Astell & Kern Kann Alpha Review

May 23, 2023
David Sunnyside

astell  kern kann alpha review

Astell & Kern’s Kann series is all about premium, no-compromise portable digital audio players (DAP) with the power to drive any headphone regardless of impedance. The Kann Alpha follows the lead of its predecessors, the Kann Cube and the original Kann with exquisite industrial design, support for every major hi-res wireless codec and enough juice to make headphones sound their best.

This latest Astell&Kern device features a 64GB internal memory that can be supplemented by microSD cards for up to 1TB of storage. It runs on an Android-based operating system that supports streaming platforms including TIDAL and Qobuz as well as a host of third-party apps.

The Kann Alpha is the first Astell&Kern product to feature Bluetooth 5.0 which offers high quality Roon Ready wireless playback for headphones and IEMs using the latest LDAC and Qualcomm aptX HD codecs. Unlike standard Bluetooth, these codecs offer higher transmission speeds and better range for more stable wireless connections.

At the heart of the Kann Alpha is the ESS Sabre ES9066AS DAC which decodes every major legacy audio format as well as MQA. ESS DAOs are renowned for their atmospheric, revealing sound that isn’t hard on the ears. I found the treble transients on Nils Lofgren’s fast strummed guitars on Keith Don’t Go to be delightfully delineated and not overly challenging, although not as crisp or as hard-edged as those of my Astell&Kern M-DAC+.

In addition to a 2.5mm four-pole balanced output and the standard 3.5mm single-ended socket, the Alpha also includes a high quality 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced connection. There are three selectable gain settings enabling users to tailor peak output to match the power levels of their preferred partnering amplification. This is especially helpful when listening through IEMs or headphones that are a little sensitive to power spikes.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
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