Astell & Kern AK70 Review
Music Friend in my Pocket
Today’s digital media players try to bring high resolution lossless audio to a small portable device. Astell & Kern AK70 is the latest media player from Astell & Kern and it brings big faithful sound reproduction in a small box. The sleek design does not disappoint. It delivers an advanced stable feature set which allowing for digital audio experience.
Ever since the first portable digital media player came was first introduced, there has been an emphasis on the ability to improve listening experience. With analog devices, portability compromised quality. The development of small media like cassette tapes resulted in some loss of audio quality. Even the CD was not immune to the loss of quality.
The Astell & Kern AK70 looks smaller than a smartphone, but a little thicker. This has been the approximate form factors for digital media players since before the iPod. It brings technical savvy which is already featured in its high-end models.
The AK70 was designed to be sleek. Notwithstanding the sharp corners it has a touch of elegance, and it looks expensive but no-nonsense. This can be controlled with one hand. More specifically, it be held in one hand, and the thumb does all the work. The operating system is a version of Android without the access to the Android store. The interface has a drop down menu system and the volume dial is large and easily accessible.
Selling at $599, the AK70 is not cheap. However, it brings a big chunk of the portable digital media concept with it.
• USB port, 2.5mm 4 pole balanced output jack and regular 3.5mm 3-pole unbalanced audio jack
• 64GB internal storage expandable with microSD card slot
• Runs on Android
• Bluetooth and WiFi capable
• Large volume control
• Can also be used as a headphone amp for computers
• Clean UI design
• Blocky design with sharp corners
Astell & Kern AK70 Specification
Astell & Kern AK70 looks like a media player, and it functions as such. However, externally, it differs in one major aspect. This device allows for a digital audio experience either via a USB output, or with 2.5mm 4-pole balanced audio jacks. Output through this jack removes noise which is inherent in the regular 3.5mm audio jack. In addition, due to its double transmitting signal capability, is also capable of increasing output (more power) with less noise.
The problem with playing music is that when you play it loud, noise also increases. With the 4-pole balanced jack, you can play it loud with less of the inherent noise.
The AK70 is not just a digital media player. First of all, it is a digital media server (DMS) where content can be stored for sharing across a network. You store your music on the AK70 and you can share transmit or distribute this to other devices once you connect it to a network via WiFi. It can also serve as a digital media controller (DMC), where it connects to a playback device (also called a rendered) to play the music. It can also be a media renderer, playing music found on another device on the network. If you have a PC or any other device that plays media, you can also use the AK70 as an amplifier.
What it means is that, you can listen to music directly from the AK70 using USB or Bluetooth headsets. There is no need to convert to analog signals which happens when you listen via 3.5mm connected earphones. You can connect the AK70 to your PC or Mac and stream music out via WiFi. You can store music in its 64GB storage and have network connected devices play music from it. It can also be used to rip CDs. It natively plays 24bit 192KHz signals. When playing 32Bit 384KHz audio, it is downsampled to 24bit 192KHz. 32Bit 532KHz is downsampled to 24bit 176KHz.
Besides the builtin 64GB storage, it also has a microSD slot which supports 256GB. It is WiFi capable, and has Bluetooth. The WiFi and USB allows for straightforward file transfers to PC or Mac. The Bluetooth is mainly used for pairing with headsets and speakers.
Audiophiles would be glad to know that the AK70 also plays DSD 64/128 via PCM conversion resulting in 24-bit 176KHz playback.
Navigation is easy. With an Android OS, it has an interface which can be accessed by swiping the screen downwards. The normal screen view shows the music currently playing. The Android navigation screen allows not only the use of the media player software, but also the settings for the device, including Bluetooth and WiFi. It does lack the ability to download from the Android app store, which is not a deal breaker.
The Android user interface is clean, stable and unobtrusive. This is a media player, and the Android stays in the background while the media player software stays in the foreground.
Astell & Kern AK70 has opted for an old-school style dial for the volume control. It is on the side of the device but protrudes both front and back. This allows for the volume to be easily controlled with only one hand.
Although the design is wonderful, the sharp edges are a matter of preference. There would be some who would comment that other players (and most smartphones) have clean rounded edges which feel better to the touch. On the other hand, the AK70 is filled with enough features, that the sharp edges just underlines the need to be unique.
Astell & Kern are manufacturers of high-end portable digital media players, and other audio equipment. The AK70 is their latest entry-level offering and at $599, this is not cheap. What it does bring to the market is not just an audio player. The output jacks show that they are serious about playing digital content. The media file formats that it supports also show that they understand what digital media is. They are serious about bringing incredible music wherever the user would want to bring it.
The AK70 is not a toy, neither is it for casual users. In all honesty, the only reason it is considered as an entry-level device is that it downsamples 32bit audio. For people who know and understand what real music feels and sounds like, this is as good as it gets. It brings lossless music closer to the ears.
Official: Astell & Kern