Astell & Kern Kann £900

FOR Fea­tures; de­tail; dy­namic pre­sen­ta­tion; punchy bass AGAINST De­sign might not be to ev­ery­one’s tastes

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Hi-res Music Players -

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

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