Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce you to my newest portable player the Astell & Kern AK70 and of course here is our review to tell you why I chose and AK DAP. I will be using for the next few months unless the audio gods drop something in my path and right now I couldnt be happier. It needed to be something special to pry me away from my Opus #1 and it is. You are going to have to read the rest of the review to find out why I rate it so highly but right from the outset I can say that I definitely recommend this player if you are big on sound quality and portability.
You still hate Astell & Kern right?
Long-time readers of audiophile on might be shocked to find me using an AK player as my day-to-day DAP. I still standby the fact that they are guilty of price gouging their customers, releasing buggy firmware and treating consumers like beta testers. I'm also plenty sceptical of their marketing claims. Still, you have to give credit where credit is due. The AK70 isn't going to be the right DAP for everyone but for me and the way I do things it's brilliant. So no I don't hate them and i'll always give them a fair shake but past experience has led me to approach them with skeptical hippo eyes.
What is the Astell & Kern AK70?
For those not familiar with the portable audiophile community what you need to know is that the AK70 is a portable audio player designed to play HD music. HD music is the less compressed (or uncompressed) audio tracks that don't suffer from loss of information. In practice, it means your music sounds better.
A simple way to think of high definition music is setting your youtube video to 360p and then switching to 4K. OK, the difference might not be as noticeable to the uninitiated at times it can be huge.
But don't modern smartphones offer similar HD playback?
Yes, some smartphones can playback HD music files but the other advantage Hi-Res DAP's have is that since the device is solely designed with the intent of increasing sound quality the internal hardware components are usually of a much higher quality.
The amp (amplifier) and DAC (digital audio converter) usually offer much better performance and in the case of amps the offer more power with which to drive demanding headphones (article: Do I need a headphone amp?)
One final thing that is of benefit is that a lot of these devices offer more options in the way of physical controls. Some have dedicated control buttons and some have a line out, optical, balanced connection points etc. With your smartphone, you probably just have a standard 3.5mm jack or if you are lumped with an iPhone a dongle or wireless is your only option.
Astell & Kern AK70: Specifications
The spec sheet for the AK70 is pretty long so here we are just going to highlight some of the key and core functions of the player.
- Aluminum Body
- Screen - 3.3inch WVGA (480 x 800) TFT LCD
- WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF
- FLAC, WAV, ALAC, AIFF
DSD : DSD64, Stereo / DSD128, Stereo
- DAC Unit - Cirrus Logic CS4398
- Highest file - 24bit / 192kHz Bit to Bit Decoding
- Connection - Micro USB
- Outputs - 3.5mm standard & 2.5mm Balanced Out
- Wifi Support 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz)
- Bluetooth 4.0 w/ A2DP, AVRCP, aptX
- Dimensions - 60.3 x 96.8 mm x13 mm
- Weight - 132 g
The Astell & Kern AK70's Build Quality is Outstanding!
The way the AK70 has been put together is nothing short of the high-end. It feels like a truly high-end device in look, feels and function. I must admit I was smitten by the proportions of this little guy and aside from the sharp corners, it sits beautifully in hand. Next, to my Opus#1, I found one handed operation to be extremely easy.
The other thing I liked about the size is that it's not too intrusive to carry as a secondary device. Some other DAP's like AK's own AK120 and even the Fiio X5 Gen 2 feel a bit too bulky in your pant pockets but this seems to fit just fine. The glossy black and baby sky blue aluminium on my looked great (other color options are available) and also inspired confidence. I can see the AK70 lasting a long time as in over 2 months I haven't been able to put a scratch on it.
The volume knob is a killer feature for me and even though it isn't lockable the way the rest of the housing surrounds it like a guard meant that I never pierced my eardrums with an unexpected volume hike.
Another thing that was instrumental to my enjoyment throughout this review is that it just works. I had the original AK100 and it was an absolute POS. It took a long time for them to gain my confidence back but I now find myself a convert.
Compatibility with the AK ripper, the companies additional product that allows you to rip your CD collection to the device is there and whilst not useful to me a lot of people with large libraries of music will enjoy the inclusion.
Finally, there is support for MQS server which basically allows you to use the AK70 as a music server for your entire home. Pretty nifty.
Functions and UI - Smooth and Reliable
There are so many functions, settings and nuances on this little player it's hard to wonder how they crammed it all inside such a sleek and sexy chassis. To list them all would, I'm sure, bore you to death. However here's my take on it.
The UI feels both extremely intuitive and stable and it takes only a few minutes to understand where everything is and how to operate it. Other audiophile music players have a tendency to be bogged down with bad proprietary software but the AK70, just like it is on the outside, is very polished on the inside.
Call me old-fashioned but I still prefer to connect my headphones with a cable. On that front, AK has you covered with both a standard 3.5mm headphone jack as well as a 2.5mm balanced jack point for use with balanced headphones.
Many companies are now offering their headphones with balanced connectors, especially in the high-end market, so it's a very welcome addition and something I don't think I could live without for the way I use my player (for reviews and demo evenings).
Wifi is a huge addition meaning that I can have a DAP that is hooked up to my Tidal account. These days I rely more and more on music apps and less on having physical files. So the inclusion of this (downloadable through the AK App Store) is perhaps my favourite thing about the player.
Sound Quality - Outstanding
Honestly, I don't buy into the DAP side of a sound of things. What do I mean? Well at a certain point these high-end audiophile focussed players sound very much alike. They are all variations of excellent and used purely as a sole source (ie without my Chord Mojo etc). The AK70 competes with pretty much anything out there in the top end with variations coming here and there. I could happily have this or the Opus#1, the Fiio X5 Gen III or a host of the other Astell & Kern audio players.
Detailing and imaging are as you would expect excellently. More than enough to make me leave behind an external Amp or Dac when using IEM's. There is a slight warmth to the overall tuning. Even when using something like my Campfire Audio Jupiter and UERM this could be heard. Soundstage is definitely big and if you are coming off an entry-level DAP or especially moving from a smartphone this is one of the first things you are going to notice.
Whats not to like?
Well despite my glowing praise and the fact that I have bought and am now using this DAP full time there are, as with any product, issues. These to me are minor, I don't really get bothered by any of them bar one. The battery life. So other than that here are a few thins that could be done a little better.
- Sharp Edges - A more rounded profile would make it more comfortable to use
- Screen being on the left makes top left edge hard to access for right-handed fold
- Bluetooth strength is deplorable - Not and issue for me as I prefer wired headphones
- Battery life
- Price is still very steep
Again I have never ever found a perfect audio player but the AK70 comes close to it for the way I listen to music. YMMV but every one of those flaws is livable for me.
Conclusion - Astell&Kern AK70 Review -The Best AK DAP
With lots of player's now offering top-class sound quality it tends to be other things like ease of use and material design that sets something apart from the crowd. The AK70 Just feels special, it's a joy to use and it sounds incredible with the majority of my headphones and earphones. Battery life is not the greatest but this by far is my favourite DAP to date. The combination of form factor, price and styling make this a true experience for any portable audiophile.