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Your smartphone performs audio, has entry to streaming providers, helps headphones, and is nearly all the time shut by. In some ways, it is a superb musical accomplice. Nevertheless, a real standalone music participant is a tempting different for individuals who actually take music-on-the-move significantly.
Astell & Kern make a few of the most well-respected music gamers you should buy. They value just like what you’d pay for a superb smartphone, and the most recent fashions, just like the SA700, have the power to run streaming apps like Spotify. In contrast to a smartphone, nevertheless, the large benefit is that the SA700 is a devoted participant, that means it ought to ship superior sound high quality as a result of that is the machine’s solely job.
The Astell & Kern SA700 carries a full retail value of $1,299, although it is on sale now for $999. That is about the identical value as an Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max. Clearly, a participant like this isn’t a straight different to purchasing a cellphone, however in the event you’re severe about music, is it value contemplating as a luxurious indulgence? Or must you simply keep on with a multi-purpose playback machine like a smartphone? I spent a while with the SA700 to search out out.
- Weight: 10.69 oz303 grams
- Display screen: 4.1-inch, 1280 x 720 pixels
- Pattern fee: PCM 8kHz – 384kHz, DSD Native DSD64 1bit 2.8MHz, Stereo DSD128 1bit 5.6MHz.
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2
- Outputs: 3.5mm unbalanced jack, 2.5mm balanced jack
Inputs: USB Kind-C USB 3.0
- Battery: 3,150mAh
- Storage: MicroSD card slot, 128GB inside storage
When you’re used to the form of your cellphone in your hand, the Astell & Kern SA700 feels very completely different. It is smaller, thicker, sharper, and has extra heft to it. You would be forgiven for pondering it is nothing however a stable block of chrome steel, however on the entrance is a glass lined touchscreen, and inside is loads of hi-res audio expertise.
The uneven form is produced by the big quantity knob on the best, flanked by swooping, textured guards that mix into the angular physique. It is a fantastic juxtaposition with the in any other case blocky design, which provides the SA700 actual character. Flip the participant on, and the quantity knob is lit by a brilliant LED behind it which turns purple if you attain excessive volumes.
Relating to connections, there is a 2.5mm balanced jack on prime of the participant, subsequent to an ordinary 3.5mm jack. There’s Bluetooth with aptx HD assist for wi-fi listening as nicely.
Personally, I feel the design is incredible, and the construct high quality and supplies match the cool appears to be like.
Utilizing the AK T9iEs, it is instantly apparent how a lot energy the SA700 has, as there’s greater than sufficient quantity right here. Outdoors of its ample energy, the machine’s stereo separation is the following ingredient that actually stands out.
GuGu-LuLu’s “Warning!!” is all the time a enjoyable pay attention with vocals and devices unfold all around the soundstage, and the observe sounds incredible right here. After all, the AK T9iEs ought to sound notably good when paired with this participant, since they’re reasonably costly headphones priced at $1,299. With that in thoughts, I sampled playback wth a couple of different fashions as nicely.
When listening by means of a pair of Audeze Sine on-ear headphones, Pax Puella’s” It is a Fantastic Day” sparkles, with the group’s vocals sounding so pure and detailed, it is like they had been proper there with you.
Swapping to Bluetooth headphones, I used Audio Technica’s wonderful DSR5BT, and listened to hi-res recordsdata from Qubuz. A 96KHz model of Micheal Jackson’s “Billie Jean” reveals a sound that is detailed however barely medical and maybe slightly chilly. The technical side of the track is astonishing, with excellent stereo separation and fantastic element, however the observe simply would not carry as a lot emotion because it ought to.
In the meantime, a 48KHz model of Linkin Park’s “Someplace I Belong” actually must be bombastic and virtually harsh, however the SA700 would not fairly ship the rawness I anticipated. Fortunately, a 96KHz model of “Mars, the Bringer of Conflict” from Holst’s The Planets does present the depth and feeling I might been lacking, so long as I push the quantity close to most because the motion reaches its crescendo. It is fairly one thing.
A Hello-Res 88.2KHz model of Wolfgang Heffner’s “Piano Man” additionally performs extra to the SA700’s strengths, with a fragile contact that emphasizes the piano keys, the strum of the bass guitar, and the regular beat of the drum. Due to its involving playback, it is simple to lose your self in jazz on the SA700.
Though I wasn’t all the time as deeply engaged as I might like when listening to my private selection of music, there is no denying how correct and managed the sound from the SA700 is. The sound has been tuned virtually to perfection, however the by-product is a barely disconnected feeling, and it is lacking emotion. Because of this, I have a tendency to make use of the SA700 with a pair of Master & Dynamic’s MW60 0.95 Bluetooth headphones essentially the most. The headphones’ sturdy musical character makes up for what I really feel is lacking from the participant.
The SA700’s 3,150mAh battery capability is under what you discover in most fashionable smartphones, and Astell & Kern estimates it’s going to final about eight and a half hours earlier than it wants recharging.
Whether or not it finally ends up lasting that lengthy, nevertheless, will rely upon how you utilize the participant. Throughout my time with the machine, an hour enjoying music from a MicroSD card drained 10% of the battery utilizing Bluetooth headphones, whereas streaming from the Qobuz app for about the identical period of time drained 25%.
Assuming you primarily use the SA700 throughout commutes with music saved on the machine, it ought to nearly make it by means of the week. It’s good to flip it off when it is not getting used although, as ambient energy draw reduces the battery life when it is on standby. It additionally takes almost 5 hours to recharge, and that is very problematic.
Software program and reliability
The participant’s software program is constructed utilizing Google Android, similar to you discover on Samsung Galaxy and lots of different smartphones. It is the open supply model of Android, nevertheless, so it would not have the Google Play Retailer, however it could run Android apps in the event you set up them your self. This can be a promoting level of an A&Ok participant, as you should utilize Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz and different streaming apps when the participant’s related to Wi-Fi.
Nevertheless, in my expertise this is not a straightforward train. Apps are put in utilizing APK recordsdata, which should be sourced both from the corporate, like in Spotify’s case, or by means of a web site like APKPure.com. Sadly, it is a huge ache.
Spotify’s APK file refused to put in on my participant, and whereas I ultimately obtained a model from APKPure.com to put in, the participant’s keyboard didn’t have one of many particular characters I required to enter my password. Count on to leap by means of hoops putting in apps. Qobuz put in simply, however the app efficiency is sluggish and irritating.
When you’re used to a contemporary smartphone, utilizing the SA700 is a world aside. It is nearly quick sufficient, however the menu system may be very fundamental, and the person interface is not all the time nicely designed. For instance, the Again button is commonly in numerous positions on completely different menus. The display screen itself can also be fairly small which makes the keyboard cramped and awkward. The show is brilliant and colourful, although, so album artwork all the time appears to be like good.
I even have issues with the Wi-Fi connectivity. Whereas it related to my residence community with out subject at first, it started to drop the sign after which refuse to reconnect. I had higher luck connecting to a Hotspot from my iPhone 11 Professional, but it surely nonetheless would not all the time work. I additionally skilled quantity consistency issues with Bluetooth headphones. My Audio Technica ATH-M50x are extremely quiet even at most quantity, however my Grasp & Dynamic MW60 0.95 headphones are high quality.
When you’re a giant audiophile who prioritizes correct sound over every part else, then the Astell & Kern SA700 audio player is designed for you.
It is costly, nevertheless, and it lacks the comfort, usability, and straightforward connectivity of a typical smartphone. With that in thoughts, most consumers might be higher off sticking with a cellphone for music playback.
Your smartphone is the obvious and most handy different. No matter which mannequin you personal, and the way previous it’s, it will likely be in a position to replicate the bottom performance of the SA700. However, how competently it does so will rely upon the cellphone. The iPhone 12 series and the iPhone 11 sequence each supply nice sound high quality, however they lack a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is able to put audiophiles off.
In the meantime, Sony makes a compelling vary of music gamers. The $1,199 ZX2 Walkman immediately competes with the SA700, but it surely’s additionally value trying on the cheaper ZX507 player, which helps Android apps, has a balanced output, and a extra compact design.
When you’re set on proudly owning an Astell & Kern, the A&norma SR25 is $699 and though there are a number of variations in elements — together with the DAC — the cheaper value makes it extra enticing to these desirous to experiment.
The Astell & Kern SA700 has one main drawback: the existence of smartphones. My smartphone is less complicated to make use of, is extra constantly dependable, stays related to Wi-Fi, has a reliable keyboard, and runs each streaming music service app with out a drawback. Plus, it is all the time with me, and the battery lasts longer.
To compensate, the SA700 actually must impress with its sound high quality if it will persuade anybody to spend $999 on a devoted music machine. On the finish of the day, the participant’s audio efficiency is almost there, it is not fairly on the degree I might like.
It is lacking slightly emotional involvement, however the sharp element, soundstage, and very good management means it is nonetheless a deeply pleasing pay attention. The participant is sort of headphone delicate, nevertheless, with some fashions sounding much better than others. It is at its greatest with A&Ok’s personal AK T9ie headphones, and that makes it a $2,300 package deal — which is a severe funding
However, maybe most crucially, whereas I by no means really feel the necessity to swap to a cellphone when listening to the SA700, the reverse can also be true: I do not all the time attain for the SA700 as a substitute of my smartphone. That is principally a choice pushed by comfort, however that is an issue if you are going to spend this a lot cash on a tool that is supposed to supply a superior answer.
True backside line? The Astell & Kern SA700 is a uniquely designed, astonishingly correct music participant strictly for audiophiles with deep pockets. All different consumers might be higher off sticking to a smartphone for his or her music listening wants.
Professionals: Correct sound, cool design, fantastically made
Cons: Costly, your cellphone is extra user-friendly, brief battery life