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

Comparisons

The AK380 as said uses the same DAC chip but in a double configuration. Fact is that it doesn’t sound like the KANN and its sound quality just is a lot better. For the price, it of course should be. The AK380 is more neutral, cleaner, faster, more precise and more detailed. In short, it has that typical audiophile tuning while the KANN has a warmer, musical tuning. The AK70 to me sounds more lively and it has better clarity and precision. The AK70 is also a musical sounding DAP but its presentation is less smooth, making the detail better audible. The AK70 is more precise with more detail and a better separation. The voices sound more natural than how the KANN is doing them. It’s clear that the 2016 DAP of the year performs better looking purely at sound quality. Their UI is about the same but KANN does have the unbeatable battery and power delivery. And then there’s the USB-C, Line-out volume setting, etc.

The Fiio X5III sounds more clear than KANN but it also has more noise in the back. The Fiio X5III, just like KANN, has a smoother kind of presentation as well. The X5iii’s top end is more detailed and extended. KANN’s bass is a tad bigger, voices sound thicker and more forward but K’s layering and depth do is better. The X5iii is very versatile as its running a customizable Android version. KANN however easily wins on power, UI and battery life. Fiio’s X7 with the balanced AM3 module in place, just like its little brother has more noise from the balanced output. The sound is a little cleaner and more clear with better detail in the upper mids and treble (compared to KANN). KANN’ (bass) body is a little bigger, but the X7’s treble does extend further. The X7 has a more balanced sound from bass to treble. The voices in both DAPs are very much alike.

Unfortunately the Luxury & Precision L5PRO doesn’t have a balanced output but it still easily is one of the very best sounding players I’ve ever heard. The KANN beats the L&P L5PRO in all possible ways except for one: pure sound quality. If you just want the very best sound, check out L&P. If you care about UI, firmware, etc, the L&P players for now, aren’t the ones for you. The Cayin i5 is a tad tighter and faster than the KANN. The i5’s sound is cleaner and the detail level is about the same as KANN’s, but the i5’s upper mids and treble are more extended. The i5’s sound is a little more “in your face”, bass reaches lower but the voices are very much alike. Of all the players I tried the i5 comes closes to KANN’s sound signature, it’s just a bit cleaner and extended the higher you go.

Synergy

I was surprised to see I liked the Sennheiser HD800 most with the amp set to Normal when using the balanced output. Not only does KANN have enough power in Normal mode, it actually also allows a better volume setting as the High mode gets too loud too quickly. The HD800 certainly doesn’t sound bad straight out of the KANN, but I’ll have a desktop amp like the LaFigaro 339 or the Auris HA2-SE over KANN anyday.

KANN certainly had no issue whatsoever driving the Kennerton Odin with the amp level set to Normal. Bass in the Odin isn’t the tightest but that’s not Kann’s fault. You get a very musical and big bodied sound with a smooth presentation. Treble is very soft though. I sometimes find the Hifiman HE-1000V2 to sound a little bright but with the KANN there’s no such feeling and of all the full sized high end headphones I tried with the KANN, the HE1000V2 easily is my favourite. Great bass, a lovely airy presentation, good extension and a very natural sound with sublime vocals.

I really love the synergy between the PlusSound Prism, a dual BA  driven 3-D printed universal IEM. Bass has full body and good impact and the mids are rich with very natural sounding (yet slightly forward) voices. Treble logically is a little softer but the Prism is lively and energetic enough, so it has some margin.

The custom Warbler Prelude has great extension and clarity but this isn’t my favorite combination because of the voices being a little too sharp for my preference. You do get a clean sound with a very good level of detail, where bass is nicely present. The mids are a little more in the back and because of that the voices draw a little too much attention to them. I really like this 1-driver custom, but the KANN isn’t its ideal source.

The VE ZEN 2.0 is notorious for being hard to drive, the KANN however does it perfectly fine in Normal mode and I have to say I absolutely love this combination, like if they were made for each other. KANN delivers the body, bass and musicality and the ZEN the detail, spacious sound and lovely extension. Try it! Audeze’s iSine 20 is very easy to drive and like the ZEN, this combination is really good. In fact the iSine sounds excellent with about anything. The combinations delivers precision, detail and musicality with the perfect amount of bass and very natural voices. The iSine 20, best IEM of the year?

Conclusion

If this is your first experience with a high end DAP, the KANN will blow you away with its detail, spacious sound and musical presentation. KANN certainly is good but I personally still prefer the AK70 and the TOTL models sound wise. This is the first DAP however with excellent battery life, more power than you’ll ever need and it even has an adjustable output volume. For $999 that simply is an incredible (portable) package.

KANN’s full SPECS can be found on Page Four

Review: Astell&Kern AK KANN – Power to the People
4.6 (92.67%) 191 vote[s]

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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 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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