Astell & Kern's wireless portable DAC promises to supercharge your on-the-go sound

Astell & Kern
(Image credit: Astell & Kern)

Astell & Kern has announced two portable products designed to spruce up your on-the-go listening: the AK HB1 DAC/amplifier and Kann Ultra music player. 

Let's start with the new HB1 which, according to the Korean manufacturer, delivers "outstanding high-resolution sound" to PCs, phones and tablets via either a wired USB-C or wireless Bluetooth connection. The DAC supports native DSD256 and 32-bit/384 kHz playback, as well as MQA playback courtesy of a renderer function.

Bluetooth codec support is pretty extensive, too. The HB1 is compatible with LDAC (Sony's high-quality codec), aptX HD, AAC and SBC. Further to connectivity, the HB1 offers both 3.5mm (unbalanced) and 4.4 mm (balanced) output connections to cater to a range of wired headphones.

Even on-the-go gamers are catered for here. Many handheld gaming devices still only offer UAC 1.0 connections, but the HB1 supports both UAC 2.0 and UAC 1.0 for cross-platform listening. Devices such as the PlayStation and Nintendo Switch, for instance, should enjoy lower latency and better audio for what A&K promises will be "an immersive gaming experience".

The AK HB1 comes with a "high-quality" microphone for clear voice calls. The DAC/amp combo comes loaded with the company's Clear Voice Capture technology which works to block out ambient noise while enhancing voice clarity.

The Astell & Kern AK HB1 is available now for £259 / $250 / AU$489.

Astell & Kern Kann Ultra portable media player lifestyle image

(Image credit: Astell & Kern)

Next up is the latest entry in the acclaimed A&K Kann line. The new Kann Ultra is Astell & Kern's most powerful portable player to date, the first to feature next-gen Octa-core processors. With new DAR technology and an upgraded internal DAC, the Kann Ultra could be set to redefine what a portable music player can do at this level.

The new portable model sports a USB-C input for charging plus 3.5mm (unbalanced and optical) and 4.4mm (balanced) outputs, and is capable of supporting up to 32-bit/768Hz file decoding. The display, meanwhile, is a 5.5-inch HD touchscreen.

What do Octa-core processors do, exactly? In essence, they aim to provide better sound with faster system speeds and a smoother, more seamless user interface. Within this newly designed player, the audio circuitry is removed from the processors themselves in order to reduce heat and noise from the processors and thus improve audio performance.

DAR (Digital Audio Remaster) technology, meanwhile, aims to deliver refined sound at higher sample rates, upsampling those rates from the source to "go beyond the limits of the format". Triple Output Mode, meanwhile, strives to boost the detail and performance of the more demanding headphones out here. 

That's not the end of A&K's engineering lesson, either. The Korean brand's Teraton Alpha tech is also on board, this time with the task of reducing unwanted noise at high power. This unique in-house technology is devised to deliver audio playback that is as close to the original sound as possible through more efficient power management, unwavering amplification and the reduction of unwanted noise. 

The Astell & Kern Kann Ultra, available in aluminium Astro Grey, is available for £1599 / $1540 / AU$2980. 


These are the best portable music players you can buy

And these are our Award-wining DACs for 2023

Read our review of the Award-winning Astell & Kern A&norma SR25 MKII

Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. He studied law and history at university before working as a freelance journalist covering TV and gaming for numerous platforms both online and in print. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or forcing himself to go long-distance running.