Astell&Kern is again with one other reference hi-res audio participant: the Kann. Paired with distinctive headphones and top-notch recordings, you’ll be hard-pressed to discover a extra blissful sonic expertise from a hi-res audio participant at this worth level. Simply be warned, Kann’s price ticket is as massive as its cumbersome measurement.
A daring design
Each Astell&Kern participant has a daring, distinctive design that breaks the mildew. Kann isn’t any completely different. The Kann’s aluminum mass is sculpted right into a trapezoidal murals that’s remarkably pure to carry and use. The Kann is available in a selection of Astro Silver and Eos Blue finishes. My overview pattern got here within the former.
The Kann’s sides are ribbed. Barely scalloped strains traverse the again. I tip my hat to the economic design workforce; the play of sunshine and shadows on the participant is one thing really stunning to take a look at.
The participant’s proper facet is rounded. That straightforward consideration to element made it comfy to carry with my proper thumb naturally resting on the quantity dial.
The Kann’s tapered bottom makes the big, ribbed quantity dial well-suited for left or proper handed use. Nevertheless, I seen a design quirk in my testing.
To decrease the quantity, you rotate the dial towards the Kann’s display. On a number of events, whereas the participant’s display was lively, my thumb inadvertently hit the contact display when decreasing the quantity. As a result of Astell&Kern’s interface makes the whole contact display a part of the quantity management, hitting the periphery made the quantity bounce louder. The sudden quantity enhance jolted me. When you rotate the quantity dial along with your left thumb throughout the entrance display, the chance of by chance swiping the display turns into even better. After a number of days (and jolts) I discovered to be extra cautious.
The participant’s aluminum housing obtained very heat after I used it for prolonged durations. The warmth output was exacerbated after I put the Kann in closed quarters, like a pocket. The participant by no means overheated, but it surely’s one thing to watch.
Astell&Kern has moved all bodily participant controls to the Kann’s entrance, straight beneath the Four-inch 800 x 480-resolution touchscreen. Buttons are massive and simple to decipher by contact.
Along with the usual play/pause, ahead, and reverse, there’s a “residence” button with a round image. Urgent the house button returns you to the primary display regardless of how deep you’re within the participant’s menus or folders. I beloved having that possibility.
The Kann’s person interface is in line with all different Astell&Kern gamers. The UI is intuitive, easy-to-navigate, and responsive (largely). The Kann, like all the opposite Astell&Kern gamers I’ve examined, displays a lag when loading art work, loading very massive indexes from DLNA servers, or working with the companion cell app. In comparison with the AK70 MKII, I appreciated the Kann’s barely bigger display (Four.Zero-inches vs. Three.Three-inches). I used to be much less liable to typing errors when performing music searches or getting into Tidal credentials by way of the onscreen keyboard.
Beneath the hood
A single AKM AK4490 DAC lies on the coronary heart of the Kann. Astell&Kern’s implementation of this high-end converter options bit-for-bit playback as much as 32-bit/384kHz hi-res music recordsdata, and native DSD playback as much as 11.2MHz. Except you get your arms on music recordsdata exceeding 32-bit/384kHz, there isn’t a downsampling wherever alongside the sign path. Kann additionally options Parametric EQ and VCXO Reference Clock (Femto Clock) for minimal jitter.
A 6,200mAh Three.7V Li-Polymer battery guarantees a battery lifetime of as much as 15 hours. What’s distinctive is single hour of cost time by way of the USB-C cable will ship as much as 6.5 hours of listening time. You may get a full cost in about two hours.
The Kann options 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Four.Zero, including much more worth. I linked the Kann to my automobile’s stereo, and will stream any supported content material—even FLAC or DSD recordsdata. Bluetooth streaming is clearly restricted to the standard of the Bluetooth codec that can be utilized.
Like different latest Astell&Kern gamers, the Kann comes with the aptX HD codec for hi-res music streaming over Bluetooth. AptX HD enables you to wirelessly stream hi-res audio as much as 24-bit/48kHz. You’ll want a pair of Bluetooth headphones with aptX HD to take full benefit. At the moment, only a few wi-fi headphones assist aptX HD. You may all the time use Astell&Kern’s personal XB10 Bluetooth amplifier and DAC to take pleasure in wi-fi hi-res audio with any pair of wired headphones.
Kann doesn’t at present assist MQA. I requested Astell&Kern about their plans and an organization spokesperson instructed me, “We at present don’t provide MQA assist, however it’s a function we’re wanting into. We should not have an ETA on after we could assist it.”
You’ve got the choice for Three.5mm single-ended and a pair of.5mm balanced headphone cables. There are two line-level outputs: a 2.5mm balanced and three.5mm single-ended. Line out is analog solely. There isn’t a Toslink optical or coax S/PDIF (although you do have USB output, described under).
Not solely are twin line out ports uncommon, however Astell&Kern has raised the stakes one other notch: You may select variable or mounted line out. Must you select mounted line out, you’ll be able to manually choose any one in all 4 voltage settings—Zero.7V, 1V, 1.25V, or 2V. An Astell&Kern consultant instructed me that the upper output is meant for bigger residence techniques. The decrease voltage output is for smaller desktop amp setups, for the reason that increased voltage output may trigger clipping with smaller-capacity amp techniques.
Like all Astell&Kern gamers, the Kann will output digital audio by way of USB. You’ll want a USB OTG cable (not included), which you’ll hook up with the micro-USB port to serve up music recordsdata saved on the machine to your amplifier. The Kann can even play DSD recordsdata by way of DoP (DSD over PCM), during which a DSD file is distributed on high of PCM information frames.
A literal heavyweight
Sadly, there’s nothing Astell&Kern can do design-wise to mood the Kann’s weight: It’s flat-out heavy. Put it within the pocket of your blazer and its bulk will weigh that one facet down. When you’re on the lookout for a real pocket-sized participant, you’ll be happier with Astell&Kern’s AK70 MKII.
The Kann’s high and backside home all of the participant’s ports. The underside of the participant has full-size SD and microSD card reader slots. Storage choices are loopy for a conveyable participant. The participant is licensed to assist 400GB microSD and 512GB full-sized SD playing cards. Added to the participant’s inside 64GB of reminiscence, you’ll be able to have as much as 978GB of storage at anyone time.
Subsequent to the SD card slots you’ll discover a 10Gbps USB-C (USB Three.Zero) and a micro-USB port. When you suppose that the 2 ports are there for each future and backwards compatibility, you’d be solely half proper. Look rigorously and also you’ll see that the USB-C port is labeled “Information/Cost” and the micro-USB port is labeled “audio.”
The 2 ports have fully impartial features. USB-C is used for quick charging and lightning-fast information transfers. If you’re on a Mac, you’ll want to make use of the free Android File Utility to switch recordsdata to and from the participant.
The micro-USB port handles USB DAC performance and USB audio output. It’s going to additionally hook up with Astell&Kern’s CD-Ripper. You can not cost the Kann by way of the micro-USB port as with earlier gamers. As somebody who examined the Kann on a MacBook Professional with USB-C ports, I might have beloved to have one cable to rule all of them.
Highly effective community streaming
I mentioned it in my Astell&Kern’s AK70 Mark II overview and I’ll repeat myself right here: When you suppose the Kann is solely a hi-res music participant, you’ve completely missed the memo. Actually, you’ve left among the participant’s strongest options fully unused.
You’ve got your selection of three streaming companies on the Kann: Tidal, Moov, and Groovers+. Tidal tracks sounded stunning. The Kann and Focal Clear one-two combo was pure bliss.
By way of AK Join, the Kann will hook up with any DLNA-compliant server. It even comes with free, cross-platform DLNA server software program should you want it. I had a flawless expertise streaming music from each the Astell&Kern DLNA server and Twonky DLNA server on my Mac.
The free AK Join cell app (out there for each iOS and Andriod) bridges your iOS or Android good machine for each controlling the Kann remotely and taking part in content material from the Kann on an iPhone. One function that’s price emphasizing is that I may play each FLAC and DSD recordsdata from the Kann to my iPhone. These are two codecs that the iPhone doesn’t natively assist. Similar to the AK70 MKII, the Kann can act as a full-fledged, transportable music server!
Expertise the music
Let me reduce proper to the chase. It is a sweet-sounding, reference hi-res audio participant by any measure. There’s one thing oh so proper in regards to the sound and presentation. To actually admire the Kann, pair it with equally distinctive headphones. You’ll be duly rewarded.
Each time I turned on the Kann, the participant’s candy sound beckoned me to take pleasure in album after album, monitor after monitor. I gladly obliged.
What struck me nearly instantly was the Kann’s uncanny capability to carry music to life, letting a efficiency’s vitality burst forth. The 16-bit/44.1kHz CD rips of Alanis Morissette’s “Girl Down” and “Guardian” streamed by way of the Astell&Kern DLNA server acted as heralds of what I used to be in for. The Kann did an impressive job reproducing the sheer vitality and lifetime of each songs. The soundstage was huge and instrument placement spot on with Morissette’s vocals completely set.
Vocals and musical preparations flowed easily. Norah Jones’ album, That includes has some basic duets. On “Right here We Go Once more,” with Ray Charles, the Kann reproduced distinctive timbre throughout the band. Jones’ and Charles’ distinctive vocals have been close to good. Furthermore, devices and vocalists have been exactly positioned on a three-dimensional soundstage. Ray Charles was positioned barely left of heart with Norah Jones’ vocals barely to the proper on “Right here We Go Once more.”
The Kann resisted any tendency to intensify vocal traits, holding a heat, balanced, pure presentation. Natalie Service provider’s vocals on “Ladybird” from her self-titled album have been intimate and heat. The 24-bit/96kHz model of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Elevating Sand was enthralling. On “Please Learn the Letter” Plant’s and Krauss’ vocals have been pitch good in opposition to a velvety black background.
The Kann was at residence with raucous steel or the best classical. Do you like Nirvana, Megadeth, or Whitesnake? No downside. The Kann nailed the vitality of the guitar riffs on the 24-bit/96kHz remastered model of Whitesnake’s “Nonetheless of the Evening.” What about Mahler and Bach? I simply sat again, closed my eyes and soaked up Janos Starker’s mastery on the 24-bit/176.4kHz recording of Bach’s Cello suites as if I have been invited to expertise an intimate live performance.
The Kann had an uncanny capability to command my consideration—even with songs and performances I knew effectively. I did a double-take each time I performed the 24-bit/88.2kHz model of Sarah Barielles “Courageous.” Thumping bass notes from the track’s opening punched out with excellent dynamic vary, but whole management.
What in regards to the bass output? It’s audiophile grade, not “bass-enhanced” gimmicky. When you’ve got open-back headphones, you’ll actually admire what the Kann can do. On the Black Panther soundtrack, the Kann put vice-like command on each bass line on tracks akin to “Bloody Waters” or “King’s Lifeless.” Bass response was dynamic, beginning and stopping on a dime. The deep bass output of Sarah McLachlan’s “I Love You” on Surfacing felt intense and managed. And people well-known bass strains on Holly Cole’s “Prepare Tune?” Excellent.
Now the logical query, is the Kann higher than the AK70 MKII? The reply is—it relies upon. I felt as if the AK70 MKII delivered a cleaner, extra detailed presentation. Customers preferring that can just like the AK70 MKII higher. The Kann, against this, was a richer and smoother sonic expertise with a extra thrilling and dynamic backside finish. Which is best? That’s a query solely your ears can reply.
Wealthy, refined, and musically involving
Wealthy, refined, but endlessly involving and thrilling are how I’d summarize my expertise with Astell&Kern’s Kann. It’s not the final phrase in sonic perfection, however it’s the kind of audio gear that brings you nearer to your music in so many intangible methods. Not solely that, it helps each hi-res format that issues, it gives huge storage functionality, it affords excellent DLNA community streaming, it may perform as a USB DAC, and it’s transportable (as cumbersome as it’s). By any measure, this Astell&Kern has delivered a reference participant that makes the music its high precedence.