This is the first product from iriver that I have found myself actively lusting after. The specs – Wolfson WM8740 DAC that supports sample rate up to 192kHz (when most MP3s are 44.1kHz), storage of 32GB flash memory expandable up to 96GB – are unquestionably high-end from a consumer portable device standpoint, and surprisingly so coming from a company that has up to this point tried its hardest to find the common denominator first to compete with Apple, and then to simply remain relevant.
Another notable announcement is the music store. It’s 5 or even 7 years too late, and had iriver done this back when they released the H10 they would have at least kept their subsequent products competitive for the Korean market (iPod has long established dominance even without the iTunes Music Store in the country). Understandably the company has not tried to compete with Bugs and Melon services which have taken care of most of the licensing issues and offer ridiculously cheap songs. Instead, iriver is making a big thing out of MQS (which stands for Mastering Quality Sound), music files with extremely high sample rates which AK100 will obviously make full use of. The fact that the file size for each song is often higher than 200MB, and the sheer cost of the device itself – KRW 698,000, which is more than $600 – mean that AK100 is obviously not for everyone. But as far as iriver is concerned, this is the best possible move. They’re not ever going to be the player they once were in the earlier MP3 heydays, and they have started too late in the digital music distribution race. With more and more people interested in and willing to pay for expensive, high-end headphones, it’s natural that devices that can provide better quality of listening experiences will start to be sought after. AK100 has joined Hifiman’s HM-series portable players as a frontrunner for the attentions of the increasing numbers of music lovers making the transition from casual to serious head-fi listening.