Review: Astell&Kern KANN MAX and AK UW100

Maximum Performance

Astell&Kern unleashes the latest DAP with maximum output and 32-bit true-wireless earbuds for audiophiles


Astell&Kern has released its fourth KANN series digital audio player, which focuses on high output to drive most of the power-hungry headphones. The new KANN MAX is smaller, lighter, and more powerful compared to the previous KANN models. Keeping the player small while delivering more output is a challenge, which is why Astell&Kern re-designed the internal components so that there is no compromise to sound quality.

The KANN MAX provides four selectable output gain levels with the highest output increased from 12 Vrms (on the KANN Alpha) to 15 Vrms. This means the KANN MAX can even have headphones with high impedance which was previously only possible with home amplifiers. The power supply for DAC, volume, and amplifier components are divided so that the power supply is more stable and at the same time eliminates noise.

To ensure the audio is faithful to the source, the KANN MAX implements four ES9038Q2M DAC, with one DAC allocated to one audio channel. It also supports bit-to-bit playback up to 32-bit, in 768kHz and native DSD512. The player transmits wireless 24-bit LDAC and aptX HD via Bluetooth 5.0, supports Wi-Fi, and can install popular music streaming apps like TIDAL, Spotify, Apple Music, KKBox, and more.

Astell&Kern also recently launched their first-ever true wireless earbuds, the AK UW100. Featuring an iconic prismatic design, the AK UW100 transmits wireless audio over Bluetooth 5.2 in aptX Adaptive codec and provides four levels of Ambient mode. It does not come with ANC, but the passive noise isolation is good enough to remove ambient noise. The AK UW100 employs a separate dedicated AK4332 32-bit high-performance DAC, working in tandem with Astell&Kern’s proprietary AMP technology.

The five EQ presets sound very well-tuned and bring out the various frequency ranges without sounding too over-processed. The “Default” sound provides a laid-back V-shaped tuning with a soft midrange and thin treble and not much air. Switching to “Bass emphasis mode”, the lows instantly pop up and sound more prominent without overflowing. In “High emphasis mode”, the mid-treble dynamic range is elevated from the default mode to bring it forward. With the “Vocal emphasis mode”, the upper midrange to low treble is elevated while the upper treble is recessed to offer a rounded sound that is less harsh.

Last but not least, the “Game mode” tuning is more flat-neutral, the overall sound is more forward, and details are more forthcoming, especially the midrange. The spatial imaging is also wider, so the instruments sound less congested. The overall sound is snappy, not sluggish, and enough to pick up good musical details amidst the intense energy. This mode is almost similar to the “High emphasis mode” but the Game mode has a little more bass and midrange.

Of course, to bring out the full potential of the KANN MAX, you should connect a pair of quality headphones in 3.5mm unbalanced, 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced cables. The tracks sound more subtly spatial, instruments enjoy greater separation and clarity, and upper frequencies are brilliant without sounding not harsh. Indeed, the powerful amplifier ensures every single piece of digital information is transformed into musical nuances with great finesse. When you start getting goosebumps listening to the reference tracks, you know there is something exceptional with the KANN MAX and the UW100.

Rating: 4.5
We say: Get the KANN MAX and the UW100 to do justice to your collection of audio files.

S$1,999 (KANN MAX)
S$399 (AK UW100)

Technical Specifications

Kann Max
Display 4.1-inch 720 x 1280 touch screen
CPU Quad-core
DAC ESS ES9038Q2M x4 (Quad-DAC)
Decoding Support up to 32-bit/768kHz Bit-to-Bit Playback
Input USB Type-C input (for charging & PC & MAC)
Outputs Unbalanced Out (3.5mm), Optical Out (3.5mm); Balanced Out (2.5mm, only 4-pole supported | 4.4m, only 5-pole supported)
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz)
Bluetooth V5.0 (A2DP, AVRCP, Qualcomm aptX HD, LDAC)
Storage 64GB (Internal), supports microSD
Dimensions 68.3 x 117 x 23.6 mm
Weight 305g

AK UW100
Driver Knowles Balanced Armature
Bluetooth V5.2 SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive
SPL 94dB (1m@1kHz)
Weight 65 g (Charging Case)