Astell&Kern AK100 portable media player Specifications

Sidebar 1: Specifications

Description: Battery-powered portable media player & D/A processor with 2.4" touchscreen (320x240 pixels), 32GB internal memory, and two Micro-SD card slots. Digital inputs: 1 S/PDIF TosLink on 3.5mm jack. Digital output: S/PDIF TosLink on 3.5mm jack. Analog output: 1 pair unbalanced on 3.5mm stereo jack. Resolutions and sample rates supported: 16-bit, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192kHz (internal); 16/24-bit, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96kHz (TosLink). File formats supported: WAV, FLAC, Ogg, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, MP3. Frequency response: 20Hz–20kHz, ±0.02dB. Channel separation: 120dB. Signal/noise: 110dB. THD+noise: 0.0009%. Jitter: 90ps. Maximum output level: 1.5V. Output impedance: 22 ohms. Battery: 2000mAH, Li-Polymer. Battery life: up to 16 hours. Recharging time: about 5 hours. Supplied accessories: USB cable.
Dimensions: 3.1" (79mm) L by 2.33" (59.2mm) W by 0.57" (14.4mm) D. Weight: 4.3 oz (122gm).
Finish: Brushed, black-anodized aluminum.
Serial number of unit reviewed: 00865. Firmware version: v.1.33.
Price: $699. Approximate number of dealers: 16, plus online dealers.
Manufacturer: Astell&Kern, Korea. US distributor: iRiver Inc., 39 Peters Canyon Road, Irvine, CA 92606. Tel: (949) 336-4540. Fax: (949) 336-4536. Web: www.astellnkern.com.

COMPANY INFO
Astell&Kern, Korea
US distributor: iRiver Inc.
39 Peters Canyon Road
Irvine, CA 92606
(949) 336-4540
ARTICLE CONTENTS
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COMMENTS
gld3gld3's picture

"Ten years later, while the current top-model iPod features a 160GB hard drive, it still can play only files with sample rates of 48kHz and below and a maximum bit depth of 16. Those of us with a growing library of high-resolution files are therefore restricted to playing them in our big rigs at home."

Not exactly. There is at least one option for those wanting to play higher sample rate/higher bit depth files on their ipods.

My 5th gen ipod is currently playing "Happlessness Blues" by Fleet Foxes at  sample rates of 96kHz  and bit depth of 24 (FLAC). How? Rockbox. 

John Atkinson's picture

gld3gld3 wrote:
My 5th gen ipod is currently playing "Happlessness Blues" by Fleet Foxes at  sample rates of 96kHz  and bit depth of 24 (FLAC). How? Rockbox.

Rockbox does indeed add a lot of functionality to iPods (and other portable players). However, it can't overcome the hardware limitations of the player. Even if you can play a 24/96 files, as you report, the iPod's DAC chip is limited to sample rates of 48kHz and below, so the file will be downsampled.

In additon, while Apple's AAC and Lossless codes will preserve 24-bit resolution, the iPod's DAC is a 16-bit part, so will truncate the word length by the 8 LSBs. For example, if you look at the spectrum at www.stereophile.com/content/ipod-classic-160gb-1khz-90dbfs-16-bit, this shows my 2010 iPod Classic playing a dithered 16-bit tone at -90dBFS. Everything is correct, and the noisefloor is free from harmonic spuriae.

By contrast, the spectrum at www.stereophile.com/content/ipod-classic-160gb-1khz-90dbfs-24-bit shows what happens when the iPod plays back a 24-bit dithered tone at the same level encoded with the ALAC codec. The appearance of the odd-order harmonics is due to truncation of the 24 bits to 16.

So yes, it may be possible to play 24/96 files on this iPod running the Rockbox software, but the file will be downsampled and truncated. The AK100 doesn't suffer from these hardware limitations.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

jcborges's picture

How were your measurements of the iPod taken? I ask because looking at the specs of the iPod DAC at http://cirrus.com/en/products/cs42l55.html it is definitely capable of 24-bit, although it is limited to 48khz sampling frequency.

Why would Apple put a 24-bit capable DAC in the iPod and have it truncate to 16? And how could it be done? And couldn't Rockbox bypass that to access the full bit depth available on the chipset?

Thanks and regards

John Atkinson's picture

jcborges wrote:
How were your measurements of the iPod taken? I ask because looking at the specs of the iPod DAC at http://cirrus.com/en/products/cs42l55.html it is definitely capable of 24-bit, although it is limited to 48khz sampling frequency.

I took a 24-bit AIFF file representing a dithered 1kHz tone at -90dBFS and prepared from it WAV, ALAC, and AAC at 320kbps files. The WAV file wouldn't play in either my iPod Classic 160GB or my iPhone 3GS, but from the other three versions I expected to get a spectrum that looked like the red and blue traces in fig.5 at www.stereophile.com/content/astellampkern-ak100-portable-media-player-measurements.

Instead, from both players and with AIFF, ALAC, and AAC versions of the data, I got the spectrum shown at www.stereophile.com/content/ipod-classic-160gb-1khz-90dbfs-24-bit. The characteristic pattern of odd-order harmonics indicates truncation of the 24-bit data to 16. By contrast, the AK100 playing both the AIFF and ALAC versions of the data gave the correct spectrum shown in the review.

jcborges wrote:
Why would Apple put a 24-bit capable DAC in the iPod and have it truncate to 16?

I have no idea. This was not what I was expecting, as the new "Mastered for iPod" protocol recommends using a 24-bit master to prepare the AAC version, which in turn implies a 24-bit datapath..

jcborges wrote:
And how could it be done? And couldn't Rockbox bypass that to access the full bit depth available on the chipset?

That is possible, but as you point out, the chipset is still restricted to sample rates of 48kHz and below, contrary to what the original poster claimed.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

jcborges's picture

First, thanks a lot for your answers. But you left me wondering about something. 

If understood correctly, your measurements were made in the analog domain. What about digital?

If you play a 24bit/48khz ALAC file through a digital dock, what is the format of the PCM stream that comes out? 24-bit or 16-bit truncated? Have you ever checked or know someone who has, for example by connecting it do a DAC that shows the input format?

In the other words, if you have 24/96 files that you want to put in an iPod to playback digitally, should you just resample them to 48khz or should you apply TPDF dither to avoid truncation? Does it matter? 

 Thanks and regards

John Atkinson's picture

jcborges wrote:
If you play a 24bit/48khz ALAC file through a digital dock, what is the format of the PCM stream that comes out? 24-bit or 16-bit truncated?

If you play a 24-bit AIF or WAV file, the AK-100's digital port outputs 24-bit data. But I will check with ALAC data.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

John Atkinson's picture

John Atkinson wrote:
jcborges wrote:
If you play a 24bit/48khz ALAC file through a digital dock, what is the format of the PCM stream that comes out? 24-bit or 16-bit truncated?
If you play a 24-bit AIF or WAV file, the AK-100's digital port outputs 24-bit data. But I will check with ALAC data.

Okay, played back a dithered 24-bit 1kHz tone at -90dBFS, encoded both as AIFF data and as ALAC data. In both cases, all 24 bits were active in the AK100's optical output and the digital-domain spectra of the two codecs were identical, with a noisefloor at the 24-bit level.

So the answer to your question is yes, when the AK100 plays a 24-bit ALAC file, the digital output is true 24-bit as it should be.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture

*eyeroll*

So having a player that has crappy high output impedance and doesn't have gapless playback is a good thing? For the money I would expect a lot better. What's wrong with using FLAC in other players that cost less and have gapless playback to boot?

Another laughable product that Atkinson likes.cheeky

John Atkinson's picture

JohnnyR wrote:
So having a player that has crappy high output impedance and doesn't have gapless playback is a good thing?

As I wrote, the most recent firmware upgrade allows gapless playback. I examined the effect of the 22 ohm output impedance at length in my review - "crappy" is a mischaracterization of the relatively small changes in frequency response that result from this impedance, especially when you consider that many headphones and in-ear monitors have boosted low frequencies.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture

For $699 you should get a lot better response and features. Sorry but changes from 1 to 2 dB would be scandalous in a preamp or power amp but since it's this THING then it's "okay". oh brother.blush Seriously, lower priced players don't have this problem so it's a FLAW easily avoided if they had designed it right.

ChrisS's picture

Comrade,

There must be something about your Stalinist upbringing that makes you believe that the perfect audio product exists somewhere out there, when really that kind of perfection only exists in your imagination.

Di Keller's picture

I bought one of these today on impulse. It just sounded sooo good. Got it home and it is not that mac friendly. The big problem is being able to upgrade the version so it will be gapless. It is done via Iriver Plus 4 for pc. But I haven't been able to find a firmware update for mac. Iriver really don't seem to like us :(

John Atkinson's picture
Di Keller wrote:
The big problem is being able to upgrade the version so it will be gapless. It is done via Iriver Plus 4 for pc. But I haven't been able to find a firmware update for mac.

You don't need the iRiver PC app. You connect the AK100 to the Mac using the USB drive option. After downloading the new firmware from the A&K site - it will be called AK100.hex - you copy it into the AK100's root/system directory. (Make sure that your AK100’s battery level is at least over 80% and make sure of your AK100’s memory size is at least 50MB.) When you reboot the AK100, it will automatically install the new firmware.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Di Keller's picture

^^ Firstly thanks for answering so promptly. I found the A&K site I have figured out how to do it. But the problem is finding a link for the firmware that works. I keep getting zip files which won't unzip. Or are incomplete.

Di Keller's picture

Just tried again and finally got it. Thank you for your help. !!

John Atkinson's picture
Di Keller wrote:
Just tried again and finally got it.

I remember having to try downloading the new firmware several times before it worked.

Di Keller wrote:
Thank you for your help. !!

You're welcome. Enjoy your music on the AK100.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Di Keller's picture

Finally all set up.!! Had all sorts of problems installing the upgrade. Followed everything to the letter and it just didn't work. I went back to the place I bought it from. They tried it and it didn't work. The answer was really simple in the end. We were all putting the hex file into the system file , if you just dropped into the AK100 folder it worked out the rest it self. Good news, while I was there they put a $6500 pair of headphones on me, If I was religious I would have said it was a religious experience . Hahahaha!! The sound was amazing !! I could feel my face crumpling. :)

Björn-Ola's picture

My Ak100 plays happily from 128GB cards. Just format them to FAt32, and it works splendidly.
I also think that the new firmware 2.40 changed the sound a little bit to the better, but it could be my imagination.

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