Astell & Kern AK70 MKII hands-on

Astell & Kern AK70 MKII hands-on: A worthwhile update to one of the best portable music players?

The original Astell & Kern AK70 was one of the best portable hi-res music players around. It was a gorgeous design, and it sounded amazing. For the sheer quality it offered, its £500 price tag was very reasonable.

Only a year later, we have the Astell & Kern AK70 MKII. I got to play with one at its first appearance in the UK, and it looks very promising indeed. Here are my first impressions.

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Astell Kern AK70 MKII

Astell & Kern AK70 MKII – Design

It’s best to think of the AK70 MKII as a sort of director’s cut, rather than a full-on sequel. The design has received a series of minor tweaks, not a total makeover.

The AK70 MKII has the same basic look as the original. It’s got a straight-edged aluminium chassis, with a sloped front and volume knob on the right edge.

The furniture has stayed: play/pause/skip/rewind keys and a microSD slot on the left edge, Micro USB at the bottom, power/sleep button on top, with 3.5mm and 2.5mm balanced headphone connections alongside.

It’s hard to tell, but the AK70 MKII is slightly heftier. It’s a little taller and thicker, and 18g heavier. The volume knob has been tweaked too; it’s tighter, with less give between clicks.

For now, it only comes in black. If you were holding out for the Misty Mint flavour of the original AK70, you’ll have to wait.

As with most of Astell & Kern’s designs, the corners are unapologetically sharp. The AK70 MKII isn’t uncomfortable to hold, however, and it won’t carve up the lining of your pockets.

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Astell Kern AK70 MKII

Astell & Kern AK70 MKII – Features

Most of the tweaks have taken place on the inside. The biggest and most important change is the addition of another DAC (digital-to-analogue converter). This is the first time an A&K music player under £1000 has used a dual-DAC system.

This setup separates the left and right channels entirely, from input to output, which means each channel with suffer less noise and interference. There is also a higher audio output, as well as a better signal-to-noise ratio.

Built-in storage remains at a decent 64GB, but the microSD card slot means you can add another 200GB. The battery has been upgraded from 2200mAh to 2500mAh.

As with the original, the AK70 MKII can play Hi-Res Audio files up to 24-bit/192kHz. You can also play 32-bit files, but they will be downsampled. Single and double rate DSD files will work too, but they will be converted to PCM.

The AK70 MKⅡ plays any resolution of digital files up to 24-bit/192kHz, bit for bit.
32-bit audio and single or double rate DSD can also be played, but it will be converted to PCM or downsampled.

Astell Kern AK70 MKII

Astell & Kern AK70 MKII – Performance

I didn’t get much time to put the AK70 MKII through its paces, but from what I could tell, audio performance has received a slight boost in nearly every department.

There’s definitely a greater sense of space, with a wider, taller soundstage. It’s not just bigger – stereo imaging is a little clearer too, which is impressive considering the original was already precise enough to make you physically turn your head.

On top of this is an improved level of dynamism. Combined with a little extra clarity, that translates to a performance that comes across as a little more deliberate and confident.

There’s always a danger that ramping things up elsewhere might affect the tonal balance, but thankfully the AK70 MKII retains the neutral presentation of its predecessor. The treble is wonderfully crisp, while the midrange is direct and natural. The bass is full-bodied, but tight and nicely controlled.

The AK70 MKII deserves a proper listen and not just a quick play on a crowded showroom floor – I’ll come back with a more thorough report when A&K sends over our review sample. For now, fans of the original AK70 can expect great things.

First impressions

The Astell & Kern AK70 MKII doesn’t win any points for originality, but while it appears aesthetically identical to its predecessor, its myriad internal tweaks tell a different story. Even with a short listen, it’s obvious that the audio performance has been improved – an impressive feat considering how good the original was. At this point, it feels apt to bring up the fact that the MKII costs £599 – £100 more than the original.

Is it worth it? I’ll need more time with a proper review sample before I answer that, but let’s just say I have a very good feeling about this one.