Astell&Kern KANN Cube high-res digital audio player review: Astonishing performance, with a price tag to match

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Astell&Kern launched its newest digital audio player today, the KANN Cube, at the Fujiya Avic Spring Headphone Festival in Tokyo, Japan. The KANN Cube is the second model released in Astell&Kern’s acclaimed line of KANN music players. About this time last year, I reviewed the original KANN, which Astell&Kern will continue to sell. 

After spending a few weeks with the KANN Cube, I can say with confidence to anyone with an unquenchable yearning for a high-performance, feature-rich, high-res digital audio player that’s capable of driving just about any headphone, regardless of impedance level: The KANN Cube is what you’re looking for. But you’ll need deep pockets to indulge your passion: This device will cost $1,499 when it arrives at A&K dealers in June.

Astell&Kern design, through and through

Astell&Kern offers some of the most eye-catching high-res music players on the market, and the KANN Cube follows that tradition with a bold, hard, and unapologetic design. As with all Astell&Kern players, deliberate use of angles, shapes, and negative space abound. Look at the photos in detail to see what I mean.

The Kann Cube has a large, knurled volume dial. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

The KANN Cube has a large, knurled volume dial.

The player is an amalgamation of seemingly infinite shapes. Add a light source, and you can spend  hours admiring the interplay of lights and shadows against its varied surfaces.

I will note that the KANN Cube’s milled-aluminum shell sports lots of hard angles. The corners felt especially sharp. You’ll want to take care that the KANN Cube doesn’t scratch delicate surfaces—such as your skin! (I’m told retail units will come with a case, which should ameliorate the sharp edges.)

Swooping lines on the large, knurled volume knob make it look like the eye of a hurricane. The player is outfitted with a big five-inch glass screen on the front, and a glass panel on its back. The large display rendered text and other lettering big and easy to read, and I enjoyed viewing album art on it.

The Kann Cube sports Astell&Kern’s updated user interface. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

The KANN Cube sports Astell&Kern’s updated user interface.

A&K’s customized Android-based operating system has undergone a UI upgrade and it debuts on the KANN Cube. As you can see in the photo below, the volume indicator’s new visual motif is a pyramid pattern of lines that gets taller as you increase the volume (conventional digits are also displayed).

The Kann Cube’s graphical volume indicator has a triangular motif. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

The KANN Cube’s graphical volume indicator has a triangular motif.

What’s on the inside is just as beautiful

Under the hood, the KANN Cube delivers a formidable array of features and audio tech that will make even the most demanding audiophile salivate. Let’s start with its amplifier stage.

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