Astell&Kern – part of iRiver – has been manufacturing countless players and other accessories for personal audio for about seven years now. The first model was the AK100. And although the AK100 was not a resounding success, the AK120 already made up for a lot and the models that followed. And they put AK on the map in the world of personal audio. We watch and listen to the Astell&Kern SA700. A player – DAP in jargon – of 1399 euro. Lots of money? Yeah. Expensive…? Well… let’s find out!
Your editor recently went on vacation for a week. A short break to the (eternal?) green Ardennes in Belgium. Lovely. A bit of walking, breathing in the sulphur air at Spa and the necessary visits to playgrounds and caves to give your son the necessary exercise.
But given the fact that your editor is also on holiday, music is a must. Now the car does have a radio, but yes: it’s not a Volvo with Bowers & Wilkins built in, shall we say. Although a German brand, there is no Accuton built in. Unfortunately. In short: we called D&D audio (Netherlands) and asked if there was an A&K player for on the road use. “No problem” was the answer. Nice!
The new Astell&Kern SA700 is in fact a player like we have had before. At least: from Astell. The shape and volume knob are reminiscent of the older AK120 for example. That’s why Astell&Kern talks about ‘legacy design’ but with modern features. We’ll talk more about the features later on.
The operating system is unlike the first A&K’s, Android. Of course with the necessary adjustments. Perfect, because everyone can feel at home very quickly that way. The operation is fast and very intuitive thanks to a capable cpu, as we show in the video. Anyone who can control a smartphone can operate this player. Nothing to worry about.
The important part: the dacs, consists of two AKM AK4492ECB dacs. Beautiful chips that play very rich in detail, but don’t come across as analytical. Probably because of the warm and powerful tone at the bottom. It also matches nicely with the AK T9iE; more about that later.
What we notice with this combination, is that music is honoured. We already wrote on Facebook that we have never heard Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool so beautifully reproduced. And the funny thing is: we are especially impressed with the tracks we don’t always play from that album. Think Indentikit. Wow… so smooth, intense and so beautifully interpreted. A power we rarely hear on a ‘normal’ hi-fi system. It’s a pity that we’re pulled slightly ‘abruptly’ out of the moment; we have to do some shopping. Of course we’ll get on with it later!
The Astell&Kern SA700 is more than just a player. It is also a mediaplayer that can play via the network, can play digitally via usb to a dac and can also act as a dac with and a pc and Mac. It is even possible to rip CDs directly to the player with the AK CD ripper. The possibilities go on and on. We haven’t tested everything. Purely because of time constraints. We especially enjoyed listening to music.
But a small point of attention: putting music on the player can and should be done faster (our opinion). We have put 110GB of flacs on the player – the player supports almost all formats by the way – and that just took far too long. We don’t know exactly how long it took, but if we remember correctly it took about 2 hours(!). That’s not necessary in these ‘digital’ times. And certainly not with a usb-c interface that just offers a lot of bandwidth. Copying should be possible above 100 MB/s. And then 120GB copying would take around 20 minutes. So say that half an hour is acceptable. Now the player copies at 25MB/s on average which is just too slow. We hope that maybe a firmware update can improve this.
Another point of attention is that updates no longer work when the internal flash is full of music, as was the case with us (you will get a message anyway). It would be handy if Astell&Kern just reserves a piece of the flash memory for updates. Then you don’t have that problem. That’s very easy to fix in an update.
Are there any other crazy things? Well, not really. The player might be a little heavy for on the road. It’s very palpable in the pocket. But yeah, is it really a portable device to walk with? Or to commute? Not in our opinion; the price is a bit hefty for that. Taking it with you is fine and the battery lasts long enough. A day’s play is fine and charging is fast.