Newport 2014: Astell&Kern and the Hand of Glory


hiresnewportlogoforwebThere are several legends about the so-called “Hand of Glory“. They refer to the hand of a hanged thief, amputated after death. Sweet, right? It gets better — stick a candle in it, and whoever it’s waved at cannot move until the candle is put out.

When Astell&Kern‘s Owen Kwon pulled out the newest from the AK lineup, the $900 AK100 II and the ($1,700) AK120 II, I was frozen. I wasn’t the only one, either — there were a lot of impromptu zombies suddenly transfixed by the little hand-held digital audio players. They look, and perhaps more importantlyfeel really quite … glorious. In your hand. Ahem. Anyway, there’s a weight and a glaringly obvious build-quality that not only stands out, but pretty much commands silent reverence. And that’s even before you wire them up for a listen.

The new designs come only a few short months after the first release, but Owen tells me that these new ones address every shortcoming they could think of, based on all the feedback they received. Looking at him, he’s pretty confident they got it right. Listening to the new models, it’s hard to disagree with him. Again, the build-quality alone is head-and-shoulders above the superseded models. Score!

For those of you wondering “Why bother” with a portable digital audio player in the first place, I can only say “You won’t believe me” — you’re going to have to try it out. The difference between these players and your iDevice and/or Android slate is significant. High quality, high resolution audio playback (up to and including double-rate DSD support) for the on-the-go? Cha-ching!

Just an FYI, but the flagship $2,500 AK240 will remain in the lineup as-is, as it is, well, the flagship. No amount of wheedling, teasing or verbal trickery revealed any plans to rev or replace that model, either, so take some comfort there.

The specs are all online and availability is current. Go forth and conquer, grasshopper.

Me, I’m particularly interested in the AK120 II. I wasn’t a huge fan of the original, given the price/performance balance, but the new one sounds completely different. In my humble opinion, the AK240 still clearly sounds like it’s the top of the heap, but the new models are both sonically quite accomplished. I hope to have an opportunity to review and explore them soon — I’ve requested samples. Stay tuned.






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