Astell&Kern KANN MAX Review

Astell&Kern KANN MAX

Box, Accessories & Price


The Astell&Kern KANN MAX is a higher-end portable player, and it comes in a nice box, as we’re used to from AK. As the player is selling for $1,299 USD, we also expect the full experience to be at a top level. AK does deliver, no worries there.

For this price you get the following accessories:

          KANN MAX Device x 1

          USB Type-C Cable x 1

          Quick Start Guide x 1

          Warranty Card x 1

          microSD Card Slot Cover x 2

          Protective Film (Front x 2, Back x 2)

The only negative point here is that the MAX doesn’t come with a case. It’s something you’d expect in this price range, but it’s not in the box. You can however buy one from AK for this player, and it will cost you $149 USD.

Astell&Kern KANN MAX

Firmware/ User Interface/ Usability

The KANN MAX is running on Firmware 1.10CM and keeping that updated is easy as AK does its OTA updates very well.

The KANN MAX is easy to operate as it has al the buttons in the right place. You can operate it with just one hand, even when pocketed. As mentioned before the only thing that annoys me here is the lag the MAX sometimes has, when you’re going through the menus and clicking the screen. IT’s just not always as responsive as I’d like it to be. Also, the screen size is reasonably small, so if you have thicker fingers, the KANN MAX might not be the easiest to work with. Bluetooth-wise I didn’t really have any big issues, but I always carry the unit on my at home, so I don’t really have connectivity or proximity issues.

What I do like using on the KANN MAX are the timer & gapless function, the DAC filters, the AK Connect and the ROON Ready feature. I am not the biggest fan of using EQ, cross feed or replaygain. The menu structure is also very easy to use. When I just received the SP3000, I really preferred using the “old” UI like this DAP has, but now that I am used to the SP2000, I kind of prefer the new system over this older one. That said, it does work well, and you get the regular swiping functions you’re used to (top down, bottom up, and left/right to center). It’s easy, it’s simple and it works well. It’s just not as fancy as the new UI, but ok.

Astell&Kern KANN MAX

Astell&Kern stets you can get up to 13 hours of continuous playback in ideal conditions. Even though the battery really does last long with normal usage, I don’t think I ever managed to get those 13h out of it. But it never surprised me either with an empty battery. I’ve been watching/listening to a lot of ASMR lately before going to sleep, and YouTube really does drain the battery. If you like superbly edited binaural videos, check out Zeitgeist’s ASMR channel.  

To use the KANN MAX with your windows PC, you of course need to download and install the AK drivers. You can find these here. Installing them is easy, and it should work right away without any issues.

Sound – Intro

For this test we have used the Astell&Kern KANN MAW with a wide range of IEMs and headphones, streaming music from Tidal, Qobuz as well as local files.

Depending on the IEM and headphone used and the music I am listening to, I tend to switch all the time between the DAC filters. The one I used most however, seems to be the “Apodizing Fast Roll-Off” one. This of course can be completely different to you, but I do recommend playing with this setting when switching IEMs and headphones.

Sound General

With the KANN MAX, you get the typical Astell&Kern approach to sound. That means a more neutral tuning with a normal amount of body (weight), and a high technical level with plenty of energy. Combine all that and you get a precise yet musical sounding DAP.

The MAX has excellent PRaT and the presentation is spacious and airy, especially in the mid region. Sound stage-wise the MAX also performs well, even though the highest-end DAPS still up the level a bit. What I really like with the MAX is the depth and layering you get, especially in the bass and mid sections. With the ESS DACs, you just know the KANN MAX will be a strong performer when it comes to precision, detail and revealing all the musical details. The note extension is a pleasure to the ear. I must admit, I really like listening to AK DAPs.

Astell&Kern KANN MAX

The bass section is detailed, nicely layered and it reaches down to sub bass levels, where you get a very impressive rumble. The mids section perfectly connects to the bass section, weight wise. Mid timbre is super impressive, as is the layering and depth. The vocals and upper mid regions are a bit more forward sounding, but it works with the rest of the tuning. The treble section is detailed and extended, and it carries just enough energy. It’s a safe treble tuning though, I can’t see anyone finding it offensive. At the same time, it’s not the most impressive or technically strong, when comparing it to the higher end DAPS in the AK product range, and on the market in general (N8ii, SP3000, RS8, …)

The KANN MAX is the type of player that makes everything sound easy. It handles complicated passages without breaking a sweat and that results in a natural, engaging sounding player. What’s not to like?

Sound Headphones

For this chapter I have selected a series of harder to drive units with different technologies and driveability.

For the dynamic, high impedance type, I have selected the Beyerdynamic DT1770 PRO closed back headphone. It’s selling for only $469 USB (get one!) and it has an impedance of 250Ohm with a 96dB sensitivity. I have been listening to this headphone a lot lately, especially in combination with a tube amp. First the bad news. The KANN MAX (in single ended mode) does fine with the high impedance headphone, but nothing more. If you know how good it can sound when decently (desktop) amped, then the KANN MAX will leave you wanting for more. The parts I am missing most here are overall body/weight, and bass impact. That said, you do get great speed and attack, lovely detail, an airy and spacious presentation, and a really good level of energy. The vocals here are more to the front, and because of that lighter weight and bass, they become really present. The DT 1770 PRO is very enjoyable with the MAX, but it’s missing that full, analogue presentation and timbre.

Astell&Kern KANN MAX

As I wasn’t fully convinced with the Beyer, I also added the Sennheiser HD 800 S to the list. This headphone has a 300Ohm impedance, is rated at a 102dB sensitivity, and it’s selling for $1,799 USD. With the MAX I am using this in balanced mode. While this helps improving the spaciousness, airiness, and soundstage, this doesn’t fix the lack of presence I experienced before. So, you get the same type of sound here: fast, precise, lighter and with a vocal forwardness. Again, it’s not bad, but it’s not how it should be. This leaves me a bit disappointed to be honest. On to the next type!

For the orthodynamic, low impedance type, I have selected the popular and sublime Hifiman Arya Stealth headphone. This one is selling for $1,299 from Hifiman directly and it has an impedance/sensitivity of 32Ohm/94dB. The KANN MAX here shows that this headphone is easy to drive, and it to my ears sounds much better already than before. While I still feel the Arya Stealth sounds better with a full-sized amplifier, the result here is very close to the real deal. You do get more weight, bass presence and a higher level of musicality, but with a margin for improvement. What I really love here is the 3-dimensionality, sound stage and musicality. The vocals are still more to the front, but they’re not as expressive as before. This for sure is a combo you can enjoy for many hours without issue.

Another notorious headphone to drive is the HEDDphone. The driver type here is AMT. It has a 42Ohm impedance with a 87dB sensitivity and it is selling for €1.699 Euro. With the MAX in the Super gain setting, I am super impressed. The HEDD sounds full and weighty, and bass has good presence and kick. It’s many not the tightest bass, but it’s far more impressive than with the beforementioned headphones. This combo is musical, engaging, energetic and has lovely timbre and (note) extension. It’s probably the best harder to drive headphone I have tried with the KANN MAX. A very welcome and nice surprise.

The KANN MAX review continues on the third 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

4.3/5 - (141 votes)

Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.


  • Reply February 1, 2023


    Thanks for the nice review,
    Have you tried it with dca expanse?
    Very intriguing how it sounds.

    • Reply February 1, 2023


      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.

  • Reply February 4, 2023

    Santosh Ronanki

    Hi Lieven

    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:)

    Thanks You
    Santosh Ronanki

    • Reply February 5, 2023


      Top 3 on the market for me: RS8, SP3000 and N8ii

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