Astell & Kern SA700 review

Sound quality




With 4.0Vrms available on-tap from the 2.5mm balanced output and a not-to-be-flinched-at 2.0Vrms from the 3.5mm single-ended output, I was looking forward to seeing how the SA700 performed with full-sized headphones in power, as well as the finesse with which it’s able to handle sensitive IEMs. Let’s just say I’ve had an incredible couple of weeks playing everything under the sun over the SA700 – it sounds absolutely superb. 

The first thing I noticed on any headphones or IEMs was nothing at all – it’s a dead-silent operator with even the most sensitive of IEMs. Combined with its super-low distortion, this creates the canvas for an incredibly engaging and immersive sonic experience that drags you in and doesn’t let you go. I was also pleased to find that the SA700 drove the 300-ohm Sennheiser HD600/650 with authority and finesse. Using a 2.5mm balanced cable, the SA700 got the Sennheiser duo to reach satisfying playback levels at ‘100’ on the volume dial, which, for context, goes up to a maximum of ‘150’. 

The SA700 has a velvety, controlled and nuanced sonic character. While there is detail and texture aplenty, the SA700 definitely leans away from the sterile or cold end of the spectrum. What continually impressed me about the SA700 is its ability to continually immerse you in music album after album, without any hint of fatigue. Take some well-recorded source material and a set of headphones capable of appropriate levels of fidelity, and the SA700 will wrap you in a silky, enveloping sense of ‘head-stage’ with visceral and believable levels of imaging and distinct, placeable instrumental parts each placed in a diffuse, 3D space. 

Focal Stellia

It might seem a little bit like ‘overkill’, but the pairing of the SA700 with the $3,000 Focal Stellia that I recently reviewed might just be my ultimate ‘desert island’ combination. Using the excellent 2.5mm balanced cable for the 99 Classic from Meze Audio, the SA700 was able to unleash the Stellia’s full dynamic capabilities and ability to create speaker-like levels of visceral impact. Listening to ‘Sad but True’ by Metallica, the SA700 unleashed incredible torrents of slamming impact from Lars’ kick-drum – it’s seriously impressive, grin-inducing stuff. 

Astell&Kern Kern SA700

SA700 with Focal Stellia

Audeze iSine10

Listening to the smallest and most affordable member of the Audeze family was an interesting pairing. ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ by New Order revealed blinding fast transients, snappy cymbals and hyper-engaging left-right panning. Using the 3.5mm single-ended cable the mids on the iSine10 are overly forward without EQ – a quick application of 3dB dip around the 1.5Hz mark helped to even them out to offer a more natural-sounding character. Also, being so low in distortion, the iSine10 also responded well to me applying a +2db ‘shelf’ below 100Hz and made for a terrifically fun pairing that also gives you plenty of ‘spatial awareness’ around the house thanks to the open-back design of the iSine10. 

Astell&Kern Kern SA700

SA700 + Audeze iSine10

Shuoer Tape

While the Shuoer Tape might be substantially less expensive than the SA700 at $129, the pairing made for a gratuitously fun experience. Playing ‘Breathe Deeper’ from Tame Impala’s latest record via Tidal over the 2.5mm balanced output, the SA700 revealed tasty, thumping snappy sub-bass as well as great energy in the Tape’s presence region. The sense of imaging on this pairing is seriously off the charts on the toms and synth parts, and the decay and reverb is simply tasty. 

Astell&Kern Kern SA700

SA700 with Shuoer Tape

Grado GR10

The SA700 Brings out the trademark mid/treble forward Grado house sound to great effect on the diminutive single armature IEMs. Giving the volume wheel a nudge to ‘80’, The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Mellowship Slinky in B Major’ was an absolute blast. While it’s definitely on the leaner side, Flea’s bass sounded terrific with lighting quick slam and slap. There’s a great sense of genuine width and the individual guitar and bass tracks are delivered with perfect texture and tasty crispiness. 

Astell&Kern Kern SA700

SA700 with Grado GR10

Craft Ears Craft Four

The SA700 creates a perfectly silent noise floor with the 10-ohm Craft Four. Combined with their perfect fit and strong passive isolation, this places you in an incredibly immersive space. ‘Severed’ by The Decemberists shows-off the imaging chops of the SA700 with aplomb, and it brings out extremely satisfying levels of bass on the Craft Four that makes you forget that they’re a four-BA IEM – if sounds far more akin to DD bass. There’s also a beautiful mid-range texture, and absolutely perfect levels of treble – this is one awesome DAP/CIEM pairing.  

Craft Ears Craft Four

Craft Ears Craft Four

VS Plenue R2

Being another South Korean DAP capable of identical power outputs from both balanced and single-ended outputs, I was intrigued to see how the SA700 went in a head-to-head comparison with the Plenue R2 from Cowon. The substantially lighter and more affordable Plenue R2 has a slightly ‘woollier’, gentler sound compared to the SA700, with less distinct separation and pronounced mid-range detail. Notes on the SA700 are carved with a sharper knife. It has a greater sense of agility and is able to deal with transients more easily, rendering them with a finer leading and trailing edge. The SA700 has a denser, more textured sub-bass than its South Korean counterpart, and ultimately makes for a more immersive, and nuanced listen. 

Astell&Kern Kern SA700

Astell&Kern Kern SA700


The SA700 has proven to be a device that I want to keep within a 1-metre radius of me at all times – it’s proven to be an incredible musical ‘companion’ that’s capable of replacing many other pieces of source gear. Its industrial design and aesthetics are first-rate and has a user-experience that makes discovering your own musical collection a joy, as well as the music that you don’t know that you love yet. But, most importantly, it delivers where it counts in the sound department – in spades.

Whether you’re a full-size headphone user or an IEM-lover; you’re serious about spending more time immersing yourself in some dedicated listening; or if you’re stuck inside for the foreseeable future and you simply want to treat yourself, then the SA700 gets a hearty recommendation from me.


4.1/5 - (102 votes)

Hailing from Sydney's eastern beaches, Matty runs his own beer business, 'Bowlo Draught', as well as working in creative advertising. When he's not enjoying his hifi and vinyl collection at home, he can probably be found rolling-up on the green at his beloved Bondi Bowling Club.


  • Reply March 30, 2020


    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


        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


          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


    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.


  • Reply April 1, 2020


    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


    • Reply April 9, 2020


      L&P LP6 or the LP6Ti

  • 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


    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


    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


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

      • Reply August 17, 2020


        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.

  • Reply December 2, 2020


    Many users are having troubles with their SA700 unit like the wifi and the operate system. I don´t know if you had some issues too. Despite of all this issues do you recommend this product?? Or there are better DAP for the same price with great sound and more stabilty?

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