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[UPDATED] Astell&Kern AK70: another day, another player

Some audio manufacturers release a first generation product, dust off their hands and let the reviews and sales figures fall as they may. A second generation unit might spill when the urge strikes but there’s no hurry. It’s not uncommon to see several years separating models and/or revisions.

And then there’s Astell&Kern. The South Korean company make digital audio players (DAPs) for audiophiles who don’t mind carrying a second device in the name of better sound quality; and perhaps bragging rights.

And I swear on St Nicholas that each time we turn our backs, Astell& Kern release a brand new model. It’s a clear case of DAP diarrhoea!

In three years since the original AK100 and AK120 dropped in 2013, we’ve seen the AK100 II, the AK120 II, the AK240, the AK380 and the AK320; and that’s before we even get to listing special editions and accessories.

This isn’t a criticism. It might well be the driving force behind Astell&Kern’s rapid ascent to become the number one player in their field – and by a significant margin to boot.

Only last month, the latest model in the ‘3’ series’ was launched in Tokyo: the AK300 was stickered at US$899 and is kinda, sorta, not really the replacement for the AK120 II which has yet to be officially EOL-d (but must surely be on the clock).

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Now comes news of yet another new Astell&Kern DAP, the AK70. The new fella’s US$599 price point gives the game away immediately: it is set to kinda, sorta, not really replace the AK Jr., itself launched a mere 14 months ago at Munich High-End 2015.

And if you think that’s a speedy turnover, know that today also sees the launch of the second generation AK Ti8E – an earphone developed in collaboration with Beyerdynamic that’s only six months old.

Back to the AK70. According to Astell&Kern, it’s is 29% lighter, 17% smaller and 1.9mm thinner than what was previsouly the next model up in its range, the AK100 II.

Unlike the AK Jr., the AK70 puts a 2.5mm balanced socket next to its standard 3.5mm socket. This brings output power up to 2.3Vrms – the same as the top of the line AK380. The internal DAC chip is a Cirrus Logic CS4398. That’s the same silicon as seen in the AK100 II but not in the AK300. However, you might not be using it…

Potentially attractive to Chord Mojo-ers is the AK70’s trump card: digital audio output over TOSLINK and [see footnote] USB with the latter capable of parsing DSD 2.8/5.6MHz (via DoP) and PCM up to 384kHz. (This feature is reportedly coming to ‘2’ and ‘3’ series models via a future firmware update).

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Also rolled into the AK70’s software feature set is AK Connect which will see it run as DLNA server and streamer using built in WiFi.

Rounding out the feature set are storage specs: 64Gb of internal memory and a single microSD card slot. Note: the AK70 is NOT compatible with the AK [vinyl] Recorder but it is compatible with the AK [CD] Ripper.

Like the AK Jr., the AK70 ships sans protective case. For that you’ll need extra cash for one of three colour options.

The AK70 begins shipping in July.

Further information: Astell&Kern

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Conflicting message coming from team Astell&Kern. Their stateside office said in a press release last week, “the single DAC AK70 is the first Astell&Kern portable player to feature a digital line out via optical and USB.  This allows users a range of options to connect their own favorite external DAC.”

However, the local team in South Korea says not. That the AK70’s digital output is via USB only.

Written by John H. Darko

John H. Darko

John is the editor of DAR from which he derives an income from its ad revenues. John is also an occasional contributor to 6moons and AudioStream and currently resides in Berlin, Germany.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR

20 Comments

  1. AV Watch as well as Phileweb says the AK70 doesn’t support optical out. With 2 big name sources against yours I think you may want to double check about TOSLINK support.

    • Nope – the AK70 does digital output over TOSLINK via its 3.5mm socket. Might doesn’t mean right! 😉

        • Yes, I AM SURE.

          From their Stateside representative’s CE-centric press release: “The Astell&Kern AK70 is the latest portable high-resolution audio player in the Astell&Kern lineup. A new entry-level portable hi-res player, the single DAC AK70 is the first Astell&Kern portable player to feature a digital line out via optical and USB. This allows users a range of options to connect their own favorite external DAC.”

          • And here’s the full press release text:

            “New York, NY – Astell&Kern, the global leader in high resolution portable and home playback devices, will debut two new products for the U.S. market at CE Week NY June 22 – 23, 2016 in the Hi Res Audio Pavilion at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City.

            The new AK70 High-Resolution Portable Audio Player and AK T8iE 2nd Generation In-Ear Monitor are being added to Astell&Kern’s lineup of award-winning high-resolution audio products. Both products, along with the full line of Astell&Kern portable hi-res audio players and AK T1 All-in-One High Res Sound System will be on display in booth A of the Hi Res Audio Pavilion at CE Week NY.

            The Astell&Kern AK70 is the latest portable high-resolution audio player in the Astell&Kern lineup. A new entry-level portable hi-res player, the single DAC AK70 is the first Astell&Kern portable player to feature a digital line out via optical and USB. This allows users a range of options to connect their own favorite external DAC.

            Other features of the Astell&Kern AK300 include:

            · Single Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC Chipset
            · Support for high-resolution audio playback up to 24-bit/192KHz PCM audio and up to double-rate, 5.6MHz DSD (converted to PCM)
            · 64GB internal flash storage with single microSD card slot for up to 200GB of additional storage memory
            · DLNA 1.0 Compatible
            · Wi-Fi enabled, supports OTA firmware updates and streaming music from other devices on the same network
            · Supports AK Connect app, available for iOS and Android devices
            · USB DAC function – can be connected to a Mac/PC to bypass internal sound card and output hi-res audio
            · CD-Ripper compatible, allowing the user to rip music directly to the player without the need for a computer.

            The Astell&Kern AK70 will be available in July 2016 for $599.”

          • Doesn’t the below text you pasted bothers you a little?

            >Other features of the Astell&Kern AK300 include:<

            Why is AK300 mentioned in the AK70 PR? 😉 I think someone at the US branch may have made a copypasta mistake in their PR.
            I'm cross checking the Korean, Chinese and the Japanese sites, both AK and news sites that went to the launch events, and everyone says there's no optical support. This is bad if AK themselves can't decide whether it has optical support or not.

          • Given that ‘AK70’ is mentioned in the release elsewhere more often than ‘AK300’, I’d be inclined to think the ‘AK300’ was the typo.

            PLUS! As per my previous comment, A&K also explicitly state in the same release that “the single DAC AK70 is the first Astell&Kern portable player to feature a digital line out via optical and USB.”

            If you need clarification on this I’d suggest you contact A&K directly. Hit them up on their FB page perhaps? Best of luck to you.

          • So I did ask them on their FB page:

            They said NO to 3.5mm optical output. Below is the money shot:

            http://imgur.com/2CEjlal

            So it’s settled?
            I’d say “I told you so” but then I’ll be gloating. 😉 (BTW more AK70 mentioned than AK300 would obviously be a very common find&replace error done on a word processor, knowing how people usually do these things)

          • There you have it. You info contradicts my info. As we know, their US team explicitly stated that the AK70 would be the first model to do TOSLINK and USB out – and in such a way that would preclude typos being to blame.

  2. The mint green color looks rather nice IMO. It compares favorably in terms of specs + price with another Korean DAP, thebit Opus #1, although the latter does offer 2x microSD slots whilst the AK trumps it with its streaming capability.

  3. Blimey! These South Koreans are spitting out as many DAP’s as the North Koreans are dud Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.
    If only Kim Jong Un would turn his attention to music players instead of ‘merciless rains of fire’, the world would be a cheerier place an’ a little more tuneful too.
    Makes you think, dunnit…?

  4. Still problems when you us OX /I-Mac to download music file on to any AK player it is cumbersome as you have to use other software to be able to do so and then it becomes time consuming ! Would be interesting to find out how this players sound ?

  5. Damn, their release cycles make most smartphone manufacturers seem downright conservative in comparison. Speaking of smartphones, it seems the buzzword this year is “modular”. While I have my doubts on modular smartphones, the idea does seem attractive on DAPs. Imagine a DAP wth a separate battery, receiver/clocker, DAC and amp section. Switch out receiver module for a BT one if you want to go cable-free, or switch out DAC module when a new chipset gets released, or switch out your low noise amp module for a high power one, etc etc. Probably not as straightforward as it sounds with regards to electrical noise and isolation factors (I’m no engineer, so talking out of my arse here), but it might just avoid a landfill full of obsolete AK models.

    • My hypothesis is intended in friendly jest and I don’t for one moment feel entitled to their sales figures. Their business is their own.

      • I don’t for one moment feel entitled to their sales figures. Their business is their own.

        Not as part of a publicly traded company it isnt.

        http://quotes.wsj.com/KR/060570/financials

        I get that we arent here to argue the toss over their financials, but you actually started the discussion around A&K’s incredible release cycle.

        • Indeed I did make a friendly jibe about A&K’s product release rates but I kept it at that. I didn’t make the leap to sales figures or attempt to connect the two a la “if A&K dont publish sales figures, that’s the only conclusion I can make.”

          Anyway, moving on…

  6. Hi John, do you know if you can get a “bit perfect” output via the usb out? Or does the software get in the way? I think this would make a wonderful little partner for my Chord Hugo. Especially with the option to access my largish music collection on a NAS.

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