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Updating: the Astell&Kern way or the Schiit way

  • For signs of manufacturing success in the audio industry we might look to the number of new and revised models coming to market.

    The first port of call for headphone listeners on the go might be South Korea’s Astell&Kern, who have this week announced an update to one of their more affordable digital audio players (DAPs), the AK70.

    The AK70 MKII promises greater output power via its 2.5mm balanced socket than its predecessor: 4V vs. 2.3V. Along for the ride come slightly better SNR, THD and jitter measurements. According to the manufacturer’s Stateside press agent, this translates to “a wider soundstage and better stereo separation.”

    More output power but with the same runtime between charges means a beefier internal battery battery: 2500mAh capacity – up from 2200mAh – which in turn means a slightly larger, weightier unit. Interestingly, 3.5mm single-ended output power has been lowered slightly – from 2.3V to 2V.

    Music can be played back from the 64Gb internal memory or a user-supplied microSD card (up to 256Gb) inserted into the unit’s side. Hi-res file support remains capped at 24bit/192kHz with higher rates downsampled accordingly.

    Similarly, DSD content is converted to PCM prior to decoding. For native DSD support we must connect a suitably equipped DAC to the AK70 MKII’s USB socket.

    Internal D/A conversion again comes from Cirrus Logic but this time out a pair of CS4398. This makes the AK70 MKII Astell&Kern’s most affordable Dual DAC model to date. At US$699, the MKII version will sell for a hundred bucks more than the outgoing model.

    Whichever we slice it, Astell&Kern’s DAP model upgrade is more evolutionary than revolutionary and sits in stark contrast to this week’s announcement from California’s Schiit Audio.

    Photo: Lee Shelley

    At US$99, the Magni 3 offers the same functionality as the outgoing Magni 2 Uber – gain switchable headphone amplification, pre-amp outputs (for powered speakers) – but for fifty fewer dollars, reportedly effected by a switch-up in case manufacturing method (from CNC to stamping) and volume pot change-up (now larger, re-curved).

    The Magni 3’s circuit is a current feedback Class A/B design that started life as an iterative update the more expensive Asgard, reportedly parked because it wouldn’t satisfy the Asgard buyer’s desire for Class A.

    The Magni 3 is a fully discrete, fully complementary implementation, complete with linear power supply and bipolar inputs that, according to company co-founder Jason Stoddard’s latest “Schiit Happened” Head-Fi entry, is closely related to Schiit’s Vidar loudspeaker amplifier. “…they’re the same basic topology. Vidar’s just a lot bigger. With microprocessor oversight.”

    “In an amazing turn, the Magni CFA prototype actually sounded better than the Asgard 3 prototype!”, he continues.

    Photo: Lee Shelley

    Pushing a mighty 2 watts into 32 Ohms, it’s highly unlikely the Magni 3 will come up short with ANY headphone connected to its 6.4mm output socket. And at US$99, the risk in finding out for yourself is low.

    Wrapping up the press release Stoddard says, “You could say that today is the end of the low end of the high end, because nothing with the topology, capability, or specs like this has ever existed.”

    Two new product revisions from two hyper-successful audio companies. One offering minor internal changes and the other a complete rework. The Schiit Magni 3 is available now, the Astell&Kern AK70 MKII (in a black finish) from October.

    Further information: Astell&Kern | Schiit Audio

    Header image photo credit: Alex An.

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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