How does the new KANN Cube stack up to the already popular KANN from Astell and Kern's lineup? Some major upgrades make the Cube a must-have.


Riff Notes

Astell and Kern's KANN line have always been known as the workhorse of DAPs, and the new KANN Cube is no different. With almost double the power output of the original, the Cube is an upgrade in almost every single way: more screen, more processing power, more internal memory, more power output, more versatility with a 5-pin mini XLR connector, more DAC chips (with dual-DAC design), more real estate and more $$$. Ultimately, the Cube is the new Hulk on the block, capable of handling anything you throw at it with ease. A worthy purchase for future-proofing your audiophile experience on-the-go, we highly recommend the KANN Cube when it officially becomes available later this month.


KANN Cube
Coming to a theater near you:
Star Trek II - The Wrath of KANN Cube

Let me start off by saying that I absolutely love the Astell and Kern KANN. Not only is it named after one of the most infamous and greatest movie villains of all time* (kinda), but it's also a great digital audio player to boot. We've been getting a lot of questions here in the office about the new Cube that was just announced and will be released soon. What's the difference between the Cube and the original KANN? If I have the original KANN, should I upgrade to the Cube?

The Cube is the second release in the KANN lineup by Astell and Kern. The original KANN player was released a number of years ago now, but was well received due to its great sound, large storage capacity, UI, and battery life. All very important specs when considering a device at this price point ($999.99 USD), and compared to the other digital audio players from AstellnKern the KANN is a workhorse. The built-in high-performance amplifier is what really sets the product line apart.

The AK300 DAP had a separate amplifier that you could purchase and connect, giving the player a low-gain setting of 1.88 Vrms (balanced and unbalanced) and a high-gain setting of 3.85 Vrms (unbalanced) and 7.7 Vrms (balanced). When connected to a high-gain balanced output, the KANN supports 7 Vrms output. It is able to drive high-impedance headphones without an additional amplifier and reliably reproduces high-quality sound with low-impedance speakers. Similar external amps were also developed for the 380 and SP1000 players.

KANN Cube
The KANN Cube stays consistent with the usual A&K design and angles, but on a more aggressive/industrial scale.

The KANN Cube is a different music player entirely. The DAP offers 3 different power output options of High / Mid / Low, which can drive any headphone with unprecedented power never seen before in any portable device - a staggering 12 Vrms for balanced output and 6 Vrms for unbalanced output. A newly designed opamp and volume IC manages power optimally and efficiently without adding additional noise distortion. When it comes to a digital audio player with a built-in amplifier, no other product on the market comes close to matching the power of the KANN Cube; nearly doubling the power of the original KANN.

Inputs and Outputs Explained

KANN
KANN input/output

The original KANN is equipped with a line-out circuit designed to set the output values in 4 levels - depending on the user's listening preference. The selectable output function allows the user to fine-tune the sound to suit their home system, car audio, or any other listening environment. It has 2.5mm 4-pole balanced outputs (2 Vrms). The Balanced output removes noise from "signal + inverting amplifier signal" and has the power to increase output with its double transmitting signals.

When it comes to a digital audio player with a built-in amplifier, no other product on the market comes close to matching the power of the KANN Cube; nearly doubling the power of the original KANN.

The KANN Cube offers a 5-pin mini XLR connector for the first time in an Astell and Kern player. Audio playback remains pure and clear due to the even lower noise floor and higher audio output through the XLR connection. The added feature makes the CUBE a more versatile product that's compatible with your home audio or two-channel system as well thanks to the 5-pin XLR.

KANN Cube
Oh, it's pretty...

Upgrade Worthy

Processing power and storage have also been increased. The original KANN had 64GB of onboard storage and 2 SD card slots - a full-size SD slot (max 512GB capacity) and a micro SD slot (max 400GB - though this is likely because those were the largest capacity cards available on the market at the time of release). The KANN Cube is equipped with 128GB of internal storage and includes a micro SD slot capable of 1TB capacity cards. This is also likely just a limitation based on market supply and will probably support larger capacities once they become available. Considering taking over 1TB of high-resolution music with you on the go in a palm-sized device (a large palm that is) gets me giddy just thinking about it.

The processor on the KANN Cube has been upgraded to a quad-core from the original KANN's dual-core. The increased power is especially evident in the fluidity and responsiveness of the 5" HD display. Battery duration is still great, despite almost doubling the power output on the new Cube. The Cube's 7,400mA battery supports fast charging and can playback music continuously for up to 8-9 hours on a single charge. The original KANN had up to a 15-hour playback capacity / 4-hour fast charge time (6,200mA), which is superb given the size and output of the device.

KANN

KANN Cube

Some other big changes are the new ESS ES9038PRO DAC chips in the KANN Cube. Yep, plural. The Cube is the first DAP device to adopt the SABER PRO DACs in a dual DAC configuration, dedicating 8-channels for the left and 8-channels for the right side. Also, AstellnKern has launched the Open APP service, which enables you to install specific APK music streaming apps (like Spotify and Tidal) to the device. If you want to learn more about how to set this up, head over to our blog:

MOON AUDIO BLOG: ASTELL&KERN PLAYERS SUPPORT ANDROID BASED (APK) STREAMING

READ MORE HERE


*Note [Updated 11/5/19]: OpenAPP Service and APK apps will work on the following A&K Devices: (SA700 / SP2000 / KANN CUBE / SP1000 / SP1000M / SE100 / SR15)


KANN Cube

Q & A

Here are some great questions we've already received:

Q: Are there any significant differences between the Cube and Astell and Kern AK240 Blue Note DAP?
A: That is tough to answer as we have not had a 240 in a while. I know for a fact that the KANN Cube has a lot more power and better battery life. But we can't comment on the Dac section comparison. The 240 uses dual Cirrus Logic CS4398 DACs whereas the Cube has dual ES9038PRO SABER DACs. The Cube's DAC is the flagship model of the ESS PRO series and is also an 8-channel output compared to the 240's dual-channel output DAC. But again, the power output of the KANN Cube is the talking point here.
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Q: Can this function as a DAC as well via the USB port like some of the other players?
A: Not 100% sure, but likely. I don't know why they would take this feature away.
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Q: I'm interested in the new Kann. I presently have the AK120 which needs the volume knob repaired. I will send it back to A & K. However, I would like to know if I can perform a direct transfer of my music files from the 120 to the Kann using the USB ports before I send the 120 for repair?
A: You will connect both devices to your computer at the same time. Each will be seen as an external drive and then you can copy from one device to the other. But you need to use a computer to do this as you can't do a direct copy. Obviously, for Micro-SD cards, you just move this from one device to the other.


Big Improvements

Overall, it's a 'big' improvement (pun intended) over the original KANN. The screen has been increased from 4" to a 5" 720x1280 HD touch screen. The total real estate of the product has been increased: it's hefty. But considering the tech it's packing, it is still very impressive. It doesn't feel out of place or uncomfortable to hold, but it is certainly bulkier than previous A&K players and I won't be carrying it in my pants pocket anytime soon. Astell and Kern improved upon an already outstanding product by adding more processing power, more storage, more juice, more screen, and more output selection. The Cube has improved on the original KANN in almost every way.

Purchasing the external amplifier for the 380 or SP1000 will rack up an additional $500-$1000 USD anyway, so all things considered, the Cube price seems reasonable.

Of course, more tech comes at a higher price. The Cube retails for $1,499 USD - quite a substantial hike from the original KANN's $999 USD. This might be a turn off for some, but again, considering the number of improvements this thing is packing under the hood... Purchasing the external amplifier for the 380 or SP1000 will rack up an additional $500-$1000 USD anyway, so all things considered, the Cube price seems reasonable.

KANN Cube

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, the KANN lineup seems especially tailored (naturally) for audiophiles who need a lot of power to drive their headphones. Sonically, this extra oomph offers increased sound stage overall as well as low-level details in quiet environments. It's extremely versatile and the added power output really shines in harder-to-drive headphones like the Sennheiser HD 800S.

Is it big? Yes. Is it pricey? Yes (compared to the price of the original KANN). Is it worth it? Yes.

The KANN Cube is a statement piece. It says, "I am the biggest and baddest of them all." And it is. The price is justified for all the features and power. So to answer your question: If I already have the original KANN should I get the Cube?

Absolutely. The Cube is an upgrade in every sense of the word from the original. If you're like me, any good techie (audiophile or not) wants to get the most lifespan out of a new product. We live in a world where it seems like technology becomes obsolete the moment we buy it. The KANN Cube is future-proofed more than any other DAPs on the market right now. I'm confident that the Cube will be powering your headphones for many years to come.

A comparison of outputs of the KANN Cube v. KANN v. AK380+AMP


Specifications

KANN

KANN Cube

  • Color: Astro Silver, Eos Blue
  • Material: Aluminum
  • Dimensions: 2.80" (71.23mm) [W] x 4.56" (115.8mm) [H] x 1.01" (25.6mm) [D]
  • Weight: 9.83oz (278.7g)
  • Display: 4inch (480x800) touch screen 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), Stereo / DSD256 (1bit 11.2 MHz), Stereo
  • Output Level: Phone Out: Normal - UNBAL 2Vms / BAL Vrms (Condition No Load), High - UNBAL 4Vrms / BAL 7Vrms (Condition No Load)
  • Line Out: Unbalance 2Vrms / Balance 2Vrms (Condition No Load
  • CPU: Dual-core
  • DAC: AKM AK4490 x 1 (Single DAC)
  • Decoding: Support up to 32bit / 384kHz Bit to Bit Decoding
  • Output: Phone Out / Line Out: PHONES(3.5mm) / BAL Out (2.5mm, only 4-pole supported) / USB Audio: micro USB Connection / PCM: Up to 32bit 284kHz / DSD 2.8 / 5.6MHz
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz)
  • Bluetooth: V4.0 (A2DP,AVRCP) / aptX HD
  • Play Time: 15 hours (approx.)
  • Memory: 64GB[NAND], microSD x1 (Max. 400GB) / SD x1 (Max. 512GB)
  • Battery: 6,200mAh 3.7V Li-Polymer Battery

  • Color: Wolf Gray
  • Material: Aluminum
  • Dimensions: 3.45” (87.75mm)[W] x 5.51” (140mm) [H] x 1.24” (31.5mm) [D]
  • Weight: 17.8oz (502g)
  • Display: 5inch (720 x 1280) HD touch screen 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), Stereo / DSD256 (1bit 11.2MHz) Stereo
  • 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: Support up to 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: 8 hours (TBD)
  • Memory: 128GB[NAND], microSD x1 [max 512GB] (up to 2TB supported)
  • Battery: 7,800mAh 3.8V Li-Polymer Battery

The KANN Cube will be available May 31 (approx). You can check out more details on the product page HERE. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and we'll be happy to answer all your audiophile questions! Happy listening!

*Greatest movie villain of all time: Khan Noonien Singh played by the renowned actor Ricardo Montalbán.