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Astell & Kern AK120

High-resolution portable music player

6 Reviews | 1 question - 5 answers

Item # 838AK120

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Our take on the Astell & Kern AK120

You might think a portable music player isn't capable of delivering stunningly good sound quality on its own. Well, then you haven't heard the Astell & Kern AK120. Their AK100 portable player dropped a few jaws around here when we first heard it. Now Astell & Kern is taking portable high-resolution sound to even greater heights. With two Wolfson DACs (digital-to-analog converters), USB DAC capability, and gapless playback, this high-resolution player is truly in a class by itself. If you think your headphones sound good out of your iPhone®, you ain't heard nothin' yet.

Astell & Kern AK120 high resolution portable music player

The AK120 features dual Wolfson DACs for uncompromised playback of high-resolution and other digital music files.

Take high-resolution music to new heights...and new places

You might think a portable music player isn't capable of delivering stunningly good sound quality on its own. Well, then you haven't heard the Astell & Kern AK120. Their AK100 portable player dropped a few jaws around here when we first heard it. Now Astell & Kern is taking portable high-resolution sound to even greater heights. With two Wolfson DACs (digital-to-analog converters), USB DAC capability, and gapless playback, this high-resolution player is truly in a class by itself. If you think your headphones sound good out of your iPhone®, you ain't heard nothin' yet.

Dual DACs open up your music to new possibilities

What's the secret to the AK120's audiophile-quality sound? It's the high-performance Wolfson DACs, the same ones found in many high-end digital source components. The AK120 uses dual Wolfson DACs — one for the left channel and one for the right. This results in outstanding detail and dynamic range, as well as a wide-open soundstage. Plus, this player can handle high-resolution music files with its sophisticated 24-bit/192kHz decoding. So if you've downloaded high-resolution FLAC, Apple Lossless, or AIFF files from sites like HDtracks, the AK120 lets you play them in their native resolution without being tethered to a computer. Pull out your finest pair of headphones — the AK120 will make them really shine by feeding them more power than most portable players.

It's also a USB DAC

The AK120 is actually two powerful devices in one. Thanks to a USB input, the AK120 can also be used as a stand-alone DAC. Connect it to your computer and your receiver or amplifier to listen to digital music files through your home speakers with more clarity and dynamics than your computer's soundcard can deliver. Or use the miniplug optical input to connect it to a component with a digital optical output, like a CD player or Apple TV. That's more versatility than you'd ever expect from a portable music player.

"The AK120 gets an A+."

"...the more you listen to it, the more addicted you become to its subtle benefits. If you can afford the tariff, the AK120 will reward your investment."

— From Alan Taffel's review in The Absolute Sound, October 2, 2013
Read the full review

Astell & Kern AK120 high resolution portable music player

The bottom of the AK120 features a USB input for using the player as an outboard DAC as well as microSD card slots for memory expansion to 192GB.

Improved touchscreen interface

Navigating the AK120's menu system is a snap thanks to the 2.4-inch full-color touchscreen. Astell & Kern improved on the AK100's already impressive user interface, making it more responsive and intuitive. But the touchscreen isn't the only way to control this player. An analog volume wheel offers 150-step volume control and is protected by a clever contoured guard. Manual controls on the other side of the player let you play, pause, and skip tracks without having to look at the display or remove the player from your pocket.

Expandable memory to 192GB

You might be saying to yourself, “This all sounds great, but I bet it can't hold a lot of music files.” Oh yeah? How does 192GB sound? With 64GB of built-in memory and two slots for optional 64GB microSD cards, you can carry around a huge music collection in your pocket. All of it will sound lively and bold — even those compressed MP3 files. Loading up the AK120 is as easy as dragging and dropping files into a folder on your computer. With that much memory, your music collection is more portable. And you'll look good carrying it in the included leather case, custom-designed for the AK120's form and functions.

Need headphones? Looking for great-sounding headphones for this player? Check out our selection.

Product Highlights:

  • digital music player — plays MP3, FLAC, WAV, ALAC, Ogg Vorbis, AAC, AIFF, APE, WMV
    • plays Direct Stream Digital (DSD) files (.dff and .dsf formats up to 2.8MHz resolution; requires firmware 1.30 or higher)
  • dual Wolfson WM8740 24-bit/192kHz DACs for bit-perfect playback of high-resolution audio files
  • 64GB internal flash memory
  • 2 microSD card slots for cards up to 64GB (up to 192GB total memory)
  • 2.4" color touchscreen
  • analog volume knob provides fine level adjustments (150 levels)
  • 3 side-panel control buttons (Play/Pause, Next/FF, Previous/Rewind)
  • USB and miniplug optical digital inputs for use as an external DAC
  • supports gapless playback
  • stereo minijack line level/optical output for connection to a powered speaker, receiver, or external DAC
  • Bluetooth 3.0-compatible (A2DP)
  • built-in 5-band EQ with touchscreen interface
  • built-in rechargeable battery provides up to 14 hours of playback
  • high-speed USB interface (cable included) for drag-and-drop file transfer and battery charging
  • brushed aluminum casing
  • volume knob guard
  • includes handmade leather case
  • output impedance: 3 ohms
  • total harmonic distortion: 0.0008% (1kHz)
  • signal-to-noise ratio: 113 dB
  • 2-5/16"W x 3-1/2"H x 9/16"D
  • weight: 5.0 oz.
  • warranty: 1 year
  • Our 60-day money-back guarantee

What's in the Box:

  • AK120 digital music player
  • 40" USB cable (Type A USB on one end and Micro USB on other end)
  • Leather case
  • Screen protectors
  • Quick Start Guide
  • Warranty sheet
  • Serial number card

Astell & Kern AK120 Reviews

Average Customer Review(s):

(6 Reviews)

Astell & Kern AK120

Anonymous from Fayetteville, NC on 12/26/2014

Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)

Love it!

Pros: Easy to use, great sound

Cons: Needs a wall charger, using PC USB is pain.

Great hardware, mediocre software

ROn360 from New Jersey on 12/19/2014

The Astell & Kerns AK120 is a great piece of hardware. It looks great (almost like an Ipod classic) ,fits nicely in the hand and the screen is generally easy to see but not in sunlight (but thats an lcd limitation)...As for the sound, well its superb not matter what resolution your files are but it really shines with 24bit files....The software is generally easy to navigate through. It's not as refined as an Apple product but it's still fairly intuitive if you've used a media player or a smart phone. The players weakness is the software and the processor. I can be slow to react if your listening to a song while flipping through your list of artists or songs. It's sluggishness while multitasking is by no means a deal breaker just something that could use improvement upon. A serious con is it's lack of an instruction manual, there is a quick guide but it's really just bare bones basic stuff on how to play a file, nothing about downloading, how to use the EQ or connecting it as a DAC, or how to update the soft ware...The manual can be found on line but for the money you pay it should come with one. Also beware that the manual is out of date. The Iriver Plus media manager software it comes with is abysmal, it will leave you scratching your head on how to use it, even if your an experienced pc user. I eventually figured it out but its generally worthless unless your going to install new firmware. (you have to use it to get it)

Pros: Great looking hardware and the sound is first rate audiophile quality...So if good looks and first rate audio is what your looking for there is no need to look further

Cons: No manual is included and the one online is out of date (Example: it does now have gapless playback but the manual makes no mention of it since it was part of a recent firmware update), the processor is slow and the media manager software it comes with is useless except for the fact you need to use it for updating software.

A fantastic player

Radical Technoid from Louisiana on 12/11/2014

Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)

I bought this player for portable use with my Audio Technica headphones as well as to plug into my main audio system. (Pioneer elite driving Klipsch speakers) I am completely satisfied with what I consider to be superior sound! The first things I noticed were improved imaging and better bass response. I have not tried to use the unit as a DAC but when plugged into my Windows XP SP3 desktop it is immediately recognized as a portable hard drive and I can drag and drop music without issue. I have no use for the included software and have not installed it.

Pros: fantastic sound, easy computer connectivity, bright crisp display

Cons: non removable battery. Manual is pretty bad. The display does not show album name or genre of the music. (if it wasn't for these issues I'd give it 5/5 instead of 4/5)

AK 120

donald g. from California on 11/23/2014

Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)

AK 120 was used as a USB DAC connected to my computer. As soon as I connected the 120 their were compatibility issues. My computer would not recognize the AK and I had to continually reset the settings. When it did connect the sound was phenomenal. It converted my itunes songs to a higher level. I would encourage anyone who buys the AK 120 to research and review the product before buying. It is expensive. if you can, try to audition first. If your seeking a higher level of listening the AK 120 might be the ultimate player for playing music.

Pros: Ultra high end, Luxurious, Incredible sound

Cons: Difficult to set-up and use. Can have compatibility issues. Menu confusing. not very intuitive

A slick, quality portable audio player

GlennG from Wakefield, RI on 4/17/2014

Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)

I had been using a Cowon D3 and Sennheiser IE80 ear phones, but I was curious to see what all the hype was about the AK120 and HD music. I ordered the AK120 as well as the new Sennheiser IE800's, as I wanted to match the increase in quality in both parts of the equation. The sound from the AK120/Senn IE800 combination is phenomenal. It is clean, well-balanced, with clear separation of instruments/vocals. Also noticeable is the lack of any background 'noise'. At first I just listened to my old FLAC files, which sounded great, but then I decided to try ordering some HD music so I could compare to my existing music, to see if I could notice any difference. I bought the HD version of 'Tea for the Tillerman' as that was available in 24/192 and did a compare to my existing FLAC 16/44 files. The difference was subtle but distinct. The start (attack) of notes is much clearer on the HD files than on the CD files. Things just sound 'cleaner' and more realistic in HD. I don't intend to replace all of my existing CD files with HD, but for those ones that I spend a lot of time with it is worth the extra cost. If you have read the reviews of the AK120 you know that some people love the interface and some hate it. I personally love it. It is touch sensitive, does just what you need it to do, and easy to use. I also like the volume knob. It is the one thing that I most fiddle with when listening to music, and having it be so easily accessible is great.

Pros: Sound quality is outstanding. Interface is easy and functional. Build quality is solid.

Cons: Viewing individual track names in the file folders is a pain, as there are not enough characters displayed. HD files are BIG, so transfer times are longer than for FLAC.

Simply awesome quality & not only for HD files

stefan from santa barbara, ca on 7/28/2013

Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)

I purchased 2 separate DACs at Crutchfield for home use but nothing portable for 24/192 was available until now. I recently purchased and am using the AK120 in my cars and on my sailboat. The quality is breath taking, you hear things you never heard before at 16/44 or mp3. I have a large HD collection, but I also play non HD files (flac or 320kb mp3) with incredible results. Most cars have fairly good speakers and connecting the AK120 with a simple mp3 cable achieves incredible sound. I also populated both MicroSD memory slots which provides ample space for any collection. I have not used it as a DAC yet, I have two DACs at home, my use is strictly portable. I have not tried out bluetooth yet, nor have I connected head phones. Physically the unit is very well built and has a very solid and expensive feel to it. I set up my music folders manually since the iRiver software is not compatible with Win8 (not a problem for me). So, is the AK120 worth a whopping $1,300.00? The answer is a definitive YES, if you have many HD tracks and a large collection of hi quality music that you want to take with you. If you dont have a DAC at home, then it is a nobrainer because now you have two high quality products in one small package. I never leave home without it. And as always, buying from Crutchfield is another high quality experience.

Pros: The only product of it's kind that I know of on the market - and it is a winner!

Cons: iRiver software does not support Win8


Hands-on research

Product Research


Overview: The Astell & Kern AK120 from iRiver is a portable high-fidelity audio system, capable of playing Mastering Quality Sound (MQS)--high resolution digital audio from music mastering studios. It has a sleek, brushed aluminum body with a 2.4" touch screen display and an analog rotary volume control on the side. The AK120 has a built-in 64 GB flash memory with dual microSD slots for adding even more memory. The unit is powered by a built-in rechargeable battery, and charges via a Micro USB cable. It comes with a leather case to protect it from scratches.

Dual Digital-to-Analog Converters: The AK120 is equipped with two Wolfson WM8740 24-bit, 192kHz DACs, the same as found in some high-end audio equipment (AV receivers). Each DAC delivers outstanding performance with a 113dB signal-to-noise ratio, a super-clean 0.0008% THD+N rate, a -128dB Crosstalk specification for superb left-right separation, and a 10Hz-70kHz Frequency Response at +0.02dB to -0.02dB. One DAC is used for the left channel, and one for the right channel.

External DAC: With Optical In and Optical Out ports, the AK120 can be used as an external optical DAC. You can connect the unit to an optical out port on your computer or CD player to convert your digital music files for listening with headphones, a powered speaker, or through the Auxiliary input of your car or home stereo. You can also use the AK120 as an external USB DAC, connecting the unit via USB from your computer and listen to your stored digital music with headphones, powered speaker, or home stereo.

High Fidelity: The AK120 is capable of playing high resolution digital music up to 24-bit, 192kHz, the same as used in the music mastering process. This Mastering Quality Sound (MQS) includes all of the high resolution formats, including WAV, AIFF, FLAC, and ALAC. These lossless files provide approximately 6-1/2 times more detail than a CD (16-bit, 44kHz), and can be played at sample rates of 8kHz-192kHz and 8/16/24-bits per sample. In addition, the unit can play MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, and APE compressed audio files.

Built-in and Optional Memory: The Astell & Kern AK120 is equipped with 64 GB of internal memory and dual microSD card slots, that support up to 64 GB each. That gives you a total of 192 GB of storage space that can be used for saving music files. The microSD slots have a sliding cover to help keep dust out.

User Interface: The AK120 features a high-quality user interface to make it easy to find and select your music files, change the volume, and adjust the sound:

  • 2.4" LCD Touchscreen: The full-color LCD touchscreen has a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels. The screen displays the title and artist of the currently playing song, along with elapsed and remaining time, with the album art in the background. On the touchscreen, you can touch the Play/Pause, Previous/Rewind, or Next/Fast Forward icons to control playback. You can make adjustments to the EQ, set the repeat and random modes, and add the song to a playlist, all using the touchscreen interface.
  • Rotary Volume Knob: The AK120 has a side-mounted analog-style rotary volume knob. The volume control range is 00.0 to 75.0 with detents at every 0.5. As you adjust the volume, the volume range is shown numerically on the display.
  • Hardware Control Buttons: There are four physical buttons on the unit: a top-mounted power button, along with side-mounted Play/Pause, Previous/Rewind, and Next/Fast Forward buttons.

Drawing Equalizer: The AK120 has a 5-band Equalizer that lets you set the EQ levels by "drawing" the curve on the touchscreen. You can set the levels of each band from -10dB to +10dB at 62Hz, 250Hz, 1kHz, 4kHz, and 16kHz. Each band can be set one at a time by touching the desired level on the screen, or set them all at once by a single swipe of the finger across the screen in the shape you desire.

Micro USB: The AK120 has a Micro USB port on the bottom of the unit for connecting the unit to your computer for downloading music files and for charging the battery. The AK120 is compatible with Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8, as well as Mac OS X 10.6.5 and up.

iRiver Plus4: iRiver Plus4 is an integrated software built into memory of the AK120 that can be loaded onto your computer when you first connect your device. With iRiver Plus4, you can rip CDs to your computer and transfer the music files to the device. You can manage music files using a drag-and-drop method on the software interface.

Power Requirements: The AK120 is equipped with a 2350 mAh 3.7V Lithium-Polymer battery. The battery charges via USB in about 6.5 hours. A fully charged battery can provide up to 14 hours of continuous playback time (Standard--Music: FLAC, 16-bit, 44kHz, Volume at 37, EQ off, and LCD off).

Our Product Research Team

At Crutchfield, you'll get detailed, accurate information that's hard to find elsewhere. That's because we have our own in-house Product Research team. They verify what’s in the box, check the owner's manual, and record dimensions, features and specs. We stay on top of new products and technologies to help people make informed choices.

Q & A

Customer Q&A

1 question already asked

Yes, your library can be unlimited. There are two micro-sd slots, I believe the maximum is 64G cards, plus the internal memory, I recall about 192G total? Mine is far from completely full, mostly lossless flac files, two 64G cards installed. When you swap cards, the database will take a few minutes to update on the AK120, can set to manual or automatic (mine is set to manual, to speed up the boot time). [ GREGORY J  Dec 31, 2014 ]
Yes, mine takes two cards in addition to the built in storage. [ WAYNE  Dec 28, 2014 ]
Yes, I believe so, though I haven't worried about it because I've got plenty of room on the player itself. [ JAMES W  Dec 28, 2014 ]
The unit holds two SD cards. Although I have not used an SD card in my unit, IIRC the manual suggests you power down before swapping cards. My guess is that when you power the unit back up it will detect the card swap and re-scan all music. Depending on the size of your collection this can take between thirty seconds and a minute. [ Walter  Dec 28, 2014 ]
Yes. You can install 2 64GB sd cards giving you a total of 192 GB of memory. [ DONALD N  Dec 28, 2014 ]