One regularly hears people complain about the state of manufacturing in Australia.  Meanwhile, financial markets, always looking for a means for speculation, jump on any news of allegedly improving numbers not least volumes of goods manufactured.  Apparently markets exist for all these bits and pieces.  

What I don’t hear is mention of the quality of manufacturing whether in Oz or offshore.  My experience suggests that manufacturing is in a qualitative slump.  That is to ask, how many manufacturers inspect the goods they produce?  Experience with products from HiFiMan, Silvercore, iRiver and LaCie suggest very few.  The Silvercore product did the primary job as stated; pity about the enormous noise taking the place of hum (even the website no longer works).  The HiFiMan Zeros broke.  The LaCie external hard disk (P’9230) may be on, it may not; the light certainly isn’t.  So much for ‘total reliability’.  And iRiver AK120.  Where to begin?

The Astell & Kern AK120 (designed by iriver Ltd. based in Seoul, South Korea and manufactured, according to the firm’s website, at a location about Songshan Lake, Dongguan, Guangdong, China) is ‘the ultimate portable high-fidelity audio system’.  On the evidence iriver Ltd. does not hold with such prosaic matters as product inspection after manufacture.  For a time, in the instance of the unit that I purchased, the only function seemed to be that of DAC.  About a week later it became possible to add music files and hear them.  The AK120 has three ‘hardware control buttons’, two work, one does not.  Power saving facilities work only intermittently.  Likewise, the much-lauded volume control is thoroughly untrustworthy; it might work, it might not, mostly not.  Given that the volume control is unreliable, it is no longer of use as a DAC (the difference in levels between use as DAC for which I use very different headphones, and overnight listening is too great to risk the latter).  Firmware updates simply do not open.  So much, in my view, for computer audio and contemporary manufacturing generally.

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