Reviews: Audio

Lots of features but rather pricey

Astell and Kern's Kann can store lots of audio files and is rugged enough to travel with.
Astell and Kern's Kann can store lots of audio files and is rugged enough to travel with.PHOTO: ASTELL & KERN

The latest music player from Astell & Kern has lots going for it, from its sound quality to playback and, most importantly, storage space.

The South Korean brand has carved a niche for itself in the high-end digital audio player market, with a range of players that caters to everyone, from the budget-conscious beginner to those willing to splurge on a $5,000 music device.

The Kann, while slightly pricey, is packed with features to justify its price. At $1,599, it might not be the first choice for those on a budget, but it will be worth its price to audiophiles looking for a portable player that can store lots of files and is rugged enough to travel with.

Premium digital audio players that can play large, uncompressed high-resolution music files have traditionally been large, slightly unwieldy devices because of the amount of electronics needed to process such files.

The Kann is no different. It's built like a tank, and delivers sound quality just as robust and beefy. It is on the hefty side, weighing almost 300g with an industrial-metal design with protruding corners and a satisfyingly responsive volume dial.

It won't fit into most pockets, but is ideal for taking a music collection from home for use in the office, for example.

It has an internal built-in amp with a normal/high gain switch that's capable of driving most power-hungry headphones.

  • TECH SPECS

    PRICE: $1,599

    SUPPORTED FORMATS: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE(Normal, High, Fast), AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF up to 384kHz/32bit

    WEIGHT: 278.7g

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

I had no qualms about using it to drive my Sennheiser HD6xx headphones, which normally sees use only as a desktop set-up with a dedicated amplifier.

The Kann was able to deliver sufficient power without any need on my part to push the volume too high, while revealing enough clarity and details in songs across a range of file formats.

The Kann pairs nicely with most headphones and earphones. Its sound quality is detailed and transparent, with pleasing bass and sparkly treble that do justice to all genres.

It is the first Astell & Kern player to support native playback in 32bit/384kHz high-resolution PCM audio, which is overkill for human hearing but will satisfy picky audiophiles who insist on only the highest tier of music quality.

The Kann's software - a modified version of the Android operating system - could use with a little more polish. The shuffle and repeat options, for one thing, are not on the song playback screen, but accessed through the drag-down menu. There is also noticeable lag time while scrolling through albums, while album art loads up.

The player holds the distinction of potentially having the largest amount of storage space among audio players available today.

With 64GB of onboard storage, a micro SD card slot up to 256GB and, most excitingly, a full-sized SD card slot up to 512GB, the Kann can hold a large library of audiophile-quality songs with room to spare.

And, with a massive 6,200mAh battery, it is capable of lasting almost 15hr.

To get it working as an external digital-to-analog converter chip on the PC took some poking around online for driver-file downloads, which was not made easy by Astell & Kern's hard-to-navigate website. It worked smoothly on a Mac, however - just plug and play.

•Verdict: The Kann is considered portable only by audiophile standards, and makes a good compromise between size, music quality and storage space.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2017, with the headline 'Lots of features but rather pricey'. Print Edition | Subscribe