Astell & Kern Music Player

Discussion in 'iPod' started by Scepticalscribe, Apr 17, 2015.

  1. Scepticalscribe, Apr 17, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2018

    Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #1
    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.

     
  2. efib macrumors member

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2012
    #2
    Ak is the apple of daps, beautiful and overpriced but quality.
    B&W p5 won't do it justice, it's a high end dap.
    Really want the ak100ii but have some other priorities :)
     
  3. Scepticalscribe, Apr 17, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2015

    Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #3

    Well, the B&W P5 is what I have and happens to be my favourite headphones (comfortable, beautifully built, exceedingly portable, and pretty good audio).

    Now, I do have the B&W P7s, and I will most certainly try them out with the A&K 120 before I return the latter over the next week or so.

    Nevertheless, I will say that the P5s rendered it very well, and, when travelling, the P5s are what I would be using…….

    Agreed. The A&K is absolutely beautiful to hold and use. Exquisitely made.

     
  4. efib macrumors member

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2012
    #4

    I have p5s as well and love them :D
    P7 is the next headphone I'll buy, these are good but a high end headphone will send you to heaven.
    P5 isn't very detailed and it's dark but I absolutely love them.
    Don't return the ak!!!
     
  5. Scepticalscribe, Apr 17, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2015

    Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #5
    I was impressed and surprised by the stunning quality of the sound.

    While it is interesting to listen to what you know and love, it is equally interesting to listen to what you know but haven't heard in quite a while.

    Thus, while I had mentioned '60s' stuff, as one of the types of music I liked, he had put some stuff that - which, while I knew and liked, I wouldn't necessarily have put it on myself.

    Two of these CDs (which had not been selected by me) were some form of The Rolling Stones - Greatest Hits, and The Doors - Greatest Hits. This was music I knew very well (I had gone through a 'Doors' phase in the early 80s, when I was an undergrad - there was a warm summer back then when my brother and I listened to nothing else), but hadn't properly listened to in decades.

    Anyway, on the A&K, it was rendered superlatively well; it was just awesomely brilliant.

    To be honest, I have a feeling the guys knew very well what they were doing giving me this to play with for a week or two.

    Already, I have to admit that I'll be exceedingly sorry when I have to return it…...
     
  6. efib macrumors member

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2012
    #6

    A good dap reveals a lot in your music collection.
    Maybe take a look at ibasso dx90, it's a vfm player ;)
     
  7. Scepticalscribe, Apr 17, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2015

    Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #7
    Two other things to mention at this stage: Transferring music brings back memories of Ye Olden Windows Days.

    I have gotten used to simply using the USB cable to link my iPod Classic to my MBA and between them, without any further input from me, they do the necessary.

    With Astell & Kern, there is a bit more work involved. And thought and concentration. While I managed some transfers yesterday - it was under supervision and careful instruction - so, I will see what tonight brings, when I'll try to transfer a few more CDs.

    Secondly, it does seem to take some time to recharge the battery. Here, time seems to be rendered in hours rather than half an hour or so for my my iPods. Online fora recommend an iPad cable (which I don't have as I gave my two iPads away), over an iPhone cable, and recommend an iPhone cable over linking to a MBP, (or MBA).

    I used an international adaptor with a USB slot and went from there. While I didn't actually time it, it did seem to take a couple of hours. It has now informed me that it is fully charged.

     
  8. noodles5666 macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2010
    #8
    If you want to save some coin check out the Sony ZX2.
     
  9. Eithanius macrumors 65816

    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2005
    #9
    Was contemplating A&K, but I lose control over iTunes on play count, lyrics, and other seamless stuff... Now I'm thinking if getting a headphone amp is more feasible than this other than missing out the quality...
     
  10. Scepticalscribe, Apr 18, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2015

    Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #10

    Again, I spent a lot of time yesterday evening listening to music on the A&K, having spent some time downloading (this time by myself, without the benefit of patient instruction at my shoulder) more music.

    No, it is not seamless - that was why I made the comment about Ye Olden Days - but the audio sound quality is simply superb. Stunning.

    In fairness, it is not that then musical transfer is exactly like the clunky Windows horror stories of yore; (I lost count of the number of CD-Rs that I destroyed while trying to work the whole thing out, time it accurately, and navigate the whole sea of 'creating' playlists. Naturally, the development of the more expensive CD-RWs were a considerable improvement, - as errors could be erased, and the whole thing redone - but iTunes did knock the socks off all of that for sheer effortless ease). It is a lot better than that (it would want to be) but it is not the effortless ease of the Apple world, where you simply connect the iPod to the computer and between them, they do the rest.

    In essence, you need to be concentrating a bit while transferring music.

    Plusses: The battery life is actually pretty good (but takes a while to re-charge). The build quality is extraordinary, rugged and handsome, and the volume control ergonomically exquisitely designed. Personally, I rather like the screen, and user interface; it is visually clean, and clear, tells you what you need to know. Above all, it is charmingly clean, clear, plain, and uncluttered. It also works well visually.

    Likewise, I also like the home screen & user inter face - again, it is clean and clearly laid out, and very easy to read.

    As mentioned, the audio is superlative. And the device gorgeous looking, (reassuringly heavy) and exceptionally well built.

    Minuses: The cost. The length of time to re-charge batteries. The fact that you have to think before transferring music.

    Things That Other People Might Think Significant Minuses But I Don't: This is a music player, and that is it. There is no connectivity, no apps, it does nothing except store and play music.

     
  11. UBS28 macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2012
    #11
    Buy a portable Dac + amp for even better sound quality at a lower price than what AK has to offer.
     
  12. Scepticalscribe, Apr 19, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2015

    Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #12
    Thanks, guys, for your replies. I'll certainly look into these, but I won't deny that the A&K has 'wowed' me.
     
  13. mgipe macrumors demi-god

    mgipe

    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2009
    Location:
    CA
  14. Scepticalscribe, Apr 23, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2015

    Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #14
    There is a small part of me (a steading receding and shrinking part) that almost wishes that I had never been given one of these fantastic devices 'to play with' for a week or so.

    Sad but inevitable to confess, outrageous price notwithstanding, I have no doubt but that I will be buying one. The only two questions are when, and which model…….
     
  15. mgipe macrumors demi-god

    mgipe

    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2009
    Location:
    CA
    #15
    The AK240 of course. :eek:
    One has to consider the iBasso as well.
     
  16. Scepticalscribe, Apr 24, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2015

    Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #16

    Sigh. What can I say?

    Well, I would be lying (to myself as well as to you) if I did not admit - even if only internally, a muttered and stifled conversation - that I wasn't tempted. Sorely tempted.
     
  17. Scepticalscribe, May 9, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2015

    Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #17
    Well, with mingled boundless gratitude and bottomless regret I returned this splendid device to its rightful owner yesterday, my first trip back to the capital in almost three weeks.

    In a word, it was fantastic - the sound was simply superb as was the build quality and the aesthetic appeal.

    For the first time in my life, I have almost felt that I was slumming it, with an iPod classic (although my trusty iPod Classic was in my briefcase, ready to resume its place at my side).

    Of course, I have little doubt as to the reason behind their bountiful generosity. They reminded me (again) yesterday, that I have been (and am) considered an excellent customer (true).

    However, they would not have been the kind and merry - and, let it be said, highly profitable - souls they are if the notion that I might make a suitably similar purchase had not also crossed their minds…….
     
  18. GrindedDown, May 10, 2015
    Last edited: May 10, 2015

    GrindedDown macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Jun 4, 2009
    Location:
    Las Vegas
    #18
    I'm glad that you found about Astell and Kern and have had a chance to demo one of their products.

    I personally love the simplicity of them. I like that when I use it, there are no pictures to look at or internet to surf of text messages or anything like that.

    Music has always been a big part of my life, and I am constantly listening to it. My musical tastes are wide yet refined at this point. However, in regards to equipment, I hadn't tried very many options. I had used the Beats Studios and the 2.0 version for a long time and I loved both. They were stylish, comfortable, and still fun to listen to to my ears. I have had reasonable 2.1 systems for my computer and have a reasonal 5.1 home theater setup. All good quality and in lower end price brackets. However, I was really curious about the world of Hifi (been a lurker at head-fi for a little while). Boy did that turn out to be an expensive decision....

    Earlier this year, I had some disposable income and I took two really huge plunges. First was buying a pair of Shure SE846 IEMs. Holy crap...........I'll never listen to music the same way ever again. These things are severely unreal. I can't explain away the cost to most people, but despite being expensive, I believe they were worth every penny to me (I also got them 20% off new from authorized dealer).

    That led me to trying to find a really good quality source for my tunes. I comtemplated a portable dac/amp to pair with my iphone, but I realized I also wanted the native ability to play lossless files (I know, I know they have apps for it). A dedicated player really intrigued me. That's when I discovered A&K and their line.

    I looked at all of their models including the older generation devices and I picked out the newer generation AK100ii because I'm cheap ;) (as opposed to the bajillion dollar 240). I looks and behaves like a portable dac, can interface as a USB dac for desktop (PC and MAC), the volume knob is very cool much like what is present on most amps, and it is a dedicated player capable of high storage and lossless playback. It is also a beautifully designed object and even nicer to hold in person (was worried about the bulk of it based on pics, but it is very nice in the hand.) They are very expensive and there are certainly much less expensive DAP (digital audio player) options on the market that offer some similar features, but this thing is the package deal and the design of it is superb, which is a remarkably important feature for me.

    After just one listen I was blown away. No noise and hissing, incredible clarity, detail and resolving power, and an overall perfect match for my SE846's. The battery life is excellent and charges pretty damn fast for what it is. These can be had for a good deal off the MSRP on amazon quite frequently.

    I go to the gym a lot and I have to admit that I love tossing my phone in my bag, throwing in my headphones, turning this thing on and up (this thing can drive some pretty hard to drive cans at high volumes), and knowing that I can just focus without tons of phone related distractions coming my way.



    Have you had a chance to peruse the options at all and see which player is the one you may want to get (if at all)?

    If you say AK240ii......I'll shoot you....mostly out of jealousy....

    Also, what kind of headphones are you using?

    P.S. - If you like sticker shock, google the AK240 blue note edition..........hope you don't have blood pressure issues.....
     
  19. GrindedDown macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Jun 4, 2009
    Location:
    Las Vegas
    #19
    One thing I should note that was one of the biggest selling points to me in regards to the AK100ii vs some of the other DAPs on the market such as some of the Fiio, iBasso, or Sony offerings was the glowing reviews on the UI. After having done my research, it seemed relatively unanimous amongst people that had used multiple devices that the AK UI on their product line was basically the best in the business.

    I have to admit that I absolutely love the UI. It is easy and intuitive. It supports a lot of desired features such as mechanisms for very quickly adding a song to a queue (either after the current song or at the end of the current playlist/album/queue), which lets you sorta create on-the-fly and destructible playlists. Making saved play lists is a breeze and for large libraries, there is quick access from a pull-down many anywhere in the system for searching for an artist, song, album, you name it.

    There are many other features that make it pretty damn awesome to use.

    I have heard that other UIs were not as smooth or as easy to use, but all I know is that this thing is a breeze.
     
  20. Scepticalscribe, May 10, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2015

    Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #20
    Well, for obvious reasons, it will come as no surprise to you when I say that I have spent an embarrassing amount of time perusing A&K products these past few weeks.

    Actually, they have just brought out a 'new' product, a sort of 'baby' A&K, which wouldn't be my cup of tea, although I applaud the mindset that can think of trying to appeal to a more youthful demographic with a more competitively priced entry model.

    I did see that 'blue note edition' and noted the startling price, too. While I have no doubt that it is probably stunning when beheld physically, it struck me as too garish, and too striking; understated elegance is the look I am after, not something that screams 'I can afford this'. Actually, if I was in a position to justify spending that sort of money on a music player (and I am easily persuaded, if I have the means), I would choose one of the standard 240 models, rather than the 'blue note' edition.

    My headphones are all B&W. Actually, it was in the authorised B&W dealer that I was given the A&K, as I had asked them, as high end audio specialists, what they could recommend by way of a successor when my beloved and trusty iPod Classic decides to shuffle off this mortal coil. Over the past two years, I have bought B&W MM1s, the B&W Zeppelin, as wells two sets of P5s - the best headphones I have ever had in my life bar none, and the P7s. So, I mainly used my P5s with the A&K.

    The A&K that was loaned out to me was the original - the 'old' generation 120. While they said they were giving me the original 100 (which is also gorgeous) my computer identified it correctly as the 120 and I mentioned that to them.

    While they can get the 'new' generations easily enough - the new 120 (the 120ii) - with tax and everything else - would sell at around €1,800, and the 240, of course is stratospherically expensive.

    I idly wondered why their best offer on the old stock would be and they promised to get back to me, and did so, when they phoned me yesterday with offers. They have offered me a further €150 off the price Amazon is charging, which is already half the original price.

    Until I am being paid silly money again - which some of the work I do abroad actually does pay for as long as I am working abroad in the sort of places the Chinese would call 'interesting'- I doubt I could justify that sort of expenditure on the new 120ii (which is what I have my eye on).

    But they have made me an excellent offer on their sole remaining original 120 (and on the 100s, and they have a few of those left). While I'd prefer a larger memory (one of the selling points of the 120ii, and indeed the stratospheric 240), I can see myself succumbing to the siren lure of a reasonably priced 120.



    Delighted to see a fellow enthusiast writing about (and sharing their pleasure with) the A&K. I have been bowled over, absolutely bowled over.

    Reading your earlier post, I was struck by your paean of praise for the Shure SE 846 in-ears; I have heard great reports of Shure, for all head-phones, but find using in-ears a very painful experience, hence I tend to use on-ears, such as the extraordinarily comfortable and exquisitely built B&W, which offer an excellent audio experience as well.
     
  21. GrindedDown macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Jun 4, 2009
    Location:
    Las Vegas
    #21
    Yeah I have no doubt that if you decide to get something like the 120, you'll be fully satisfied. The players are really something else and they sound just absolutely fantastic.

    The big selling points for me of the AK100ii vs the old versions were the more generous screen size and impedance matching for my headphones. That is certainly something to be aware of for sure. My 846s are very easy to drive and having a player that had a low output impedance was a big plus to.

    I completely understand though about how you feel about in ear headphones. I suppose they are sort of an acquired taste. For me I have adjusted to having something in my ears pretty well and while I very much enjoy the comfort of a full sized pair of headphones, portability and small size became increasingly important to me. That and, again, smaller and easy to drive IEMs mean I can carry around less equipment with me for the most part.
     
  22. Scepticalscribe, May 10, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2015

    Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #22

    Re headphones, I have found that the combination of portability, comfort (that lovely soft leather), aesthetics, build quality (steel and leather), and excellent audio meet a sweet spot with the Bowers & Wilkins P5s. Most on-ears, and over ears are too large, I agree, but I also find that comfort matters, and I have never yet managed to find an in-ear headphone that was comfortable. Pain should not be a part of the musical listening experience, to my mind, and the P5s are incredibly portable; one pair lives, more or less permanently, in my briefcase.

    Re the AK 120, the price I have been offered for a brand new (original) 120 is well under half the price of a 120ii; I will have to await my return to the sort of dodgy spots which pay the sort of money which will allow for a guilt free purchase of the 120ii.

    Again, I read some of the reviews for the 'blue note' edition of the 240. In all honesty, I cannot see how the special edition - irrespective of the gorgeous CD stands, or hard-back book, or 75 pre-loaded CDs, or 'blue -note' colour (no account I read was clear on how this was achieved - as in, what metal, or compound, or treatment, was used on the device itself in order o achieve this colour) can justify a price which is twice what the 'normal' 240 is. Nothing I have read suggests any technological breakthrough, or innovation which might justify that.

    Now, in any case, I have no problem with the duralumin case of the original 240, and nor, for that matter, have I any issue with the more recent stainless steel version. Should funds ever permit, (cough) either of these would find a permanent and welcoming home with me.

    And a ps: How do you like your AK 100 ii? Had you an opportunity to try out the original AK 100 for comparison?
     
  23. srshaw macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Aug 13, 2011
    #23
    This is just the device I wish Apple should make.
     
  24. kaielement macrumors 65816

    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2010
  25. Scepticalscribe, May 14, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2015

    Scepticalscribe thread starter Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Location:
    The Far Horizon
    #25
    Well, in our dreams, perhaps.
    Yes, agreed. Amazing sound - stunning appearance and feel - and, yes, stratospheric price.

    However, I'll readily admit that I am pretty much bowled over.
     

Share This Page