Astell & Kern KANN Cube Review

Power is an aphrodisiac for many, which is why I think many individuals who identify as headphone-centric will fall for Astell & Kern's largish KANN Cube high-output portable. With a reported May 2019 launch date, an MSRP of $1,499 USD, the new Cube will be available in Astell & Kern dealers worldwide in June 2019.

While there’s no denying the appeal of a five-pin Mini-XLR connector for jacking into your home system, dual SS ES9038PRO SABRE eight-Channel DACs in dual-mono configuration, a quad-core CPU, Femto Clock, full MQA-decoder (supporting both downloaded MQA audio files and the TIDAL app, allowing users to stream high resolution audio via TIDAL Masters), 128GB of internal memory (plus up to 2TB of additional storage space via microSD slot), 32-bit/384 PCM and native DSD256 playback, aptX HD Bluetooth support up to 24-bit/48kHz … nothing quite compares to 12Vrms of output power via Balanced and 6Vrms via Unbalanced to really get the heart pounding (almost doubling the output from the previous version).

The new Cube also features a huge five-inch 720x1280 HD touch screen and like the rest of the A&K portable high-resolution lineup sports styling chops that most other manufacturers wish they had. The new beautifully sculpted, bulletproof aluminum body invites lasting glances and hosts key features of OpenApp Support: music streaming services such as TIDAl, Qobuz, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music Pandora, SoundCloud, SiriusXM, Tune-In and myTuner. A&K say with its 7,400mA battery that Cube owners can expect music playback for roughly nine hours on a single charge. With both ‘fast-charge’ support and USB-C data-transfer speeds, the company says users can “fully charge the Cube in half the time as standard chargers.”

So, the specs are impressive and while I’m more a fan of smaller portable players, (I have to touch on the size of this portable again) the Cube feels really good in the hand, begging to be held and not put away in a pocket (the chunky knurled volume dial wants you to spin it) and if A&K needed to bulk up the body to handle everything new that the Cube is capable of (longer-lasting battery, more powerful amplifier, bigger screen, etc.) then that’s the price one pays for taking sound this insightful and powerful on-the-go.

So, speaking of sound, right out of the box the Cube grabbed me with noticeable oomph over the SR15 I had directly on hand for comparison – less so was the Cube’s edge over the SE100 I also have here (no surprise given the specs), but there, along with that oomph, there was also a more spacious sound stage in not only the X and Y-axis, but in the Z-axis as well.

I used the Cube with several headphones I had around in the short time I was able to spend with it, but regardless of whether I was listening to the Audeze LCD-4z, the Sennheiser HD820 and original 800, the Quad ERA-1, Beats Solo 3 Wireless or the Audeze iSINE20 in-ear planars, the Cube drove all of them with an ease I’ve not often experienced in portable playback – particularly with the 820 and 800. Everything sounded bigger for lack of a more erudite description through the Cube in comparison to the SR15. The bubble of perceived space surrounding my head was muscled farther out with the Cube than the SR15 by a wide margin, that and the perceived control of the midbass on down into the notes amongst the lower octaves had me nodding my head in appreciation of what the A&K engineers had achieved with this new model.

Like quiet backgrounds even at volume? The Cube crushes the blacks allowing for more low-level detail retrieval from recordings than I expected for a playback device with this much gain. Again, A&K obviously thought out this design thoroughly and didn’t just shoehorn in a bigger amp to satisfy power users who favour hungry headphones. They examined the entire circuit path and built out accordingly. Because I’m on a Mac, I used the Android File Transfer application (free download) to transfer files to the Cube, which works like a champ and is fuss-free.

Spending time with the Cube makes one realize the level of flexibility it offers owners. While it was initially easy for me to experience the Cube as a portable player, in today’s networked home it fits in as media server too. Hooking it up to the KEF LSX Wireless Speaker System I have at home was a snap, with the Cube seeing the LSX immediately. Playback through the two-channel wireless KEFs was less warm or analog-sounding than through wi-fi with Roon, but that’s a direct reflection of the Cube’s accuracy to source and its pull-no-punches playback ethos. This is a device of incredible resolution to its sonic signature; there’s no sweetening to the sound happening with the Cube. What you hear is what’s on the recording, great or not-so-great.

With headphone playback the Cube treated multiple musical genres with the same steady, resolute hand. Differences in sound translated through as differences in transducers – the underlying accuracy to source always came through – the personality of whatever headphone you were using was allowed to prevail. Whether it was classical, rap, electronic, folk or funk – one never sensed a predilection for one type of music in the Cube. The sound was always fully fleshed-out, palpable, imbued with life and big dynamic swings never seemed to run out of steam. With a great big sound stage, transparency, drive and a spacious top end than never seemed finite and a bass response that always felt impactful with genuine percussive slam, the Cube took on all comers I could throw at it without ever breaking a sweat. For those looking for a portable device that can serve as an absolutely outstanding wired/wireless headphone amplifier and DAC, music server/streamer for two-channel home use – be it five-pin XLR or wireless – the Cube offers an exhausting array of features, options and flexibility that I think few could find fault with, particularly at the $1,499 USD price point.

Specifications

  • Color: Wolf Gray
  • Material: Aluminum
  • Dimensions: 3.45”(87.75mm)(W) x 5.51”(140mm)(H) x 1.24”(31.5mm)(D)
  • Weight: about 17.8oz(502g)
  • Display: 5-inch 720 x 1280 touch display
  • Support Audio: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF
  • Sample Rate – PCM : 8kHz ~ 384kHz (8/16/24/32bits per Sample)
/ DSD Native: DSD64(1bit 2.8MHz), Stereo / DSD128(1bit 5.6MHz) / DSD256(1bit 11.2MHz)
  • Output Level: High (BAL 12Vrms | UNBAL 6Vrms), Mid(BAL 8Vrms |UNBAL 4Vrms), Low(BAL 4Vrms | UNBAL 2Vrms) | 5pin XLR(4Vrms)
  • CPU: Quad-core
  • DAC: ESS9039PRO SABRE 8channel DAC x2 (Dual DAC)
  • Decoding: 32bit / 384kHz Bit to Bit playback
  • Output: PHONES (3.5mm) /Optical Out(3.5mm) / Balanced Out (2.5mm, only 4-pole supported) / mini 5pin XLR
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz)
  • Bluetooth: V4.1 (A2DP, AVRCP, aptXTM HD)
  • Play Time: about 8 hours (TBD)
  • Memory: 128GB[NAND], microSD x1 [max 512GB] (up to 2TB supported)
  • Battery: 7,800mAh 3.8V Li-Polymer

Press Release below

Tokyo, Japan - Astell&Kern, a global leader in portable high-resolution audio players, launches the KANN CUBE, the second model in the KANN performance line, April 25 at the 2019 Tokyo Fujiya Avic Spring Headphone Festival held in Tokyo, Japan.  

The KANN series of portable high-resolution audio players is equipped with a more powerful, built-in headphone amplifier, which provides high power output that allows KANN players to drive any headphone without the need for a separate amplifier.  Users can select between low, mid and high gain modes to provide the precise power required to drive your particular headphones.  Power output on KANN CUBE is almost twice the output via balanced connection than the previous generation KANN (12Vrms vs. 7Vrms).  

Although KANN CUBE has a much higher power output than previous Astell&Kern models, the player features a new amplifier design that produces a low noise floor, delivering the best sound close to the original studio sound, without distortion. KANN CUBE features two (2) 8-channel ESS Sabre ES9038PRO DACs in a dual-mono configuration, providing a wider soundstage and better stereo separation. The ES9038PRO, which is used in high end studio and home pro audio equipment, delivers the ultimate in spaciousness and massive sound scale.  

For connection to 2-channel home systems, KANN CUBE features a 5-pin Mini XLR connector.  With the latest quad-core processor, the user playback experience is fluid throughout navigating menu options and playing back your favorite music tracks.  KANN CUBE features 128GB internal memory and a microSD card slot for additional storage.  With a 7,400mA battery, KANN CUBE can play back music for about 9 hours on a single charge.  With USB-C and fast charge support, users can fully charge KANN CUBE in half the time as standard chargers.  KANN CUBE supports up to 32-bit/384 kHz PCM and DSD256 playback natively and features a 5-inch high definition screen.   

KANN CUBE supports MQA (subject to final testing and certification), and with a full decoder built in, can unfold all the way to the original resolution of the file. MQA playback is supported both via downloaded MQA audio files and through the Tidal app, allowing users to stream high resolution audio via Tidal Masters.  

Astell&Kern’s latest user interface and support for Open App service is included in KANN CUBE, which adds Android APK support, allowing users to install additional music streaming services to their player by simply copying and installing the corresponding APK file for the music service they wish to add.  Services supported include Amazon Music, Spotify, Tidal, SoundCloud, Qobuz, SiriusXM, Tune-In, myTuner, Bandcamp and Deezer (supported streaming services varies by country).  Offline content for supported apps can be stored in either internal or external player memory so you can listen to your favorite music streaming service tracks on the go.      

KANN CUBE features a high-strength aluminum body, with a rectangular surface. This design provides an intuitive interface and added aesthetic stability. KANN CUBE will be released at the end of May 2019 for $1,499 and will be available in Astell&Kern dealers worldwide in June 2019.  

COMPANY INFO
Astell & Kern
18-gil 5, Bangbaero, Seocho-Gu, Seoul, Korea, 06664

COMMENTS
philipjohnwright's picture

If so perfection!

Rafe Arnott's picture
"Offline content for supported apps can be stored in either internal or external player memory so you can listen to your favorite music streaming service tracks on the go."
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