January usually starts off for audiophiles with the consumer electronic show in Vegas (CES), but the press inbox this week had even more delightful treats to behold. Astell and Kern, predominantly know for their portable digital audio players has expanded their reach into portable headphone amplifiers in 1st quarter with the release of two new amps and a third generation USB-C DAC cable.
The two new headphone amplifiers includes one “carriable” amp/player called the ACRO CA1000T and one mobile phone-sized “portable” amplifier called the PA10. Both of course are “portable” in the since that they can be easily moved from one place to the other, but the intent is clearly that the CA1000T is for desktops and workstations – perhaps both back-and-forth – and the other to give your mobile a slight boost in performance for your favorite headphones.
For the ACRO CA1000T the fun bits include a tube mode utilizing “two portable-friendly dual-triode KORG Nutubes” and even a hybrid mode to “combine the advantages of retro analog sensibility and high-resolution output.” The ins and outs are plentiful with two sizes of unbalanced jacks, and even two sizes for balanced connections (2.5mm and 4.4mm). Inputs boast a 4.4mm balanced, coaxial and optical digital, USB, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Along with AK’s history of high end digital playback, the player includes a ES9039MPRO in dual configuration for the decoding and DSD and MQA capabilities. Audiophile favorite Roon support will be added in a future update.
The AK PA10 headphone amplifier new shiny thing is the fact that it is a class A design with low power consumption. Surprisingly, it also includes both balanced and unbalanced connections in the analog domain. AK claims 12 hours of continuous playback, high gain, low floor and a crossfeed feature.
USB dongles really made a splash into the market a few years ago, appealing to a market that was hungry for clean, powerful amplification and a respectable DAC for their mobile devices and computers. While that search has evolved a little over time, much of the hard work came from delivering on that promise and getting compatibility to work seamlessly across the board. The latest from AK includes a heavy dollop of both worlds, and features a two ESS ES9219MQ DACs along with DSD and MQA compatibility. Low latency in the system promises good capably for gaming applications and the HC3 is also certified Roon tested. Control and microphone passthrough is also added into the overall package.
The ACRO CA1000T will retail for $2,299. Preorders beginning on Friday, January 20 with a release date of Monday, February 13, 2023. The HC3 USC-C Dual DAC Cable retails for $229 US starting February 13, pre-orders January 20 and the AK PA10 costs $599 US with a release date of Monday, February 13, 2023.
More info: Astell and Kern