This is already the third digital audio player offered by iRiver Ltd. under the Astell & Kern brand in the Astell & Kern KANN Series, namely the new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA. Like its two brothers, it is designed to guarantee nothing less than near-perfect reproduction, with an output so powerful that it can drive almost any headphone with ease. In addition, a 4.4 mm balanced output is available here for the first time.
The brand Astell & Kern has for years been one of the most renowned brands when it comes to so-called digital audio players, or simply DAP for short. It must be clearly stated that Astell & Kern, as a brand of iRiver Ltd., was a pioneer in this field many years ago and addressed a comparatively broad range of customers. In recent years, however, Astell & Kern has developed into a supplier that is increasingly dedicated to the proven premium segment, i.e. on the one hand, it is aimed at particularly demanding consumers who are also prepared to dig a little deeper into their pockets.
This is demonstrated, for example, by the Astell & Kern KANN model series, which the company founded in 2017 with the presentation of the DAP Astell & Kern KANN of the same name. In 2019 the Astell & Kern KANN CUBE followed and now the third player of the Astell & Kern KANN Series is in the starting blocks, namely the new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA.
As with all solutions of the Astell & Kern KANN Series, the new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA is intended to be a prime example of a portable hi-res player of the premium class, which guarantees an almost perfect music experience anytime and anywhere, according to the promise of the Korean specialist iRiver Ltd. Once again, the company is relying on equipment that is considered state-of-the-art, but pays particular attention to the output stage. All Astell & Kern KANN DAP systems are to have a particularly powerful output stage in order to be able to operate any type of headphones. The new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA is a true “power house” in this respect, and for the first time it also has a 4.4 mm 4-pin connector for the symmetrical integration of appropriately equipped headphones.
The new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA relies on a quad-core CPU to guarantee sufficient performance, although no further details are given as to which processor is actually involved. It is certain that this 64 GByte NAND memory is available, whereby a microSD card slot is available for the actual audio data, which supports storage media with up to 1 TByte.
Of course, Google Android is used here, although the user is completely unaware of this, as the user interface is once again a user interface developed by iRiver Ltd. The central control element is thus a 4 inch touchscreen display with a resolution of 720 x 1,280 Bldpoints, and a rotary encoder is available on the side. The encoder has LED lighting with different colours to indicate the type of audio data being played and its resolution, e.g. red for 16 bit, green for 24 bit, blue for 32 bit and finally violet for DSD.
The new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA is equipped with WiFi, namely with a module according to IEEE 802.11n. This allows direct access to various streaming services such as TIDAL, which the developers have released as an app. It is also possible to access your own content on the network via UPnP.
The new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA can be connected to a PC or Mac via USB-C, so that it can either be loaded with data or used as an external D/A converter. Of course the battery is also charged in this way, but more about this in the following.
Of course, a Bluetooth 5.0 module is also available on the new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA, whereby this comes from the specialist Qualcomm and thus supports LDAC in addition to SBC, AAC, aptX and aptX HD. While aptX allows signal transmission in “CD quality” and aptX data with up to 24 bits and 48 kHz, LDAC allows up to 24 bits and 96 kHz, which is justifiably called wireless hi-res signal transmission. In addition, Bluetooth 5.0 guarantees a much more stable signal transmission with lower resource consumption and thus longer battery life.
Signal processing in the new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA is carried out using high-quality D/A converters of the type ESS ES9068AS in a so-called dual DAC configuration. This allows data in Linear PCM format with up to 32 bits and 384 kHz, and also data in DSD with up to DSD256 native processing.
In particular, the manufacturer will address the subject of MQA in the new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA and will state that MQA 8x hardware rendering is used here. If Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA is used in conjunction with the Astell & Kern CD ripper MKII, MQA CDs can also be played back.
Of course, the new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA also offers the possibility of intervening in the signal conversion or its sound characteristics via the filters. With Linear Phase Fast Roll-off, Minimum Phase Slow Roll-off and Hybrid Fast Roll-Off, three options are available here.
As already mentioned, Astell & Kern also prides itself on offering a particularly powerful output stage in the new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA, so that any headphones can be operated under ideal conditions without any problems. The fact that the new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA offers an unbalanced output and a balanced 2.5 mm connection in addition to a conventional 3.5 mm stereo mini jack socket is not the big innovation, nor is the 4.4 mm 4-pin connection now available as a further balanced option. According to the manufacturer, the really outstanding feature is that the balanced connection options of the new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA are a completely balanced circuit design, whereby the output used in each case is completely separated from the others by means of a relay. This is intended to achieve an absolutely perfect separation of the left and right channels, as well as an almost noise-free reproduction.
The new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA provides up to 12 V rms at the balanced output and 6 V rms at the unbalanced output. While this corresponds to the performance data offered by the Astell & Kern KANN CUBE, the new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA is significantly slimmer and has a longer battery life.
After all, the manufacturer promises up to 14.5 hours playtime for the new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA. The 5,600 mAh 3.8 V lithium-polymer battery of the new DAP is fully charged again after about three and a half hours.
The new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA measures 68.3 mm in width, 117 mm in height, and 25 mm in depth, thus weighing only 316 g. This is made possible by an aluminium housing which is cut from the full block by laser.
Finally, it should be mentioned that the new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA is designed to provide particularly high-quality connections, for example the NDICS Pentaconn 4.4 mm connector is gold-plated using a special process, the company refers to this as the Gold PVD Coating Method, which is intended to provide significantly more robust results than conventional electroplating processes.
The new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA once again presents itself in the so-called Onyx Black, a colour scheme that further enhances the futuristic cool design of the new DAP from iRiver Ltd. The manufacturer states that the new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA will be available shortly. The price is stated at US$ 1.100,-.
Getting to the point
As with all solutions in the Astell & Kern KANN Series, the new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA is intended to be a prime example of a premium class portable hi-res player that guarantees an almost perfect music experience anytime, anywhere, according to the promise of the Korean specialist iRiver Ltd. Once again, the company is relying on equipment that is described as state-of-the-art, but pays particular attention to the output stage. All Astell & Kern KANN DAP systems are to have a particularly powerful output stage in order to be able to operate any type of headphones. The new Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA is a true “power house” in this respect, and for the first time it also has a 4.4 mm 4-pin connector for the symmetrical integration of appropriately equipped headphones.