When Apple removed the headphone jack from its iPhones, it also took away the ability for music lovers to conveniently listen to music on their phones without needing an external DAC. There’s no way Apple will ever bring the headphone jack back, so for those who want to listen to music on our phones with “proper” headphones, we must buy a DAC and headphone amp.

Astell&Kern is an award-winning manufacturer of digital audio players. Today it has announced a new hi-fi grade USB DAC which also includes microphone connectivity for making phone or video calls with a wired headset.

The AK HC3 is the successor to the brand’s PEE51 DAC and looks very similar. It’s designed to provide high-fidelity sound on the go. The HC3 is built around a couple of ES9219MQ DAC chips made by ESS. The chips produce ultra-high-quality audio alongside low-power consumption.

The AK HC3 also has high-quality microphone support to unlock more entertainment and voice features, making it perfect for PC and laptop gaming, video conferencing, and watching movies or TV. The device is compatible with any 3- or 4-pole 3.5-mm jack plugs, so almost any pair of earphones and a wired headset with an in-line controller and microphone will work.

This compact DAC can connect directly with Windows PCs, Apple Macs, smartphones or tablets with a USB-C port without needing a separate conversion adapter. The AK HC3 draws its power from the connected playback device, so there’s no onboard battery or need for it to be charged.


Unlike its predecessor, the AK HC3 is also compatible with iOS devices using the included USB-C to Lightning adapter. The previous version could handle iOS devices because of power limitations.

The AK HC3 incorporates a rear-output design that reduces noise to as low a level as possible. Astell&Kern claims that the resulting audio is high-quality and virtually noise-free by processing the digital signal after it has traveled through the dual noise-shielded cable. The device can handle PCM files up to 32-bit/384kHz, Native DSD256. MQA certification is expected soon.

Pricing & Availability: The Astell&Kern AK HC3 is available now and costs $190 / £199 / €229.

More info: Astell&Kern

Tech Specs:

  • DAC: ES9219MQ x2 (Dual-DAC).
  • Bit/sample rate: PCM 32bit/384kHz, Native DSD256.
  • Output level: 2Vrms.
  • Input: USB Type-C.
  • Output: 3.5mm (CTIA standard 4-pole supported).
  • LED: Standby – White / PCM – Red / DSD – Blue.
  • Material: Aluminum.
  • Weight: 20g.
  • Frequency response: ±0.013dB (Condition: 20Hz – 20kHz).
  • Signal-to-Noise ratio: 118dB @ 1kHz.
  • THD +N: 0.0005% @ 1kHz.
  • Output impedance: 2Ω.

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