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.
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.
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.
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.”
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