Astell & Kern Kann Max portable music player packs more power into a smaller body

Astell & Kern Kann Max portable music player packs more power into a smaller body
(Image credit: Astell & Kern)

Does it matter that the iPod is dead if this is what we get instead? Astell & Kern's Kann Max is a portable hi-res music player that looks like being a big upgrade on the five-star Kann Alpha. The Max packs more power (15V RMS) from a smaller, lighter body than its predecessor. 

That means it is compatible with a greater variety of headphones – including those with high impedance – without needing a separate amp. It also has headphone connections for 2.5mm, 3.5mm and 4.4mm plugs.

The Max is the first Kann player with four ES9038Q2M DACs built in. Allocating a DAC to each of the four individual amplification channels, it is claimed, gives the audio more depth and realism, and should, combined with A&K's amplifier circuit technology, provide ultra-low distortion. 

The Kann Max supports files up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM and native DSD512. And each of the three headphone output jacks is coated in gold PVD to minimise contact noise, which A&K says should make the sound better still. 

Also on board is Replay Gain functionality. This automatically and uniformly adjusts volume playback from sound sources up to 24-bit/192 kHz, so you are not constantly riding the volume controls while listening to a playlist.

Astell & Kern's patented Teraton Alpha Sound Solution also comes as standard. This removes power noise and provides efficient power consumption and amplification, with the intention of delivering audio playback at a quality close to the original.

You can connect the Max to your smartphone using the BT Sink function, so you can play tracks at the highest quality. Bluetooth 5.0 is also on board, with support for 24-bit aptX HD and LDAC codecs. There is wi-fi for connecting straight to the internet, and AK File Drop makes it easier to transfer files wirelessly – ideal for sharing tracks between devices. 

The 13-hour battery life is a little less than the 14.5 offered by the Alpha, but still fairly impressive given the new device's smaller size. The 64GB onboard memory can be expanded up to 1TB using a microSD card.

The Kann Max will cost £1199 / $1300 / AU$1899 and will be available from mid-June.

It's not the only new Astell & Kern device...

Astell & Kern and Campfire Audio Pathfinder

Astell & Kern and Campfire Audio Pathfinder

(Image credit: Astell & Kern / Campfire Audio)

Astell & Kern has teamed up with US headphone maker Campfire Audio to create Pathfinder, a pair of in-ear monitors with Dual-Chamber Balanced Armature (BA) Driver technology. The two companies previously collaborated on the Solaris X headphones.

Because they have a single-coil operating two individual diaphragms, the Pathfinder headphones are, it is claimed, more powerful than an equivalent model with a single, larger diaphragm; and that extra power, says A&K, results in a warmer, more natural midrange. Taking care of the higher frequencies is Campfire Audio’s patented Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber (T.A.E.C.) technology, which is said to optimise performance by adjusting the volume of space available in front of the driver. It provides a direct passage from the driver to your ear, which is said to extend high frequencies without sibilance or fatigue.

On bass duties are dual-custom dynamic 10mm drivers. This is an all-new design by Campfire Audio, with hybrid diaphragms housed in a Radial Venting 3D printed acoustic chamber. Campfire claims this makes for a faster and more powerful low-frequency response without unnecessary pressure or bass bloat. Each driver is vented through a specially designed opening at its face, creating, we are told, a larger soundstage.

Three cables come as standard to cover 2.5mm, 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphone connections. Jewel in the cable crown is the all-new Silver-Plated Copper Litz Cable, whose four conductors arranged side by side provide "the most transparent and extended sounds possible", according to A&K. 

The price? £1899 / $1900 / AU$2899. Pathfinder will go on sale from mid-July.

Astell & Kern AK HC2 Dual DAC Cable

Astell & Kern AK HC2 Dual DAC Cable

(Image credit: Astell & Kern)

Last but not least is the Astell & Kern AK HC2 Dual DAC Cable. This promises to bring a touch of hi-fi magic to iOS and Android devices, as well as Windows and Apple computers, so you can enjoy higher-quality music streams in all their glory.

Just plug it into your device's USB-C port (or Lightning port using the supplied adapter), plug in your headphones and you're away.

It's the successor to the AK HC1, and brings a 4.4mm headphone connection to the party. 

Inside are two Cirrus Logic CS43198 MasterHiFi DACs. These are the same DACs that feature in Astell & Kern's Award-winning A&norma range of digital audio players, and support hi-res files up to 32bit/384kHz and DSD256. 

They are joined by an analogue amplifier, and bespoke capacitors that are claimed to optimise the audio circuit, suppress power fluctuations and minimise power consumption.

It also processes the digital signal at a later stage than most DACs, says Astell & Kern; this, it claims, reduces distortion. Also to reduce noise, the woven cable is wrapped in an aluminium film, while the copper-core wire is coated in tin to prevent corrosion and enhance strength and durability.

The HC2 is Roon tested, and the volume can be controlled from the dedicated Android app.

It also features the same 'light and shadow' design language as Astell & Kern's other new products.

It will cost £169 / $170 / AU$239 and will be available from mid-June.


Read our guide to the best portable music players

Read our Astell & Kern Kann Cube review

Read our FiiO M15 review

Joe Svetlik

Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.