Dongle-style DACs are becoming more and more common, but a new gamer-friendly feature on Astell & Kern’s newly unveiled HC3 may set it apart from the pack.
As well as allowing higher quality, hi-res playback from portable devices and PCs, the HC3 has a trick up its sleeve with microphone connectivity built in, allowing for crystal clear talkback for online gaming as well as boosting the fidelity of those fragging sound effects.
The unit boasts a pair of highly-regarded quad DAC ESS ES9219MQ chips, which deliver 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 rendering, allowing you to listen to Tidal’s HiFi Plus, plus a reassuringly wide frequency response of 20Hz to 70kHz.
The 3.5-mm plug for earphones can take 3- or 4-pole jacks, allowing headset microphone, as well as in-line controllers to be used, while a colour-coded LED light at the rear of the device displays what type of file source is being processed.
Connectivity comes via your device’s USB-C port, with a USB-C to Lightning adapter thrown in for those using the HC3 with an iOS device, but note that there's no onboard battery – the unit derives power from your source device.
The HC3 is priced at £199, and is available now on the Astell & Kern website.
Analysis: Mic pass-through feature makes this more than a run-of-the-mill DAC dongle
Korean brand Astell & Kern has built up a solid reputation for its high-end and high-priced digital audio players, but this hi-fi dongle marks a welcome move into more affordable territory.
It’s nevertheless still quite a hefty asking price when lined up against the recently announced iFi Uno, but that unique microphone input will likely be enough to send gamers and conference callers A&K’s way.
We can’t wait to see how it performs, but in the meantime, you can find out how to up your audio game with our current list of the best portable DACs.
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Kevin Lynch is a London-born, Dublin-based writer and journalist. The author of Steve Jobs: A Biographic Portrait, Kevin is a regular feature writer for a number of tech sites and the former Technology Editor for the Daily Mirror. He has also served as editor of GuinnessWorldRecords.com and has been a member of the judging panel for the BAFTA British Academy Video Game Awards. Alongside reviewing the latest AV gear, smartphones and computers, Kevin also specialises in music tech and can often be found putting the latest DAWs, MIDI controllers and guitar modellers through their paces. Born within the sound of Bow Bells, Kevin is also a lifelong West Ham fan for his troubles.