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Astell & Kern AK100II and AK120II drop the price of portable Hi-res audio - hands on

Tom Morgan
3 Jul 2014
Astell & Kern AK120II
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The newly-launched AK100II and AK120II should be music to the ears of audiophiles on a budget

Astell and Kern are renowned for their incredibly good, but incredibly expensive portable music players. Designed specifically for lossless, high resolution audio playback, the AK240 costs an eye-watering £2,000+ which puts it out of the reach of most music lovers. The company is looking to change that with today's launch of two revamped players, the AK100II and AK120II, which improve on their predecessors and significantly cut the price, but retain the same phenomenal sound quality. We got the change to try both out at a reveal event earlier today, in order to bring you some first impressions.

Astell & Kern AK100II

Astell & Kern AK100II

The AK100II is arguably the "entry level" Astell & Kern music player, although it still costs £799 - more than you'd pay for any smartphone or MP3 player. It has a single CS4398 DAC with a balanced output which supports 5.6MHz DSD playback, an optical audio output for hooking up to something a little beefier than a pair of headphones without losing signal quality, and compatibility with 128GB microSD cards, letting you switch out your Hi-res albums on the move once you fill the 64GB of built-in memory. It fully supports USB DAC and can be used as an external sound card for your PC or Mac.

The 3.31in AMOLED display is not only significantly larger than the old AK100 but much more responsive too, which should make it easier to navigate through your albums. The software is based on Android, heavily skinned and with Google's operating system completely hidden in favour of an interface that just focuses on the music. It has 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 onboard, and also supports MQS wireless streaming from a computer as long as you install the sever client first.

Astell & Kern AK100II

Like its more expensive siblings, the AK100 II is machined from a block of aluminium and looks absolutely gorgeous, with milled buttons, a chunky metal volume knob and dedicated playback controls on the side of the unit. It sits comfortably in the hand, despite the angular design, and feels every bit the luxury item that we've come to expect from the brand.

Astell & Kern AK120II

The more expensive AK120II shares more in common with the flagship AK240 than the AK100II, and as such commands a higher price - £1499. It uses dual CS4398 DACs and the same balanced output to send audio to each ear separately for the best possible experience. It too supports 5.6MHz DSD audio playback, can double as a USB DAC for your PC or Mac, stream tracks over a wireless network using the MQS streaming server and play back tracks from microSD cards - for when 128GB of internal storage simply isn't enough to fit your Hi-res audio collection. 

Astell & Kern AK120II

It has the same 3.31in AMOLED display as the AK100II, a big improvement over the 2.4in screen found on the original AK120. It's just as responsive as the AK100II's display and looks superb from almost every angle, with bright colours and sharp text. The device itself is again machined from aluminium, with physical playback controls and a chunky volume dial on either side. It's only slightly larger than the AK100II, to accomodate the second DAC, so still fits comfortably in your palm and will easily slip in a pocket.

Both models do a great job of distilling the top-end AK240 into a more affordable yet still desirable unit. How do they sound? If you have the right pair of headphones and some Hi-res audio files, absolutely stunning - but they would have to considering the asking price.

The AK100II and AK120II should be going on sale here in the UK shortly. 

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