Review: Astell&Kern AK KANN – Power to the People

Internals

The AK KANN us using a single AK4490 DAC chip which is the identical chip they are/were using in the AK300.

Focusing on a strong output and crystal-clear sound

The AK4490 DAC chip of course supports bit-to-bit playback up to 32-bit 384kHz. Amplifier wise you can set the amplification level to Normal and High and you for the very first time ever can modify the output level of the Line Out and set it to either 0,7V, 1V, 1,25V, 2V depending on what you’re using the KANN with.

Of course the AK KANN supports Bluetooth: V4.0 (A2DP, AVRCP, aptX™ HD). See the specs list for a full overview.

Accessories

Accessory-wise the $999 KANN doesn’t come with a lot of toys. There is a pre-installed screen protector and in the box you’ll find a USB-C cable and a SD and micro-SD card slot protector. There’s no leather case included in the box and I myself use the MITER KANN case which is available on Amazon.com. For the price maybe AK could have at least supplied a nice leather case.

Versatility

The nice thing is that KANN is now equipped with a line-out circuit designed to set the output values in 4 levels, depending on the user’s listening preference. It’s a significant step up from previous products, which did not provide output/volume control. With the selectable output function, you can fine-tune your sound to suit a home system, car audio, or any other listening environment.

Supporting the output of 7Vrms when connected via high-gain balanced output, the AK KANN not only drives high-impedance headphones without an additional amplifier, but also reliably reproduces high-quality sound with low-impedance speakers.

The KANN besides that is no different than the other AK models. If the huge internal memory doesn’t satisfy you, you can always use Tidal, groovers+ or MOOV, just like before. You can still connect your AK KANN to a music server as well (DLNA) using the AK Connect function. Don’t forget to download the new version of AK Connect on your phone or tablet. The new version is faster and a whole lot more stable. I use AK Connect at home a lot and if you do have a music server, do try so yourself.

Like with all the other latest AK DAPs, you can use the USB OTG function where you can use the player as DAC or as a media server to other units. Do note that the USB-C connection is only for power and data transmission and that the micro-USB is the one you need to use for OTG audio.

User Interface

Beside the fact that the buttons or now on the front, nothing has really changed with the interface. I still think that the AK interface is one of the very best on the market. It’s easy to use, very clear and it always works perfectly. If you want to know more about the AK user interface, I suggest to read one of our earlier AK DAP reviews in which the menu structure, etc. has been explained in detail.

KANN Sound

The KANN is one of those DAPs that are very easy to like seeing musicality comes first. It has a smooth and slightly slower delivery which some might even call “warmer”. It’s very different from their TOTL AK380 (which uses the same DAC chip but in a double configuration) and it’s nowhere near the level of that DAP, but the KANN only costs a fraction of their reference player as well.

The level of detail, precision, etc of the KANN is good, certainly at this price point but it logically isn’t the clearest, most precise or cleanest sounding DAP in their line-up. I’ll compare the KANN to some other AK models later but sound quality wise the KANN for me scores just under the AK70 (which won our 2016 award). I can’t really say the KANN excels in one specific thing as its performance in all different aspects simply is “good” but this isn’t the player you are looking for if clarity, precision, speed and dynamics are most important to you. The KANN is about emotion, musicality, “airtime” and power. I especially like using KANN’s balanced output as it sounds wider, deeper and more spacious. Sure it’s not as full bodied as the single ended output, but the SQ simply is higher. And just like in the AK70, the balanced output is very silent.

I’d say the bass and mids are fairly comparable but it’s mostly the treble that is on the softer and easy going side. This is very handy when listening to something like the RHA CL1 or the Etymotic ER4-SR but if you’re a fan of extended, detailed and precise treble, you might end up feeling somewhat let down. Because of this it does seem like the bass and mids are bigger in body but I can’t really say the bass is boosted that much.

One guy said he found the KANN to sound better than his Mojo, and while I don’t really agree to that, I do see what he means with it. If musicality is n°1 on your list, it’s very hard not to like KANN. Is isn’t the most technically strong, most detailed, fast or precise sounding DAP, but you will love its musicality and foot-tapping factor, even when playing bad quality MP3 files. On top of that, it headphone-wise drives as good as anything on the market and you can fly from Europe to San Francisco without having to charge/ plug your KANN to the USB port in front of you.

If the KANN is your first experience with higher end portable audio players its musicality and performance, bass and mids will probably blow your mind. If your ears have been spoiled already, you’ll notice that the KANN sounds really nice and very musical, but you’ll also find the KANN audiophile-wise isn’t the absolute best sounding player or AK DAP on the market. But there’s no shame in that as the KANN was developed to be and sound this way.

Comparisons & Synergy are only one click away HERE. Or just click below on Page 3

4.6/5 - (210 votes)

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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.

21 Comments

  • Reply June 28, 2017

    Beam

    Kann hiss a lot on my sensitive iem in single end. Does it hiss less in balance mode?

  • Reply June 28, 2017

    Nitish

    I have dunu 2000j 8ohms iem…. it’s dead silent with kann unbalanced port…

    • Reply June 28, 2017

      Lieven

      I’m sorry but I don’t get the comment. Did I somewhere say the KANN is noisy? 🙂

  • Reply June 28, 2017

    Martin Fuhs

    I sometimes really don’t know what you are talking about Lieven. You say “Sure it’s not as full bodied as the single ended output, but the SQ simply is higher”. Not as full bodied? The balanced output delivers more wattage, so what excactly does make the single ended output, that has less power, more full bodied? To be honest with you, it just doesn’t make any sense at all.

    Then you say that the SQ is higher in a balanced operation? How is that? The player still uses the same DAC-Configuration like in a singled ended operation. It just has more power. +6dB to be specific. Do you hear more Details in balanced operation? Because I think that this is not possible. And how do you compare balanced vs single ended? From memory or do you actually switch between both modes? I am also pretty sure that you don’t match the volume when you compare those two modes, which basically makes every conclusion absolutely useless.

    • Reply June 28, 2017

      Lieven

      Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, and it’s perfectly possible not everyone understands what the heck I am saying. But I do wonder if you have ever listened to and compared the balanced output to the SE output of any DAP?

      • Reply June 29, 2017

        Martin Fuhs

        I do have an background in listening to DAPs and other sources in a balanced configuration. And one thing they do have in common, is that they have more power. And more power or more volume is often times mentioned as sounding “clearer, more precise, more detailed” because there is a + of 6dB if you have not volume matched both sources.

        You know that this whole “balanced” topic is rooted in the recordingstudios and live-use for audio technicians. People who run several hundreds of meters of cables across a room. And with balanced connectors, they can bring the noise down a bit compared to a single-ended connection. But a 2m headphone cable that is running balanced, will only bring you the benefit of more power.

        And you don’t answered my question if you do compare these two modes via your memory and if those signals are volume matched.

    • Reply June 28, 2017

      Linus

      I can not speak for KANN’s balanced output, but on every other DAP I have heard the balanced output’s bass was tightened and better controlled, but it lost body… I have to agree with Lieven.
      Though the balanced output strongly relies on the implementation of used components. It can also go the other way and not improve sound.
      The best improvement I have heard from any hardware was the L3 Pro and CDM (not a DAP). Both really shine on balanced. You should hear them!

  • Reply June 30, 2017

    Arghavan

    How do you describe the sound compared to AK300 and also the Mojo?

    • Reply July 27, 2017

      Brandon

      I wish someone could answer your question on this because I would like to know how the sound on the AK300 is compared to the Kann.

  • Reply July 2, 2017

    OffRamp

    Ok off topic, Lieven you talk about the HD-650’s so much that I bought a smart copy I hope off Massdrop. They call them the HD-6XX. I own a Senn headphone from way back that I use with my Phase Linear set-up. I can’t wait to get it and stack it up against my portable phones.
    About this AK in the review I’m gonna pass because I have a CEntrance amp waiting for the AK with the digital output. They actually built it for me cause they were sold out and they promised it will drive my HE-560. I’m still leaning 240 because of the reviewed sound.

    Always in the background,always reading around.

  • Reply July 2, 2017

    Lieven

    Enjoy the HD-6XX, I have one too 🙂

  • Reply July 15, 2017

    CL

    i can’t help but wonder how sony manages a minimum of 24 hours in all their DAPs with certain models going up to 60 hours and remain so svelte compared to this.

    • Reply July 27, 2017

      Brandon

      I have had that thought in the back of my head for quite some time now, there’s nothing close to it and I dont get it haha.

  • Reply July 27, 2017

    macmarty

    Can anyone give a comment on the bluetooth connection of the kann? is it as poor as with the ak70? or can I expect this to be a lot better with the kann?

    • Reply July 27, 2017

      Lieven

      I sent the KANN back, sorry

  • Reply November 20, 2017

    Lovely Apple

    I tried the Bluetooth connections for both AK70, AK70 M2 and Fiio X7 M2 and KANN is the winner in terms of clarity and almost no noise. The long distance is best in KANN as compared to younger two brothers and Fiio X7 M2 is the worse. You will love bluetooth connections specially if your headphone have aptx support, I tried BOSS highend bluetooth and Sony Hear 2 and I like Sony.

  • Reply November 24, 2017

    Kit

    I currently own a Kann and I spend most time on it after my dpx1 started making some bad noise.
    I find Kann working well with my ER4B at its high gain. It is probably the best sound I ever get for my ER4B with pocket portable device. I sincerely recommend it if you happen to have both at hand at any circumstance.
    The hissing of Kann is quite noticeable issue too. Of course almost every machine through ER4B is dead silence. Others don’t take it well. From my experience, at normal gain, hissing is lightly audible through IE800, bit more audible through Inear Prophile 8 (won’t be a problem as long as volume is above 20.), louder through QDC Gemini (still bearable for outdoor environment), and completely intolerable through Xelento (audible on a running train).
    I don’t get why balance output might reduce the hissing. Does not the balance output give more power than single-ended?

  • Reply May 21, 2019

    Patrick

    Thanks for this really nice review.
    Whats the best If I want to have the most of my HD 800 S directly plugged in my Kann?
    What kind of adapter I would need ? Take the balance out 2.5mm mini jack to XLR 4 pin?
    I do listen with the unbalance 3,5mm and it sound already good.
    If someone could help me to enrich my poor knowledge so I could later on enrich the sound of my music it would be realy nice.

    • Reply May 22, 2019

      Lieven

      yes, 2.5 to whatever your cable is

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