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News items: Astell & Kern, the offshoot of iRiver which themselves had prior roots at Samsung, introduced their AK120 (€1.200). After the AK100 I reviewed two months ago, the AK120 adds a second Wolfson WM8740 chip for true dual-mono conversion. The slightly taller player also gets a bigger battery and at 64GB twice the built-in memory though actual playtime is slightly shorter, this presumably due to the current-hungrier upgraded circuitry.

When asked whether they'd fixed the prior AIFF issue of software 1.3—AIFF files imported without artwork and worse, as individual unknown tracks rather than proper album folders—the exhibit folks didn't know what I was talking about. Two novelty items for the AK120 are a metal protrusion to protect the exposed volume knob; and 3Ω output impedance after all the crap the company gave naysayers about the 22Ω output resistors they'd inexplicably stuck the AK100 with (mine was modded by Vinnie Rossi of Red Wine Audio to remove them and improve the sound). Until the company updates their OS and GUI, these good-sounding but expensive high-resolution players set back the clock by 10 years. Here's how reader SongKyung-han from Korea put it: "So you've heard about the new AK120. I had a chance to audition it for a short time at the iRiver headquarters to compare it to my AK100. The AK120 does sound lusher with a wider soundstage but I don't think its performance justifies a price tag of ca. $1.5K when the AK100 can be had for less than half. Also, some Head-Fi'ers who auditioned the AK120 reported that the modded AK100 (RWAK100 by Red Wine Audio, MS-AK100 by Mezzo Soprano) sound more musical and satisfying than the AK100, with an output impedance of <1Ω. Considering that the AK120 is larger and heavier, it loses its edge in portability factor. I've just sent my AK100 to Vinnie for his mod. Hopefully it turns out as satisfying as I expect, especially when it comes to driving low-impedance headphones and IEMs. To be honest, I too consider the AK100's ridiculously high output impedance its greatest flaw."

Finnish Amphion showed their new pro-audio mastering models which not merely sport a d'Appolito array with central wave-guided tweeter but...

... passive radiators to improve the impulse response over ported alignments (€3.000/pr). The smaller €2.000/pr model with single mid/woofer gets a single passive radiator. Obviously pros aren't the only ones allowed to purchase these. Expect a review of these in our pages.

Here is a slew of Ion+ models in various colors including custom artwork. It's not just Italians who do style.

Igor Levin's Antelope Audio with strong roots in the recording industry announced their €3.000 Zodiac Platinum to add DSD in 64x, 128x and 256x flavors. Like the existing Gold, there's stepped analog volume with remote control, a plethora of i/o ports including analog, 64-bit reclocking and twin 6.3mm headphone sockets now with independent volume levels.

For their best A/D:D/A consumer solution, there's still the Rubicon which bowed last year but remains quite the looker.

And here is the current range of Zodiac consumer DACs of which the new Platinum will be forth, in the same chassis and upgradeable with the external Voltikus linear power supply.

April Music's new Stello HP-100MkII (€1.300) and matching S-100MkII (€1.200) had gotten stuck in customs but Simon Lee ran me through the basic features in absentia. With case work from California's Neal Feay machine shop which also supplies Ayre, Constellation and Resolution Audio, these are half-width components. The HP-100MkII is a fully balanced preamp with 6.3mm headphone output, remote control, display and 16-bit/44.1kHz USB input to leave room for the forthcoming DA-100. The S-100MkII returns to class A/B with 100wpc. What instead goes class D is the forthcoming revision of the Aura Premier of which more than 3000 pieces are in the field. That stylish all-in-one unit will get full 24/192 support and 60wpc of the latest-gen ICEpower modules. Simon confessed that he could divest himself of all his costly gear and happily listen to the Aura Premier for the rest of his days. His wife apparently does so already.

His Eximus distributors have also asked Simon for a matching preamp to the DP1 since that lacks a remote control. Simon's answer will be a very stout two-box solution in the existing Alex Rasmussen case. But Simon rejected the latter's design for the powerful Eximus S5 amplifier which had been previewed in an earlier SoundStage! show report. He hadn't seen the new enclosure yet when we talked to know whether that'd be a go. Shown below is a small desktop setup with Ancient Audio's Studio Oslo active speakers from Poland, a MacBook and Simon's Eximus DP1.

The German hornmeisters from Avantgarde Acoustic threw everyone a sliced curve ball with the new Zero1 model which replaces the Solo. To prove that the self-powered wireless 'mini'—it does rather look dwarfed by their Trio and sextet of Basshorns—sounds like a bona-fide Avantgarde, the filled-to-packing demo compared the two.

With its internalized horns looking like bigger Amphion waveguides, the Zero1 is a terrific exercise in modern industrial design and usefully shallow at that. Add streaming sources, plug into the wall and go off. Black and white with colored grills are the initial finish options.

Because I entered the room when it was already packed for a guided demo, I quickly crossed the stage to stand way off-axis at left without blocking views. That was good enough to get a photo, not to comment on sonics other than say 'promising'. But Monaco dealer Geoff of Sound Galleries already had left me this text which I read in the evening: "Heard the new Zero1 active speaker this morning. It definitely sounds like an Avantgarde. Has digital crossover and built-in DAC to accept digital inputs. An FPGA handles crossover tuning. The bass amp is class D, the mid/high amp class A/B based on the circuit of their XA amps. One speaker acts as master, the other as slave. They communicate wirelessly. They're doing a workshop at 17:00. Will you be around?"

I wasn't but a company representative had given me the run-down in person near the entry. Captured through glass, the next photo shows the range of the company's smaller 'external' horn models to reinforce just how radical the Zero1 is for them. I was very gratified to see more normal folks catered to by it. Given its compact size, I'd love to review it.