Today we look at the Astell&Kern KANN MAX portable player. The KANN MAX is selling for $1,299 USD.
Disclaimer: The sample of the AK KANN MAX DAP was loaned to us by Astell&Kern directly. After the review the KANN MAX will be returned Astell & Kern. AK is not in any way related to Headfonia.
Astell & Kern
The Korean DAP manufacturer Astell&Kern has been around since 2014 and has been since then the driving force of reinventing the portable audio player market. Ever since their first product, the AK100, they have been on a mission to make the best possible DAPs, and if you ask me, they have succeeded.
A&K is a subsidiary of the famous iRiver brand, which is now called Dreamus. The company that rose to fame with their excellent and wildly popular mp3 players. With that extensive knowledge they have launched an uber-high-end brand for the niche market that is headphone enthusiasts.
Astell&Kern not only brings us portable audio players alone, no, they have also been collaborating with other big industry players such as Crystal Cables, Beyerdynamic and Jerry Harvey Audio. They have released several cables, headphones and In Ear Monitors with these three brands, and continue to do so.
We have reviewed many Astell&Kern portable players here on Headfonia, the latest being the SR25, the SE200, the SE180, the KANN ALPHA, the ACRO CA1000 and the SP2000T.
The DAP we’re reviewing in this article is the KANN MAX. It’s not the newest but as our readers kept asking us for this review, we made it happen. The KANN MAX shares a lot of features with the SP2000 (and SP1000), so we suggest reading up on that portable player first. You can do so right here:
The KANN MAX DAP is part of the KANN series together with the ALPHA, CUBE and the original KANN. That means it’s the fourth player released in this series.
The KANN MAX can be considered as the flagship player of the KANN series, and it is selling for $1,299 USD. That is $200 USD more than the KANN Alpha which is selling for $1,099. These are two only two DAPs of the KANN series that are available directly from Astell&Kern currently.
As with most of AK’s latest players, it comes with a 3.5mm single ended output, a 2.5mm (4-pole supported) balanced output and a 4.4mm balanced Pentaconn output. AK, like many other brans, is offering all the common outputs, and for me that’s the perfect solution. You can set the outputs as line-out and use the KANN MAX as a DAC only in your setup. The KANN MAX also offer a, S/PDIF output, as usual.
The KANN series is a portable player lineup loved by audiophiles all over the world for its performance focused on high output and clear sound. KANN MAX, the fourth product in the KANN series, builds on the advantages of the KANN series with higher output and portability. It provides 4 levels of gain and up to 15Vrms output so that a wide array of headphones can be driven in an optimal state.
The KANN MAX features ESS ES9038Q2M Quad-DAC. This DAC can be found in many of today’s popular devices. The KANN MAX sports AK’s TERATON ALPHA technology (learn more here), and it supports up to 32-bit/768kHz, Native DSD512. Of course, the AK DAPs all are MQA compliant. The unit comes with Bluetooth 5.0 and 24-bit codec (Qualcomm® aptX™ HD, LDAC) support and it is constructed to deliver high power with very little noise.
The KANN MAX comes with 4 gain modes and it delivers 15Vrms output at its most powerful setting, making it the most powerful KANN to this day. Some of KANN MAX’ special settings include EQ, Gapless, DAC filter, ReplayGain (supports up to 24bit/192 kHz) and Cross feed. As usual there’s also AK connect / AK Filedrop, Car mode and the device is ROON Ready (yay!)
By integrating the proven design of the KANN series into a lighter weight and smaller sized player, we have realized both ultra-high output and low noise.
Like the latest AK DAPs, the KANN MAX also offers the use of the Open APP Service. It enables you to install specific APK music streaming apps to the device. You can copy the desired APK into the Open Service folder of the product and install the relevant App in the Menu. In this article AK explain how to use the Open App Service: Using Open APP Service. I am running the KANN MAX with V-Link (ASMR videos on YouTube), Tidal, Spotify and Qobuz.
You can find out all about the KANN MAX portable player on its dedicated web page here. You can buy the KANN MAX from Astell&Kern here, or you can get it via your local dealer.
We’ve already shared that the KANN MAX uses the popular ESS Sabre ESS ES9038Q2M Quad-DAC. The KANN MAX sports 64gB of internal memory, which I find to be on the small size. You can of course increase the memory by adding a microSD card (Max 1TB).
The unit is small, measuring only 2.68″(68.3mm) [W] x 4.6″(117mm) [H] x 0.92″(23.6mm) [D]. With its 10.76oz (305g) weight, that makes is a compact, very pocketable DAP. It’s not the lightest, but compared to its big TOTL brothers, it’s light. For the powerhouse it is, the KANN MAX is actually very small. The (touch) screen on the KANN MAX is a 4.1 inch one (720 x 1280). It’s a small screen, but I do feel everything is easily readable and clickable. The KANN MAX is not the fastest when it comes to click/screen reactivity though, and sometimes that annoys.
The battery inside the DAP is a 5,600mAh one and it to charge takes between 3.5 hours (9V 1.67A Fast Charging) and 5.5hours (5V 2A General Charging).
Design & lay-out
The KANN MAX is made of an aluminum body and is available in an Anthracite Gray color model that inherits the signature color of Astell&Kern, and a limited edition of the Brown Mud color.
While the existing KANN series image was a heavy and strong image like an off-road car, with KANN MAX, we wanted to continue the identity of the Astell&Kern KANN lineup while boasting a thinner size and high-power performance like a high-performance sports car.
As with all of AK’s DAPS, you can easily spot it is an Astell&Kern DAP, it just has that typical house signature with the gorgeous control wheel and sharp lines. I quite like the design of the KANN MAX. In fact, it has already won a Reddot 2022 design award, so we’re not the only ones liking it. Of course, the build quality here is excellent, as we’re used to from A&K.
Lay-out wise, the KANN MAX is simple. On the top of the MAX, you from left to right find the 2.5mm output, the 4.4mm output and the 3.5mm output. To minimize contact noise from the output jacks, a gold PVD coating method is applied to the headphone connectors. The power button is right next to it. On the bottom of the DAP, we find the USB-C port and the microSD card slot. On the left of the unit, you have the regular previous / play & pause / forward buttons.
On the right side there’s only the volume wheel, with the hidden LED behind it. The LED’s colour either changes depending on the volume level, or you can let it indicate the bitrate (24bit is green, 32 is blue, DSD is purple). I have chosen for the latter option myself.
The KANN MAX review continues on the second page. Use the jumps below or click here.
Page 1: AK, KANN MAX, Internals, Design & Layout
Page 2: Box, Accessories, Price, FW, UI, Usability, Sound Pt.1
Page 3: Sound Pt. 2, End words, Summary
Thanks for the nice review,
Have you tried it with dca expanse?
Very intriguing how it sounds.
Hi, this combo actually works really well. Expect impressive bass, good depth and layering in the lower regions
With the vocal forwardness of the MAX, you will have a rather v shaped signature, but it works worderful to my ears. Recommended combo if you like the Expanse and bass.
Nice Review as always.
I have HiBy R6 ( 2020 ) DAP and looking to get upgrade on sound in better and the IEM’s used is 64 Audio Tia Fourte and IE 900 for my regular musical sessions. So, please recommend me the best DAP source on sound side. Any other suggestions are also welcomed:)
Top 3 on the market for me: RS8, SP3000 and N8ii