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


I can wholeheartedly recommend the Meze 99 Classics for KANN. I consider these my reference headphones, even though they aren’t dead flat, or the most uncolored things in existence. What they are is exceptionally capable of revealing the subtlest changes from one source to another. These headphones have an abundance of energy and dynamics that even AK can’t smooth out entirely. They are lively f**kers! Since the 99C’s treble is bright and sparkly, they sound best on a warmer DAP, like KANN, which really brings out the bass to its fullest. All while keeping those vocals clear and transparent as glass. Soundstage is quite wide for closed-back, with excellent imaging. KANN takes Meze’s strengths and injects a touch of that AK magic, making this a delightful pairing.

AudioQuest’s NightOwls are paragons of liquidy warmth. Combine that with KANN’s warmer nature and über smoothness, and you have a chocolaty pool of delicious goodness. Thanks to KANN’s attention to other aspects, like treble extension and overall clarity, this combo remains articulate and resolving. It’s dark done right: rich, deep, and powerful, but never becoming muffled or veiled. You have to jump from a very transparent headphone like the LCD-2 for NO to sound less than remarkably clear. The vocals are lush and detailed. Bass delves into the deepest regions, booming, rumbling, or just existing, flawless and controlled. The high frequencies are thick and sweet, with a bit of twinkle. Though, ultimately the treble is just there to achieve enough balance that NO can perform at such a high level. KANN is a great source to showcase NightOwls remarkably low distortion, as AK makes some of the cleanest outputs around. Indeed, I love the KANN>NightOwl combo, especially in balanced!

The Kaiser Encore, by Noble Audio is certainly a phone which benefits from warmth and smoothness, since it is so clear and revealing. Its treble is out of this world, contributing to the detailed, high resolution presentation. But these strong highs can rob Encore of some of its low-end musicality, if the source is not up to the task. KANN gives Encore all the warmth and low-end it needs to be one of the best balanced IEMs out there. With soundstage at class-leading dimensions, and truly exceptional imaging and separation, the source can quickly become a bottleneck for this kind of performance. KANN is no bottleneck. It feeds Encore all it needs to shine like no other.

Still my favorite IEM: the 64Audio U12, with the APEX M15 module, and the best cable for this particular earphone, the ALO Reference8. These are warmth/bass monsters, and have been known to sound “too warm” on the wrong source. KANN is not that warm. It’s still well neutral of that. It has a touch of warmth. A strong, handsy touch, but still only a touch. U12 appreciates the balance, particularly the superb treble presence. It’s able to sound wonderfully lush and velvety, yet also airy and expansive. The U12’s soundstage width is legendary, and KANN allows it to go deep and layered as well. Yes, U12 is best on a neutral, detail king, like Opus#2, but KANN has a way of showing you there are multiple paths to an eargasm.

I’ve talked about headphones which needed a source with more warmth, or not too much warmth, but HiFiMAN’s RE800 needs one with not too much treble. It has an aggressive 8khz peak, and if the source gets carried away with its treble energy, these IEMs become unlistenable, overly bright, harsh, and fatiguing. Well, KANN has nice highs, but they are well under control, and work beautifully for this out of control IEM. The result is a mad degree of clarity, with rich, full harmonics, and more details than you’ll know what to do with. I would still only recommend these IEM’s for acoustic music or classic rock. Because something like Metallica will bring out those higher frequencies to painful levels, exaggerating them to a point of non-stop sibilance. There’s only so much AK can do to sooth the reckless tuning of the RE800.

My test for driving power is the Massdrop + Sennheiser HD6XX. Most audiophile DAPs can push these loud enough, but very few can make them sound full in doing so. This probably has more to do with tuning than anything else. If a DAP is warm and bassy enough, it can compensate for the lack of current, mimicking the sound you’d get from a full-size desktop amp. Otherwise they lose body and come off sort of weak. KANN makes these sound good. Really good. The HD6XX is full and robust, with its well-known rich, deep quality. Even on normal gain, KANN has enough power to fill these out completely.

That, my dear peasants, is the Astell&Kern KANN. It’s bloody good. While $1k is serious coin, I call KANN practically a bargain. It’s everything and more my AK120II is, and $500 cheaper than when it first released. At this price point, I must agree with AK, this is “the complete all-around portable high-res digital music player.” It can do everything at such a high level of execution, while lacking in nothing. Is it the best DAP in the world? No. But at this price… In a very real way, KANN feels like the whole of Astell&Kern’s experience poured into an “affordable” package. And what a brilliant creature it is.


Technical Features:
• Single AKM AK4490 DAC
• Native DSD playback up to DSD256 (11.2mHz)
• PCM audio playback up to 32bit/382kHz
• Built-in amp with normal/high gain switch: drive the most demanding headphones with ease!
• Lowest output impedance of any our portable high-res audio players: Single-ended 3.5mm: 0.65Ω / Balanced out 2.5mm: 1.3Ω
• USB Type-C support (charging & data transfer)
• Micro USB for USB audio out & USB DAC
• Dedicated Line Out (2.5mm balanced & 3.5mm single-ended)
• 64GB internal flash memory
• Micro SD card support up to 256GB
• Full size SD card support up to 512GB
• aptX HD Bluetooth codec support
• 4″ WVGA 800 x 480 LCD touch screen
• Long battery life: 6,200mAh 3.7V Li-Polymer Battery (up to 15 hours)

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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.


  1. Folks,

    I’m new to the KANN world and looking for a specific thread about pairing it with headphones. The only decent IEM I currently have are Sennheiser IE800 and wondering how good they are when paired with KANN…

    I have heard a lot about KANN’s musicality and sometimes wam-ish signature so also wondering what headphones I should buy to get max out it (within 1k eur budget). The synergy I’m looking for is to get a detailed and clear sound with macro and micro details and wide and deep sound-stage allowing me to have fun while listening to the music but also being balanced enough and analytical sounding so I can enjoy all the complex layers and sound textures. I want headphones to sound naturally balanced without exaggerating lows and high end, headphones that sound fully bodied but naturally without mid-bass oooomph. Headphones I want to buy would also ideally have balanced cables either included in the box or commonly available on the IE/UK market.

    Can anyone please suggest a thread with opinions and experience on pairing or alternatively advise if such a thread can be added/initiated somewhere?

    Thanks in advance!!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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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