This awesome hi-res audio player shows why the iPod had to die

This awesome hi-res audio player shows why the iPod had to die

Quash that nostalgia with Astell & Kern’s new Kann Max

It’s no use crying into your cornflakes over the the death of the iPod and the fact that Apple’s last few remaining iPod touch players have already sold out. And even if your beloved old iPod classic is still going strong, it’s 2022, hi-res audio really should be on your radar.

Enter then, the Astell & Kern Kann Max, a brutalist portable hi-res music player that on paper at least leaves the poor old iPod for dust. And that’s not all: the Max is actually the fourth update to A&K’s Kann lineup and packs even more oomph (15V RMS) from its smaller, lighter design than its predecessor, the Kann Alpha. 

That extra power means that the Kann Max boasts the ability to drive high-impedance headphones without needing a separate headphone amp – these need a bit more voltage to get their volume up to solid listening levels, and include some of the best headphones on the market. The Kann Max offers jacks for 2.5mm, 3.5mm and 4.4mm wired headphones, each of them coated in gold PVD to minimise contact noise.

Those three ports alone mean the A&K player can offer quite a bit more flexibility than the 2019 iPod touch (7th-generation) even though that was the last portable Apple device to feature a 3.5mm headphone plug (the last jack-friendly iPhone models, the iPhone 6S and iPhone SE were discontinued in 2018) as well as Apple’s ubiquitous Lightning port.

The Astell & Kern Kann Max is also the first Kann player to boast four built-in ES9038Q2M DAC (digital-to-analogue converter) units. One DAC is dedicated to each of the four individual amplification channels, which the company says will give your music collection more depth and realism, and combined with A&K’s amplifier circuit technology, should also ensure ultra-low distortion. 

In terms of your ever-growing hi-res audio collection, the Kann Max has got you covered too, supporting files of up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM and native DSD512. 

Other not-seen-on-iPod features include A&K’s Replay Gain functionality, which automatically adjusts volume playback from sound sources up to 24-bit/192 kHz, so even though the Kann Max’s glorious clicky rotary volume dial should be a joy to play with, you should not feel the need to use it when listening to your favorite playlist. 

Astell & Kern’s proprietary Teraton Alpha Sound Solution is also naturally on board, a feature which claims to remove power noise while providing efficient power consumption and amplification, all in a bid to deliver audio at a quality close to the original.

Analysis: you may still have love for the iPod, but these features and hi-res file support are impossible to ignore…

All things considered, it’s time to move on from the iPod. It was the right time to let it go. You see, you can also connect the Kann Max to your smartphone using its BT Sink function, for playing tracks at their highest quality and, naturally, Bluetooth 5.0 is built-in with support for 24-bit aptX HD and LDAC codecs – aka the kind of file support you simply won’t find on your iPod.

There is also Wi-Fi for connecting straight to the internet and, as anyone who’s ever tried it knows, once you get the hang of AK File Drop, it does make it infinitely easier to transfer files wirelessly – ideal for sharing tracks between your devices. 

One slightly disappointing number on the spec sheet is the Kann Max’s 13-hour battery life. This is a little less than the 14.5 offered by the Alpha, and significantly less that the 40 hours offered by the last iPod touch (which was also good for up to eight hours of video playback). That said, given the new device’s smaller size, as well as its ability to work with virtually any power-hungry headphone you throw at it, the battery claim is forgivable. And don’t forget that the 64GB onboard memory can be expanded up to 1TB using a microSD card – a feature you won’t find on any iPod. 

The Astell & Kern Kann Max will cost $1300 / £1199 (around AU$2130) and will be available from mid-June. The Apple iPod Touch 7th-generation launched in 2019 with prices starting at $199 / £199 / AU$299, but that was for the lowly 32GB model. 

Audio tech has come so far since the iPod’s heyday and although the Cupertino giant’s own Apple Music offering made the jump to hi-res music look seamless last year, its iPod output was unable to keep up. Where the iPod has fallen foul of the march of time, the Kann Max simply proves it ‘Kann’ be done…

Still not convinced? Astell & Kern will be showcasing its new player alongside two other products (a set of IEMs in collaboration with dedicated headphone specialist, Campfire Audio, plus a dual DAC headphone cable) at High End Munich, from May 18-20, if you’re at a loose end. 

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