With smartphones are turning away from even installing a 3.5mm audio jack, the revival of the portable media player is looking very promising. If you’re looking for a digital audio player that is larger than life in almost every respect, look no further than the Astell & Kern KANN. Plug in your headphones and get ready to go for a ride.
The KANN is jam-packed with both external and internal features that should satisfy any dedicated music lover. It can handle pretty much any music file format and headphone, supports both Wifi and Bluetooth connections, delivers incredible sound quality, among many other things. Best of all, it’s all packed into a high-end, premium package that feels good to hold and should satisfy any listener. The KANN is the perfect audio player for audiophiles and music collectors who want a quality storage option for their gigantic music collections and lossless audio files. While the weight is a bit unusual at a whopping 9 ounces (or 278 grams), every gram is packed with useful features that are intuitive and easy to use. Pair that with a massive 6,200 mAh Li-Polymer battery and you have a dedicated music device that is built to last.
Rumor has it that Astell & Kern brought in a new design team for the KANN, which would explain why it’s so different from the other Astell & Kern designs currently on the market. The design itself is unusual and packs two of everything: memory card slots, headphone jacks, line-out ports, and USB ports. Packed with options and a premium, top-of-the-line design, the KANN is a compelling candidate for top dog of the digital audio player market right now.
Design & Build Quality
The Astell & Kern KANN will need charging right out of the box. The packaging comes with a USB to USB Type C cable, and no AC charger. The KANN itself feels incredibly sturdy and has a nice weight in your hand. The rounded design with its ribbed sides and scalloped back plays off of both light and shadow in a fascinating way while feeling perfect for holding in your hand. The design lends to naturally resting your thumb on the volume dial, though if you’re not careful when turning down the volume, you may accidentally press the touchscreen, which activates the volume settings also and may accidentally turn it up. However, once you’re used to the feeling of the the device, it’s an easy quirk to get past. When used for long periods, the trapezoidal aluminum body can warm up in tight spaces like a pocket, but it never overheats.
On the body of the KANN, which is a little shorter than an iPhone 7 and about as thick as 3 of them put together, and comes with tons if inputs and just a few simple, easy-to-use buttons. There’s a volume control that is both large and satisfying to use with a nice, soft “click” sound upon use. The power switch is on top of the device, which needs to be held to turn the KANN on or off. Under the touchscreen are a home button, a play/pause button, and buttons for skipping to the previous or to the next track.
The 4” touchscreen display with its 480x800 resolution is bright and both easy to read and use. When playing music, the KANN will display album art, track format, track name, and artist, as well as the time, whether Bluetooth or Wifi are enabled, battery life, and whether the file is playing from a memory card or internal storage, and lastly, if gapless play is enabled. You can also access more advanced settings like Wi-Fi credentials and EQ settings by swiping downward from the top of the screen. Typing in login credentials or search queries is beautifully handled on a screen of this size and quality without any issue.
Because the KANN pulls information for tracks from DLNA servers on an Android operating system, it may take a second to display certain graphics ike album art. Working with a companion app such as AK Connect can also slow things down just a tad due to the need to pull information from outside of the device. A dedicated OS for devices of this caliber would be ideal for tackling speed issues, but the open source nature of Android allows for faster development instead of having to build from the ground up, which is understandable.
All in all, it’s a very bold design choice that still feels very secure and natural, and comes in two finishes: Eos Blue and Astro Silver. According to Astell & Kern, this design was chosen to represent the goddess of dawn and pair strong yet soft features
The KANN digital audio player has an insane amount of options for everything from listening, to storage, to use as audio output for a digital to analog converter, or it can act as a DAC in itself with ease by using the micro USB Type B port. The 10Gbps USB Type C (USB 3.0) port is for data transfer and charging the device quickly. Digital output can be achieved via USB connection, though you will need a USB OTG cable for this purpose that will connect to the micro USB. This will allow you to play digital files over an amplifier of your choice. Overall, this design is perfect for both backwards and future compatibility.
On top of the KANN you will find both a 3.5mm and 2.5mm audio jack, and the interesting use of two line out jacks for use in either home theater systems or smaller speaker setups with ease. The choice of fixed or variable line-out as well as various voltage settings (0.7V, 1V, 1.25V, and 2V) allow for further customization of these home speaker settings, whether your main setup is for a large system or a small desktop audio setup. Keep in mind that a higher voltage output can cause clipping on smaller audio systems not designed to handle that.
The bottom of the KANN has memory card slots, one for a full-size SD card up to 512GB and one for a microSD card up to 400GB. Combined with the 64GB internal storage, this means a whopping 978GB of storage capability without issue. As a result of this and many other features, the KANN is brilliant in that it basically act as a pocket-sized portable music server.
Since the KANN uses an Android operating system, if you’re transferring files from an Apple computer, you can use an app provided by Astell & Kern called Android File Transfer. This will allow a window to be displayed so you can transfer and organize files going to and from the device easily and without hassle, whether you’re using the memory cards in your device or the KANN’s internal storage. The micro USB not only handles DAC capabilities, but can connect to Astell & Kern’s CD-Ripper. While it’s unfortunate the micro-USB isn’t a charging option, the USB Type C is much faster and more convenient.
The Astell & Kern KANN comes with 3 streaming services built in: Tidal, Moov, and Groovers+ to tap into both eastern and western markets with ease. The KANN doesn’t support Spotify despite its popularity because of Spotify’s lacking streaming quality. The KANN also supports aptX HD streaming codec for connecting seamlessly to Bluetooth wireless speakers and can handle playback up to 24-bit/48kHz over Bluetooth connection.
Via the AK Connect app, the KANN can connect to any DLNA-compliant server, and does so flawlessly. AK Connect can also bridge any iOS or Android device for remotely controlling the digital audio player and playing content from your phone. This will also allow for playing of hi-res files that iOS doesn’t natively support, like FLAC or DSD files. Plenty of firmware updates means an incredibly stable and bug-free device with active support for future audio innovations. These updates are easily implemented via Wifi.
In short, the Astell & Kern KANN digital audio player sounds incredible, even with headphones that would normally require an external amp to work with such a device. The amp is already part of the KANN, so you can simply plug in and enjoy. If your headphones are harder to drive, simply use the lo-hi switch on the KANN to adjust your listening experience as needed.
The lows are deep, hard-hitting, and resounding to your very core, with strong mids and sparkling, crystal clear highs to round off the sound. The dynamics have a wonderful balance that can even illustrate the subtle quality differences between several pairs of high-end studio headphones and complements the beauty of the sounds they capture.
The audio playback is fantastic and natively supports to up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256 hi-res files without any sort of audio downscaling. Anyone looking for crystal clear playback of lossless and hi-res audio files will not be disappointed the quality the KANN promises. With bass output any audiophile will appreciate and intense, powerful, smooth audio, the soundstage is nothing short of breathtaking no matter what genre you have playing. Even significant changes in volume and dynamics are handled without issue, and lower-resolution tracks are given an extra polish from the EQ in spite of the lower file quality. Using the KANN as a DAC for computers is a delight as well, and handles sound beautifully.
Something to note is that, while the KANN cannot pair with Bluetooth car audio systems because of the limitations of Bluetooth streaming codecs in current vehicles (they can currently only handle CD quality 16-bit/44.1kHz or less in audio quality), it can still be connected with a USB to USB-C cable. This allows for incredible playback that is addictive for listening on the go in the car, and should prove even more exciting once car Bluetooth systems have aptX HD support.
The KANN charges via USB Type C, and supports up to 14 hours of playback. The battery is a massive Li-Polymer 6,200 mAh behemoth, and a single hour of charging will net you 6.5 hours of consecutive listening time. A full charge can be achieved in just two hours. While you cannot charge the KANN with the micro USB port, it can be used to turn the device into a DAC, which in itself is both convenient and extremely impressive.
All in all, Astell & Kern’s KANN digital audio player is a fantastic breath of fresh air for the portable audio market that packs together a unique, solid design, tons of features for audiophiles and music collectors, almost an entire terabyte of storage capacity, impressive DLNA and USB DAC capability, a solid 14 hours of battery life, and so much more to deliver the perfect audio experience. Plug in your favorite pair of high-end headphones and enjoy the ride.