Astell & Kern AK120 (Music Player) Quite a few weeks ago, I called into a high end audio shop - where I have bought a lot - and which is a licensed stockist of Bowers & Wilkins headphones, speakers, and so on to browse and chat. One of the topics we discussed was the tragic demise (assisted killing) of the iPod Classic, a device I have never been without since I bought my first one (a 30GB model) early in 2006. As someone who travels a lot, much of whose time is spent in underdeveloped countries where fast and reliable internet access is a luxury, not a right, where a lot of one's time can be spent in one's own company, a device with a capacious memory - to play host to an extensive music library, - along with excellent battery life are a must. Personally, when seeking a music player, I don't want the bells & whistles of an iPhone, and nor do I want, or desire, to download stuff from (or to) The Cloud. This s because my internet coverage is not always reliable, fast, secure, and also because I have old fashioned ideas as to what constitutes ownership of music (if I buy a CD I believe that I own the right to play it without having to pay further for the privilege). Anyway, for now, I have two perfectly functioning iPod classics; moreover, I also have two others - one bought with foresight a year ago, as I suspected a discontinuation of the device, and the other one requested, and, to my surprise, obtained, when the device was discontinued. Both are still sealed, in their lovely little boxes, unopened. So, for now, I must admit, my musical needs are not urgent. Nevertheless, while chatting with staff that Sunday in late February, we commiserated with each other on the demise of the iPod classic, a resilient and reliable and reassuring device, if all that one asks is something that can keep you company and play music. I wondered whether - now that Apple have made it clear that a field that they revolutionised is utterly redundant - whether anybody else had an indestructible product that a traveller such as myself might care to seek out in a year or two, or three.What might be available as a good quality replacement for the iPod Classic, or what might those in the audio world care to recommend as a possible replacement for the iPod Classic, a high end audio device that plays music, and only plays music, - but can do that exceedingly well - has a capacious memory, very good battery life, and is fairly indestructible. That was when the young man mentioned that his boss swore by Astell & Kern, and owned one, adding 'the only drawback is that they're pretty expensive'. He produced his boss's former Astell & Kern (said boss had apparently bought a newer model) from a drawer, scrolled through it to find some sort of music that I might like (although I am of a certain vintage, and love classical music, you will not go far wrong with 60s, 70s, and 80s, music either) and handed it to me, inserting my own B&W P5 headphones into the jack. It was excellent, but, while used to the easy controls of the iPod, I found the commands somewhat unfamiliar. Anyway, subsequently, I did some research (and learned that, in this precise context, expensive=very expensive), read several reviews whereupon I realised that there were several such products, and returned to ask further questions. A few weeks ago, the young man said he would put aside an older Astell & Kern model for me, and that I could borrow it for a week or two. He asked me for some musical preferences of my own, and promised to put some of them into the device ('no point in listening to music you can't stand'). Although I have had several meetings to attend these past few weeks, I didn't manage to visit the audio shop until yesterday, when an Astell & Kern 120 (the older model) was fished out of a drawer; we put some of the music from my MBA on it, and I borrowed USB adapting cable which accompanies the A&K. Then, I took it home, travelling first by train for two and a half hours. This is one superb piece of audio equipment - the sound is outstanding. Notes are crystal clear; I heard instruments and chords in songs I knew well that I had never known existed. Clarity, and quality of audio rendition is superlative. Appearance wise, and in terms of build quality, this is first rate. Reviews had mentioned that the battery takes an age to recharge, so that is being tested as I write. Nevertheless, for those for whom cost is less sensitive an issue than might otherwise be the case, here is a possible alternative (and, indeed, a possible successor) to the much loved and deeply mourned iPod Classic.