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Astell & Kern AK70…FTW!

11-03-2016 | By Carol Clark | Issue 88

Perhaps the Astell & Kern AK70 is better suited for young people who know what the acronym ftw means. It's small, affordable, and holds a lot of music. It has all kinds of features that make it easy to use. But, the AK70 is just right for me, and I'm old. Oh, and don't worry, I'll explain what "ftw" means later.

Astell & Kern AK70

I've always been an iPod user. I started with the Nano. I liked it because it was small, and with a set of fold-up headphones I could take it everywhere. Back then I had iTunes on my computer, so I just ripped CDs to that and slid them over on to the Nano. It was easy because iTunes let me sync my library to the player. I only ended up with the music I wanted.

Eventually I graduated to the larger iPod. It held more music, and I was still able to export music from my own personal iTunes library. Sometimes I wished I had a playlist, but I couldn't figure out how to make one. Granted, I didn't spend a lot of time trying to make one, but it just seemed too overwhelming and complicated. Then, Dave put some of his music on my iPod. Ack! We had gotten a new car, and it had a built in iPod connection in the glove compartment. Now we could listen to music we both liked when we went on road trips.

When I got a new computer—everything changed. Now I no longer had iTunes. Connecting to the Mac Mini in the listening room was beyond my comprehension. By this time Dave had his own iPod, and I felt like I didn't want his music on mine any more. After all, on drives around town I wanted to just hear my own music. I also wanted to take my iPod to school so I could play some "good music" for my students. So, Dave got me a used iPod, and we were going to load things I liked on to it. Well, let's just say iTunes sync, a used iPod, and my inability to comprehend how it all worked was not a good match. I was defeated.

Enter the Astell & Kern Ak70. It came in a nice little box with everything you needed to get it up and running. The package insert was a bit hard for these old eyes to read, but I realized I could download a pdf of the user guide. Once I did that, I was ready to roll.

The thrust of this article is how I got this baby up and running by myself. I used the guide, but I did not ask Dave for any help. When it comes to the main audio system I feel pretty clueless. Sometimes I can go out there and listen, but I always need him to assist me. I wanted to be able to do this on my own, and I'm glad to report I did it! So, this is not a full review of this product, more like me telling you my experience with how easy it is to use.

The first order of business was getting music on to the player. Fortunately I know how to access the NAS where all the music is stored, so I hooked the AK70 up to my computer via the supplied cable. There's no need to interface with iTunes, you literally just drag and drop the music! I opened the AK70, then I opened the NAS, found the music I wanted, dragged the music from the NAS over to the AK70. I'm sure those aren't technical terms, but that's what I did. I tried that with an iPod once and found out you can't do it that way. The fact that I did it with the AK70 made me extremely happy.

Next I had to hook up my headphones. I'm approaching this from the standpoint that yes, I am an audiophile, but no, I'm not a gear head. So, don't laugh, but the headphone jack from my Sennheiser HD600s did not fit into the AK70. We have a collection of adapters, so I was able to find one that worked just fine.

Now I was able to spend some time listening. Wow, it sounded great! I'd always been told that the AK players were amazing, and now I was experiencing it for myself. The interface is pretty intuitive, so no problems there. I fiddled with the EQ settings, but in the end I reverted back to the pro EQ that's already installed. The sound is full and rich, and all my music sounds amazing. Although I'm old, I do like a lot of different music. I played Gravity Kills, the Notwist, Crystal Method, and the old stand-by Cure that I love so much.

My next step, create a playlist. I managed this without even looking at the user guide. As I said, the interface on this unit is so intuitive it made things simple. From the home screen you select playlist, from that screen you select +, and from there you make your playlist. I called mine "songs I like." Then you add songs to your list. Additionally, when listening to your whole library, you can add any song to a playlist by pressing +.

You can do a lot of things with this device. Much of it goes over my head, but it does have some pretty cool features. I figured how to connect it to wi-fi and download a firmware update. I learned at RMAF that the latest firmware update will allow me to use Tidal. There is an option to connect the device to outboard speakers. You can also purchase music directly from a store. I ended up purchasing a song from Amazon, downloaded it to my computer, and then dragged it on to the player. I'm sure a savvier user could utilize all these powerful features, but at the end of the day I wanted something that plays music.

Okay, so one of the things I liked about my iPod was that I could hook it up in the car. Dave mentioned that I could also hook the AK 70 up to my car, and he presented me with a cable. I told him I would figure it out on my own, so the only step to this process is that I'm not sure what kind of a cable it is. It is something you have to purchase separately, and you have to have a place in your car to hook it to, which I do. This is an AUX port. After reading the guide I knew I had to go into the device settings and enable the line out. Then I took it out to the car, plugged one end of the cable into the car, and was stumped for a minute because I thought the other end plugged into the balanced output on the top of the AK70. Turns out you plug it into the headphone jack. There was a bit more monkeying around with volume levels, but voila! I was hearing music from the AK70 in my car!

Somewhere in the midst of this process I contacted Owen Kwon of Astell & Kern. He cautioned me to be careful using it in the car, and on my first trip I discovered why. Unlike when I use the iPod with the built in connector, the AK70 does not display on the big touch screen on my dashboard. Even when I use the touch screen I always think, "What's the difference between looking at this and looking at my phone? They're both a distraction!" But, at least with the interface between the iPod and the car I can press a "next" button on the steering wheel to skip songs I don't like. I don't have that with the AK70, but I don't need it! Remember, I created a "songs I like" playlist, I like all the songs! I left the player in the cup holder, and didn't look at it once.

So, there you have it, the AK70 is an amazing, easy to use music player that sounds awesome! Right out of the box I was able to load music, make a playlist, update the firmware, and make it play music in my car. And, it's affordable and compact. As I mentioned, it can do a lot of other cool things, but my focus was that I could figure it all out by myself. So definitely, the Astell & Kern AK70 is ftw—for the win!

Astell & Kern