DIGITAL AUDIO PLAYERS
When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPod, he boasted that it was a thousand songs in your pocket – a tool to take advantage of the current success of compressed digital audio files. It was, and is, a ‘storage wars’ champion for the proverbial man in the street. Then came smartphones and music apps, with all the functionality of the aforementioned, but in a device that you always carried with you …
The smartphone’s arrival was great news for the man in the street, but it also represented a further audio discount from a lossy format on a dedicated audio device to a lossy format on a device designed to do lots of things pretty well.
MP3 was, and is, a fantastic feat in audio culture, but for those who crave more, high-res digital audio players (DAPs) are not only here, they’re the only solution for those who love actual music as opposed to those who love storage and convenience.
Budget player? Not really
I don’t get a lot of DAPs on test here so when they do come around, I tend to latch on with both hands. Astell & Kern, which is renowned in this sector of the market, calls the AK70 a ‘budget’ player.
However, trust me when I say that budget is a relative term. You’re going to pay quite a lot for this thing, but a lot is what you get. Not only is the AK70 beautifully packaged, it’s beautiful to behold. Simple, small and sleek, most of the surface area is dedicated to a touch screen display.
All the inputs and buttons are also intuitively placed in areas one might ‘expect’ to find them. Headphone socket on top and controls at the sides. It really is the axiomatic ‘neat little package’, topped off here with a playfully pleasant volume dial – it adds a dash of old-school charm to this surprisingly small device.
Sizing up at about 75 percent of the size of an iPhone 5, the AK70 initially feels a bit odd to handle. However, after a bit of practice, it feels natural and fits my palm almost exactly. The iced mint colouring on the back combined with the brushed aluminium feel on the front make for an overall modern and luxurious aesthetic.
Lots of memory, lots of songs
The AK70 sports 64 GB of onboard memory, as well as well as a slot for a Micro SD card on the side for an extra 128 GB of possible space, should you need it. The top offers up both a traditional 3,5 mm headphone jack and a 2.5 mm balanced audio output for high-end headphones. At the bottom you’ll find a micro-USB input for both charging and data transfer.
It can also be used to connect the AK70 to an external DAC headphone amp or even a straight connection to a computer. Finally, three small buttons on the side provide basic control in the form of play/pause and forward/backward skipping.
Bluetooth and WiFi
Connectivity comes in the form of Bluetooth aptX and WiFi, and it also supports streaming from Tidal and Moov to round it all off. The AK Connect feature allows for browsing and playing of music collections stored on other devices that are connected to your network, which is a handy feature if your music collection passes the Terabyte mark.
I found navigation both fluid and user-friendly. The 3,3-inch WVGA TFT LCD is bright and crisp, offering a straightforward flow that quickly gets you to the thing that matters most…playing music. The UI is an adapted version of Google’s Android OS so some users will find things very familiar. All-round it’s very clean, offering up biggish buttons and icons that even larger fingers should have no problem with.
Sonically, the AK70 is leaps and bounds ahead of iPods and smartphones. The depth and clarity of even MP3s is most impressive.
At the heart of the unit is the DAC, which is based on the Cirrus Logic CS4398 chip. It can play high-res audio files up to 192 kHz / 24-bit, and, although it can handle files up to 32-bit, 384 kHz, it downsamples them.
The overall sound signature is energetic and full, with tight, punchy bass and an incredibly natural and detailed midrange. Treble is precise with an exciting amount of fizz and the stereo imaging is the best I’ve heard from a player like this.
All in all, the AK70 delivers from every angle. Besides having a great sound to it, the connectivity options are notable and it’s a very pleasant user experience all round.
Supported audio formats: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE (Normal, High, Fast), AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF
Signal to noise ratio: 116dB @ 1kHz
Dimensions (WxHxD): 60,3 x 96.8 x 13 mm
Weight: 132 g
DAC: Cirrus Logic CS4398 x 1
Input: Type-B Micro USB input
Outputs: Headphone 3,5 mm, Balanced Out 2.5 mm
WiFi: 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz)
Bluetooth:V4.0 (A2DP, AVRCP, aptX)
VERDICT Great sound and features wrapped up in a neat little package
SUPPLIED BY Sky Audio. www.skyaudio.co.za