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T.H.E. Show 2022: Astell&Kern KANN MAX DAP

T.H.E. Show 2022 attendees saw the N. American debut of the Astell&Kern KANN MAX DAP. Get our early thoughts before our full review.

Astell&Kern KANN ALPHA vs KANN MAX DAPs Front Side by Side at T.H.E. Show 2022

The Astell & Kern KANN MAX DAP made its global debut at High-End Munich recently; and with great fanfare because it represents quite a jump in performance for the category. DAPs are still a thing even with all of the advancements in smartphone technology.

Astell&Kern were very kind to send us a sample for our booth at T.H.E. Show last weekend in Long Beach and we have two reviews of the unit forthcoming; eCoustics Sr. Headphone Editor, Will Jennings, currently has it under review and I will be conducting a follow-up with different headphones and headphone amplifiers.

I’ve had the opportunity to try some of the older models from the Korean manufacturer, but this will be my first extended audition of any of their products; to say that I’m excited would be an understatement.

Astell&Kern KANN ALPHA vs KANN MAX DAPs
Astell&Kern KANN ALPHA (top) vs KANN MAX (bottom)

The Skinny

The KANN Max follows on the heels of the well respected A&K KANN ALPHA ($1,099 at Amazon), which Will owns and is the fourth model in the KANN lineup. In a side-by-side comparison, the MAX offers a slightly smaller footprint, mostly due to its thinner design.

That said, the MAX remains faithful to A&K’s “brick-like” industrial design; you’re getting a very solidly built product that looks and feels like it is designed to last forever.

Astell&Kern KANN MAX DAP Angle
Astell&Kern KANN MAX DAP Side
Astell&Kern KANN MAX

The thinner design does not mean less play time because of a smaller battery; Astell & Kern have constantly sought to improve both the sonic performance of all of their DAPs while improving the battery life.

The KANN MAX offers four different gain settings making it almost ideal for all IEMs and headphones; one can drive difficult planar and dynamic headphones with a touch of a switch up to a maximum of 15Vrms.

A&K is also concerned about the noise floor; something that is important when the range and type of IEMs and headphones likely to be used with it is so vast. To counter this, A&K have separately configured the power supply IC for each section to minimize it. The power supply is also well shielded and designed to supply clean power to the DAC, and headphone amplifier.

This design allows for the interference ripple noise of the DC-DC power supply (the shaking noise phenomenon that occurs when power is supplied) to be removed.  Thus, the MAX provides a high output with a lower noise floor.

Astell&Kern KANN MAX DAP Menu
Astell&Kern KANN MAX DAP Headphone Jacks

The MAX features multiple ESS ES9038Q2M DACs in a two chips per channel configuration. By using two DACs per channel, the output can be summed and further lower distortion and improve resolution, so the depth and realism of the sound source can be expressed to the fullest. The MAX supports native 32-bit/768kHz and DSD512 playback along with full support for MQA. 

Connection options include a 3.5mm unbalanced, 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced headphone outputs. The MAX features Bluetooth 5.0 which allows faster transmission speed and greater range compared to Bluetooth 4.2, providing a more stable wireless connection. Both LDAC™ and aptX™ HD are supported to provide audiophiles with 24-bit audio playback wirelessly.

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Astell&Kern KANN ALPHA vs KANN MAX DAPs Bottom Side by Side
Astell&Kern KANN ALPHA (left) vs KANN MAX (right)

Other notable features include ReplayGain, which allows the player to automatically adjust the volume between tracks and maintain a consistent playback level. A Bluetooth sink allows the MAX to connect to an external device via BT as well, and function as a Bluetooth DAC. Music from an external device, such as a smartphone can now be played back in high-quality, taking full advantage of the hi-res audio decoding in the player.

With AK File Drop, transferring your music files from a computer or NAS is now even easier and more convenient. Using AK File Drop, you can freely transfer files wirelessly through a PC, smartphone, or FTP program located on the same network.  Music file management is now possible with a cableless, wireless solution. This is how you would also download your Tidal or Qobuz catalog.

Astell&Kern KANN MAX DAP Screen

The MAX includes a 4.1-inch 720 x 1280 HD touchscreen, 64GB of internal memory with support for microSD cards up to 1TB, Wi-Fi, DLNA networking, USB digital audio output, USB-C for data transfer and fast-charge support, and the ability to be used as a USB DAC for your Mac or Windows-based PC. 

The MAX includes support for the most popular music streaming services including Tidal, Qobuz, Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Spotify via WiFi. Roon Ready support will be available in a future firmware update pending testing and certification of the player by Roon Labs. 

The KANN MAX will be available in June 2022 at authorized Astell&Kern dealers in the US/Canada for $1,299.

Three cases will also be available in June for the MAX, made of high-quality vegetable leather from CONCERIA WALPIER and BADALASSI CARLO for $149. Personally, a case is a must for me, and the ones which manufacturers provide via options such as this are well worth the cost.

Astell&Kern KANN MAX DAP with Meze Audio Advar IEM
Astell&Kern KANN MAX with Meze Audio Advar IEM

The Sound (briefly)

Paired with the Meze Advar initially, which we have on tour and BeachHiFi carries; the unit has a 10.2mm dynamic driver, and is fairly easy to drive. The duo played happily together according to Will. He notes that the Advar comes across with an authoritative rumble and slam, along with very good impact. He compared the Advar to a Meze 99 Classic condensed into an IEM version.

I tried the MAX with the Auribus Acoustics Mt. Everest (as did Juan, the designer of the Everest) at T.H.E. Show. I came away with the MAX having adequate power, but will note that I did not have time to fine tune any settings such as gain; so I had to raise the volume up quite a bit. The consumers that tried the MAX at T.H.E. Show noted the same, but due to limited time for all, we agreed that more time would have allowed us to fine tune the MAX to each of our preferred settings.

Look for a more comprehensive review from Will in July.

Where to buy: $1,299 at Crutchfield

Continue readingShow Reports from T.H.E. Show 2022

Related video: Why should you buy a DAP? (YouTube)

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