The Wisdom of Experience – A Review of the Astell&Kern KANN

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The Astell&Kern KANN is a neutral-warm, perversely smooth, liquid render. It possesses a wholesome, full sound, with great note weight. Faultless extension up and down the frequency spectrum. Dynamics, while quite good, are presented in a relaxed manner. The soundstage is grand, the layering and separation intricate. KANN creates a vivid image, but not one to excite or stimulate the listener, but rather to lean back and bask in the fluid sonics pouring over you.

I feel there’s no point delving into the specifics here. Breaking down the highs, mids, and lows is pointless. My descriptions for all regions will be the same. Pure. Rich. Controlled. Detailed. Powerful. Extended. Resolving. KANN is an incredible player. Every bit the high-end performer. There is no aspect of its audio I would ever call lacking, nothing which disappoints.

Simply talking about KANN on its own, I can do nothing but praise it with a slew of superlatives. In fact, I think the only way to really “review” KANN is to pit it against the strongest competition I have and mark the disparities.

How about we start with KANN’s forebear, the AK120II? Holy shit, these two sound alike. More than that, on regular gain, KANN’s output power is EXACTLY the same as the AK120II. Listening to the Meze 99 Classics, both players reach the same loudness at 100/150 on the volume wheel. I used a line switcher and did back and forth, rapid channel switches, and I was shocked how little difference there was. They both share the AK sound, as it were: that rich, smooth, analogue quality. KANN is warmer by a hair. AK120II is closer to neutral. The soundstage is a spot-on match between them. Width, depth, and height, all are perfectly equal. KANN’s warmth gives the vocals a hint of lushness, and the bass feels like it has some extra energy. The AK120II comes off a little thin in comparison, yet clearer. As a point of reference, I considered the AK120II to be warmer and fuller than the FiiO X7. KANN is simply more so.

There is a greater change when testing KANN against my principle DAP, the Opus#2. Opus possesses sharper definition, and a more resolving render. While quite smooth and organic in its own right, next to KANN, Opus#2 presents more energy, making the image pop. This aids in layering and separation. The soundstage is also bigger on Opus, creating an even grander arena. Bass impact and treble energy felt the same. Vocals definitely had more detail and texture on the Opus#2, and were smoothed out on KANN. The Astell&Kern sound is stylized, liquid, relaxed. The Opus#2 is realistic, utterly natural, and perfectly vivid. Which one is “better” depends on your tastes.

KANN vs Cayin i5 delivers a clear winner. The i5 is warmer, and much bigger in the low-end. KANN is cleaner, smoother, and all-around more refined. The i5’s soundstage is smaller on all axis. KANN sounds bigger and airier. They aren’t terribly dissimilar, but KANN easily takes the lead here, with a sense of quality and resolution Cayin struggles to compete with.

For those of you wanting an AK killer at a reasonable price, I gladly direct your attention to the Opus#1. F**k! What do I mean by AK killer? I’m not saying Opus#1 is better than KANN, or AK120II, but that it’s so goddamn close that you’ll never understand why you’re spending so much more for a TOTL player. Of course, that hasn’t stopped me from continuing to drop mad monies on fancier players, like the Opus#2. But I’m not well in the head. To learn how well the little Opus does against the AK120II, see my review of The King-Killer.

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About Author

Pinky is an artsy twat. Illustration, graphic design, writing. Yet music escapes him, and always has. He builds his own cables, and likes to explore the craftsmanship of others. He's a stabby one, also. At the first hint of annoyance, out comes the blade. I say he's compensating for something... in a big bad way. If we all try really hard as a collective, maybe we can have him put down.

4 Comments

  1. Scott on

    I just demoed the AK120ii mentioned in this article and was favorably impressed. I am considering buying it even if it’s 3 years old now. However, I’m concerned that it doesn’t play dsd natively.

    Now I see your review for the KANN and think that could work too. Unfortunately I have not been able to demo it. Do you think that the KANN is the better of the two by some degree? How similar are they with the KANN lacking the dual dacs? Where I am the AK120ii is sold at $750 vs the KANN at $1000 so price is a factor.

    • Pinky Powers on

      I feel your question is answered in my review. Maybe you should reread it.

  2. noplsestar on

    The Calyx M DAP has a full size SD slot as well as a microSD slot since the year 2014!!
    With new FW update the SD slot takes a 500 GB SD card and the micro SD slot takes 256 GB, and there´s also 64 GB internal. You should definitely check this “exotic” and wonderfully musical (as well as affordable) DAP once you have the opportunity. http://www.calyxm.com

  3. lithrai on

    Enjoying KANN with Hidition New Tears 6 and Whiplash TWag V3 and TWcu V3 Hybrid cable from balanced output and high gain myself. What Hidition missing KANN delivers. Awesome combo!

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