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Astell&Kern AK100 32GB Music HD Player Review

Astell&Kern AK100 32GB Music HD Player

Astell&Kern AK100 32GB Music HD Player


  • Product Name: AK100 32GB Music HD Player
  • Manufacturer: Astell&Kern
  • Review Date: August 02, 2013 10:15
  • MSRP: $700
  • First Impression: Pretty Cool


  • Meets 100% of Hi-Fi audio specifications
  • Equipped with the world’s first portable Wolfson WM8740 24-bit, 192kHz DAC
  • Can be used as an external optical DAC
  • Touch equalizer (EQ) easily manipulated by the fingertips
  • A user interface with an analog feel


  • Weight: 4.3 lb
  • Dimensions: 3.11 x 2.33 x 0.57 inches
  • Storage Capacity (as Tested): 32 GB
  • SD Expansion Slot
  • Screen Size: 2.4 inches
  • Screen Resolution: 320 x 240 pixels
  • Bluetooth
  • Music Playback Formats: FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, WMA, APE

I love high resolution audiophile music, and today we're reviewing the Astell&Kern AK100 32GB HD Music Player from iriver. But first, a little background information is in order. After all, a high definition music player needs...well, music. And that's where HDTracks comes in. We've been big fans of HDTracks.com, a website where you can download high definition 24-bit/192kHz studio master-quality versions of your favorite music. HDtracks was founded by David and Norman Chesky who also own and operate Chesky Records, the Grammy Award winning record label. I'm not sure how many high-resolution songs HDTracks has in its catalogue, but the website lists over 5,000 artists if that gives you any idea. Many tracks are straight studio masters ripped to high definite FLAC and other formats, while others vary in both source and quality-but it's a great start and something all audiophiles should investigate.

With all that great music, the problem then becomes the playback device. If you think your iOS device or Android phone is a high quality music player, then I would humbly ask if you also think a Big Mac represents the pinnacle delivery method for good beef.

So how do you play back high definition music? Well, there are only a handful of hardware devices on the market that aren't tied to a PC-and most of those are dedicated music servers. There's also the Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player and this, the Astell&Kern AK100 Portable music player. The AK100 promises unadulterated delivery of Mastering Quality Sound at up to 24-bit/192 kHz resolution. That's equivalent to the high resolution files that come out of the mastering studio.

So let's take a look at the player. It's really small and portable, much tinier than I had expected. It's a touchscreen device that's housed in a black brushed aluminum closure. It's about the size of...a couple of matchbox cars—remember those?

Editor's Note: A recent firmware update emerged after we shot this video. It adds the following features to the AK100:

  • The ability to use the AK100 as a USB DAC
  • Gapless playback support
  • Redesigned UI and choice of 4 UI themes
  • Increased support for different microSD card manufacturers
  • Sleep timer function
  • Boot up and overall OS speed improvements

 Astell & Kern AK100 headphones

We reviewed the AK100 using a pair of flagship Denon headphones

And it's simple to use. There's not much complexity, and it's very intuitive. You charge and load the player using its micro USB port. The player turns on and off with the top right power button. Buttons on the left of the unit provide skip and play/pause functions, and a rotating knob on the right provides an analogue control for the digital volume which can be adjusted in .5 dB steps from 0-75. The touch screen is very intuitive and responsive, very much like an Apple product. The menu is pretty straightforward too, though some parts can be a tad confusing at times.

Astell & Kern AK100 interface

iOS-like touch screen

Music quality was fantastic. I used a pair of Denon AH-D7100 headphones for my evaluation. The AK100 is a purist's playback device, and I got to test out several 24-bit/192kHz tracks. In "Storms Are On the Ocean" by Amber Rubart, her delicate vocals could be perceived with every nuance, and the acoustic guitar and violin came through with a remarkably low noise floor and tons of dynamic range. The tenor sax played by New York saxophonist Javon Jackson on "In a Mellow Tone" was so dynamic I actually had to turn down the volume—something that almost never happens when I listen to mp3's or even most CD-ripped music. This player is remarkable...and it costs just...$700.

Astell & Kern AK100 LCD

Smaller than a pack of cigarettes

OK, and this is where we need to be clear. This is your father's MP3 player—that is, if your father could care less for cameras and apps...and really just loves portable high-quality music playback. This is not a product for the masses. This is going to appeal to a small group of dedicated enthusiasts who simply want a way to bring this level of sound quality with them and who aren't satisfied with cheap DACs and mass-market circuitry. The AK100, for example, has 120dB of crosstalk separation. It has a 110dB Signal to Noise ratio. The THD is .0009% and jitter is just 90 picoseconds RMS. It does all this with a Wolfson WM8740 DAC—the same digital audio converter found in Arcam and Linn products.

Astell & Kern AK100 EQ

Custom EQ settings

So it's OK if you don't want to spend $700 on the AK100. We get it. But if you want to make the best sound you can hear portable, this is the way to do it...or you can hold out for the AK120 which will retail for around $1300. It doubles the DACs—one for each channel, has 64GB of internal storage and comes with an Italian leather case. Almost makes the AK100 feel like a bargain. Almost... Not really.

Would you pay more for a higher quality portable music player? Or are the iPod and similar products enough? That's our question for this video. Let us know by commenting here or on our Facebook page at facebook.com/audioholics. Our official Youtube channel is youtube.com/audioholicslive.

Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.

About the author:
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Clint Deboer was terminated from Audioholics for misconduct on April 4th, 2014. He no longer represents Audioholics in any fashion.

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