Astell & Kern is best known for its high quality portable audio players, so imagine our surprise and delight when it unveiled a USB DAC with a reasonable price tag. The A&K HC3 costs £199 / $190 / AU$299.95 – which seems like a bargain considering what it can do.
But not only is it reasonably priced, it also has a sensible name, unlike Astell & Kern’s unpronounceable audio players (A&norma SR25, anyone?). Astell & Kern, are you all right?
But we digress. The HC3 is the successor to the South Korean company’s HC2 – it’s billed as a hi-fi quality USB DAC with microphone jack, so it can be used not only for listening to music, but also for yelling at opponents while playing online gaming, or for video calls (though hopefully with less yelling). Inside is the ESS ES9219MQ DAC, which has a reputation for high-quality audio with low power consumption.
It works with all 3 or 4-pin earphones and headsets with a 3.5mm plug, as well as the in-line controller and microphone functions of 4-pin earphones and headsets. And thanks to the USB-C port, it can be connected to any modern computer or mobile device (there’s a USB-C to Lightning adapter for iOS devices). It doesn’t need an external sound card, AMP or DAC or a power supply – it draws its power from the source device, so it won’t drain the battery either.
However, it will prove to be a drain on your source device’s battery.
A&K say the rear output design minimizes noise, giving you less distortion as the digital signal is processed after passing through the dual noise shielded cable. If true, this could be a contender for our list of the best digital-to-analog converters…
These are the best portable music players
Read our Astell & Kern A&norma SR15 review
And check out our list of best DACs