Astell & Kern KANN MAX Review

Astell & Kern KANN MAX Review

The KANN series from acclaimed high-end audio brand Astell and Kern has been a staple for the audio player market. It has been a while since the KANN Alpha was released, A&K’s last outing in this line. Now they have released the KANN MAX, and I am very excited to see what this next iteration has to offer. I loved the KANN ALPHA for its simple UI and incredible sound quality but does this new $1,299 DAP give you a substantial upgrade?

What You Get

  • KANN┬áMAX 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)

A&K in hand

Build

Many of the recent DAPs that I have been checking out have featured a large screen, so it was a little jarring to go back to a smaller, more compact unit. The KANN MAX has almost the same dimensions as the ALPHA, with a similar-sized screen as well. However, the thickness of the device is going to be its standout characteristic. Even the M17 from Fiio doesn’t feel as weighty as the MAX does. With its smaller size, the MAX feels pretty great in your hand, even with its rigid edges. The volume dial feels like it’s been improved, as it looks a bit more eye-catching as well as a lot more friendly to use. Headphone inputs don’t take up too much real estate, with the top of the device including 3.5mm, 2.5mm, and 4.4mm connections. The bottom of the device is where you’ll find your microSD slot and USB type C port.

A&K Inputs

Design

The KANN MAX is powered by a quad-core CPU, with an ESS ES9038Q2M quad-DAC. It can playback 32-bit/768Hz and DSD up to 22.4MHz. A&K knows how a make a capable, powerful audio player that is simple and snappy. Other players might have a more open OS, but the great thing about every A&K player, including the KANN MAX, is its focus on the pure audio experience. This player includes open-source apps like Tidal and Spotify, but A&K players work best as being an all-in-one device for your lossless music collection. That being said, other apps work almost just as well, so long as you have the proper internet connection to access them.

A&K player

Sound Impressions

I have listened to a ton of different DAPs from A&K, and they’ve never let me down in the sound department. When you’re looking for a pure reference type of signature, A&K should be the first brand to look to. With the KANN MAX, they have found a way to improve upon this foundation and output a sound signature that encompasses everything A&K is about. Listening to the KANN MAX for numerous hours, and with a wide selection of headphones and IEMs, I feel confident saying that this just might be one of my favorite sounds from them.

I started my testing of the KANN MAX using the Raptgo Hook X with a 4.4mm balanced connection. Suffice it to say, this pairing established a great first impression. The presentation of the soundstage through the KANN MAX brings a good sense of air to a lot of different planar IEMs and over-ear headphones. How it all encapsulates your headspace feels even more natural and realistic. Its in-studio-like delivery of sound elements becomes a wider dome of holographic imaging, mimicking a greater live performance space. Getting to the frequency response, the KANN MAX features a wealth of pure detail.

Its bass showcases some enticing layering, further extending its depth for a more dynamic form. Smooth vibrating tones are plentiful, with gratifying sub-bass that gives the response an added boost and flavor. The MAX’s realistic qualities also extend to the bass as well, using its tonal richness to put a certain accent on acoustic instruments especially. You also get a midrange that is almost just as equally resolving. It plays in equal balance to the bass and doesn’t extend too far forward in the mix. Vocals and instruments are all wonderfully textured, emphasizing harmonic details and tonal resonance. There is more of a spacious aspect to the mids than the bass, which is preferable when everything comes together. It creates a more defining quality to individual performances, especially from grand orchestrations and chamber rock.

This brings us to the treble, which I felt had a bit more brightness this time around. An equal level of resolution is maintained throughout, but there seemed to be a consistent drive to the highs that presented them with more volume. Most of the time it is very subtle, only being perceivable with certain tracks. Various piano-heavy tracks had a good amount of bite to them like there was a certain crack to the notes that made the details pop. Do not mistake this sensation for a piercing texture, because the KANN MAX is far from that.

Summary

After using the KANN MAX for many hours, I feel confident saying that this is the best the KANN series has to offer so far. The MAX hosts a fantastic sound signature, with a pure reference quality that is hard to beat. If you have the KANN ALPHA and are looking to upgrade, the MAX is a perfect option if you’re willing to dish out the cash. A&K’s DAPs are only going to get faster and easier to use, and the MAX is a testament to that notion.

The Astell & Kern KANN MAX is available at Audio46.

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Alex S. is a sound designer and voice-over artist who has worked in film, commercials, and podcasts. He loves horror movies and emo music.