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.