Reflecting back on the development of personal products over the past six years, it might be fair to say that the firm Astell&Kern almost single-handedly invented the portable, high-resolution digital audio player (DAP) product category. First came the January 2013 release of the company’s AK100 player, followed about eight months later by the even more sophisticated AK120 player, with a slew of ever more ambitious DAPs arriving over the years that followed.
Each new AK model, it seemed, offered higher performance and more elaborate features than the last, but with ever-escalating prices that appeared headed straight toward the stratosphere. A cursory look at some of Astell&Kern’s more recent milestone DAPs makes this trend plain to see. The AK240 (circa 2014) sold for a then unimaginable $2,499 with some variations costing as much as $2,999; the AK380 (circa 2015) sold for a breath-taking $3,499 with some special versions going for as much as $4,999. Finally, in 2017 the über-flagship A&ultima SP1000 DAP took over the top spot from the AK380, with a selling price of $3,499 (causing the AK380 to be re-priced at $2,499 and the AK240 price to drop to $1,699). My point is that Astell&Kern’s top DAP models are and have always been among the best sounding, most full-featured, but also most expensive products of their kind on the market.
Recognising that its flagship models are at once desirable, but perhaps priced beyond reach for many enthusiasts, Astell&Kern recently introduced a multi-faceted, high-performance, and comparatively affordable digital audio player called the KANN.
In simple terms, the KANN was developed as a player that offered most of the key performance features of Astell&Kern’s big-boy DAPs, complete with a very powerful headphone amplifier, yet that could sell for under $1,000. As you will learn in this review, the attractively priced KANN gives up very little vis-à-vis its upscale brethren, meaning it may well be the high-end Astell&Kern DAP for the rest of us (that is, serious music lovers facing real-world budget constraints).