Astell&Kern offers an analog-to-digital bridge for legacy headphones
Many smartphone makers have recently turned their backs on the humble audio jack, meaning that your favorite earphones and headphones will likely need some help to get you plugged in. Luxury audio brand Astell&Kern has responded with a portable USB-C DAC.
Enclosed in zinc alloy housing that sports A&K's signature angled design, the USB-C Dual DAC Cable is designed to offer a bridge between the USB-C audio output of smartphones like Samsung's Galaxy S21 (as well as modern tablets, laptops and desktop computers) and traditional earphones/headphones rocking a 3.5-mm jack, while also giving the output sound quality a boost too.
Inside the main part of the device are two Cirrus Logic CS43198 MasterHiFi digital-to-analog converters (DAC) supporting native DSD256 playback as well as 32-bit/384-kHz PCM audio files. These DACs work with an independent analog amplifier designed to deliver vibrant, warm, distortion-free sound, and the circuit makes use of the same exclusive capacitors found in A&K's digital audio players for the promise of performance stability and "best-in-class audio performance."
The main body has a 3.5-mm jack at one end, which can accept 3-pole and 4-pole plugs, while the other end runs to a shielded silver-plated copper cable that ends in a USB-C connector. The portable DAC is reckoned capable of driving high-impedance headphones, so you can swap your earphones for audiophile cans when you get home, and the whole shebang is about the same size as a pack of gum and tips the scales at just 25 g (0.8 oz) – so it shouldn't prove too much of an inconvenience to carry around.
There are a couple of potential negatives here though. The USB-C Dual DAC Cable is not compatible with iPhones and iPads at this time (since they limit power available via the USB-C port, and therefore can't provide enough juice for the dual-DACs), though it will work with most Android, Windows and macOS devices. And it draws power from the USB-C port it's plugged into, and doesn't have its own battery, so you might want to keep an eye on host device charge level.
The A&K portable DAC goes on sale from May for US$149.