audiophile music players playing lossless files such as WAV, FLAC, ALAC, etc. Not just being able to play them, but pushing amazing sonic quality through their high-fidelity internal DAC chips and through their internal amp. Now that we move forward in technology, audio qualities also push for more resolution and audiophiles seek better sound reproduction. Of course, it is a never ending push for better music, and a better way to enjoy music. Astell & Kern which had begun foray into the audiophile scene just recently with their AK100 music player, has now begun creating lines of audiophile players that are not just beautiful aesthetically. But also pushing for amazing resolution in sound quality. For the short time span that they are battling in the high-end audiophile scene, they certainly stamped their name. Being a label that is similar to Ferarri in the car scene, Astell & Kern keeps on pushing further to keep their crown of being at the top of the game. Now, in my hand, I have one of Astell & Kern’s amazing craftsmanship and passion; the AK120II.
Build: Astell & Kern has been known for the very exquisite craftsmanship and quality of their players. Amazing design, amazing UI (user interface), stunning build quality and materials. The AK120II definitely retains these same things and even step it up further. With a full aluminum body and the same AMOLED touchscreen clad in that gorgeous rectangular shape with the volume pot corner architectured like an exotic sports car, it’s very hard not to be super careful with it! Stunningly beautiful!
The Astell & Kern AK120II also houses a great size of storage to put in all your audiophile music collections, with an internal storage of 120gb and having a micro-SD card slot, may it be lossless WAV or FLAC audio files, oh and it plays DSD too though it converts it to PCM. Even with 24bit resolution music files. Storage is not an issue. The AK120II also has Wi-Fi for Wi-Fi MQS streaming and for over-the-air updates. Aside from these, Astell & Kern also has cases that also flaunts class and quality, genuine leather cases for the AK120II in only the classiest shades of color for a classy and top performing product. If Astell & Kern would build a supercar, I can easily imagine it being a collaboration with Ferrari, Porsche, or Lamborghini. Build and design is hands down 10/10!
User Interface: I felt the need to talk about this as there is no other player currently having as smooth and as lag free as Astell & Kern’s own implementation of Android. The Sony Walkman Z2 which is the top of the line Walkman player of Sony also boasts an Android UI same from its predecessors, though, the implementation is much too cluttered. Lag may not be an issue and only coughs up on certain occasions, and it may have a capability of installing apps from the Google Play Store, but do you really need those in an audiophile music player? Too much clutter is also an issue as it kills the fluidity. The Astell & Kern Android UI however, has always had a great fluidity and easy navigation. Add this with a great sleek and classy look that is interchangeable with built-in themes, and you have a very enjoyable experience. You even get physical buttons for forward, back, pause and play for no-look operation of your music. I have had no issue with the AK120II UI and I enjoy both how it looks, responds, and gives a great experience in enjoying your music!
Sound Quality: The AK120II is not the flagship player of Astell & Kern, the AK240 is the current flagship. Though, this does not put the AK120II away from being a top performer. Definitely not! We’ll get back to that in a few.
First; The AK120II gives a very neutral sound signature, definitely not in a boring way as it is just rightly musical and very smooth. All regions of the sound spectrum are tight and linear. The AK120II boasts a very low noise background and wide soundstage. Detail retrieval is the strongest point as every detail of the music are nitpicked and produced in a very detailed manner. The AK120II sound very very smooth and very fluid. Everything is well detailed and smooth. The AK120II differs in the flagship AK240 in the way that it is slightly less wide and slightly less refined and a bit more “analytical” sounding. It is faster though as it is a bit less bodied.
These are aspects that should not be taken in a negative light as these aspects make the AK120II an ideal player for those who want a more analytical sound quality or looking for a slightly more bright sounding match to a specific headphone, in-ear earphone, or custom in-ear monitor. To be honest, I find that there would be a handful of people that would take the AK120II over the AK240 even if money is not a matter, for personal taste. Yes, the AK240 is more detailed and has a slightly more “wow” factor, but it isn’t that of a huge different to the AK120II. They share similar tonalities and qualites even though the AK240 is definitely a step-up, but the analytical character and faster sense of sound of the AK120II puts it on its own spot beside the AK240. Definitely a top of the line caliber player too.
Overall: With a fantastic look and build powered by a brilliant Android user interface, and housed with a true top quality of sound that other brands are incapable of stealing the throne from, the Astell & Kern AK120II truly is worth every penny of its price tag. You are paying premium not just for the looks, build, or material, you are paying for a fantastic sound reproduction that is unbelievably great! Imagine this quality of hi-fi audiophile sound that fits in your pocket! At $1699.00, the AK120II really is pricey, but you are getting every penny worth for such an amazing product that delivers an experience none other product so far can even come near to. Pricey? Yes. Worth it? Damn heck yeah! The Astell & Kern AK120II and other products are available locally at Egghead Audiohub, located in Robinsons Galleria.