When Steve Jobs pulled 1000 songs from his pocket in October 2001, it opened up huge realms of potentialities when it comes to the portability of your music assortment. After all, Apple’s first iPod housed MP3 recordsdata, and its early adopters later found that their smartphones might home comparable lossy, however extremely handy, music recordsdata. However the push again in opposition to heavy audio compression has gained floor, and for many who need the perfect of each worlds – portability and high-resolution music – Astell & Kern is among the best-known suppliers of premium portable music players.
The agency’s Kann Alpha is the third participant within the Kann sequence, but the primary Astell & Kern participant to implement Bluetooth 5.0. It boasts a extra highly effective built-in headphone amplifier than the earlier Kann sequence gamers it succeeds, too. And because of the rearrangement of varied parts and the usage of smaller resistors and capacitors, it guarantees added energy in a smaller and extra moveable chassis. So, what can the Kann Alpha do? And, finally, does it ship the products?
The brand new Kann Alpha is smaller than the older Kann Cube – a cumbersome £1500 ($1199) mannequin that we mentioned was “unlikely to seek out its means into many pockets” – however not by a lot. The Kann Alpha is simply over 2cm shorter and thinner, and 5mm shallower. At 316g, it’s additionally considerably lighter.
It is nonetheless a considerable beast, then, however it is going to match into an anorak, coat or hoodie pocket – simply maybe not your skinny denims. The participant’s angular metallic edges pressed in opposition to your pores and skin would in all probability show painful anyway.
A trademark characteristic of Astell & Kern’s gamers is the rotary quantity knob within the top-right nook, and the one on the Kann Alpha is a pleasure to make use of. A delicate mild shines out from across the dial, glowing totally different colors to indicate the kind of file you’re enjoying – purple to point a 16-bit PCM file, inexperienced for 24-bit, blue for 32-bit and purple for DSD recordsdata. In the event you’re anxious that the LED show would possibly create electrical noise that degrades the audio efficiency, you may flip it off within the settings menu.
Astell & Kern Kann Alpha tech specs
Display screen 4.1in
Decision Full HD 720 x 1280
Bluetooth model 5.Zero aptX
Frequency response 20Hz to 20kHz
Constructed-in reminiscence 64GB
Battery life 14.5 hours
Dimensions (hwd) 11.7 x 6.eight x 2.5cm
The Alpha screams high-end in terms of construct high quality. Its all-aluminium black casing sports activities a barely totally different end for each facet. The again floor contains a cool, brushed end, whereas alongside the highest edge is a ceramic black mirror end, with little gold accents across the three headphone outputs – a 2.5mm and new balanced 4.4mm, plus a 3.5mm unbalanced headphone jack/optical out. The Alpha’s high edge, particularly, has a high quality harking back to Sony’s extra premium minidisc gamers produced within the mid-1990s.
One minor criticism is that though a particular coating has been utilized to this mirror end, the Kann Alpha’s surfaces and display screen fairly fortunately acquire finger and thumb marks as we fondle the participant. It’s a small challenge, however this can be a premium participant and we discover it sufficient to run a microfibre fabric over the Kann Alpha a number of instances in the course of the course of our listening.
On the underside of the unit is a microSD card slot for many who want to increase the Alpha’s comparatively humble 64GB onboard storage to as a lot as 1TB, in addition to a USB-C port that now handles each charging and digital connectivity. Merely join the Kann Alpha to your pc or laptop computer with the equipped USB-C cable and you should utilize it as an all-in-one headphone amp and DAC. Neat.
The Kann Alpha utilises twin ESS Sabre ES9066AS DACs able to rendering MQA music. It helps the preferred file codecs, too, together with FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, WAV and native DSD256, and decodes each music file we throw at it throughout our testing. It’s an analogous story with wi-fi codec help. The Alpha helps LDAC, aptX HD, aptX, AAC and, naturally, SBC Bluetooth codecs. The Alpha additionally helps MQA-CD playback, by means of Astell & Kern’s CD-Ripper. Within the Alpha’s settings menu, you may choose a most popular codec for all of your wi-fi listening, but when that isn’t supported by your headphones or Bluetooth receiver, the Alpha will change to 1 that’s mutually supported.
On the highest left facet of the unit are three art-deco impressed, unmarked buttons. The central one handles play and pause, the uppermost might be long-pressed to rewind or brief pressed to return a monitor, and the bottom button is to skip tracks or fast-forward. A responsive LCD touchscreen completes a sometimes high-end Astell & Kern design and construct. Add to this an elevated battery lifetime of 14.5 hours – up from 9 hours within the Kann Cube – with 3.5 hours to cost from empty to full, and issues are wanting resoundingly optimistic.
The Alpha’s inside amplifier has low, medium and excessive acquire settings too, so you may match its output to your headphones’ sensitivity. Which means that by setting the amplifier to excessive within the settings menu and utilizing the balanced output, you may take pleasure in 12Vrms – the identical energy because the a lot bulkier Kann Dice. Our Alpha even warns us when it thinks we’re listening at too excessive a quantity. Utilizing the excessive amplification setting drains the battery at a barely faster fee, however all through our listening interval we solely have to cost it 3 times.
The Kann Alpha’s 64GB onboard storage is roughly ample for 2700 CD-quality FLAC recordsdata (16-bit/44.1kHz) or 199 tracks in case you’re solely listening to 24-bit/192kHz WAV recordsdata, however right here Astell & Kern has one other trick up its sleeve. Our Alpha comes pre-loaded with V-Hyperlink (for YouTube Music or 720p video playback on YouTube over wi-fi), Tidal and Deezer apps – or, to offer them their correct title, Open APPs. The Kann Alpha boasts help for 33 music streaming companies over wi-fi.
Making them seem on the Alpha is certainly not a one-click job, although, and Astell & Kern solely simply will get away with its determination to go down the Open APP route. It’s essential join the participant to your laptop computer (Mac customers might want to obtain Android File Switch), head to an Open APP retailer, obtain your most popular music streaming app’s APK, drag and drop this out of your pc’s downloads into the Alpha’s Open Service tab on-screen, after which, when it seems below the Companies tab on the Alpha, obtain it to the gadget.
Up to now, so good (if a little bit longwinded), however the pre-loaded Deezer app doesn’t recognise our premium account. We obtain Apple Music, which lags and crashes earlier than we are able to sort in our particulars. And whereas Tidal appears good and is essentially the most dependable of the lot, it does cease working at instances throughout our testing.
Whereas the Open APP service supplies entry to hi-res streaming for these with the related music service subscriptions – addition to any participant – it’s a clunky set up course of and, in our testing, the outcomes are hit or miss. The latter level is just not a problem we’ve run into with different Astell & Kern gamers, so we’re left scratching our heads as to why we’re having points with this participant. We hope it’s all the way down to a software program glitch that is simply rectified.
A means across the Open APP service is to make use of the AK Join app, which basically turns the Alpha right into a UPnP streamer. We obtain the app, click on on the icon within the Alpha’s notification bar and might now set Tidal, or certainly our smartphone itself, as our ‘Library’ and the Kann Alpha as our ‘speaker’.
Something your cellphone (or chosen library) is ready to entry can now be performed on the Alpha. The equally priced FiiO M15 provides native music extra intuitively – a easy toggle on this gadget means all music in our native community is accessed and added inside seconds – however basically each machines provide the identical performance on this regard.
Streaming trickery apart, at its core the Alpha is a really proficient hi-res music participant. The house display screen interface is maybe a little bit busy throughout the highest, however swiping proper to entry the primary menu, down for the notification bar (for wi-fi, EQ, USB mode, automotive mode, AK Join and different capabilities), left to go to the Now Taking part in menu and as much as see your listening historical past quickly turns into second nature. Album graphics from downloaded recordsdata are superbly displayed, too.
We pair the inexpensive and wi-fi Earfun Air earbuds and AKG Y400 on-ears through Bluetooth and discover the connection strong and sound high quality admirable. However for the majority of this assessment we concentrate on premium wired headphone such because the Beyerdynamic T1 and Grado RS1 – and to get the numerous sonic items, we advise you do the identical.
Listening to downloaded hi-res music on the Kann Alpha is really a pleasure. Though we favor the FiiO M15’s barely bigger display screen and extra intuitive interface, in terms of sound, the Astell & Kern participant is a transparent winner.
All through Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms (a DSD64 file) we’re struck by the Alpha’s expansive presentation and spectacular low-end capabilities. The intro of Cash For Nothing builds to a crescendo and, as Mark Knopfler’s electrical guitar is available in, we word simply how a lot vitality and jubilance the Kann Alpha can ship.
The Alpha is as meticulous and trustworthy as it’s zealous, although. Daft Punk’s Lose Your self To Dance (a 24-bit/88.2kHz FLAC file) celebrates Pharrell’s textured vocal via a glowing and correct treble, however by no means to the detriment of the monitor’s closely processed “come on” backing vocal, which comes via with uncommon readability, musicality and accuracy. It’s joined by different vocal samples, a few of that are misplaced in lesser gamers, to ship a layered and extremely competent efficiency.
Devices in Miles Davis’ Variety Of Blue (24-bit/192kHz FLAC) are three-dimensional and textured. Occasional cracks within the trumpet alongside the sprightly saxophone in our left ear throughout So What are dutifully laid naked. The FiiO M15 can’t deal with these tough and detailed musical passages with the identical masterful hand. To hearken to downloaded hi-res music on the Kann Alpha is to faucet your ft and benefit from the rhythm.
We hearken to a dwell recording of Eagles’ Resort California (a 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC file) and the readability and house across the strings, even with an excitable crowd within the background, is adept to the purpose that we are able to virtually bodily place ourselves on the gig. It’s not the subtlest-sounding Astell & Kern participant we’ve examined – it is going to expose flaws in lossier recordings – however in instances corresponding to these, music lovers would possibly simply half with the Alpha’s important asking charge for such a sense.
Basically, gamers such because the Astell & Kern Kann Alpha should ship hi-res music in a transportable design – and it delivers this in spades. It’s a highly effective and proficient machine. Regardless of stumbling barely over the mixing of music streaming companies, we can’t fault its sonic chops. The battery will outlast a road-trip, the facility dealing with is wonderful, and the fashionable, rock-solid construct is (nearly) sufficiently small to take with you in your travels – once we’re allowed to do this correctly as soon as extra.
Learn our information to the best portable music players
Learn our Astell & Kern Kann Cube review
Learn our FiiO M15 review