Review: Astell&Kern AK70 – Geniality

Ibasso’s discontinued DX90 with Lurker firmware sounds clearer, cleaner, detailed and is more transparent. The AK70 has more body, bass and sounds more musical where the DX90 is a littler dryer sounding. Layering is about the same in both, of course the DX90 doesn’t have the 2.5mm balanced output as it’s a little older already. These DAPs just have two different sound signatures and I can appreciate both. The AK70’s user interface is a lot faster though, the DX90 – especially when listening to DSD files, is kind of slow on the touch. With sensitive ciems, the new DX80 has even more noise than the Cayin i5. Its user interface to me personally doesn’t come close to the other DAPs and certainly not to the AK70. The DX80 also takes a very long time to update the media library and well, I really don’t like this DAP that much. My fav iBasso still is the DX90 by far. The DX80 goes for around €334/$319 which is half the AK70 and that shows in both sound quality and user interface.

Synergy

The AK70 doesn’t have the most power and when listening to full sized headphones like the Beyerdynamic DT1990PRO, you will have to turn your volume almost all the way up. Seeing the general sound signature of the AK70 is on the warmer and smoother side with full body, I do recommend using IEMs and headphones that aren’t too warm. It just might become too warm and smooth.

ak70-mojo-3

At IFA I tested the ceramic two-driver RHA CL1 straight from the AK70 and it sounded clear, clear, detail, spacious and precise with a good amount of bass. Treble was dynamic and lively. The combination sounded really good and I hope RHA won’t change the CL1 too much anymore. From what they’ve told me though, the treble still might be retuned a little. The CL1 has an impedance of 150Ω but the AK easily got away with it. The AK70 also directly connected to the RHA Dacamp L1 as media source by using an OTG cable.

The Obravo EAMT-1A is a very expensive IEM (around €4000 Euro) that likes a good amplifier but the AK70 gets away with it. Because of the hardware used in the Obravo the treble section is very extended and present. I quite like that but the AK70 does help bringing it down a little. I myself prefer using it with a more neutral source like the AK380 though. I always connected the Polish CustomArt 8.2 ciem to the balanced output, using Effect audio’s Leonidas cable. The result is a wide and spacious sound with good layering and almost perfect bass body. The AK380 makes the 8.2 perform better at a technical level but the AK70 makes it sound more musical, engaging and fun.

ak70-dacs

The new Beyerdynamic Byron BT for some might be a little bass heavy when connected to the AK70 by BT. The Byron BT has big bass and big mids (bigger as most Beyers) and as a result you get very thick sound with bass that doesn’t always stay in the bass section but runs in to the mids as well. Treble on the BT + AK70 combo is very smooth and not that extended. The VE ZEN earbuds from Lee Wild measure an impressive 320Ω impedance but the AK doesn’t really have a problem driving them. The ZEN has a very balanced and detailed sound and the combination with the warmer, laid back signature of the AK70 simply works.

I love the DT1990 and the AK70 gives it enough for that little bit of extra bass body. The mids in the Beyer have more body than you expect and the treble of course is on the lively side, the AK70 soften the upper end a bit. The vocals in this combination or extremely good though. I wouldn’t call this my favorite source for the DT1990PRO but it certainly is more than “doable”. The easy to drive Hifiman Edition S plays perfectly fine with the AK70: good body, good bass, soft treble. Musicality over detail and precision. You can hear the AK70 is having a harder time driving the 300Ohm Sennheiser HD800 but the AK70 delivers just enough bass to make it enjoyable. It’s clear the HD800 needs an amp but there’s no shame in that. The Planar Magnetic Audeze LCD2 actually is easier to drive than most people think (although it scales up nicely) and the AK70 makes it sound very good. Good deep bass, layered mids and the typical LCD2 treble. I can listen to this combo for hours (if only the LCD2 was a little more comfortable) but I also have to admit everything sounds a whole lot better even when using an extra amplifier.

Conclusion

The AK70 is available for around $599/€649 and it is one of my all-time favorite DAPs for on the go. It’s small, pocketable, handles well, has a great UI and looks pretty. On top of that you get a very engaging smooth laid back sound signature combined with a good level of detail and clarity. The AK70s performance for its price is very correct.

ak70-amps

Its sound is more fun and musical than it is detailed and analytical yet using the line- or USB out to another DAC and/or amp can easily change the sound signature. The AK70 doesn’t come close to the performance of its bigger brothers but it just does a whole lot of things right and there’s still room for improvement with a simple firmware update. Bluetooth is getting better and more popular each day and with the aptX on the AK70 you can be assured of good quality wireless sound.

Personally I fully recommend the AK70 in this price class but we all know Astell&Kern/iRiver likes releasing new DAPS, so a new one might be just around the corner. I wouldn’t wait though, just order the mini AK70 and enjoy your music. It’s that easy.

ak70-mojo-2

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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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