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USB-C DAC for mobile high-res audio

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Astell&Kern manufactures some of our favorite high-resolution digital audio players, and now the company is bringing a high-end mobile digital audio converter/amplifier combo to market.

As its name indicates, the USB-C Dual DAC Cable consists of a USB-C cable that connects to a smartphone, tablet, and laptop. This is attached to a small DAC that supports high-resolution audio playback, including DSD256 and other types of digital audio streams with up to 32-bit resolution and sampling rates as high as 384kHz. A 3.5mm connector on the opposite side of the DAC is provided for a headphone connection.

There’s a pair of Cirrus Logic CS43198 MasterHIFi DACs inside, one for the left channel and one for the right in a stereo pair. Dual-DAC designs are said to reduce crosstalk between the two channels and increase stereo separation, though we’re on the fence as to whether or not the added expense delivers a proportionate increase in audio quality compared to the more-common single-DAC design.

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The USB-C Dual DAC Cable comes equipped with the same capacitors A&K employs for its high-res digital audio players. An onboard analog amplifier promises to drive high-impedance headphones with an output level of 2Vrms (Condition No Load).

The Astell&Kern USB-C Dual DAC houses a pair of Cirrus Logic CS43198 MasterHIFi digital-to-analog converters.

The DAC’s four-core cable is manufactured with aramid fiber to shield it from external noise. A&K says it wraps silver-coated copper around the cable’s center strand, with another layer of copper added in a spiral arrangement. “The addition of copper wire helps to affect a clear and rich spatial sound,” the company says, “while separate shielding treatment is applied to the cable to block distortion and digital and analog signal noise from the playback device.”

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A&K says it cannot build an equivalent device for iOS products such as the iPhone or iPad. The reason: Apple limits the amount of current that can be sent through the Lightning connectors on those devices, and it’s not enough to power a dual-DAC device such as this.

The Astell&Kern USB-C Dual DAC Cable will be priced at $149 when it goes on sale in April.

How will A&K’s new dual-DAC compare to the similar, but single-DAC Bolt DAC/AMP from Helm Audio ($99)? We’ll let you know once we evaluate a review unit.

 




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