Astell & Kern SA700 review

Today we’ll be taking a close look at the new SA700 $1,299 Digital Audio Player from renowned personal audio manufacturer Astell&Kern.

 

It sits right in the middle of the South Korean company’s expansive DAP line-up. You can check out some of our previous Astell&Kern reviews here.

Note: The SA700 unit featured in this review was loaned to us by Astell&Kern’s local Australian distributor, Busisoft AV, and will be returned to them after the review. We thank them for the support and the opportunity.

Background 

Like much of the world right now, you might find yourself bunkering-down under voluntary (or forced, depending on where you’re joining us from) time at home to help curb the spread of COVID-19. And if you’re reading this from the future – I hope that we all look back on this time as a crazy footnote in history and that we all managed to return to regular programming reasonably quickly afterwards. Although I’ve gotta say, that as an audio enthusiast, the notion of having to spend a lot more time indoors isn’t an altogether terrible one when you have some great music and listening equipment to pass the time with. It’s also a great time to be an audio reviewer – there are a lot fewer distractions from spending time with review gear, and a lot more time to sit down to critically evaluate and compare products. 

This is the first review that I’ve conducted under ‘social distancing’ conditions. I was a little disappointed at first that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to give the SA700 a good run for its money under more ‘portable’ circumstances, but I quickly found that this didn’t present too much of a problem at all. You see, a good DAP should be somewhat of a ‘companion’ – a reliable source of entertainment that can be close-by at all times, and reliably provide you with the ability to let you listen to more music, more often. I have a number of separate music systems in my house – my desktop and two-channel set-up in my office/listening room; a DAC/amp in my bedroom; and a two-channel set-up in my living room. Each of them has been set-up for specific use-cases in each room, and generally, they only get used a few times each week. Given that my other half and I have both been working from home these past few weeks, I’ve found myself moving my ‘office’ set-up around my place frequently – from the couch, to the balcony, and thanks to the wonder of video conferencing, I’ve even managed to get through more than one meeting while cooking a meal in the kitchen. 

Astell&Kern SA700

I’ve found that a DAP is actually the perfect way to keep an uninterrupted musical ‘dialogue’ happening all day around your home. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve never listened to more music in my life than I have in the past 2+ weeks. But, on reflection, a lot of that has to do with the qualities of the thing that we’re here to talk about today: the new SA700 digital audio player from Astell&Kern. ‘A&K’ is somewhat of a heavyweight in the audiophile-grade DAP stakes, with a deep product line-up ranging from the $699 SR15 right up to the $4,999 Stainless Steel AK320 (imagine leaving that on the train…). It’s an impressive line-up from a company with hard-won pedigree, and they’re well-represented on our DAP recommendation list. The SA700 drops in as somewhat of a mid-tier DAP in the A&K line-up in terms of its features and $1,299 price point. 

It’s able to pack all but the hugest of digital music libraries on-board thanks to 128Gb of built-in storage plus a Micro-SD expansion slot that can accept the largest current cards available (1 x terabyte at the time of writing). And for the tunes that you don’t have locally, A&K’s ‘Open App’ service allows you to install streaming apps to make use of the SA700’s wifi capabilities. Deezer and Tidal come loaded straight out of the box, but if you want to use Spotify, Google (or any other current/future services) it’ll require the APK files to be loaded and installed manually. 

So what does this mean for this reviewer’s current use-case? Well, basically it means I can be in any room (or balcony) of my apartment with access to every digital music file I’ve ever collected, and I can stream for those I haven’t. Nice. But of course, there are all kinds of devices that can do this – including your garden-variety smartphone. But, if we’re going to be making the most of some COVID-19 time, then we’ve gotta do it full-fat. In my books, there are three reasons how a device can help you make the most out of your listening experience. 

Firstly, it has to sound good. This might sound like a bit of a no-brainer, but an average-sounding device can get you to “meh” territory pretty quickly, and leave you flat and underwhelmed. And, before you know it you’ve hung up your headphones and you’ve watched two seasons of Grand Designs. The SA700 has some impressive horsepower under the hood. Power-wise, it’s capable of  2.0Vrms from its 3.5mm single-ended connection, and 4.0Vrms from its 2.5mm balanced jack. Digital to analogue conversion duties are managed by a pair of AK4492ECB DACS from AKM – the first time this chipset has been deployed in a DAP. Just about every file type you should worry about can be played via the SA700 (including one controversial proprietary type if that’s your thing), and it will happily dispatch very hi-res music well above the classic 16/44.1 Redbook sample rate.

Next, it has to be a joy to use. A poor user interface and user experience can quickly snap you out of the ‘zone’, making discovering old and new music a frustrating experience. The SA700 uses an Android-based operating system featuring a quad-core processor and features a 4.1inch (720 x 1,280) touch display. In terms of physical buttons, it’s a pretty simple affair. There are three small track-forward/back and play-pause button on the left-hand side, a power button on the top of the device, and an extremely tactile, prominent volume wheel.

And lastly, it’s gotta look good. If you’re going to have your DAP on the surface in front of you at all times, a good piece of industrial design will make that a far easier pill to swallow and make you want to regard it from arm’s length. The overall shape of the SA700 might seem a little familiar to the keen-eyed DAP-aficionados among you. That volume wheel which dominates the otherwise monolithic, rectangular profile evokes the lines of the AK120 – the original Astell&Kern DAP – from which they drew inspiration in terms of the SA700’s design. Astell&Kern set-out to combine analogue-design values of yesteryear with cutting-edge future technology in this latest chapter. Or, as they describe: ‘Past Meets Present’. The ‘party trick’ of the SA700 in the beauty pageant is the back-lit LED behind the volume wheel. depending on what sample rate or file type you’re listening to, it will glow in a nice red, green, blue or purple. It’s a nice, subtle effect and provides a comforting reminder of the device’s power and smarts while it’s sitting nearby. 

Astell&Kern SA700’s volume wheel with backlit indicator

 

Head over to Page Two to continue our review, just CLICK HERE.

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Matty's a musician, music-fan, and 'gear-phile' from Sydney, Australia. Outside of his day-job in creative advertising, Matty enjoys live music, lawn bowls, craft beer, and spending far too much money collecting vinyl.

    20 Comments

    • Reply March 30, 2020

      Craig

      While a good review, this review along with all others out there for Astell and Kern DAP’s fails to mention the terrible support from Ak the poor firmware and software implementation, the dead units many have purchased and waited months to get resolved. Take a look at Head if forums or a quick google search from there flagship down to the SR15 bricked, minutes to start, poor sound quality with side loaded apps, nil response from support, for the price of there kit you would be much better served with Sony, Cayin or Fiio products.

      • Reply March 31, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Hi Craig, thanks for reading. I didn’t have any firmware or software issues with my review unit, it operated flawlessly – I can’t comment on the experience of others in this regard.

        • Reply April 1, 2020

          Craig

          Perhaps, some investigative reviewing is in order Headfonia always highly rates Astell and Kerns products to its readers, they are at the top end of price and apparent quality and whilst I agree they have a beautiful build and sound quality the customer service and software issues that are manifest right through the product range has many people getting rid of their units. I will not buy another AK product. A quick read on any of the Head Fi forum threads will enlighten you and other readers who deem Headfonia as a trusted source of quality reviews, including me into the issues that plague AK units.
          I purchased my 64 Audio A12t and effect Audio Leonidas II based on your sights reviews and couldn’t be happier.

          • Reply October 10, 2020

            Carlo

            I fully agree. Every single one of my A&K units have failed at the jack, under normal daily use. In addition, the AK’s sometimes don’t boot up, or, sometimes freeze or lag. But most importantly, the constant jack failure on ALL of their units is not acceptable. Even my 10 year old ipod is STILL going strong with ZERO jack issues and flawless function. So I’m moving away from A&K because I’m sick and tired of all of a sudden being without my music at the drop of a dime with a jack failure that surfaces, literally, out of the blue for no reason, no drops. Literally, I was listening to my Kann Cube and needed to take a nap from getting up early. When I awoke a half hour later, and fired up the Cube to get back to work, wha-la : Jack failure. So they have issues. And this the THIRD Time it has happened. So no more..Im done with A&K. And oh, I forgot : the battery life is god awful on ALL of my A&K’s. Just awful.

    • Reply March 31, 2020

      Nay

      I don’t get why a company like Astell & Kern who have been in the business for many years are still producing these $1000+Daps with poor battery playback times.

      This paticular one has only 8.5 hours and thats on a standard FLAC file using unbalanced and most of the display turned off.

      I would not even consider a Dap costing $1000+ that does not have atleast 15 hours+ playback time which is why i have waited until now to purchase my next Dap which is being shipped as we speak.

      Thanks.

    • Reply April 1, 2020

      teknorob23

      Nice review, but its usefulness is slightly limited without a slightly more extensive list of comparisons with for example it’s siblings, SR15, SE100, Kann Cube, Etc not too mention the likes of the ibasso DX220. i’d wager most of the readers, like me have not heard the plenue. Being in isolation reviews are taking a great prominence in buying helping to make buying decisions as demo’s are obvs awkward. Sadly i cant make and informed choice using this review.

    • Reply April 9, 2020

      saumitra biswas

      What is the best sounding DAP one can buy
      without wifi and with wifi

      Thanks

    • Reply April 9, 2020

      Steven Zore

      I’ve owned multiple A&K products, and while customer service is poor, I have never had any other issues. People buy the DACS for the sound quality, not the ‘battery life’.

    • Reply April 10, 2020

      Angry A&K USER

      Astell and kern could be a good brand with great product but they have the worst customer service. I understand that you review the product and that’s ok but I think a whole product includes the presales, unpackage, product usage and finally the post sale process. Those aren’t cheap product. It’s mandatory a good customer service!! Thanks

    • Reply April 11, 2020

      Ian T

      Hi

      I have the opportunity to buy a SA700 or a 1000M to use with my 64 Audio A12ts. Do you have any thoughts? I listen mainly to Tidal.

      Many thanks

      • Reply June 29, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Hi Ian, it ought to be a terrific-sounding pairing but if you’re mainly using Tidal I must remark that the keyboard is kinda frustrating when using the search function. If you’re scrolling through your own artist/playlists etc you shouldn’t have any problems.

    • Reply April 23, 2020

      noel robert vandenbroucke

      I have a SA 700 silver since one week …With wifi and bluetooth off , brightness set 75% and files 24bits 96 kHz on the go the dap could sing for 9,5 hours and battery indication still 15 % ..I’m very pleased wirh the sound already ..Mostly playing with desktop gear ..
      gtrs noel –

    • Reply April 27, 2020

      Alberto

      Anyone compare it with SE100 or DX220 amp8?

    • Reply May 31, 2020

      noel robert vandenbroucke

      I have the SA700 and SP2000 cu . After hours of listening with NAGRA gear I think ( for my ears ) the new baby is 95 % of her father at 1/3 of the price ..Fantastic result .;And i never had any issues with every unit i owned …The AK4492 has its fathers genetics while the Kann Cube is a little bit softer but even so enjoyable …

    • Reply August 17, 2020

      MR fripp

      Hi, good review
      I trying to decide beteween this or the KANN Cube. Do you have any recommendation? I looking SQ and my dealer is sellin both at similar price. Thanks
      PD: I don’t care the size i only looking sq. I have owned many dad like sr15, Kann, fiio m11 pro, dhanlimg m6 and hiby r6 pro

      • Reply August 17, 2020

        Matty

        If you can handle the heft, go with the Cube. But seriously, that thing is massive…

        • Reply August 17, 2020

          Lieven

          I love it but because of its size, I only use it on my desk as a digital transport.

        • Reply August 25, 2020

          Mr fripp

          Thanks. Unfotunately the cube will no longer be able in my country. Finally i change my order for the se200.

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