Review: Astell&Kern AK70 – Geniality

AK70 Sound

The impression below are based on Firmware 1.2, it’s the latest up to date

The Astell&Kern AK70 is on the warmer smoother side of sound but at the same time it shows good detail and clarity. Of course it isn’t at the same level of the AK380 but it’s still pretty good. The AK70’s sound stage wide and depth is good and very correct at the price it is going for but you don’t get the layering and spaciousness of the higher end models.

I’ve both used the single ended and balanced output equally and depending on the monitor/IEM in use I prefer the balanced or SE output. I hate to repeat myself but the 2.5mm out has a more expansive sound, with a little less bass and body but with more air and separation. The AK70 always has a black background and it is completely silent even with my most hiss sensitive custom monitors. The volume control for that matter is dead silent and there is no channel imbalance in any way with the gear used in this test.

The AK70’s bass and mids have good body (more than neutral) and the treble section is soft and smooth and won’t ever sound harsh or sharp in any way. The AK70 sounds musical, full bodied and detailed but I couldn’t say it’s neutrally tuned. The AK70 has a rich sound where the level of detail isn’t as noticeable as with the AK380, DX90 Lurker or even the X7 for that matter but it doesn’t disturb in any way. What might disturb some of you is that the AK70 isn’t the fastest sounding DAP, its attack and pace is moderate. Another thing some might not like is the fact that the AK70 doesn’t do perfect gapless playback, something a whole lot of the latest DAPs – not just by AK – suffer from.

ak70-c5d

I’m not an avid user of Bluetooth but the new Beyerdynamic Byron BT performs extremely well over aptX Bluetooth connected to the AK70. I feel Bluetooth isn’t far away anymore from replacing cables completely while offering the same sound quality. I do like my cables though as they allow fine-tuning the sound, I don’t see us doing that over BT.

Data Source (OTG) & DAC & Line-Out

Besides being a wonderful DAP, the AK70 can also be used as a DAC for your laptop or any other compatible media source. At the same time it can also be used as a media source connected to an external USB. That does mean you can connect the AK380 to the AK70 and have either of them work as DAC or Source. While it shouldn’t matter I can only confirm what Alex An posted on his Facebook page: the AK380 with the AK70 serving as source sounds extremely good. I’ve even seen people buy two AK70’s to run them as DAC and source separately.

That of course is an extreme thing to do and most people who want more power or a different sound from the AK70 will be pairing the AK70 to an external AMP/DAC. The only thing you need to have to do that, besides owning both units of course, is a good OTG cable. I’ve got a bunch of short OTG cables I got on Ebay but ever since I saw Alex An and others using the red ASEN Avanzato X-limit OTG 0.1 I just had to get one. The guys from Asen don’t normally ship to Europe but they were so nice to go through all the extra trouble and send a pair for me and my friend. This cable has the perfect length and it’s very well built. ASEN isn’t very well known yet in Europe or the USA but they’re big in Asia. I do recommend you check out their affordable products, I love the red cables.

ak70-otg

Its size is an advantage the AK70 has as it fits perfectly when stacked to the C5D or the Mojo as you can see in the pictures. If you look for Mojo or AK70 pictures on the www and head-fi, you’ll quickly see these two devices get paired all the time. Do note that for the C5D you need an OTG USB mini to USB micro cable. Connected to the Mojo you’ll get a clearer sound with more detail and precision. Mojo sounds more neutral and so you’ll miss the full bodied bass and mids you get straight from the AK70. Which one sounds best depends on the headphones/earphones in use and the mood I’m in. Connected to CypherLabs’ Picollo DAC, you get a slightly warmer sound with deep and layered bass. Vocals are slightly more upfront and you get livelier treble than from the AK, they also stack perfectly btw. I have connected both my AKs to each other and I have to admit it sounds good but don’t go buying AK70s to serve as data carrier for your AK380, that’s just crazy (but crazy doesn’t hurt).

ak70-mojo

Of course you can still use the Line-Out from the AK70 to bypass the internal amp section and feed it in to the (portable) amplifier of your choice. When I feel like listening to a more tube sound, I hook it up to the ALO Audio Continental V5 (the new amp) which adds richness, has better layering and sounds more spacious. When I want more qualitative bass and mids with livelier treble I bring out the CL Picollo and the Meier audio Quickstep gets airtime when I want a more neutral and detailed/precise sound.

Comparisons

Fiio’s X7 is a little more expensive at €699 (in Europe) and $599 in the US. The X7 is very different from the AK70 as it has different amplifier modules making it more versatile and more powerful. TheX7’s Android operating system also allows more fine-tuning. The X7 is a lot heavier and bigger than the AK70. Sound wise the X7 has the advantage that you can change the amplifier module but overall I would say the X7DAC is more transparent, it gives the impression to show more detail in a cleaner way but. The X7 to me is the more precise and detailed one and the SQ maybe is a level up. On a day-to-day basis though, I prefer using the AK70 over the X7 when on the go.

ak70-picollo

Cayin’s i5 DAP was released about a month ago but we’re all waiting for the latest firmware to be released (with the USB DAC function activated) to do the final review on it. The €499/$469 i5 is very much like the X7 when looking at the firmware and user interface. Of course it doesn’t have all the different amplifier modules like the X7 does but that also means it doesn’t have a balanced output. The i5 has the typical full bodied sound and I have to say I’m a big fan. I do find the i5 to sound richer and more detailed than the AK70 and it also has better layering. Sound wise the i5 is sublime and if it was a little smaller, was less noisy with sensitive gear and had a balanced output it could just be the best DAP in this price class. The i5, or the AK70 for that matter, both don’t have the finesse and refinement the TOTL DAPs like the AK380 have.

More comparisons and the part on headphones/earphones can be found on Page 3, right after the CLICK

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

31 Comments

  • Reply September 13, 2016

    Barun C

    First AK player I am kind of looking forward to. If they could add Tidal on top it could be a phenomenal player. How’s the battery life Lieven?

    • Reply September 13, 2016

      Lieven

      Pretty decent really, between 8 and 10 hours depending on the sample rate and the screen brightness, headphones used, etc. They’re working on Tidal…

    • Reply April 28, 2017

      Matus

      Very nice review. Could you also compare the AK70 to Opus#1?

  • Reply September 13, 2016

    Mateo Ocaña

    How compared with Fiio x3ii + CL Picollo?

  • Reply September 14, 2016

    Bharat

    Hi great review
    I own the dx90 and it feels dry very true.

    Do you think i should get the ak70 for a change or the ak300 ?

    I use the arcam irdac at home. Do you think its a good change if i get the ak daps

  • Reply September 15, 2016

    Daan

    Thanks for this great review. You compared it to the Cayin i5, are you planning a full review on the i5?

  • Reply September 19, 2016

    Juan Luis

    How compared with ak jr sound?

    • Reply October 18, 2016

      ohm image

      Better in most ways, but it hisses a bit more. It is also not quite as warm sounding. Its output is stronger.

  • Reply September 21, 2016

    Curtis

    Great review as always from both you and Nathan. Very interested in this DAP as an OTG.

    I’ve got an AK120 right now, and I’ve been sitting on getting one of the various mods (RWA, MST, MS) out there for quite a while, but how would you compare those to this new AK70? Both in terms of raw performance and also price/performance ratio since obviously the price points here run a wide range.

    Thanks in advance

  • Reply September 25, 2016

    John

    Lieven, does the AK70 work as a USB source for the Theorem 720? Thanks.

  • Reply September 25, 2016

    Lieven

    I’ll try as soon as I find time

    • Reply September 26, 2016

      John

      Thanks Lieven!

  • Reply September 30, 2016

    HW

    Is it worth getting the AK Jr at 300 USD now or waiting for the AK 70 to have a price drop?

  • Reply November 6, 2016

    Tony Cruz

    Nice. I have just purchases a 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 28, 2016

    JN

    Hi,

    Can you please tell me if the AK70 would be good pairing with Kaiser 10s? And would it be better to use the Balanced or SE output with these?

  • Reply January 13, 2017

    Mate Mayer

    How does it compare to the SONY ZX-2?

  • Reply January 26, 2017

    John

    Was the VE Zen that you mentioned in your review the original/first Zen or the Zen 2.0? Will it pair nicely with the Zen 2.0?

    • Reply January 26, 2017

      Lieven

      It’s the ZEN 2.0 🙂

      • Reply January 28, 2017

        John

        Any plans on writing a review for the Zen 2.0?

  • Reply August 18, 2017

    Mat

    Can I charge it when connected to another external DAC?

  • Reply August 18, 2017

    Lieven

    Not directly no seeing the USB port is in use. The AK KANN has separate ports for charging and for audio. The SP1000 has optical. But Ak70. Nope

  • 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!
    Thanks Lieven for the great review. I got my AK70 after reading it!

    • Reply October 18, 2017

      Lieven

      SE should be fuller but more intimate compared to the wider balanced output (probably what you call punch)£. I wouldn’t say SE has more clarity though. SE has more punch but SE is where you get the best technical result.

      • Reply October 21, 2017

        Luis André Ferreira

        Thank you Lieven!
        In you last sentence you mean say “SE” is where you get the best technical result but you wanted to say “Balanced”, right?
        Regards!

    • Reply December 15, 2017

      Andrea

      Same for me and with Shure SE846 + Fiio balanced cable. Balanced exit is very bassy (boomy) and less detailed, more “closed sound” (and also a much lower volume) than SE exit.
      Could it depend on Shure? In this review the balanced output is described in a very different way from the one that appears to me.
      Thanks, Andrea.

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