Not sure whether you want a USB-C, Lightning or wireless DAC? This one's all three

Astell & Kern HB1 DAC with two cables on white background
(Image credit: Astell & Kern)

It's a tough one: you want to upgrade your phone's sound with one of the best portable DACs going, but you're still on an iPhone with a Lightning connector and your plan's not due for an upgrade for a little while – so Apple's newest USB-C toting iPhone 15 is a possibility, rather than a certainty. 

That's OK. Astell & Kern's brutalist, easily pocketable new HB1 DAC (which could even be mistaken for a high-end lighter to the uninitiated) comes with USB-C to Lightning and USB-C to USB-C cables, but if you want to connect to your device wirelessly over Bluetooth, you can do that too!

The product is the HB1, it launched today (October 19), and had we known about it sooner, it most certainly would have featured in our 3 USB-C DACs to turn your iPhone 15 into a bona fide hi-res music player roundup (although A&K's lovely little HC3 does feature there) – and likely our mini selection of the 3 best wireless DACs to seriously upgrade music from your smartphone too. 

But I can certainly draw your attention to the AK HB1 now. It is a Bluetooth and USB Type-C DAC/Amp that's light, portable, and with a powerful built-in amplifier plus a premium microphone. 

And it's not just for your phone! You can connect it to PCs, tablets, game consoles, and more. Via wired USB, it supports Native DSD256 and 32-bit/384 kHz playback and it's equipped with a renderer function that supports MQA 8X (24-bit/384 kHz) too. 

Want to stick with Bluetooth? The AK HB1 accommodates an extensive selection of codecs to deliver smooth playback of high-resolution audio through LDAC and aptX HD codec support, as well as the more common AAC and SBC for PCs and smartphones. 

You'll still need a set of the best wired headphones ending in either a 3.5 mm unbalanced or 4.4 mm balanced jack (the wireless bit is from the DAC to your device) but this is always the case with such designs and considering the audio upgrades Astell & Kern is capable of, it's a small price to pay. 

Opinion: A&K hasn't forgotten gaming or in-car use either – and I predict a huge hit

Astell & Kern HB1 attached to a set of headphones and a Nintendo switch, on a white table

A portable gaming system for the audio connoisseur.  (Image credit: Astell & Kern)

And let's talk about leveling up your gaming experience, where IEMs and better quality audio are certainly having a moment – just see the Razer Moray or the Final VR2000 for starters.

The AK HB1 offers simultaneous Support for UAC 1.0 and UAC 2.0 for gaming. To clarify: while modern smartphones, tablets, and PCs support UAC 2.0 connections, many gaming devices still exclusively support UAC 1.0 connections (Sony PS5, I'm looking at you). The HB1 caters to both, so you could connect it to your Sony console or  Nintendo Switch, say, to enjoy low latency, enhanced sound in an immersive gaming session.

The high-quality mic should also ensure crystal-clear voice quality and stability for taking calls while working (or gaming) because it is equipped with Clear Voice Capture technology to suppress ambient noise while delivering clear vocals. 

And I haven't even touched upon the Car Mode! Activate AK HB1's dedicated Car Mode to enjoy high-quality sound at the wheel. Simply by connecting AK HB1 to your vehicle's AUX port, its power will automatically turn on/off based on your vehicle's ignition, thus allowing you to enjoy supercharged audio from your paired devices.

OK, it's a little more expensive than your standard plug'n'play DAC, at $250 / £259 / AU$489, but then it does so much more. And given its plethora of use scenarios and connectivity options, I reckon it'll be a huge hit. 

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Becky Scarrott
Audio Editor

Becky became Audio Editor at TechRadar in 2024, but joined the team in 2022 as Senior Staff Writer, focusing on all things hi-fi. Before this, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.