Astrotec S70: Affordable ANC

Greetings!

Today we’re checking out Astrotec’s latest entry into their S lineup of true wireless (TWS) earphones, the S70.

My first introduction to Astrotec’s true wireless earphones was the S60, a very compact, fairly affordable product that utilized balanced armatures instead of the much more common dynamic drivers found in pretty much everything from their competitors. The S60 5.0 (revised version) is still one of, if not, my favourite TWS earphone thanks to it’s size, balanced signature, and reliable connection quality. Next up was the S80 which was tuned with a more bassy signature. Not my favourite, but it has it’s fans. The S70 one-ups most of Astrotec’s previous efforts in a number of ways by adding a number of awesome features like active noise cancelling and quick charging, all at a very wallet friendly 49 USD.

More features and a low price are nice and all, but if the basics like sound quality and connection quality don’t stack up, the S70 won’t be worth your time. How does it fare? Let’s find out.

What I Hear The low end of the S70 is quite warm and midbassy and for the most part dominates the listening experience. Given the likely target audience this makes sense, so don’t go in expecting a balanced, audiophile-aimed listening experience. Extension is pretty good, especially for a wireless earphone. The S70 is capable of providing a solid visceral rumble as noted on Kavinski’s “Solli”, though the deepest notes trail off early. The 6mm LCP driver installed in the S70 provides acceptable texturing, though the average transients and mid-bass quantity serve to smooth things out somewhat. I find this tuning works very well when listening to the S70 in public, less so in quiet, critical listening scenarios.

The midrange, while timbre rich and fairly natural sounding, is quite recessed to the point where vocals take the backseat and can occasionally be drown out by the instrumentals. On tracks like Aesop Rock’s “The Gates” where his vocals are shoved aggressively forward there are no issues. The same cannot be said for Dillon Francis’ “We The Funk” where Fuego’s performance is muddied by the abundant low end. Female vocalists fare slightly better, though a mid-forward mix is still best if you want to get the most out of the S70’s vocal performance. Detail and clarity are fairly average, if not slightly below. Heavily textured voices like that of TeeBee work well with the S70, while the smoother sounds of Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel unfortunately fall flat. Bit of a mixed bag here in my experience. That said, I listen at lower volumes than most which is not where the mids perform their best. Crank the volume (~75% on my Huawei P40 is all I can take) and vocals tend to cut through the mid-bass bloat resulting in a more enjoyable listen. I suspect those who listen loud will enjoy the mids more than I did.

Heading into the upper ranges the S70 retains the relaxed sound we’ve heard so far. There is a small brilliance region peak that gives it some energy and sparkle to counter all the low end, but the lack of presence region emphasis leaves overall detail and clarity on the back burner. Notes are moderately well defined with a bit of looseness and splash present. Thanks to the subdued energy in the overall presentation it was nothing I found too distracting. Tossing some EQ in the mix, the S70 can get downright harsh, so it’s best to leave the tuning as is in my opinion. Both the S60 5.0 and S80 provide a superior experience to the S70 by providing additional detail, extension, air between notes, and general control when tracks get busy.

Lastly, the sound stage of the S70 is quite average, in line with other TWS earphones I’ve experienced. The presentation is decidedly in the head, though the recessed mids and set back vocals certainly help space things out considerably. Imaging is fine with reasonably accurate channel-to-channel transitions. I wouldn’t be keen on using the S70 for gaming, but for music and movies it is more than adequate. Instrument separation unfortunately is not all that great thanks to the massive low end smearing fine details. The S70 layers pretty well though, helping to keep it from sounding too congested when things get messy, such as in the closing minutes if King Crimson’s “Starless and Bible Black”.

Overall the S70 sounds fine. It is unapologetically smooth and bassy and sounds best at high volumes which I suspect will be found perfectly suitable for the target audience, regular consumers; not Head-fi’ers, audiophiles, or audio purists that want the utmost in realism, accuracy, and reproduction “as the artist intended”.

Compared To A Peer (volumes matched with Dayton iMM-6)

JBL Tune 125TWS (59.95 USD): Both products are made primarily of plastic with the JBL being constructed to a slightly higher standard. The plastics of the case are more dense and resistant to flex, but forgo the S70’s translucent materials leaving it a less interesting looking product. Both feature modern Type-C ports on the bottom with is nice to see since that connector is becoming the new standard. When it comes to size, the S70 is smaller, lighter, and more pocket friendly, though this does come at the expense of durability. Where the hinge on Astrotec’s case is all plastic, the one used by JBL is steel. When pushing both lids to the brink of being damaged, the JBL is more confidence inspiring.

The earpieces of each product could not be more different with the S70 following the stalked design language of Apple’s Airpods Pro, and the JBL going with a more traditional, low profile iem design. Personally, I find the S70 more stable and comfortable, better able to manage extreme movement without breaking seal. Where Astrotec equipped the S70 with touch controls, JBL when with rubber coated physical buttons. The latter is more my style as they result in fewer erroneous presses, and work with gloves, something critical for Canadian winters.

The JBL forgoes any form of active noise cancelling and as a result gives up a number of features to the S70. The 125TWS’ ability to passively cancel outside is considerably more effective than the S70’s passive cancellation, but as expected the tables turn once the Astrotec’s ANC is turned on. Don’t forget as well that the S70 can pass through and enhance exterior noise making it the more convenient of the two should you need to converse with those around you.

Both off similar wireless performance, which is to say there isn’t much to say. Range is basically the same, and is stability which is to say it is excellent. The S70 does a bit better with obstacles, though it’s not something anyone would ever notice unless trying to force drops.

Sound performance between the two aims for the same crowd; bass-lovers. They go at it in different ways though. The S70 sounds warmer and more mid-bassy with a softer presentation all-around. It lacks the mid and treble detail of the 125TWS, and the texture in the low end. The 125TWS also has a better soundstage with improved separation between track elements. In the S70 favour is refinement. The JBL sounds harsh and rough in the treble, and has a cooler timbre that leaves it feeling artificial. The S70 also exceeds what the JBL can do in terms of imaging. While neither is spectacular, the S70’s channel-to-channel transitions are smoother and more natural compared to the more vague sounding JBL.

Overall I prefer the S70. The case is smaller and the ear pieces are more comfortable. The ANC features are amazing and every time I take the 125TWS outside instead of the S70, I regret the decision. While I prefer the general tuning and extra clarity and detail of the JBL, the roughness (particularly in the treble) is a big turn off.

In The Ear Plastic is the name of the game, but thankfully Astrotec chose some that feels nice in the hand and not cheap or flimsy. Starting with the case, I was quite impressed at how firm it felt given the material choice. Give it a firm squeeze and there is just a hint of give. The lid flips back smoothly and snaps shut with aplomb, held closed by a reasonably strong magnet. Unfortunately the hinge is also plastic and when opened beyond the natural stopping point flexes questionably. I can see the hinge giving out if pushed too far, so take care. Flipping open the case you find perfectly moulded, glossy inserts in which the earpieces reside for charging and storage. The charge points are heavily protected, deep inside the case. A small led is also visible to show when they’re charging (white while charging, off when charged). It will bother some that the case is designed with the stock tips in mind as there is no room for larger tips, nor any storage space for alternate tip options. Those looking towards aftermarket options (specifically bi- and tri-flange tips) will need to take them off and store them elsewhere when on the move. I’m fine with that, but it rubs some the wrong way. On the bottom of the case you find a Type-C port (modern ports for the win) and another small charging indicator LED for the case (red for charging, off when charged). Overall a nicely built case, however, the ribbed design reminds me of dental accessories from when I was a kid. Helps with structural rigidity though, so it’s functional.

The earpieces seem to be made from the same material as the case. In this more compact form it feels even more dense and durable, though I still wouldn’t want to step on them for fear of snapping off the Airpods-like stems. On the face of each ear piece is a reasonably sized, easily-accessed touch pad used for media controls, along with a blue LED. At the base of each stem are the charge points and what looks to be access points for the ANC and voice chat microphones. The nozzles are also unsurprisingly plastic. With a prominent lip for holding on tips and a mild ovular shape, I quite like the resulting fit which feels quite natural. Fit and finish is excellent meaning there are no misaligned parts or sharp edges. Overall a well-constructed and comfortable to wear product.

Passive isolation is merely okay. Noises are muffled but still reasonably coherent. Of course you can improve things drastically with ANC on (-28-32dB), or reduce it drastically via the Transparency mode which pipes in outside noise, but we’ll talk about those more in a moment.

Tech Inside

Touch Controls The S70 has touch pads on the face of each ear piece that control a variety of functions; answering and ending phone calls, moving from track to track, volume adjustment, voice assistant access, and of course, moving between the various noise attenuation modes. For the most part these controls work well, minus a few quirks. Due to the reasonably large size of the touch pads, when removing one from my ear or adjusting the fit, more often than not I’ll pause my music, or, in a few rare instances change the noise attenuation mode. I also found adjusting volume to be more of a hassle than it’s worth since you’re required to tap 3 times to increase/decrease volume. It either takes too long, or one of the three taps will fair to register resulting in skipping a track. As long as I use the touch pads for more straightforward tasks, they do the job well.

ANC/Transparency Mode Have to say that I’ve been mighty impressed with the quality of the S70’s ANC mode. Rated for 28-32dB, it is quite competent. I’ve got a couple ANC headphones that dwarfed the S70 in cost (UE6000 and A-Audio Legacy) when they were new and neither offers anywhere near as natural sounding or effective noise cancellation as the S70. We have an air purifier in our bedroom, and usually have a fan or two running as well since we don’t have air conditioning in the room. It can be quite noisy. The S70 cuts all of it out wonderfully. A hint of chatter from the air purifier makes it through, but toss on music at any volume and it’s completely nullified. The only issue I’ve noticed with ANC on is a hint of sporadic background static, mostly present in the left earpiece. During quiet moments in a track it’s audible, but otherwise is a none-issue.

The Transparency Mode also came as a surprise since it too works quite well. Given the cost of the S70 I was expecting this mode to be more of a neat gimmick versus anything particularly useful, but that’s not the case. Latency is surprisingly minimal meaning I can easily hold a conversation with someone without a significant delay between what they say and what I hear. Voices come through very clear, though other noises do too. The usefulness of this feature is somewhat limited as a result. Still, it easily bests a similar function present on the Radsone ES100, and works about as well as the ‘Transparent Hearing’ mode on the much more expensive Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless. If I am to levy any complaints at the Transparency Mode, it’s that they sound piped in isn’t very natural, having a notable digital edge to it.

Connection Quality Astrotec’s TWS products have in my experience been some of the best when it comes to providing a strong, stable connection. The S60 5.0 is still pretty much tops in my books. The S70 falls within my expectations of the S Series lineup, with performance more or less mirroring the Redspace S80. The segment standard 10m of range is easily achievable in an obstacle free area, only dropping when you bring multiple walls and corners into the equation. I can use them anywhere in my apartment no problem, having to go to extremes to force disconnects since they don’t happen in regular use. The S70 maintains a stable connection to the source device with only the occasional stutter that plagues nearly every Bluetooth earphone, though it happens less here than on most. Connection quality between each earpiece was perfect. Can’t think of a single instance where they “forgot” or disconnected from each other. Overall I find the signal strength excellent while range is as average as it gets.

Battery Life Yeah… I neglected to formally test this, sorry. The S70 is rated for around 4.5 hours of use with or without ANC on. Given with their past products I was able to meet or exceed the rated expectancy in most cases, likely because I listen at lower volumes than most, I expect 4.5 hours to be entirely achievable. Also note that it has a quick charge feature enabling an hour of use after only 10 minutes of listening. This is extremely handy.

In The Box The S70 comes in a moderately sized black box with a charcoal coloured sleeve surrounding the exterior. On the front you find the usual branding and model name, along with some highlighted features like active noise cancelling and the use of an LCP (liquid crystal polymer) diaphragm. Flip to the rear to find some additional product information, like the use of 2C quick charge which gives you an hour of listening after only 10 minutes of charging. Nice. Sliding off the sleeve reveals an Astrotec branded cardboard overlay. Lifting that out you find the S70’s charge case nestled in some dense protective foam. Below sits a smaller cardboard insert in which the accessories reside. In all you get:

  • S70 TWS earphones
  • Charge/carrying case
  • Type-C USB charge cable
  • Single flange ear tips (s/m/l)

Overall a very straightforward unboxing experience with the absolute minimum in accessories. While I would like to see some additional styles of ear tips included, I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. The stock tips are excellent, reminding me a lot of ADV’s excellent Eartune Fidelity tips. Astrotec’s share the ovular design, but feature a thicker, more dense and durable silicone that still gives an outstanding seal.

Final Thoughts Affordable true wireless earphones have seen a surge in popularity over the last couple years, with Astrotec taking full advantage of this. With the S60 5.0, S80, and now the S70, they have a robust lineup to meet the needs of a variety of customers. While I don’t think the S70 is anywhere close to being the best sounding of the bunch, it earns its place via a low cost and a robust feature set. At 49 USD the S70 is quite affordable. The ANC performance is excellent, the connection quality is reliable, the transparency mode works well (even if it sounds artificial). The case is tiny and disappears in a pocket and the rated battery life, while fairly average, is fine for casual use thanks to the quick charge feature that gives you an hour of listening time after only 10 minutes of charging.

While more discerning listeners should look elsewhere, those who just want a reliable, affordable TWS with active noise cancelling to use during everyday activities like travelling to work or school, exercising or doing chores around the house, etc. the S70 is well worth checking out.

Thanks for reading!

– B9

Disclaimer At the time of writing the S70 was retailing for only 49.00 USD. You can order yours through Astrotec’s official website and/or their AliExpress page: https://astrotecglobal.com/collections/frontpage/products/s70 / www.aliexpress.com/item/1005003167761855.html

Specifications

  • Driver Unit: Japan 6mm LCP Diaphragm Dynamic Driver
  • Frequency Response: 10Hz – 20kHz
  • Impedance: 32ohm
  • Sensitivity: 110dB
  • Charging Methods: Fast charge / Magnetic Charge (Earphones) USB-C (Charging Case)
  • Bluetooth Version: Bluetooth 5.0
  • Audio Codec: AAC, SBC
  • Transmission Range: >10m
  • Continuous phone call time(ANC/ON): 3.5hrs
  • Continuous music playback time (60% Vol.): 4.5hrs
  • Continuous music playback time (60% Vol., ANC/ON): about 4.5hrs
  • Charging Time Of Earphones: About 1hr
  • Charging Time Of Charging Case: About1.5hrs
  • Battery Capacity:
  • 42mAh (Single Earphone)
  • 400mAh (Charging Case)

Devices used for testing Shanling M0, Huawei P40, Asus FX53V laptop

Some Test Tunes:

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)

Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)

King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)

King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)

Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)

Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)

Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)

Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)

Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)

The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)

Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)

Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)

Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)

The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)

Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)

Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)

Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)

Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)

Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)

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