Astell & Kern’s New Mobile DAC: 32-bit Audio Without Compromise

If you’re set on listening to high-resolution music on your phone with high-end earbuds, you’ll need a DAC, and Astell & Kern believes it offers one of the best alternatives. The AK HC3 is the company’s third USB DAC, and it may finally have enough functions to please most consumers. Like its HC2 predecessor, it offers exceptionally high-quality 32-bit, 384kHz audio, but you can now utilise your headset’s microphone. You won’t have to pick between clear sound and phone conversations.

The AK HC3 also employs ESS’s more recent ES9219MQ twin DAC. A built-in LED even indicates if you’re utilising a high-resolution audio format. The USB-C connector is compatible with Macs, Windows PCs, Android phones, and many tablets (including latest iPads), although an iPhone Lightning converter is supplied in the package. For Android users, a special app is provided to fine-tune the output.

Astell & Kern will offer the AK HC3 for $229, with pre-orders beginning January 20th and a February 13th delivery date expected. This isn’t the highest-quality DAC available (Fiio’s Q3 can handle 768kHz), but it’s better than many mobile choices and is very portable.

If you’re more concerned with quality than size, there are two comparable new headphone amps. The Acro CA1000T is a second-generation “carriable” model that employs ESS’ latest high-end ES9039MPRO dual DAC and a triple amp system that allows you to choose between dual hoover tubes, conventional amping, and a hybrid that blends the two technologies. It will be available alongside the HC3, but at $2,299, it will only be available to wealthy audiophiles.

Meanwhile, the AK PA10 portable is Astell & Kern’s first device featuring a Class-A amplifier. For 12 hours of battery-powered usage, the option guarantees the “best” linear output and a pleasant, natural sound. It’s also not cheap, with a starting price of $599 on February 13th, but it’s worth considering if you want a blend of mobility and sheer technological strength.