The Astell&Kern AK70 MKII delivers quite a few refinements that simply makes this highly effective, versatile, and sweet-sounding hi-res digital audio participant the most effective in school.
After I reviewed the unique Astell&Kern AK70, it checked off all the appropriate bins: Glossy styling, compact measurement, excellent audio efficiency, and a strong characteristic set. Now Astell&Kern is again with an up to date model of the AK70, designated as MarkII or MKII. Diehard music lovers who need to squeeze each ounce of constancy from their music gained’t thoughts shelling out the extra $100 commanded by the brand new mannequin’s quite a few refinements.
The participant itself is identical three.81-inch top, however measures a hair thicker (zero.59 inches) and wider (2.47 inches). It’s nonetheless extremely transportable and suits in a entrance or again pocket with ease, weighing a modest 5.29 ounces.
Whereas the display screen measurement stays precisely the identical, the beveled facet and knurled quantity dial are the place you’ll discover the dimensions distinction. Though the quantity dial is only a bit bigger, it makes a outstanding tactile distinction when utilizing the AK70 MKII. It felt extra pure to make use of, and my thumb rested completely alongside the AK70 MKII’s proper facet. The amount dial sports activities a brand new, wave-knurled sample, which provides a cool visible when it displays gentle.
The MKII’s all-aluminum physique is available in your selection of two new colours, cadet blue or black. My evaluation pattern got here within the former and it’s beautiful. The DAP’s rear has a easy, glass end, with a midnight blue hue beneath.
Twin DACs for audiophile efficiency
You’ll discover additional refinements inside: In contrast to the preliminary mannequin, which had solely a single Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC, the MKII has twin Cirrus Logic CS4398 DACs—one devoted to every channel. The left and proper channels are absolutely separated from enter to output.
The Astell&Kern AK70 MKII performs again 24-bit/192kHz indicators bit-for-bit. It’s going to downsample 32-bit audio with a sample-rate converter. A 32-bit/384kHz file, for instance, shall be downsampled to 24-bit/192kHz, and 32-bit/352kHz recordsdata get downsampled to 24-bit/176kHz. DSD 64/128 recordsdata are supported as nicely.
Nearly each lossless and lossy codec is supported, together with FLAC, ALAC, WAV, APE, AIFF, DFF, DSF, OGG, AAC, and MP3. The participant gained’t playback protected AAC recordsdata, comparable to these downloaded from Apple Music’s subscription-based streaming service. You’ll need to use the highest-quality music recordsdata you may, as a result of the AK70 MKII is a very revealing digital audio participant. Glorious recordings in hi-res sound nice. Mediocre high quality music recordsdata present all their flaws.
MQA is the one main codec not supported. I requested Astell&Kern about MQA help and the group instructed me, “We at present don’t supply MQA help, however it’s a characteristic we’re wanting into. We do not need an ETA on once we might help it.” If and when this occurs, you’ll most probably be capable of add MQA help by way of a firmware replace.
The AK70 MKII has upped the specs over the unique in nearly each space. There’s extra energy output to drive a wider vary of headphones. Balanced audio output has gone from 2.3Vrms to Four.0Vrms. The signal-to-noise ratio has improved 2db to 118dB for unbalanced connections, and +3dB for balanced connections to 119dB. Crosstalk, whole harmonic distortion and noise, and even the battery have all obtained modest bumps, too. The battery has gone from a 2,200mAh to a 2,500mAh three.7V Li-Polymer. Due to the twin DACs, nonetheless, you wont get further run time. Anticipate no less than a stable Four- to six hours of battery life with combined use. The onboard 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Four.zero adapters gives you enhanced performance, however will even drain the battery quicker.
Talking of the battery, an ordinary micro-USB enter is used for each charging and knowledge switch. When you’re utilizing a Mac, you’ll have to obtain the free Android Switch Utility to repeat recordsdata from it to the AK70 MKII. The AK70 MKII’s storage will pop up and you’ll drag and drop recordsdata to the participant. If in case you have a specific folder hierarchy that you simply want, the participant’s interface will can help you browse the interior storage by folder construction along with the usual album, artist, style, and playlist views.
The AK70 MKII has the identical interface as the remainder of the Astell&Kern lineup, and the AK70 MKII’s touchscreen interface is superb, although you’ll expertise a fraction of a second lag at instances. The most important annoyance is ready 1- to 2 seconds for album artwork to load in listing or grid view. It is a widespread problem with Astell&Kern gamers.
Swiping down from the highest exposes all of the participant’s settings. When you’re a type of individuals who doesn’t learn consumer manuals, you’ll drive your self loopy looking for the participant’s settings. Observe that if you are going to buy one of many AK70 MKII’s protecting leather-based circumstances, the highest portion of the leather-based case will make it troublesome so that you can get an ideal swipe from the highest.
Swiping down from the highest exposes the participant’s international search characteristic, which is helpful should you’ve loaded hundreds of songs. The one beef I’ve is that the display screen’s small measurement makes typing on the keyboard a bit troublesome.
Along with touchscreen choices, bodily buttons on the left facet provide the means to play/pause and advance or return tracks. The one factor you may’t alter by way of the touchscreen is quantity. Nearly each hi-res audio system limits quantity management to its analog dial. You due to this fact can’t use a headphone’s inline distant management to regulate the MKII’s quantity.
Unbelievable flexibility and energy in a tiny bundle
When you consider the AK70 MKII as merely a digital music participant, you’ve completely missed the memo: This is likely one of the most versatile hi-res DAPs available on the market.
For instance, you may join the AK70 MKII to your Mac or PC and use it as a high-end 24-bit/96kHz USB DAC, bypassing your laptop’s sometimes inferior inside headphone amp and DAC. I plugged within the AK70 MKII to my MacBook Professional, set it to DAC mode—and bingo—I used to be in enterprise.
The AK70 MKII can work within the reverse, too, as a USB digital audio out. Merely join a USB OTG (On-The-Go) cable (not included) to the micro-USB port and the AK70 MKII can serve up music recordsdata saved on the system to your amplifier of selection. It’s going to additionally play DSD recordsdata by way of DoP (DSD over PCM), through which a DSD file is distributed on prime of PCM knowledge frames.
Community management and streaming choices
The AK70 MKII will connect with any DLNA server; in reality, Astell&Kern’s MQS streaming server is a free DLNA media server out there on each the Mac and Home windows platforms. The AK70 MKII will play any supported media file out of your community. Utilizing the AK70 MKII’s AK Join characteristic, I used to be in a position to entry each the MQS streaming server and my Twonky DNLA streaming server. I browsed and performed content material in a wide range of hi-res music codecs by way of each servers with out problem.
The free AK Join cellular app (out there for each iOS and Andriod) creates a seamless bridge between your iOS or Android sensible system and the AK70 MKII. I may use the app as a distant management for the AK70 MKII and play content material from the AK70 MKII on my iPhone—together with FLAC and DSD recordsdata that the iPhone doesn’t natively help. In different phrases, the AK70 MKII can act as a full-fledged, transportable music server! The app is usually sluggish; however all in all, it provides to an already wealthy bundle.
When you’re anxious about storage capability, don’t be. Sure, there’s solely 64GB of built-in storage, and there is just one microSD growth slot on the left facet, however Astell&Kern instructed me that the AK70 MKII was licensed just some months in the past to work with the newest SanDisk 400GB microSD playing cards. You may due to this fact broaden the system’s whole storage capability to 464GB. (I didn’t have this kind of out there to me, so I couldn’t independently check that declare.)
The AK70 MKII helps aptX HD, enabling you to stream hi-res audio as much as 24-bit/48kHz wirelessly by way of Bluetooth. Whereas only a few wi-fi headphones help aptX HD right now, you may simply add Astell&Kern’s personal XB10 Bluetooth amplifier and DAC to take pleasure in wi-fi hi-res audio comfort with any pair of wired headphones. The AK70 MKII will operate as a traditional Bluetooth streamer as nicely. I paired it with my automotive’s Bluetooth head unit simply.
Rounding out the participant’s wi-fi options, the AK70 MKII comes with native help for the Groovers+ and Tidal streaming music companies. I exploit Tidal frequently and appreciated with the ability to have that added streaming comfort. The standard of streamed Tidal music is superb; sadly, I couldn’t reap the benefits of the service’s MQA streaming help.
It’s going to raise the veil out of your music
I paired the AK70 MKII with a number of over-the-ear headphones, together with the excellent Focal Clear, Oppo PM2, and B&W P9 Signature. I additionally examined the participant with Periodic Audio Beryllium, Fiio F9 Professional, Aurvana Trio, and B&W C5 in-ear-monitors. I used the Fiio F9’s 2.5mm balanced cable possibility with the AK70 MKII. The overwhelming majority of supply materials was hi-res FLAC and ALAC recordsdata, CDs ripped as ALAC recordsdata, and a handful of AAC-encoded recordsdata for comparability.
The AK70 MKII delivers a clear, detailed, managed, and dynamic musical expertise that may solely be described as lifting the proverbial veil out of your music. Each single time I fired up a music observe, I used to be struck by the low noise flooring and the black background that enabled the music to leap out with excellent definition. Seemingly trivial issues—such because the cartoon loop, growl, and static at first of the 24-bit/88.2kHz model of Pink Floyd’s “Want You Had been Right here”—simply popped. You don’t have to crank up the quantity or ask your self, “what was that sound?” or “What did he say?”
Ratchetings issues up on well-recorded tracks and high quality hi-res music recordsdata raises the stakes much more. The readability and timbre of Rebecca Pidgeon’s vocals on the 24-bit/176.4kHz FLAC model of “Spanish Harlem,” from Chesky Information, have been to die for. I may simply comply with the final decays of her vocals as they disappeared into silence. The attract of feminine vocalists comparable to Adele, Ruth B., Karen Carpenter, Norah Jones, Holly Cole, Patricia Barber, and Stevie Nicks turned a siren music. I misplaced observe of what number of instances I replayed Loren Allred’s “By no means Sufficient” from The Best Showman, attempting to absorb each vocal nuance.
Piano notes on the 24-bit/88.2kHz FLAC model of Daft Punk’s “Inside,” from Random Entry Reminiscence, have been wealthy and full bodied, devoid of that toy-like piano sound lesser gamers may give. Dynamics on “Get Fortunate,” with Pharrell Williams, properly conveyed the music’s power.
Deep bass notes on Sarah McLachlan’s “Fumbling In the direction of Ecstasy (Junior Boys Combine),” Bonnie McKee’s “Bother,” “Think about the Fireplace” from the Darkish Knight Rises soundtrack, Michael Jackson’s “Soiled Diana” from Unhealthy, and Kings of Leon’s “Partitions” have been rendered with excellent management and definition. Bass had all of the mastery, affect, and element that makes it go from plain outdated sound to foundational musical notice.
Prime to backside, the tonal stability of the AK70 MKII was wonderful. Yo-Yo Ma’s Cello and Kathryn Stott’s piano on the “Swan” from the album, Songs from the Arc of Life actually made the hairs on my arms stand on finish. I used to be in a position to crank up the quantity on the AK70 MKII with out the hi-res participant’s amp exhibiting a touch of pressure or harshness.
Don’t suppose there’s a distinction between units and file codecs? Let’s take the 16-bit/44kHz Trolls soundtrack that I ripped from CD. Not an audiophile title by any means. Performed on the AK70 MKII, the bass on “Hair Up” begins and stops on a dime—managed and articulate. The soundstage on the AK70 MKII was three dimensional, devices breathed in their very own area and time.
An iPhone 7 enjoying the AAC-encoded model flattened all the things out on the identical observe. Bass notes misplaced important definition, musical particulars have been smeared, and the troll vocals at first of the music had a definite hazy high quality to them.
The identical was true of the Black Panther soundtrack by way of Tidal between the iPhone 7 and the AK70 MKII. The match strike at first of the title observe, “Black Panther,” had a crisp, outlined prime finish, a clear midrange, and an articulate backside finish on the AK70 MKII. Piano notes got here from a extra three-dimensional, deeper soundstage. Not so on the iPhone. The highest finish was muted, midrange veiled, and the underside finish unrefined.
I occurred to have Astell&Kern’s more-expensive Kann ($999 MSRP) readily available for a forthcoming evaluation. There may be certainly a sonic distinction if you transfer up the road. Comparatively talking, the Kann has a good smoother sound with stronger and extra dynamic bass than the AK70 MKII. When paired with an open again pair of headphones just like the Focal Clear or Oppo PM2, I appreciated the Kann’s stronger bass output.
Nothing wanting a musical powerhouse
Severely, what extra can I say in regards to the AK70 MKII? Persistently excellent musical replica that may make you hair stand on finish; the power to drive balanced and unbalanced headphones; USB DAC performance; micro SD expandability; aptX HD over Bluetooth; flexibility and options galore—and also you get all this in a trendy type issue that matches into your pocket for $700?
Let me simply say it: Astell&Kern’s AK70 MKII hi-res DAP is arguably top-of-the-line if not the finest pocket-sized hi-res DAP packages round. Paired with an equally good pair of headphones, the AK70 MKII turns into nothing wanting a high-octane, musical powerhouse. It earns my highest advice.