By Dr. Panagiotis Karavitis
The Astell&Kern stand was under assault from visitors trying to grasp the sound quality of these devices. The new AK100 II was connected to Ultrasone edition 8 headphones while the more pricey AK 120 II (SRP of $1,699 vs $899) had one of my all time favorites and a true high-end can, the Sennheiser HD 800.
As these are very different headphones, both in price and character, and considering the surrounding noise in the exhibition hall I would hesitate to make any final judgments on the overall sound quality of the two new players or the difference in performance between them. All I can say is that they sounded wayyy better than a well-known Korean made cell phone and managed to drive both headphones with ease to more than adequate SPLs.
Technically speaking, the AK120 II sports dual Cirrus Logic DAC (CS-4398) which usually guarantees a slightly lower S/N ratio compared to the single DAC AK100 II. Output level and weight are also a tad higher for the more expensive model though we are talking for very small differences here. In fact, judging only by the looks you would be hard pressed to say which one is which (the AK120 II is a bit taller and weighs seven grams more and that’s just about it). Both devices are equipped with the 2.5mm balanced output, optical output and support 802.11 b/g/n wi-fi. More importantly both support DSD playback up to 5.6MHz. The AK120 II has more storage, which is something to be expected considering the huge difference in price.
Holding one of the Astell & Kern products in your hand makes you aware of how cheap certain high-priced cell phones are. Yes, the flagship AK 240 is quite expensive for being a portable player, but these new models certainly look their part, too.