A&K connects legacy headphones to modern audio gear with USB DAC
Many mobile devices either rock a poor quality audio jack or don't have one at all, so if you want to plug in your favorite legacy ear candy you'll need a USB DAC to bridge the gap. Luxury audio brand Astell&Kern's cable DAC has just entered its third generation.
Astell&Kern launched the first cable DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) in March 2021, which featured two Cirrus Logic hi-fi DACs and an analog amplifier, while employing the same capacitors found in the company's high-end digital audio players.
In May of this year, the PEE51 was joined by the AK HC2, which brought a 4.4-mm balanced output to the family and allowed music lovers to drive high-resolution headphones "and experience original studio-quality sounds, whether on-the-move or listening from a desktop."
The new AK HC3 cable DAC effectively replaces the first-gen model, retaining the dual-DAC format but swapping out Cirrus Logic circuitry for ESS ES9219MQ converters – highly regarded for top-quality audio delivery and low power draw, as well as bringing MQA decoding with 8x sampling.
As before, native playback of 32-bit/384-kHz PCM and DSD256 is supported. A status LED will show source format – red for PCM, blue for DSD and magenta for MQA.
Astell&Kern says that users can look forward to superior sound that's virtually noise-free thanks to the HC3 processing the digital signal after it has made its way through the dual noise-shielded cable. Total harmonic distortion is reported to be 0.0005%, intermodulation distortion is 0.0002%, output impedance is 2 ohms, and the signal-to-noise ratio is 118-dB. The frequency response is ±0.013 dB from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, and ±0.020 dB between 20 Hz and 70 kHz.
The listener can cable up to a source device over USB-C at one end and plug in 3- or 4-pole earphones/headphones via the 3.5-mm jack at the other end. Astell&Kern has also added microphone connectivity with this flavor.
The AK HC3 tips the scales at just 20 g (0.7 oz), comes with Lightning adapter for use with iOS devices, and is available now for US$190.