Hands on: Astell & Kern AK70

Astell & Kern's AK70 is a $600 chunk of hi-fi bliss that finally fits in a pocket

At more than 215 grams in weight, the striking, angular Astell & Kern AK380 and AK320 music players aren’t really made for your pocket. So what to do when you want that sound quality and epic build, without the strain on your pants? How about the AK70, the latest music player from the cult audio brand that sheds the size and weight, but keeps the sound and funky design.

Launched in late June, the AK70 costs $600 yet packs in much of the same technology as the $900 AK100II, all inside a considerably smaller and more compact body. While not as sliver thin, it recalls the wonderful compactness and usability of the 5th generation Apple iPod Nano — everything you could want wrapped in a super cool, hand-friendly shape. Despite the squared-off edges and shoulders, the AK70 feels great in the hand. The metal body is cool and smooth to the touch, while the glass back panel adds class.

The unit sports Astell & Kern’s trademark oversized volume control on the side, perfectly placed for tweaking with your thumb. Alternatively, the touchscreen can also adjust the volume level. Like all Astell & Kern players, the AK70 uses Google’s Android operating system, although it’s unrecognizable underneath the company’s own user interface. Some familiar aspects are there, such as a swipe down notification shade to toggle often used features, or to adjust the screen brightness.

This is important, because the AK70 has a glorious AMOLED touchscreen on the front, and its brightness is immediately obvious. Android may be installed, but there’s no access to the Google Play Store, so the AMOLED screen’s talents are restricted to displaying album cover art. Under the display is a single touch sensitive home button, plus there are hardware music control buttons on the side of the player itself.

Sadly, the model we handled was a pre-production unit and not able to play any music. However, the AK70 uses the same Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC as the AK100II, and supports all the major hi-res music files including WAV, FLAC, and AIFF. In addition, unlike Astell & Kern’s other miniature player, the AK Jr, there’s a balanced output alongside the headphone output, making it more desirable to use as a home audio source. The player also has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Inside the AK70 is a total of 64GB storage, plus a MicroSD card slot to add another 200GB of space.

We love the bigger, chunkier Astell & Kern players, but the AK70 just begs to be connected to a set of lightweight cans or in-ears, slipped into a pocket, and used when out and about. That pocket will need to be deep to spring for the AK70, but considerably less so than for Astell & Kern’s flagship models.