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Astell&Kern’s AK ZERO1 twist the hybrid IEM recipe

  • Dynamic driver or balanced armature? Yes. In-Ear Monitor (IEM) manufacturers have been combining these two types of drivers inside their earpieces for some time. The thinking behind such hybrid designs is that the strengths of a dynamic driver (bass weight and richness) can be combined with those of BA drivers (clarity and zippiness) for win-win situation.

    After many years of collaborations with Jerry Harvey, Campfire Audio and Beyerdynamic, South Korean portable player (and dongle DAC) manufacturer Astell&Kern this week enters the IEM fray with its first self-branded model. The AK ZERO1 is a hybrid design that marries a 5.6mm dynamic driver for “rich, controlled and deep low frequencies” with a pair of balanced armature drivers that promises “crystal-clear vocals with super-low distortion”.

    But there’s a twist.

    The AK ZERO1 also sports a third driver type — a Micro Rectangular Planar Dynamic Driver. The press release explains it thusly: “The Micro Rectangular Planar Dynamic Driver is a specially developed driver with highly advanced technology that allows a planar driver, normally a very difficult driver to scale down, to be applied to in-ear monitors. Astell&Kern adopted a sturdy and lightweight planar membrane to minimize frequency loss and applied a vibration panel that features a high-polymer film with thin metal to create crystal clear high frequencies.”

    Each driver is precisely positioned inside the AK ZERO1’s aluminium earpiece using a 3-D printed acoustic chamber that reportedly minimises unwanted resonances. Nominal input impedance clocks in at 16 Ohms.

    On cabling, we get a “Hi-Fi Grade Pure Silver-Coated OFC 4 Core” wire terminated with a 3.5mm connector at the source end and MMCX connectors at each earpiece. An optional 4.4mm balanced cable will be made available for US$199 when the AK ZERO1 itself begins shipping in November for US$699.

    The AK ZERO1 is handmade in Japan.

    Further information: Astell&Kern

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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