A sublime musical experience awaits the well-heeled audiophile

Astell&Kern’s new SA700 pays homage to one of the company’s original high-resolution digital audio players (DAPs), the AK120. While the SA700 gives a devout nod to the past, it’s a forward-looking statement piece with meticulous attention to industrial design and a sound so good and so seductive that it’s arguably my favorite high-res DAP to date.

A sublime unboxing experience

The Astell&Kern SA700 is built to deliver a blissful user experience that begins with its packaging. If you’re an audio geek, I’m sure you’ve watched an unboxing video or two. Astell&Kern’s SA700 unboxing experience is simply sublime.

The experience begins with the player’s meticulous red and black packaging design that sets the shiny red Astell&Kern “A” logo, set in foil, against a matte black box. Slip off the outer sleeve and lift up the box to expose the base upon which the SA700 sits upright. It draws your attention to the player like a museum piece on display.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best high-end digital audio players, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping.

The SA700’s red logo and black box set the tone for the player’s undustrial design color motif.Theo Nicolakis / IDG

The A&K SA700’s red logo and black box set the tone for the player’s undustrial design color motif.

Holding the player in my hands for the first time, I couldn’t help but notice its solid, heavy (10.68oz), and dense feel that screamed premium build quality and materials. On the outside, the SA700 recalls the look of the original AK120, but it has a longer body (4.56-inches); a larger screen (720 x 1280 vs 320 x 240); a redesigned volume knob with LED-illumined volume control; and angled corners (vs the rounded edges of the original). The player’s combined size and weight comes close to the limits of what I’d consider a pocket-sized player.

First class materials, inside and out

The player’s outer materials are a combination of glass and stainless steel. The front is all glass. The sides and rear are brushed stainless steel. The stainless steel body isn’t completely oleophobic. I found my fingerprint smudges on the player’s back.

The SA700’s stainless steel body doubles as a heat sink. I frequently noticed that the SA700’s stainless steel body got warm—especially playing hi-res files with high-impedance headphones. Driving my Focal Clear headphones at moderate volume, the SA700’s enclosure would become warm to the touch. Even using easier-to-drive headphones, such as Astell&Kern’s own AK T9iE in-ears, the player got fairly warm when I kept it in my jacket pocket. The moral of the story: Use caution when putting this player in an unventilated pocket.

Under the hood, the SA700 is the first DAP to use two of AKM’s AK4492ECB DACs. This DAC will natively decode PCM files up to 32-bit/384kHz, and it has native DSD256 support without conversion to PCM.

sa700 presentationTheo Nicolakis / IDG

The SA700 is geared towards wired and…


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