iPhone, Android phone, tablet or Mac users offered ultimate audio upgrade

Astell & Kern's tiny DAC promises incredible audio from almost any device

Astell&Kern AK HC3
(Image credit: Astell&Kern)

As someone who's mad about music I've tested a few hi-res audio players over the years, loved every second of it and then returned to my phone – because as incredible as the audio was, carrying a second device around wasn't very convenient. It's not like I can carry one of the best streaming DACs in my pocket. 

Wouldn't it be great, though, if your phone could be that audiophile-grade audio player, too? Well, that's what the AK HC3 delivers and it's not just for your phone. Its USB-C connector (with an included Lightning adapter) enables you to add high-grade hi-fi horsepower to pretty much any iPhone, Android phone, tablet, PC or Mac.

The AK HC3 works without requiring any kind of conversion adapter or power supply. Simply plug it in, connect your headphones and enjoy a serious audio upgrade.

Why external DACs are where it's at

Astell&Kern calls the AK HC3 a hi-fi grade USB DAC with microphone connectivity, which means it's designed to improve not just the music you listen to but the sound of your voice in calls or while gaming. It's based around the ESS ES9219MQ DAC, which offers high-quality audio and low power consumption that makes it well suited for mobile music. It'll work with any 3- or 4-pole earphones or headsets with a 3.5mm connection, and supports in-line controllers and microphones.

The promise here is less noise, lower distortion and more precise audio. That's overkill if you're using cheap earbuds, but if you want to drive a pair of the best headphones and really get the most from them then a wired external DAC should deliver vastly superior sound to anything wireless. I haven't tested this particular DAC yet but given Astell&Kern's track record in hi-res audio I'll be amazed if it doesn't sound incredible. By combining serious sound with perfect portability this could be a strong contender for the best headphone DAC crown, especially for those of us who want the best possible sound when we're out and about.

The AK HC3 is available for £199 at Astell&Kern.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com).