The KANN Ultra, the latest addition to the KANN digital audio player series, stands out in the A&K line-up for its focus on ultra-high power output and uncompromising clarity. Just how powerful is it? How well does it perform? And what kind of sound characteristics can you expect?
In the Box
- A&K KAAN Ultra DAP
- A&K USB-C Charging Cable
- Screen Protectors
- Quickstart Guide
- Warranty Info
The KAAN Ultra sits like a brick in my hand. The fanciest brick I’ve ever held. Still, far thinner and sleeker than the first KAAN model, this DAP allures the senses with its satisfying weight, hard angles, absence of too many buttons, and substantial, yet elegant volume dial. Indeed, the aesthetics are very Astell & Kerny, merging power and heft with a minimalist sophistication.
Under the Hood
The KANN Ultra is furnished with the latest ES9039MPRO DAC in a dual configuration. Yes, it can play all the hi-res things. In fact, positioned for future-proof functionality, it can even playback up to PCM 768 and DSD 1024. The ES9039MPRO also boasts advanced modulation compared to A&K’s existing flagship DAC, aimed at reducing power consumption, noise, and distortion.
Most notable, this particular A&K DAP model is the first to introduce next-gen Octa-Core processors, touting significant performance improvements, with faster system speeds and a smoother, faster-flowing 4th generation UI/UX.
The KAAN Ultra also includes a bunch of other design features, such Digital Audio Remaster (DAR) technology, as well as Astell & Kern’s own TERATON ALPHA technology, which allows for separate amplifier profiles for the Headphone Out and Line/Pre-Out ports to provide the optimal sound for each port.
You can expect a battery life of up to 11 hours, though I’ve generally found that this measurement is not an exact science with Astell & Kern’s DAPs, as the actual usage time tends to be shorter.
This KAAN Ultra sports four gain modes, delivering up to 16Vrms of output. Yes, The KAAN Ultra is damn powerful. We powered everything from a 350 Ohm dynamic driver to the extremely power hungry Dan Clark Stealth, and it was able to handle them all with headroom to spare.
Features and Functionality
In addition to using this DAP solely for headphones, the Kann Ultra incorporates separate Pre/Line Out options, making it useful for other applications as well. For example, you can choose Pre-Out mode on the Pre/Line Out port to send out the source to an external amplifier or audio device. In addition, you can use the Kaan Ultra as a straight DAC and have your music source coming from elsewhere.
Finally, you’ve got all the features and functions that are now standard on all A&K players, such a Bluetooth, Crossfeed, DAC filters, equalizer and Wi-Fi, just to name a few.
It’s been a while since I’ve listened to one of Astell & Kern’s higher-tier DACs, and I have to say, I’m again floored.
Starting with the soundstage, the added expansiveness is incredible, creating so much space and openness that, at times, it feels like you’re listening to hi-fi speakers, especially with respect to the remarkably wide imaging. It’s hard to master both, massive scale and anal precision all at once, but the KAAN Ultra flawless in both respects. It’s big, yes. But the separation is also insane, pulling apart sound elements to all angles of the stage, creating a soundscape so vibrant and magical that it calls for unicorns.
There’s also an enhanced robustness to the sound, a tastefully restrained, yet steady energy that’s just waiting to explode. And a lot of the power comes from what sounds like slightly enhanced bass frequencies, which seem to deliver the low-end elements with increased weight and oomph.
But this attribute never translated into any bloat into the higher frequencies, and the overall profile always remains immaculately clean. As for the treble, that rich resolution continues, perhaps providing a little air, but more substance than buoyancy. But the presentation is always uber-transparent, even if some of the more raw textural elements feel a touch “purified” at times, which I actually loved.
If you’re looking for power on the go in the form of an incredibly handsome DAP, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything better than the KAAN Ultra. Capable of handling any headphone you throw at it, this model takes portable power to the next level. Add to that a massive and immaculate 3D enhancing soundstage, improved bass performance and A&K’s anally controlled and precise delivery, and you’ve got one of the best DAPs in its class, hands down. Sure it’s pricey. But when you compare the Kaan Ultra’s power and performance to similarly priced, standalone DAC/amps, it becomes clear that you’re getting your money’s worth.
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