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Astell & Kern USB-C Dual DAC Cable to Drop in May: Dongle Wars Have Begun

The Astell & Kern USB-C Dual DAC Cable is the latest product to enter the Dongle DAC ring. Will it emerge as the winner or mere contender?

Astell & Kern USB-C Dual DAC Cable

It was only a matter of time before DAP manufacturer, Astell & Kern, jumped into the ring and joined the Dongle DAC Battle Royale that is currently underway. The brand new USB-C Dual DAC Cable will certainly have a huge impact in a category dominated by the AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt USB DAC/Headphone amplifier.

Astell & Kern have been the premier DAP manufacturer for almost a decade; offering state-of-the-art digital playback from a family of players that helped ignite the high-end headphone boom.

Astell & Kern USB-C Dual DAC Cable connected to MacBook

The introduction of the USB-C Dual DAC Cable signifies a major shift on their end; a realization that most consumers (99%) use their MacBook or Android-based smart phone to stream digital music. With Spotify HiFi about to launch in Q3 or Q4 2021, the timing of this product could not be any better.

Two things, however, really stand out from the press release; the super affordable price of $149 which is significantly cheaper than the DragonFly Cobalt, and the lack of compatibility with the Apple iPhone. That will certainly be a deal killer for a lot of people.

Astell & Kern USB-C Dual DAC Cable

From the Astell & Kern press release:

“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.

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. 

Astell & Kern USB-C Dual DAC Cable inside

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.”

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Astell & Kern USB-C Dual DAC Cable connected to smartphone

Price & Availability

The Astell & Kern USB-C Dual DAC Cable (model PEE51) will become available in May 2021, with a retail price of $149 from authorized dealers. Pre-order now at Crutchfield.

More info: Astell And Kern USB-C Dual DAC Cable



  1. Carl

    March 24, 2021 at 11:04 am

    will this work on the apple iphones ?

    • Ian White

      March 24, 2021 at 11:22 am

      As of right now, there doesn’t appear to be be support for the iPhone but we’ve reached out to A&K for confirmation.


    • Ian White

      March 24, 2021 at 4:42 pm


      Will work on a MacBook but Astell & Kern says the cable doesn’t support iPhones and iPads due to the dual DAC incompatibility and power restrictions of iOS devices.


  2. MadMex

    May 20, 2021 at 5:10 pm

    Love saying the word Dongle. Is my Meridian Dongle from 2014 outdated? Would anyone notice er, hear a $200 plus difference from todays new and improved Dongle’s? I’m thinking no. But what do you know?

    • Ian White

      May 20, 2021 at 5:15 pm

      I owned the Meridian Explorer? Can’t remember the name but I thought it was really good.

      I’m not sure it’s outdated unless you need MQA, DSD, or 24/192 support.

      For 99% of the population, it would be a huge improvement over anything they’ve been listening to.

      Ian White

  3. MadMex

    May 20, 2021 at 5:14 pm

    Love saying the word Dongle. Is my Meridian Explorer 1 Dongle from 2014 outdated? Would anyone notice er, hear a $200 plus difference from todays new and improved Dongle’s? I’m thinking no. But what do you know?

  4. MadMex

    September 14, 2021 at 1:35 am

    Your expertise on dongle’s is needed. I’m now using this here new Astell&Kern dac/amp, it’s so teeny tiny, on my MacBook. The A&K is plugged into a headphone amp that has no built in dac using 3.5mm. Which amp is powering my headphones? The A&K or the headphone amp with volume control? I’m hoping the headphone amp overrules the A&K by default for it’s much more better, and like 100 times larger. But I don’t know. A USB dongle dac without an amp does not yet exist. Muchos thank you’s.

    • Ian White

      September 14, 2021 at 2:01 pm

      I know the A&K Dongle DAC but which headphone amplifier?

      When you plug a Dongle DAC into an integrated amplifier, you’re using that amplifier’s headphone section when listening to headphones.

      I’m going to do some research on the A&K.


      • MadMex

        September 16, 2021 at 9:41 am

        Thanks for taking my call, as they say in the radio biz. I’m using an unorthodox 9-volt alkaline battery powered Decware Zen Head every evening while reading the dailies And Meze 99s, of course.

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