Astell & Kern Kann £900
FOR Features; detail; dynamic presentation; punchy bass AGAINST Design might not be to everyone’s tastes
Oscar Wilde once remarked, ‘nothing succeeds like excess’ – and Astell & Kern has certainly taken that to heart with the Kann. Its larger-than-life design is more than most people would expect from a portable player, but superb sound quality makes it all worthwhile.
The Kann’s pyramid-like form is notably bulky, and will make a decent bulge in your pocket – it’s a little shorter than an iphone 7, and approximately three times as thick. On the plus side, that extra space leaves room for its headphone and line-out connections, in both balanced and unbalanced varieties. You could happily use this as a music source in your home as much as you can take it out and about.
The screen is responsive and the large buttons make it easy to get to your music quickly. We have a few niggles: the on-screen touch keyboard is a bit fiddly, and reaching down to the buttons is a bit of a stretch because of the unit’s bulk – but on the whole it’s quite intuitive.
Great scope for storage
The Kann has slots for both SD and Microsd cards (up to 512GB for the former, 256GB for the latter). Combined with its 64GB of internal storage, that makes for a total of 832GB of space. With one CD being approximately 700MB, you should be able to fit around 1200 albums onto the device. More than sufficient for your music collection, we’d imagine.
The Kann supports up to 32-bit/384khz and DSD256 playback for hi-res tracks, managed by its AKM AK4490 digital-to-analogue converter. There’s also built-in integration for Tidal, so you can wirelessly stream music (as well as support for Moov and Groovers+ for those in Hong Kong or Korea).
A&K claims you should get 14 hours of playback from the 6200mah battery, so you should be able to use it throughout the day without any difficulty.
Sonic skills: the Kann can
While the design might raise eyebrows, start playing the Kann and you’ll soon forget the chunky aesthetics. The lashings of depth, detail and dynamism in this player will make you reluctant to take off your headphones.
Playing Beyond by Daft Punk, there’s a real texture to the electronic, sandpapery vocals – revealing the little crackles of modulation at the beginning of each new word that aren’t immediately picked up by lesser players.
The high-pitched, almost orchestral start to the track is a good indicator of how well your audio kit handles rapidly changing volume. The Kann smoothly matches the dynamic flow, tracing the peaks and troughs of the music without feeling weighted down or compressed.
Moving to Frank Sinatra’s Come Fly With Me, we get a clear sense of both the difference in scale and power between the singer and his band. Sinatra’s voice is elevated above the brass trumpets with notable aplomb, like an actor moving to the front of the stage for his big moment. That’s not to say that the backing instruments are paid any less attention, though; the Kann keeps them precisely organised in a spacious presentation.
Hi-fi even for low-res tracks
Bass drums are conveyed with tenacity and force, the Kann digging down into the lower frequencies and presenting them with a good deal of thump, so you get a clear indication of the drummer’s force. There’s a low pop to each beat of Childish Gambino’s Zombies that keeps you invested in the music.
And even through streaming services, or lower resolution tracks, the Kann keeps its sonic character. There is an expected drop in detail, but it’s still punchy and fun. So much so that, if you want to show off to your friends just how impressive good hi-fi can be, you need not feel obliged to buy more hi-res files.
It may be a little obvious to say that the most expensive player in this round-up is the best, but when it comes to performance for pound there’s no mistaking the A&K Kann’s sonic chops. Other portable players aiming for the Kann’s price group might need to watch their step – the competition just got fiercer.
It’s a chunky unit but it pulls off the impressive trick of being able to stand as a home unit as well as portable