Astell & Kern KANN Is the Portable Player to Buy–Finally
Portable high resolution audio (HRA) players range in price from the Pono or the Questyle at under $600 to the flagship Astell & Kern at just under $5,000. Selecting the right player at the right price has been confusing to the point of creating consumer paralysis.
The confusion is finally over. Buy the Astell & Kern KANN.
According to Astell & Kerns, “KANN is here to lead the portable high-res audio industry to a whole new level.” It is designed to deliver superior sound quality whether you are listening via headphones or connected to your computer. At just under $1,000, the KANN offers everything people would want in a High Res portable at a very reasonable price.
User Navigation Buttons & Battery Life
The user interface is easy and intuitive. Press and hold the power button on top of the player to turn the unit on. It starts quickly enough. To save battery power the display shuts off after a few minutes (programable in settings). Just tap the power button again and the display interface lights up and is ready for another selection.
While the user interface includes an easy touch screen to select artists, albums and songs, the KANN has buttons as well. There is a pause button, home screen button and a forward and back song select buttons located just below the touch screen. There is even an easy to use volume control roller knob on the right side of the unit as well.
These physical buttons built into the hardware allow the user to control the playback functions without lighting up the touch screen. Not only is this a convenience feature, but it translates into big power savings.
Speaking of power, the KANN gets between 10 and 12 hours of use per charge. That is more than enough time to complete even the longest international flight and listen to music the entire time. No other portable high resolution audio player to date has this kind of battery life duration.
The recharge takes under 3 hours using the charger that is included with the unit.
Burn In for 20 or 30 Hours
Like most audio equipment, the sound quality improves when you burn it in. However, unlike many high end audio products, which require at least 100 hours of burn in for players and even more for most headphones, the KANN did not need much burn in time. The battery break in exercise period seems to be enough time.
Usually for new rechargeable batteries, it is recommended to charge it, take it down to below 5% capacity and fully charge it again. Repeat this process two or three times before you start using the KANN for serious listening and it is just about the right burn in time to start getting good sound out of the unit as well.
To accomplish both the burn in process and the battery break in process at the same time, keep the unit playing through your headphones to discharge the battery. Just let the unit sit and play. You will also notice, quite remarkably, that the KANN will not get terribly hot even after playing for long periods of time.
After about 20 or 30 hours of play—three full discharges of the battery—the KANN springs to life and sounds noticeably better during playback. You will notice even further improvement in sound up to the first 100 hours of play.
Enough Power for any Headphones
The two most demanding headphones I own are the Audeze LCD-XC closed back CAMS and the HiFiM Edition X. The KANN’s powerful internal amplifier does not struggle at all to power either of them. Turning the volume to about 120 provides more than ample power and the sound does not hesitate or sound pushed at that level.
Of course, the lighter headphones that are less intrusive to walk around with or take outside are no problem for the KANN. It powers the Master & Dynamic MH40 and the Grado Heritage GH2 headphones with ease. When travelling, the KANN is a perfect mate to the PSB M4U noise cancellation headphones.
Specifications That Make the KANN the Right Choice
According to Astell & Kern, the KANN is its first product to be equipped with a line-out circuit designed to set the output values in four levels, depending on the user’s listening preference.
The player comes equipped with a built-in amp with a normal/high gain switch. According to Astell & Kern, it can easily drive the most demanding headphones. The KANN also touts the lowest output impedance of any of Astell & Kerns’ portable high-res audio players (Single-ended 3.5mm: 0.65Ω / Balanced out 2.5mm: 1.3Ω). The battery life is also impressive, which is important for a portable player. The battery lasts for up to 15 hours.
Below are several additional key features:
- Single AKM AK4490 DAC
- Native DSD playback up to DSD256 (11.2mHz)
- PCM audio playback up to 32bit/382kHz
- USB Type-C provides fast charging and data transfer
- Micro USB for USB audio out & USB DAC
- Dedicated Line Out (2.5mm balanced & 3.5mm single-ended)
- 64GB internal flash memory
- Two SD card slots: Micro SD card support up to 256GB and full size SD card support up to 512GB
- aptX HD Bluetooth codec support
- Four-inch LCD touch screen
The only downside is that all this technology takes up a lot of space. The KANN is more than an inch wide and weighs about half a pound, which is considerably bigger and heavier than your smart phone. As high resolution audio players go, it is a bit heavier than most of the newer ones.
However, many of the other choices will require adding an amplifier to get the power that the KANN delivers. So when you calculate the extra weight of an amplifier and the added inconvenience of attaching it to your player, the extra bulk and weight of the KANN is no big deal.
The KANN retails for $999. It is available in two colors — Astro Silver and Eos Blue. The Eros Blue is a unique look and distinguishes this device. That is the one that I was tempted to buy.