Headroom – Astell and Kern AK120 II hi res audio player, Layla and Angie in ears

AK120IIAstell & Kern brought their portable high resolution audio players to the Headroom Show as well as some new in ear monitors.

The AK100 II uses the same Cirrus Logic DAC from the AK240 and features a 3.31-inch WVGA (480 x 800) screen.

It’s got DSD playback smarts (converted to PCM), Wifi streaming, microSD card slot (which supports up to 128GB cards), an optical output and 64GB of internal memory.

The AK120 II adds a second Cirrus Logic DAC (so there’s one each for left and right channels), and gets a boost in storage to 128GB.

In order to increase your storage space from the supplied 64Gb, the AK players have a microSD expansion port for an additional 128Gb of storage bringing the grand total to 192GB for the AK100 II. That is plenty of music to take with you and should suit your portable needs nicely.

The AK100 II also can be used as a USB DAC and take the music off your computer and feed it to your DAP directly.

The overall construction feels very solid. It’s made of aircraft grade aluminium with a hairline and diamond cut finish. While it’s not cheap, coming in at an MSRP of £800 for the 100 II and £1500 for the 120 II, it does step up to the plate with fantastic build quality.

The volume control knob is a stepped attenuator and each step is an impressive 0.5dB. So you will have the benefits of precise left and right SPL levels that a stepped attenuator offers with the added bonus of 0.5dB steps to get the listening levels exactly where you want them (as with an analogue attenuator). It also comes with a handsome carrying case to protect the unit.

The touch screen and GUI (graphical user interface) is quite intuitive and easy to navigate through. It offers a clean and simple presentation and accessing the quick menu is as easy on my iPhone (just drag downwards from the top and you can access Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, EQ, SD card safety removal, among other things).

Navigation is also well executed as the layout is simple and straightforward so you can easily find your favourite artist, album or song. And going back to the home screen is as simple as pressing the “Home” button on the bottom of the unit. Astell & Kern has obviously put a lot of thought and care into this fantastic operating system and GUI that is not only intuitive, but provides you all the functionality you may need while never being difficult to operate.

I would describe the sound from the AK100 II as being clean and spacious with excellent detail retrieval. I wouldn’t call this a warm sounding unit. Don’t get me wrong, the bass is certainly there but perhaps not enough for those that want their teeth to rattle.

Through the headphones on the stand there was enough low down rumble on both the classical tracks and classics from Queen’s A Kind of Magic on the units on the stand.

The devices definitely produce a clean and open sound stage, rendering fine detail with the trebles handled delicately. I don’t mean that the highs have been rolled off but rather there is none of that sharp brightness that sometimes happens. The AK players present the upper registers with a shimmering detail without being harsh or overpowering.

Overall, while not cheap by any means, I think the AK100 II offers outstanding value as it rivals some of the better and more costly desktop DAC and amplifier combos out there.

Throw in the fact that you can carry up to 192Gb of your high-resolution music with you and you can use this DAP as a standalone USB DAC with your PC, it’s one to keep in mind.

I’d love to get one of these on a review to test with my own gear and song selections.

layla in earsAstell & Kern also had their Angie and Layla earphones on show. Both of these in-ear monitors are named after famous rock songs about women and have been created in conjunction with Jerry Harvey Audio, who also produced a special version of the Roxanne headphones for Astell & Kern in 2014.

That collaboration led to this latest project, with the Angie and Layla in-ears being tuned specifically for Astell & Kern’s range of high-resolution portable audio players such as the AK240.

The flagship Layla model (above = £1999) has a carbon fibre body with “burnt” titanium bezel and carbon fibre logo insert. The listener can adjust the bass response from 0 to +13dB using the variable bass output on the cable. Additional features include new proprietary drivers, SoundriVe technology with a triple quad driver configuration (12 drivers) to offer the widest possible frequency range, and FreqPhase to correct the timing and phase of multiple drivers.

angie in earsSecond in the A&K line-up is the £899 Angie model (above), also designed by Jerry Harvey Audio. It too has all-new drivers, SoundriVe and FreqPhase technology, and adjustable bass response (0 to +10db). The earpieces have a red and black Kevlar shell with with a carbon fibre logo insert.