Astell & Kern AK70 MK II hands-on review

Astell & Kern's AK70 MK II is the portable music player you wish your phone could be

More audio technology inside for only a little more money makes the Astell & Kern AK70 MK II exactly the kind of upgrade we love.
More audio technology inside for only a little more money makes the Astell & Kern AK70 MK II exactly the kind of upgrade we love.
More audio technology inside for only a little more money makes the Astell & Kern AK70 MK II exactly the kind of upgrade we love.


  • Stylish, instantly recognizable design
  • Strong musical performance, especially for vocals
  • Doubles as a headphone DAC
  • More powerful balanced headphone out
  • AptX HD


  • Operating system can be slow

Two is always better than one, right? When you’re Astell & Kern it certainly is, as demonstrated by the new AK70 MK II music player, which has dual Cirrus Logic CS4398 digital-to-analog converter (DAC) chips inside, instead of the single one used in the previous model. Not that you’d know just from looking at the player, as the same eye-catching, hewn-from-a-solid-metal-block look has been retained. In our AK70 MK II hands-on review, we find out if doubling the DAC chipsets means the player delivers double the audio pleasure.

The look

Let’s talk about design and feel first. Smartphones, which have become the go-to music player for most, have increasingly grown in size over the past few years. The Astell & Kern AK70 MK II is much more compact, and easily fits in the palm of your hand, or slips in your pocket. It’s not a tiny sliver of a thing that’ll fall out of your hand like the last generation Apple iPod, Sony’s NW-ZX300, or even Astell & Kern’s own AK Jr, though. There’s genuine heft and thickness from the anodized duralumin body, which weighs 150 grams; but instead of being off-putting, it feels high quality, expensive, and reassuringly well made.

A 3.3-inch AMOLED screen shows the custom, Google Android-based operating system. It’ll be familiar to anyone coming from a phone, with swipes, taps, and gestures controlling the main functions. However, the OS lacks the responsiveness one expects from a modern Android phone, and some of the buttons are tiny on the small screen, which means there is potential for it to be frustrating to use on the move. It looks wonderful though, with the deep blacks and high contrast colors we expect from an AMOLED display shining through.

The oversize volume control on the side looks great, adding visual punch to the player, and while it requires lots of twists to dramatically increase the volume, this is by design: Unlike phones that present broad changes between volume levels, Astell & Kern’s players offer a higher level of control so you can dial in the sound just right. That said, it’s easier – and faster — to swipe up and down on the touchscreen for volume control.

Otherwise, the buttons are all easy to reach, and it’s obvious what they do. We’re less likely to constantly interact with the AK70 MK II than we are a phone, so the minor interface sluggishness will be just that — minor.

Vocal superiority

We only had a small selection of demo tracks to try after plugging in our headphones — for our demo, we used our trusty pair of B&O Play H2 on-ears — but there was enough variety to give us a strong impression. It’s instantly obvious just how much the AK70 MK II loves to sing. Vocal tracks soar and beguile, demonstrating the AK70 MK II’s rich tuning. Rebecca Pidgeon’s Spanish Harlem was utterly involving, and wonderfully intimate.

Doubling the DAC chipsets means double the audio pleasure.

The strummed bass line never overpowered the singer’s sweet voice, and it made us smile all the way through — which ultimately, is what quality sound should do. It’s very easy to fall for the AK70 MK II when it facilitates these emotions. This isn’t to say non-vocal tracks suffer. Duke Ellington’s In A Mellow Tone was detailed and lively, while the stereo separation at the start of David Bowie’s Starman was precise and fun.

Listening to music on a device dedicated to doing so is an eye-opening experience. Smartphones can sound great — the LG G6 and LG V30 spring to mind — but can’t deliver the same power, versatility, or musical energy as the AK70 MK II. It plays most major file types, from MP3 to FLAC, and in 24bit/192KHz resolution, while DSD files will be converted to PCM. The player offers 64GB of storage, with 256GB more available via an SD slot. Upgraded circuitry means improved signal-to-noise ratio, crosstalk, and reduced jitter over the AK70 MK 1. Onboard Wi-Fi lets you connect to streaming music services, and the good news is the player has AptX HD support through the Bluetooth connection.

Astell & Kern AK70 Mk II review
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The AK70 MK II also has a larger battery than the original, though Astell & Kern tells us this mostly gets eaten up by the second DAC chipset, making the upgrade a wash. Battery playback is estimated between 6-8 hours per charge. In addition to the regular 3.5mm headphone jack, a more powerful 2.5mm balanced output — almost doubling the MK I player’s 2.3Vrms output to 4.0Vrms — is alongside it, ready to drive more capable, demanding headphones. We didn’t get the chance to try this out in our quick demo. Finally, we like the way the AK70 MK II can be plugged into your computer to act as a dedicated headphone DAC, letting you enjoy improved sound quality at home too.

Doubling the technology hasn’t given Astell & Kern reason to double the price. The AK70 MK II is $700, up $100 from the AK70 MK 1, which although pricey when your smartphone will play at least some of the music files with moderate results, is excellent value when you consider this is the first A&K music player to include dual-DACs below the $1,000 price point.

Whether it’s worth that level of financial investment will come down to your love of music and depth of wallet. However, as storage space and battery life on smartphones becomes more of a concern, and availability of high-quality music becomes greater, owning a dedicated music player is making more sense every day. We’d recommend testing the versatile, great sounding, and eye-catchingly styled Astell & Kern AK70 MK II if this predicament sounds familiar.

Product Review

Garmin’s 4G LTE VivoActive 3 keeps you safe when you’re out on the trails

Garmin takes its already great VivoActive 3 Music fitness smartwatch and adds a 4G LTE connection, courtesy of Verizon. The watch now has streaming music, independent GPS, and best of all, SMS support and various safety features. We’ve…

Tidal faces legal jeopardy over fake stream numbers accusation

In another challenging chapter for music subscription service Tidal, Norwegian authorities have begun a formal investigation into charges that the company faked millions of streams for artists such as Kanye West and Beyoncé.

Don't use streaming apps? Try the best free media players for your local music

Rather than using music-streaming apps, you may want something for playing your local music. Good news! There are some good alternatives. These are the best media players you can download for free on Windows.

The best new music this week: Angelo De Augustine and more

Are you looking for the best new music? Each week, we scour the internet to find the most compelling new releases just for you. On tap this week: New albums from Angelo De Augustine and Miss Grit.
Home Theater

QLED and OLED may have similar names, but they're totally different technologies

The names may look almost identical, but OLED and QLED are two entirely different beasts. In our QLED vs. OLED battle, we dissect the differences between these dueling TV technologies, and help determine which might be best for you.
Home Theater

Amazon’s updated base model Fire TV stick now comes with an Alexa remote

If you're looking to take your older TV into the streaming era, Amazon's most basic Fire TV Stick model just got more compelling than ever: Buyers can now get a free Alexa voice remote with their Fire TV Stick purchase.
Home Theater

Leave the charger behind: Wireless headphones will get epic battery life in 2019

From wireless in-ears to noise-canceling over-ears, virtually every headphone manufacturer has seriously improved wireless headphone battery capacity, making fears about charging up for long listening sessions a thing of the past.
Home Theater

Banish the bunny ears (and monthly bills) with these excellent HD antennas

When transitioning away from cable and satellite, finding the best HDTV antenna for your area can be touch. To help, we've compiled our picks of the best indoor HDTV antennas you can buy.
Home Theater

Still listening on tinny TV speakers? Try one of our favorite soundbars

You no longer have to sacrifice sound for size when selecting home audio equipment. Check out our picks for the best soundbars, whether you're looking for budget options, pure power, smarts, or tons of features.

Don't spend hundreds on Pro Tools or Logic. Try one of these free alternatives

Believe it or not, Pro Tools isn't the only digital audio workstation worth your time. Check out our picks for the best free recording software, whether you're looking for a lightweight app or a full-blown audio workstation.
Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Home Theater

Roku adds automatic sign-out mode, for those with regular houseguests

Being able to use a Roku device while staying at a hotel or Airbnb is awesome. What is less awesome is leaving yourself signed in after you leave. With a new automatic sign-out feature, Roku is making it easier to relax.
Home Theater

Wireless headphones are finally awesome, and these are our favorites

With sleek form factors, prime audio quality, and the freedom of untethered listening, there has never been a better time to pick up a pair of wireless headphones. These are the best ones currently available.
Home Theater

These awesome A/V receivers will swarm you with surround sound at any budget

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to shopping for a receiver, so we assembled our favorites for 2018, at multiple price points and all loaded with features, from Dolby Atmos to 4K HDR, and much more.