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Astell&Kern’s KANN Ultra DAP is a Portable Hi-Res Powerhouse

Featuring the newest flagship ESS DAC, Bluetooth support, 4 gain modes, support for 32-bit/768kHz PCM and DSD512, the new Astell&Kern KANN Ultra DAP is a powerhouse.

Astell&Kern KANN Ultra DAP Front and Back

If you think the market for high-end DAPs is shrinking — think again. Astell&Kern have announced its latest entry in the Astell&Kern KANN series of ultra-high output players. The $1,599 USD KANN Ultra will be available starting in November from Astell&Kern dealers.

KANN Ultra ($1,599)

KANN Ultra becomes the fifth player in Astell&Kern’s KANN line of Digital Audio Players (DAP). The KANN series of portable high-resolution audio players are equipped with a more powerful, built-in headphone amplifier, which allows KANN players to drive any headphone, including high-impedance headphones, without the need for a separate amplifier. 

Astell&Kern KANN Ultra DAP Front Tilted Up

Users can select between four levels of gain (low, mid, high, and super gain) for up to 16Vrms of output to provide the precise output required to drive even the most demanding headphones.  

The Astell&Kern KANN Ultra features a Triple Output Mode that allows you to connect the DAP to headphones, IEMs, and other sources.

Instead of simply separating the output ports, Astell&Kern’s Teraton Alpha technology allows for separate amplifier/sound design for the Headphone Out and Line/Pre-Out ports to provide the optimal sound for each port.  A 3.5mm unbalanced and 4.4mm balanced port is provided for both the headphone and Pre/Line Outputs.  

Astell&Kern KANN Ultra DAP Top Outputs

The three output modes of the KANN Ultra are:

Headphone Out

The headphone out ports features 4 preset gain settings and ultra-high output of up to 16Vrms. The headphone port is designed to perfectly run demanding headphones with high impedance using only the built-in player amp without the need for an external AMP.

Pre-Out

Pre-Out mode delivers sound through a specially designed Pre-Out amplifier, instead of the high-powered Headphone out amp. The Pre-Out functions like a preamplifier and you can control the volume with the volume wheel.

Line Out

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Line Out mode outputs the sound from the DAC directly without going through an amplifier, resulting in the lowest noise level, and making it ideal for connecting to external audio devices.  Line Out has a fixed voltage output (4 levels – 1.4V – 4V) and no volume control.

Astell&Kern KANN Ultra DAP Top Bottom Angle

New DAC?

KANN ULTRA features the newest flagship DAC from ESS, the ESS9039MPRO in a Dual-DAC configuration. The ES9039MPRO is an update to the popular ES9039PRO model featured in high-end audio equipment. 

The ESS9039MPRO has a built-in stereo hardware MQA renderer and more advanced modulation than the previous flagship ESS DAC to reduce power consumption, noise, and distortion for enhanced audio performance.  KANN ULTRA supports native 32-bit/768kHz and DSD512 playback and full support for MQA.  

Astell&Kern has redesigned the AMP BLOCK of the KANN Ultra to ensure that the clear, high-resolution sound of the ES9039MPRO is clearly expressed through every port, and each output’s characteristics show its own advanced performance.

Other features found on KANN ULTRA include:

  • Digital Audio Remaster Technology (DAR), which was developed to deliver fine sound at higher sample rates.  DAR technology is developed to upsample the sample rate of the sound source being played to go beyond the limits of the source format.  The high sample rate allows more refined play and offers delicate and analog-like original sound, helping you to enjoy the richness of the original sound, subtle differences in the nuance of the music and rich sounds at a higher level.
  • Crossfeed mixes parts of the original signal from one channel and sends that signal to the opposite channel with a time difference to center the sound image, like listening with speakers.  This reduces ear fatigue that can occur with prolonged listening sessions using headphones.  Detailed settings such as Shelf Cutoff, Shelf Gain, and Mixer Level, allow you to adjust the level of crossfeed according to your listening preferences.
  • DAC Filter settings allow you to fine-tune your sound style with the use of seven DAC filters.  
  • ReplayGain, which allows the player to automatically adjust the volume between tracks and maintain a consistent playback level.  
  • BT Sink allows KANN ULTRA to connect to an external device via Bluetooth, 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 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.

First introduced on the flagship A&ultima SP3000, KANN Ultra features Astell&Kern’s newly developed 4th generation UX/UI which focuses on the process and experience of listening to music. 

The new theme is designed with a focus on the experience of rediscovering songs that you have forgotten; you can quickly browse through music categories with simple gestures.

A convenient search feature along with album art has been added so that you can enjoy a digital display of CD album covers of your music collection. It is designed to give you not only the pleasure of listening to music, but also to create fun when operating the device.

With the new Crimson Theme, one of the main features of the 4th generation UI, the graphics are simple and unintrusive, focusing on usability and intuitiveness. Three key concepts, Edge, Simple, and Dark Mode, were used to improve usability and increase clarity with a style unique to AK. The black and red theme colors are chosen to reduce eye fatigue, maximize battery usage and reduce heat generation.

KANN ULTRA includes a 5.5-inch 1080×1920 Full HD touchscreen, 128GB of internal memory with support for microSD cards up to 1TB, dual-band 2.4/5GHz Wi-Fi, LDAC and aptX HD support for 24-bit audio playback wirelessly, DLNA networking, USB digital audio output, USB-C for data transfer and fast-charge support, and the ability to use KANN ULTRA as a USB DAC for your Mac or Windows-based PC. 

The Astell&Kern KANN ULTRA includes support for the most popular music streaming services including TIDAL, Qobuz, Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Spotify. 

The design concept of KANN ULTRA is “Forceful Impact”.  The design is an over-scaled volume wheel knob that has been slammed and embedded into the body of the KANN to visually represent its more powerful performance than its predecessor. With the KANN ULTRA, we continued the design identity of the KANN series, which emphasizes the hexagonal columnar body.

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The new design minimized the visible parting lines, and the wheel protectors are designed so that the outer edge of the body where the volume wheel sits naturally acts as a protector and improves usability. These elements emphasize the bold mass of the KANN ULTRA, representing primal power through a solid chunk of metal.

Astell&Kern applied decorative parts that connect with the serrated pattern on the volume wheel knob to make the wheel visually larger and maintain a balance with the massive body, while expressing the powerful performance of the KANN ULTRA.

Astell&Kern KANN Ultra DAP Cases

Additionally, the hairline spin decoration applied to the rear of the wheel acts as a delicate detail element along with the lettering engraving, showing the volume wheel knob strongly embedded into the chassis.  Due to the increased size, the orientation of the volume wheel was redesigned to accommodate usage in different environments, such as on the desk, or held in your hand. 

Roon Ready support will be added in a future firmware update pending testing and certification by Roon Labs.   

Price & Availability

KANN ULTRA will be available at authorized Astell&Kern dealers worldwide in November 2023 for $1,599.

Two cases for KANN ULTRA, made of high-quality leather from BADALASSI CARLO in Black and CONCERIA WALPIER in Navy, will be available separately for $120.

Continue reading about more Astell&Kern products.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Peter

    October 19, 2023 at 8:00 pm

    I guess Astell & Kern fans have been waiting for such an efficient product for a long time. Finally, UI Crimson will be supported by an 8-core processor and new 2x ES9039MPRO chips are available. And the amplifier section on PRE and Line Out is omitted. But why is Kann Ultra BT in version 4.2? – (minimizing power consumption?)

    • Navanski

      October 20, 2023 at 7:58 am

      I guess a more pertinent question is ‘Why buy such a niche product?’.
      I say this because the vast majority of owners will not be able to distinguish between FLAC and hi-res. I wonder how my ancient Cowon D2 would compare.
      If you genuinely can tell the difference between FLAC and hi-res and you have cash to spare, good luck.

  2. Mount Clake

    October 20, 2023 at 2:59 pm

    Well, the specs are impressive compared to the price. Not saying that this comes cheap, but I’d had expected an A&K flagship to come at some 2k>ish. Everything looks in shape here…
    Dealbreaker for me?
    Outputs on the top of the device.
    I’m afraid that’s more or less like turning the world upside-down to me.

    • Ian White

      October 20, 2023 at 3:01 pm

      MC,

      I’m going to reach out to A&K to find out more about the design decisions but I can see why some would have an issue with that.

      Will Jennings should have a review sample soon.

      Best,

      Ian White

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