Dongle-style DACs are becoming more and more common, but a new gamer-friendly feature on Astell & Kern’s recently unveiled HC3 could set it apart from the crowd.
Not only does the HC3 enable higher-quality, hi-res playback from portable devices and PCs, it also has a trick up its sleeve with built-in microphone connectivity, enabling crystal-clear talkback for online gaming and increasing the fidelity of those patchy sound effects. .
The device features a pair of highly regarded quad DAC ESS ES9219MQ chips, delivering high quality sound while still managing low power consumption.
There’s support for audio files up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, native DSD256 and full MQA playback, so you can listen to Tidal’s HiFi Plus, plus a reassuringly wide frequency response of 20Hz to 70kHz.
The 3.5mm plug for earphones can be used for 3- or 4-pin connections, allowing the use of both a headset microphone and in-line controllers, while a color-coded LED light on the back of the unit indicates which type of file source is processed.
Connectivity comes via your device’s USB-C port, with a USB-C to Lightning adapter for those using the HC3 with an iOS device, but note there’s no built-in battery – the device gets its power from your source device.
The HC3 costs £199 and is available now on the Astell & Kern website.
Analysis: Mic pass-through function makes this more than a standard DAC dongle
Korean brand Astell & Kern has built a solid reputation for its high-quality and expensive digital audio players, but this hi-fi dongle marks a welcome step into more affordable territory.
It’s still a pretty hefty asking price compared to the recently announced iFi Uno, though, but that unique mic input will probably be enough to send gamers and conference callers to A&K.
We can’t wait to see how it performs, but in the meantime, find out how to up your audio game with our current list of the best portable DACs.