The Astell & Kern AK100 portable audio system ($699) aims to be the iPod of audiophiles. It’s the first portable music player capable of playing Mastering Quality Sound files (MQS) from online stores like HDtracks.com, in addition to a slew of other lossless formats like Ogg, FLAC, WAV, WMA, APE and yes, even MP3 audio files. It looks like a stumpy iPhone 5 on human growth hormones, but the bulkier form factor does hold a few notable hardware goodies: 32GB of internal storage (expandable up to 96GB via two microSD card slots), a 2,000 mAH battery for up to 16 hours of continuous audio playback, a 2.4-inch touchscreen and, most importantly, a Wolfson 8740 DAC.
Besides vastly improving sound quality for users on the go, that high quality Wolfson hardware also allows the AK100 to act as external DAC for computers or CD players when connected via the integrated optical out jack or USB — which makes its $699 price tag slightly easier to stomach. In a true nod to the desires of its persnickety target audience, manufacturer iRiver even tacked on an analog volume wheel, mirroring the control and satisfying tactile feedback found on typical desktop components. Any of these specs moving your needle? Then look for the AK100 at select high-end audio retailers and Amazon starting today.