About the Astell&Kern KANN Alpha
A portable player with exceptional performance
A portable player with exceptional performance
Astell&Kern specializes in portable music players that deliver detailed, nuanced sound with your library of digital music files. The KANN Alpha has both unbalanced and balanced outputs, so it can handle even the most demanding high-performance headphones. And it can play from a variety of high-resolution digital music sources, with Wi-Fi built-in to expand your listening options.
Built for high-resolution music
The KANN Alpha plays your downloaded high-res FLAC, WAV, and Direct Stream Digital (DSD) files in their native resolution. Dual high-quality digital-to-analog converters (DACs) give you bit-perfect playback for PCM-based files up to 32-bit/384kHz.
The player is compatible with MQA, a high-resolution audio format used in TIDAL's "Masters" streaming music service tier and by other music download sites on the web. And don't worry — the KANN Alpha delivers surprisingly detailed sound with your CD-quality and compressed music files, too.
Make the most of your wireless headphones...
The player has Bluetooth 5.0 built-in, which offers better sound and increased range when listening on your wireless headphones or a Bluetooth speaker. It also supports Sony's LDAC Hi-Fidelity codec for high-resolution wireless music streaming to compatible products.
...or use wired 'phones for the best possible sound
The KANN Alpha has a standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. And it has two balanced headphone outputs for compatible higher-end headphones - a 2.5mm 4-pole output, and a 4.4mm 5-pole output. The circuits for these two balanced outputs are isolated from each other to eliminate potential interference. And with output up to 12Vrms, they have enough power to drive even demanding 'phones.
My listening impressions
A word of advice — use your best headphones with the KANN Alpha. When I auditioned this digital music player, I started with my home office headphones. They're good, but not great. The KANN Alpha sounded impressive, but I knew these 'phones were holding it back. So I broke out a better pair, my Sony MDR-1AMs. The sound dramatically improved. I suspect that it would take even higher-performance headphones to hear everything the KANN Alpha can do.
But even with my headphones, I heard quite a lot. I noticed details I'd not heard before in familiar tracks. And unfamiliar tracks floored me with their depth and detail. Case in point: Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 performed by Matt Haimovitz, released on the audiophile label Pentatone. This was a 24-bit/96kHz file.
Haimovitz's cello had a warm, natural sound (which I expected). What surprised me were details I hadn't heard before, like an occasional sharp intake of breath before he launched into a particularly difficult phrase. I was able to make out the sympathetic vibrations of the open strings as long tones were sustained. And the decay of the final notes seemed to linger longer in the air.
The KANN Alpha reproduced critical overtones and transients in the original recordings. The best way to describe the experience is this: the music sounded realistic. I felt I was there in the room (or the concert hall) with the artist.
Built-in and expandable memory
The KANN Alpha features a 64GB internal memory. The microSD slot can support cards up to 1TB. The player connects to your computer via an included USB-C cable for speedy file transfers.
More premium features
The player has a 4.1" touchscreen, giving you a clear, high-def view of music selections and menus. A knurled volume control knob lets you make fine adjustments. And the durable milled aluminum casing with ceramic caps adds visual appeal.
- plays a wide range of digital music formats, including MP3, FLAC, WAV, ALAC, DSD, and MQA
- native playback of high-resolution audio files
- up to 32-bit/384kHz for PCM and 11.2MHz for DSD
- 64GB internal flash memory
- microSD slot for cards up to 1TB
- built-in rechargeable battery lasts up to 14.5 hours
- high-output built-in headphone amplifier
Display and controls:
- 4.1" high-definition touchscreen display
- analog knob on the side controls volume and power
- color-coded LED indicator ring displays information about volume, audio resolution, and selected DAC
Processing and wireless features:
- dual ESS ES9068 digital-to-analog converters for bit-perfect playback of high-resolution audio files
- built-in 2.4GHz Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n)
- Bluetooth 5.0 transmission for playing through wireless headphones and speakers
- supports aptX HD and LDAC formats for high-fidelity streaming
Connections and specs:
- high-speed USB Type-C port (cable included)
- 3.5mm unbalanced headphone output
- 2.5mm balanced output (4-pole)
- 4.4mm balanced output (5-pole)
- output impedance:
- 0.8 ohm (3.5mm unbalanced)
- 2.0 ohms/1.8 ohms (2.5mm/4.4mm balanced)
- total harmonic distortion @1kHz:
- 0.0003% (3.5mm unbalanced)
- 0.0005% (2.5mm/4.4mm balanced)
- signal-to-noise ratio 1kHz:
- 116 dB (3.5mm unbalanced)
- 117 dB (2.5mm/4.4mm balanced)
- crosstalk @1kHz:
- -128dB (3.5mm unbalanced)
- -136dB (2.5mm/4.4mm balanced)
- aluminum casing with ceramic back and top plates
- output levels:
- high: 12Vrms (balanced); 6Vrms (unbalanced)
- mid: 8Vrms (balanced); 4Vrms (unbalanced)
- low: 4Vrms (balanced); 2Vrms (unbalanced)
- 2-11/16"W x 4-5/8"H x 1"D
- weight: 11.14 oz.
- warranty: 1 year
- Our 60-day money-back guarantee
- MFR # 3PPM437C-CMLAN1 U
What's in the box:
- Digital music player (Urbanely Blue)
- 40" USB cable (Type A USB on one end and USB-C on other end)
- Protective film (4 pieces - 2 front / 2 rear)
- microSD card slot cover
- Quick Start Guide
- Warranty card
Thanks for submitting your review
More details on the Astell&Kern KANN Alpha
Overview: Astell & Kern's KANN ALPHA (PMM43) is the third product in the KANN series of digital audio players, following the KANN and KANN CUBE. It is the first device from Astell & Kern to feature the new 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced output, in addition to the 2.5mm balanced and 3.5mm unbalanced outputs. KANN ALPHA has a powerful 12-volt (RMS) output (to the balanced outputs) that can power virtually any headphones or in-ear monitors. The device features dual ESS DACs and a Quad-Core CPU, with playback of PCM up to 384kHz, Native DSD to DSD256, and MQA files. The KANN ALPHA has an Urbanely Blue aluminum body with a 4.1" touch display (720 x 1280) for control, menu access, and album art. You can connect wirelessly via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, or load your music files onto the built-in 64 GB memory or an optional microSD card for playback anywhere. The device charges with the included USB-C charging cable.
Digital-to-Analog Converters: The KANN ALPHA uses two ES9068AS DACs (digital-to-analog converters), one for the left channel and one for the right. Complete separation of the balanced lines results in a full noise-free output. KANN ALPHA has the highest level of channel separation (-141dB Crosstalk at High Gain) of any other portable audio product in its class.
Supported Audio Formats: The KANN ALPHA is capable of download and playback of high resolution digital music files up to 32-bit/382kHz; including FLAC, WAV, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, and DSF. The device includes MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) technology, allowing you to play back and stream MQA audio files which have the sound of the original master recording. It also supports playback of DSD music files up to 11.2MHz (DSD256). In addition, the KANN ALPHA will support highly compressed music files such as MP3, WMA, AAC, OGG, and APE.
LED Indicator: The device has an LED behind the rotary volume dial that glows in different colors and intensity to indicate the bit-rate and volume level of the currently-playing track. The LED glows red to indicate 16-bit playback, green for 24-bit, and blue for a 32-bit rate. If playing DSD tracks, the LED indicates purple. You can turn the LED indicator on or off in the Menu settings, as desired.
Balanced / Unbalanced Outputs: The KANN ALPHA is the first Astell & Kern audio player equipped with a 4.4 balanced output, also known as Pentaconn. The device also has a 2.5mm 4-pole balanced and a standard 3.5mm unbalanced headphone output. The 2.5mm and 4.4 mm balanced outputs are physically separated with micro relays to prevent noise. The 3.5mm unbalanced output also doubles as a S/PIDF optical mini jack.
Power Output Options: The KANN ALPHA's newly designed OP Amp and Volume IC delivers a natural sounding audio signal with little or no distortion. Three different power output options (High, Mid, Low) are available, so you can drive virtually any headphone or in-ear monitor:
|Output Selection*||Balanced |
|High||12 Vrms||6 Vrms||12 Vrms|
|Mid||8 Vrms||4 Vrms||8 Vrms|
|Low||4 Vrms||2 Vrms||4 Vrms|
* Condition: No load
Built-in Memory + External Storage: The KANN ALPHA has a built-in 64 GB internal flash memory for storing your downloaded digital music files. You can also insert a microSD card (up to 1 TB) in the memory card slot on the side of the device for additional storage capacity, for a total maximum storage capacity of 1064 GB. The memory card should be formatted in FAT32. No microSD cards are included with the product.
Media File Transfer: You can download digital music files from your Windows PC or Mac computer to the Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA through its USB-C USB port and the included USB-C to USB cable. The device is compatible with Windows 7, 8, or 10 (32-bit or 64-bit versions of each). It also support Mac OS X 10.7 and up. Mac users need to download and install the MTP program from the Astell & Kern website.
USB DAC: The USB DAC functionality allows the KANN ALPHA to be recognized as a sound card on a computer. When the device's USB-C port is connected to a free USB port on your Windows PC or Mac computer, the music from your computer can be played through the KANN ALPHA's headphone outputs for an enhanced listening experience. This USB DAC connection bypasses the inferior soundcard of your computer or laptop, providing much higher sound quality. A dedicated driver, available on the A&K website, should be installed to use the KANN ALPHA as a USB DAC.
Femto Clock: The Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA uses a voltage-controlled crystal oscillator (VCXO) high-precision clock with a reference jitter value of 250 femtoseconds. Femto clocks are typically used in high-end audio components.
Built-In Wi-Fi: The KANN ALPHA features built-in 2.4GHz Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n) which allows you to connect to your home's Wi-Fi network wirelessly with support for AK Connect. AK Connect lets you connect with other network-ready Astell & Kern devices and speakers (sold separately). It requires the AK Connect app, which is compatible with Apple iOS 8 or later, and Android OS 4.2 and up.
Bluetooth Transmitter: The KANN ALPHA has built-in Bluetooth 5.0 for connecting a Bluetooth speaker, headphone, or receiver so you can listen to your digital music files wirelessly. Bluetooth 5.0 has a faster bit-rate (2 Mbps vs. 1 Mbps) and longer range (40 meters vs 10 meters), compared to Bluetooth 4.2. It also has a lower power consumption, which provides a longer battery life. In addition to support for the standard Bluetooth SBC codec and AAC, the KANN ALPHA offers support for LDAC and aptX HD. Also supported are A2DP and AVRCP profiles. A comparison of the Bluetooth bit-rates is as follows:
- LDAC (Quality): 990 kbps
- LDAC (Normal): 660 kbps
- LDAC (Connection): 330 kbps
- SBC (Max): 328 kbps
- SBC (Mid): 229 kbps
20-band EQ: The KANN ALPHA features a 20-band EQ to allow you to make detailed adjustments in the original sound to suit your tastes. You can set the EQ curve by simply "drawing" the curve on the touchscreen. The EQ frequency bands include: 30Hz, 45Hz, 60Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz, 180Hz, 250Hz, 380Hz, 500Hz, 750Hz, 1kHz, 1.5kHz, 2kHz, 3kHz, 4kHz, 6kHz, 8kHz, 12kHz, 14kHz, and 18kHz. You can adjust the gain from -5dB to +5dB in 0.1dB increments, and the Q from 0.1 to 4.0dB in 0.1dB increments. If you choose not to activate the custom EQ, you can use the 20 EQ presets.
On-board Controls: The KANN ALPHA has a side-mounted rotary wheel for volume control with values from 0 to 80. There are also five physical buttons on the top, front, and side of the player: Power (top), Home (front), Play/pause (side), Previous/rewind (side), and Next/fast forward (side).
Gapless Playback: Gapless Playback allows you to play the next song without any interruptions or silence. Gapless playback is only supported between two audio files with identical bit rates, sample rates, and channels.
Power Requirements: The KANN ALPHA is equipped with a rechargeable Lithium-Polymer battery (5600mAh / 3.8V). Using a commercially-available 9-volt, 1.67A output adapter, the device can fast charge in approximately 3.5 hours. Normal charging (5V 2A) takes place in approximately 5 hours. A 40" USB-C to USB cable is included to connect the player to your charging device. A fully charged battery can provide up to approximately 14.5 hours of continuous playback time.
- Sample Rates:
- PCM: 8kHz to 384kHz (8 / 16 / 24 / 32 bits per sample)
- DSD Native: DSD64 (1-bit 2.8MHz), DSD128 (1 bit 5.6MHz), DSD256 (1 bit 11.2MHz)
- Frequency Response:
- ±0.021dB (20Hz-20kHz) Unbalanced
- ±0.024dB (20Hz-20kHz) Balanced
- ±0.021dB (20Hz-70kHz) Unbalanced
- ±0.155dB (20Hz-70kHz) Balanced
- Signal-to-Noise Ratio:
- 116dB @ 1kHz (Unbalanced)
- 117dB @ 1kHz (Balanced)
- - 128dB @ 1kHz (Unbalanced)
- - 136dB @ 1kHz (Balanced)
- 0.0003% @ 1kHz (Unbalanced)
- 0.0005% @ 1kHz (Balanced)
- Output Impedance:
- 3.5mm (unbalanced): 0.8 ohms
- 2.5mm (balanced): 2.0 ohms
- 4.4mm (balanced): 1.8 ohms