2023 really has been the year of the portable headphone amp and DAC combo. iFi led the charge with the five-star iFi Go Link, the excellent hip-dac 3 and the recently unveiled iDSD Diablo 2, while the FiiO KA13 and the Earfun UA100 only added competition to an increasingly busy market. They're everywhere right now.
Astell & Kern is getting in on the act as well this year. The South Korean audio manufacturer has unveiled its new HC4 DAC as the successor to the brand's HC3 model, featuring a new internal DAC chip and a host of connectivity options – to compete in this market, you need to bring out the big guns.
The headline grabber is certainly that bespoke internal DAC model (the AK44993S, if you're interested), with the HC4 the first product to be fitted with the new tech. According to the maker, this "class-leading technology" ensures "exquisite sound reproduction" thanks to its improved noise control.
What about the supported formats on offer? The A&K HC4 offers support for Native DSD256 as well as PCM files up to 32-bit/384kHz and is also equipped with digital audio remaster (DAR) technology, which upsamples the sample rates to push beyond the source format's original limits. That, combined with the introduction of Astell & Kern's updated internal circuitry, aims to deliver a more faithful, textured sound as a result.
In terms of inputs, the new portable DAC comes kitted out with a USB-C input as well as 3.5mm and 4.4mm outputs, which should cater to most headphone models comfortably. The DAC also comes with both USB-C and Lightning cables so you can be sure you're able to connect to any device, including the new iPhone 15, without a problem. You can even hook up your portable gaming device, such as a Nintendo Switch, thanks to the HC4's UAC 2.0 and UAC 1.0 connections.
Daubed in an enticingly named "Moon Silver" aluminium finish, the new Astell & Kern HC4 is available now for a price of £219 / $220 / AU$399. To put that into context with its competitors, the recently-reviewed iFi hip-dac 3 provides direct competition at £199 / $199 / AU$449. That could certainly be an exciting head-to-head...
Read our review of the rival iFi hip-dac 3 review
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