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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.

The Astell&Kern (AK) USB-C Dual DAC (Digital-to-Analogue Converter) Amplifier Cable is the South Korean audio manufacturer’s first dongle-style DAC Amplifier Cable offering, designed to address the increasing omission of the 3.5 mm single-ended headphone jack by smartphone and tablet manufacturers and the use of low-performance DAC chips or even in some cases codec chips to perform the digital-to-analogue conversion of the digital device.

Better known for its line of Digital Audio Players (DAPs), the USB-C Dual DAC Amplifier Cable, according to the brand’s representatives, has been designed as an extension of its existing DAP lines.

Unboxing

Design & Build

Adopting the design concept of “light and shadow” used in all AK products, the matching design of the USB-C Dual DAC Amplifier Cable’s main unit and its USB-C connector is based on a single centre line that cuts across from the lower left to the upper right with its four angular faces adjusted to have a single meeting point, allowing each face to reflect according to the movement of light. Aesthetically pleasing, the device makes a significant visual impression.

Weighing in at just 25 g, the main unit and the USB-C connector sports the use of zinc alloy, which exhibits the build quality one would expect of an AK device. Flawlessly finished in matte Titan colour, the main unit, which measures 17 mm x 50 mm x 10.3 mm, is slim enough to provide a comfortable grip for one-handed use even when stacked with a smartphone. However, the USB-C connector, which measures 12 mm x 20 mm x 8.2 mm, is a tad bit too big and would potentially have a problem should one’s smartphone case not have a large enough cut-out.

Encased in the main unit is a six-layer 14 mm x 41 mm PCB comprising of dual CS43198 DAC chips from Cirrus Logic that featured on the A&norma SR25. Each DAC chip is paired with an independent analogue amplifier circuit that sports micro resistors and tantalum capacitors exclusively created and used on the brand’s DAP lines, designed to provide a stable operation and improved capacitance for dynamic audio performance. The 3.5 mm headphone jack provides a 2Vrms output (no-load).

Connecting the main unit and the USB-C connector is a 5 cm customised shielded cable that AK has developed for the device. Reinforced using Technora® aramid fibre, a high-performance non-conductive material that is favoured for its extreme durability. The 4-core cable is made by wrapping the silver-plated copper and copper conductors around a central member made of aramid fibre to block out external noise coupled with a separate shielding treatment to each core to minimise interference from the playback device.

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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