Astell&Kern KANN MAX Review

Astell&Kern KANN MAX

Sound IEMs


While the MAX doesn’t really convince me with the majority of harder to drive full sized headphones, the Astell&Kern KAN MAXX has more power than you’ll ever need for all your IEMS. There’s nothing to worry about from that point of view. It rocks.

For this test we are including the new Unique Melody Maven Pro and the Sennheiser IE 600. The UM sports balanced armatures in combination with EST drivers and has a sensitivity of 112dB and an impedance of 30Ω. It’s selling for $1,799 in universal version. The Senn IE 600 features a dynamic driver. It’s rated with an Impedance and sensitivity of 18 ohms and 118 dB. It’s selling for €699 Euro.

The Sennheiser IE 600 with the stock cable and in balanced mode, sounds excellent from the MAX. You get a very detailed sound, with a fast pace and excellent note extension. The bass is full and tight but never becomes overpowering. The mids are addictive, spacious and layered. The vocal presentation with the KANN is more always more forward, but it sounds just right with this combo. It’s a musical yet refined sound, with excellent extension on all ends. I really like listening to this combo, especially in high gain mode. Recommended!

Astell&Kern KANN MAX

The Maven Pro is a bass heavier kind of IEM, but the MAX is in perfect control. I find this combo to sound best with the mid to high gain setting. Like with the Senn, you get an excellent sound stage with great extension on top and at the low end. But the layering and note extension also is exemplary here. The vocal presentation here is the best of everything I tried with the MAX.

You get a punchy, impactful bass with great sub presence, in combination with a full, warmer, and smooth delivery. For some ears this combo might sound a tad slower or overly weighty, but it’s super musical and smooth. It’s a lovely combo.

For me the KANN MAX works its magic way better with IEMs than it does with harder to drive headphones. The HEDDphone was a positive and welcome surprise though. All the IEMs I plugged into the MAX, sounded really good with it. MAX’s tuning options (Gain, EQ, DAC filter) can really make all your IEMs sound extraordinary.


Unfortunately, this is the only AK KANN comparison we can give you here. We did review the KANN Alpha back in July 2021, but that player no longer is with us now. The KANN CUBE is my own personal DAP and is not here on loan from AK. The IEM we mainly used for this comparison are the Senheiser IE 600 in balanced mode. The full sized headphone is the Arya Stealth, also in balanced.

Size-wise these players are very differently, and the old CUBE perhaps is 4 times the size of the MAX. I mostly tend to use the CUBE in one of my office desktop setups as digital source, and it doesn’t very often gets used as DAP.

Astell&Kern KANN MAX

The IE 600 with the CUBE sound full from top to bottom and they have a more than neutral weight presence. The bass in this combo is very impressive and it’s certainly more at bass head level. Bass is always present, but well controlled. Bass is nicely layered and reaches down to sublevels, where it’s present with great rumble. The mids perfectly connect to the weighty presentation of the bass, and they have excellent layering and depth. The presentation is spacious, airy, and energetic but all in a natural way. The upper mids and top end is a bit sharper, but it extends well. All-in-all it’s a revealing, detailed and very energetic yet musical combo.

The MAX is smoother sounding in the delivery, and it doesn’t have that sharpness the CUBE shows. The MAX is also lighter in weight, and the bass presentation is more civilized. It’s the more balanced and pleasing DAP of both. Because of this it is nicer (and softer) to the ears, and it let’s you appreciate and discover the fine detail, layering and precision more.

I find the CUBE to perform better with full sized headphones, but it’s still not at the level of the MAX. Wit the Hifiman Arya Stealth, the CUBE sounds more balanced. The bass is better in control and the same goes for the overall weight and impact. It’s a really seducing, powerful, yet natural sounding combo. Like with the IE 600, the CUBE shows that it is more refined, precise, and even more balanced. You get less bass and weight but it’s a higher-end sound, which I will chose over the CUBE at any time. For me it’s an easy choice: MAX is the best of these two.

Astell&Kern KANN MAX

Sound Vs Competition

In the same price range, the first DAP that comes to mind is the Lotoo PAW 6000. The second DAP is the Cayin N6II. To compare these, I have mainly used the Arya Stealth and Sennheiser IE 600, in balanced mode just like before.

The Cayin N6ii is equipped with my favorite R01 module (24-Bit Discrete R-2R DAC) and sounds like the MAX. With the Cayin, the vocals are a bit more forward sounding, but looking at weight, bass presentation and sound stage, these are actually very close together. Both DAPs have great layering and depth (MAX just has the edge over the R01 here), good precision and they’re both very engaging and musical. It’s a very difficult choice and I’m very happy with both. Perhaps the AK is the higher technical perform (layering, micro detail), but the Cayin has the advantage that you can switch the motherboards. Versatility-wise both these DAPs are also similar. A tough choice but both excellent players, you can’t wrong.

The PAW 6000 from Lotoo isn’t as versatile as either of the Cayin or AK, but it’s a very musical and easy to the ear. It’s warmer sounding and it has a fuller weight and bass presence, more like that of the CUBE. The bass however isn’t as tight and controlled. As we know from Lotoo you get a warmer, softer, and pleasing tonality which is engaging and very easy on the ear. Lotoo mixes that with a good technical level, but it’s not near the level of the AK (or the Cayin for that matter.) The Paw 6000 sounds rounder and it’s as airy, spacious, and extended. The detail level, layering and overall technical level isn’t on par with that of the AK and that’s easily noticeable. If you like warmth and smoothness combined with a weighty and bass heavier delivery, than the soft and easy to listen to Lotoo is the choice for you. If you like a more balanced, precise, and technically strong performer, the CUBE is the easy choice.

End Words

The Astell& Kern KANN MAX is the kind of DAP that grows on you. It doesn’t seem to be spectacular at first sight, but for some reason you keep going back to it. That’s usually an indication the DAP is doing multiple things right!

I have been mostly using KANN MAX when on the go, but it also often (together with the SP3000) is my to go to DAP at home for late night listening sessions. The MAX doesn’t only sound good (typical AK style), it also is beautiful, well built and very easy to use. It also has a nice number of features and personalization, as well as streaming possibilities.

The only thing I am missing with the KANN, is the new UI of the SP3000. I am not sure we’ll see something similar in the future with the KANN series, but I do hope it will improve and fix the screen reactivity. While it certainly is a powerful DAP, I with the majority harder to drive headphones didn’t quite find them to perform at the same level as with a desktop setup. But hook up a not so tough to drive full-sized headphone, and the KANN MAX will impress.

Next review is all about the SP3000. Stay tuned!



          – Great sound

          – Small size

          – Streaming and YouTube work smoothly


         – “Old” UI

          – Touch screen reactivity


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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