Review: Astell & Kern AK70 – AK’s best yet

Disclaimer: I purchased the unit in the photos and essay below from e-earphone in Akihabara, Tokyo. The AK70 goes for about 600$ USD. You can find out all about it here: Astell & Kern AK70

Relevant links:

Review: Astell&Kern AK70 – Geniality
Review: Astell & Kern AK Jr
Review: Astell & Kern AK380
Review: Astell & Kern AK100
RMAA: Astell&Kern AK70 24-bit
AK380 RMAA
AK Jr RMAA
DP-X1 RMAA
iPhone 6 RMAA

A baseball-agnostic beginning an essay with: ‘Astell&Kern hit it out of the ball park’, isn’t irreligious. I don’t know baseball, but I know my metaphors. And the AK70 is worthy of a good, if over-used one. It convinces with the first twirling A logo, and confounds with its first volume-matched RMAA test. It is my opinion that it is AK’s best ever player. And it’s their worst.

I’m the guy that rags and rags on AK’s marketing. I’m the guy that berates the AK380’s horrible Korean lines and its poor balanced output. I’m the guy that pretends to early adopterism, whilst simultaneously gunning late into many camps. I am as spongey as Peter Keating, unsure of my own voice.

ak70-ak100-ak-jr-on-red-asot

Screen

The first song I’d like to sing is the AK70’s brilliant screen. Perhaps not as bright as the AK380’s, but far better than every sub-1000$ AK DAP. In its competitive landscape, it is near the top. Of course, that landscape is populated by devices nowhere near as brilliant, nor as or colour accurate as even mediocre smartphones. But against the AK70, Opus#1’s screen is shite. Ditto the AK Jr. More ditto, DX80/90. Way more ditto: the original AK100. The AK70 holds good colour under hard angles, and even in semi-hard light, keeps contrast high and content legible. It is the best screen on a tier two or three audiophile player I have ever seen.

Want a second opinion? Hit up Lieven’s review.

Scrolling

Slick as an artic penny on a descending Kelvin elliptic, the AK70’s interface glides from top item to bottom menu items in smooth arcs. It throttles like a modern iPhone. Vroom! Vroom! Both top and bottom swipes react instantly, and getting to important settings is simple. It is far more responsive than the AK100 and AK Jr, the latter of which reacts a decade older than it is.

Want more detail? Hit up Lieven’s review.

Sound

Lieven and I are at odds here: while I agree that the AK380 is more detailed, the degree of difference between them is – at least in my humble opinion – meagre. The AK380 holds up at high volumes under load better, but both output extremely low levels of hiss, and output industry-defining unloaded signal quality.

When tested at similar volume levels, and loads, the AK70 more than keeps up appearances. I sails past the AK Jr and unloaded, squashes even the Ryuzoh-modified AK100. Perhaps because of its 2Ω headphone output, its signal rapidly deteriorates under load, though at a clip similar to an iPhone 6. Of course, the AK70’s max volume exceeds the iPhone 6’s by several decibels. The iPhone 6’s maximum volume corresponds to the AK70 at a volume of 136/150. Those final 14 steps are capable of driving a lot more volume into high Ω headphones, but equally apt to deteriorate into wastelands of IMD and THD when driving low-Ω portable headphones.

The AK70’s balanced output is glorious on paper. Like Onkyo’s DP-X1, it is glorious unloaded. But both on a test bench and at the ear, loaded, its balanced output it is full of holes. It doesn’t hit 2,3 Vrms without clipping.

Want a second opinion? Hit up Lieven’s review.

Size and more Ss after the jump:

Review: Astell & Kern AK70 – AK’s best yet
4.1 (82.11%) 19 votes

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he’s got a smile on his face. Always, he’s got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

20 Comments

  • Reply September 16, 2016

    Barun C

    Enjoyable read, Nathan. I like the initial colour scheme AK came out with. Hoping, they will come up with some more stellar looking colour iterations in the future.

    Seems like a worthy player in the sub $700 USD market. Hope Tidal/Spotify comes soon on these devices. Two things I wanted to ask.

    1. How big are these in comparison to the Cowon Plenue D’s?
    2. How much battery life did you get out of these on average?

    Thanks

    • Reply October 27, 2016

      Andrei

      I’m also especially interested in question no.2. I have purchased an ak70 and i am (negatively) amazed by the very short battery life. If i just turn the screen off (like phone standby mode) then by the end of the day battery is empty. The only way is to shut down completely. Is it normal or perhaps i have a faulty unit? Thank you!

      • Reply October 27, 2016

        ohm image

        I seem to have missed Barun’s question:

        1. It’s 1,5x the size.
        2. 6-8 hours, which is typical for this sort of unit. Only the AK100 (original) had good battery life, the main reason I throw my weight behind it.

  • Reply September 16, 2016

    Juan Luis

    ¿How it sound compared with x5ii?

  • Reply September 17, 2016

    Clarence

    AK has terrible customer service

  • Reply October 7, 2016

    Cristian

    Nice review Nathan! How does it compares to the chord mojo? Thanks in advance!

  • Reply October 29, 2016

    Tomas

    PLEASE HELP!!!
    Hi, can you help me please? I have one problem with my AK70, is the second unit and the problem still persist. I am from Slovakia from Europe and I dont have the MOOV app on my device. I know that MOOV app is mainly for Asian market, but I dont understand, that everytime I connect to internet it shows me an update of MOOV app, which doesnt exist on my device, and the update always ends up with error. This neverending update message is driving me crazy. Do you have this problem too? I think people from eupore. Should I give it back to seller as faulty unit? I dont know what to do. Thank you.

    • Reply November 6, 2016

      Tony Cruz

      Don’t press the Moov option then. I did and I had a spinning icon. So I mooved (!) to Tidal! 🙂
      It would be good to delete the Moov option if it is not accessible.
      I know Qobuz used to work with AK but not anymore.

      • Reply November 10, 2016

        TOMAS

        I now have the 3rd device and still the same problem. You said to not press the Moov option. But I dont have MOOV app in store Menu. It shows me only available update of this app, but it doesnt exist on my device. That is the reason why it always ends with an error. So from what you said, you have this MOOV app in store menu? With firmware v1.10 I have in store menu Groovers+ only, after update to v1.30 I have in store menu Groovers+ and TIDAL. But I dont have with both firmwares MOOV app and after connecting to internet it shows me an update of this app. I am totaly mad about it.

  • Reply November 6, 2016

    Tony Cruz

    Nice. I have just purchased an AK 70. Disappointed with the battery life. For this reason a power dock maybe useful?
    The one thing I would love would be an internet radio option. These days I can stream high quality music on my iPhone from Qobuz and Tidal, I have access to nearly every song ever recorded via Apple Music and I can listen to the news via internet radio.
    Whilst the AK 70 looks beautiful and I like the volume idea, battery life is a let down and it’s missing an internet radio option.

  • Reply November 25, 2016

    Tony Cruz

    What is the point of streaming Hi Rez via Bluetooth?
    Surely Bluetooth compresses that massive Hi-Rez sound?

  • Reply November 25, 2016

    Steve

    This seems like a good place to ask my question so hope you don’t mind.

    I am looking for a source for my Chord Mojo..Its gonna be the AK70 shown in the second picture of your review,or the sapphire blue ak100 ltd which is also shown in your second picture.

    I can get both in Japan so am wondering if you are choosing one purely as a source,which would you go for?

    Also can you confirm if the ak70 will take 200gb+ micro sd cards,as some people are stating using a high capacity cards like that causes issues with UI…

    Any advice appreciated

  • Reply June 23, 2017

    Tony Crossan

    I have an ak70. I want to load music to it from my MacBook Pro, but do cannot find an app or program to do the job. What do you recommend.

    • Reply June 25, 2017

      Bots

      Drag and drop, baby. Drag and drop.

    • Reply October 13, 2017

      Luis André Ferreira

      Andriod File Transfer app.
      Then, just drag and drop.

      • Reply October 13, 2017

        Luis André Ferreira

        “Android” I mean…

  • Reply June 30, 2017

    nishelo

    Thanks for the review. One question: Would an AK70 be worth a purchase if I already have a FiiO X3 2nd Gen I can couple with the Chord Mojo? In mean, in terms of pure sound quality (forget the other Bluetooth/WiFi features).

  • Reply October 13, 2017

    Luis André Ferreira

    Does anybody feels that the SE headphone out has more clarity and punch than the balanced one? I was A/B testing both with an adaptor, since my cable is terminated in 2.5mm and felt that: 1. the sound level on SE is higher, 2. the SE is brighter and more live.
    Does someone have an opinion in this?
    Thank you!!

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