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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 Darko

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

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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