The initial roar of the dongle DAC a few years ago has slowed to more consistent drone in 2021. This week the company known for high fidelity digital players is releasing the Astell and Kern USB-C Dual DAC Cable in hopes of giving even more lift in the market for “better sound in small places”.
What started with the likes of AudioQuest’s Dragonfly series, quickly spread to other digital hifi manufacturers looking to get things moving with a wider range of playback sources. The persistent problem being that the connections continue to change for many in the mobile space, from Apple’s rigorous updates to the constant downsizing of USB. With many models, you can of course bring an adapter onboard – but in convenience terms it is certainly a saboteur of the streamlined implementation.
Ultimately, the use case for USB to headphone output is just at home next to a laptop as it is a phone. Headphone jacks from these portable sources (laptops specifically) are notoriously horrible, sporting some of the worst examples of fuzzy, low fidelity options-as-an-afterthought. This is the space where the Astell and Kern USB-C Dual DAC Cable could likely flourish in its most proper state. Those scanning the release notes will quickly notice, there is no support for Apple’s iPhone lighting connector directly. Android and computer are covered, and the feature set starts to stack up nicely from there.
The Astell&Kern USB DAC Cable features two Cirrus Logic CS43198 MasterHIFI™ DACs which supports native playback of high-resolution audio up to DSD256 and 32bit/384kHz PCM. The dual CS43198 DACs are paired with an independent analog amplifier, designed to provide true audio playback so you can feel the live, warm and clear sound as intended, without distortion. This is made possible based on years of Astell&Kern’s expertise in AMP design. Although it is a small and simple cable type external DAC, it is able to sufficiently drive high impedance headphones with a 2Vrms (Condition No Load) output level.Astell&Kern March Press Release
The Astell&Kern USB DAC cable features a USB-C connection, which can be found on the latest Android-based smartphones and Windows and Mac computers. Since the USB DAC Cable draws power from the playback device it is connected to, there is no need for a separate charger. The USB DAC Cable supports any headphone or earphone with a 3.5mm connector.
The cable used in the USB DAC is a custom-made, 4-core cable designed by Astell&Kern to provide the best sound possible and enhance durability. The cable is reinforced to withstand up to 200N of tensile force using aramid fiber.
The all-metal body of the USB DAC uses the design concept of “light and shadow” that is used in all Astell&Kern products. The USB DAC Cable design is based on a single centerline that boldly crosses from right to left. The faces were arranged by adjusting the angle ratio so that the sharp faces of the upper four faces meet at one point. It is designed so that each side is reflected according to the movement of light.
To make the grip comfortable for one-handed use, the surface was created to be like a pebble that has been smoothly polished by the natural weathering effect of stone, rather than featuring the sharper angles typically found in existing Astell&Kern products. This product design provides a nice, smooth feeling when holding the cable in your hand.
Dual Cirrus Logic DACs, DSD, forethought into the cable and design work to the actual body are all a tip of the hat to a satisfying hifi product. For MacBook Pro users, a perfect match for headphone listening in a cafe or library, when they are able to open up again. Small systems can see large gains in these portable scenarios where space is limited and overlapping component noise is a constant source of signal degeneration.
The Astell and Kern USB C Dual DAC Cable will become available in May of this year, with a retail price of $149 for AK authorized dealers.
More info: Astell And Kern USB-C Dual DAC Cable