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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Astell&Kern USB-C Dual DAC Amplifier Cable Review

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Goh Beng Yeow
Goh Beng Yeow, the Founder / Editor at Porta-Fi™, is a recipient of the IT Youth Award in Singapore. Twice nominated for EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, Beng Yeow has previously founded startups such as PDALive.com, Coded Pixels Consultants and was a Tech writer for TODAY, a national daily newspaper under MediaCorp. Since 2017, he has been writing, editing and producing commentaries, interviews, news and reviews on Porta-Fi™. In 2019, Beng Yeow was appointed Advisor to LHDC™, the industry's latest low latency and high-definition Bluetooth audio codec.

Usability

The USB-C Dual DAC Amplifier Cable is a passive device that draws power from the playback device with a white LED light at the front, indicating its power status. The device also does not have any physical buttons; therefore, one would have to rely on the source devices for playback and volume controls.

Designed as a plug and play device, the USB-C Dual DAC Amplifier Cable is “Roon Tested“, which means it is a USB Audio Class 2.0 device. Compatible with Android, Mac OS and Windows 10, I have had no issues using the device on my Windows 10 desktop, Windows 10 laptop, or Xperia 1 II Android smartphone during the review process, supporting up to 32 bit / 384 kHz sampling without installing any driver or application. However, if one is looking to play DSD, ensure an audio playback application that supports DSD playback for the platform is installed regardless of the platform.

During the review process, we have tested the USB Audio Player PRO on Android and foobar2000 on Windows 10, which offered DSD playback up to DSD256. Note that on Windows 10, one must install the driver for Windows provided by AK and set up the ASIO proxy for foobar2000 to interface with the ASIO driver of the USB-C Dual DAC Amplifier Cable when using foobar2000. iOS and iPadOS-based devices are currently not supported.

Unlike the South Korean audio brand’s recent DAPs, the USB-C Dual DAC Amplifier Cable lacks support for MQA, which means that one cannot playback MQA FLAC files. Similarly, Tidal HiFi subscribers would not benefit beyond the first MQA unfold from the Tidal Masters catalogue, which is MQA-encoded.

The device outputs to any earphone or headphone via its 3.5 mm single-ended jack. While earphones or headphones with a 3-pole or a 4-pole 3.5 mm plug is supported, the in-line mic function of the 4-pole 3.5 mm plug is not supported.

With the output impedance rated at 2 ohms, the USB-C Dual DAC Amplifier Cable is not too far off from the A&norma SR25, rated 10% lower at 1.8 ohms. Using the “rule of eighths” as guidance, any earphone or headphone with a sub 16 ohms impedance might exhibit some colouration, particularly high sensitivity multi Balanced Armature Driver In-Ear Monitors (IEMs).

The output power of the USB-C Dual DAC Amplifier Cable’s 3.5 mm headphone jack at 2 Vrms is essentially the same as that of the A&norma SR25. I played back Desperado by Emi Fujita across an array of IEMs and Headphones, including the Astell&Kern T5p 2nd Generation, the AZLA ZWEI, the FiiO FD5, the Sennheiser HD 560S and IE 300. Many of which I would picture myself using with the USB-C Dual DAC Amplifier Cable, all were adequately powered with no signs of being underpowered.

Part 1: Introduction, Unboxing, Design & Build
Part 2: Usability
Part 3: Sound Quality
Part 4: Product Specifications
Part 5: Review Ratings, Summary

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