Astell&Kern USB-C Dual DAC Cable (PEE51) pre-release review

In a world where we seemingly compromise sound quality and our audio experiences in exchange for convenience, Astell&Kern sought out to provide a solution to this issue while also continuing to provide the great attention to detail and quality that are so well-known for.

Utilising their expertise and passion to provide high-quality sound without distortion in this digital age, Astell&Kern have been able to achieve high-resolution music playback that doesn’t compromise for the sake of portability with their digital audio player lines (such as the A&norma SR25), and now as an extension of their product range the Astell&Kern USB-C Dual DAC cable.

More often than not we sacrifice high-quality sound for compressed and less optimal listening in exchange for portability and convenience.

Whether that be listening to music on our phones or even using Bluetooth headphones, the sound quality continues to be compromised.

Thus the Astell&Kern USB-C Dual DAC (PEE51) cable was born.

So with their mission in mind, is it possible to achieve high-quality and high-resolution audio even on our devices that aren’t made for that experience, using a dual DAC amplifier cable?

Let’s find out.

Pricing

AUD$169//NZD$199 and is available to pre-order, with the product officially releasing on May 17, 2021.

What’s in the box?

  • Astell&Kern Dual DAC USB-C cable (PEE51)
  • Foam housing (to hold the cable in the box)
  • Information booklets

Design

Consistent with other Astell&Kern products, the metal housing is both durable and stylish.

The design of the cable was inspired by ‘light and shadow’ a concept that is used across all their products. By creating the sharp angles and triangular shapes on the metal housing, light is reflected off the surfaces (see above).

In hand, the cable has a nice weight to it which conveys durability, while still being comfortable to hold especially with the metal-housing’s smooth matte-like finish.

The cable itself is also braided.

Features

  • USB-C input and 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Dual-DAC HiFi Audio Chipset supporting native DSD256 and 32bit/385kHz playback
  • Analogue amplifier
  • Silver-Plated Copper Shielded & Braided Cable
  • Full Metal Housing Design
  • Small Size, but Powerful Output
  • On/Off LED indicator

Together the hardware works to provide true audio playback to ensure you experience premium, high-quality audio resolution from whichever compatible device you choose.

Set up

Ready for ‘plug and play’ in most cases there should be no need for any additional steps, however, in some cases software/settings on your external device (e.g., Android devices) may need to be adjusted for the cable to function.

Setting it up with my Macbook Pro, it didn’t automatically play through the dual DAC cable, but a quick check and selection in Sound Settings and we were good to go.

The USB-C Dual DAC cable does not require seperate charging as it utilises power from the device it is connected to.

Important to note this is not compatible with wireless earphones/headphones and is intended to be used with a direct 3.5mm connection, in order to help strengthen the audio quality – quality that is often lost via Bluetooth connections and even your standard connection to your smartphone or computer devices that may not have the sound/audio cards (or high-quality ones) to guarantee premium listening.

The Astell&Kern USB-C Dual DAC Cable works with most Android smartphone devices, Android tablets, as well as computers running Windows 10 and macOS.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t support iPhones or iPads (iOS-based devices).

Day-to-day performance

The Astell&Kern USB-C Dual DAC cable is such a nifty way to get the best quality sound out of your USB-C to 3.5mm connector.

I see a huge appeal for compatible smartphone users that currently rely on USB-C to 3.5mm converters without the added benefit of the amplifier cable. Of course, in comparison the Astell&Kern Dual DAC USB-C cable is more expensive that your standard converters, however, this is not your standard converter.

When you pair this with high quality headphones and high-quality streaming services (such as Tidal, which offers high-quality, lossless streaming), you are in heaven.

Even if you do compromise on your audio listening service or platform, you’re still far better of with using the Astell&Kern USB-C Dual DAC cable than you are without it.

I tested the cable using Sony WH-1000XM3’s and Focal for Bentley Radiance headphones with my Macbook Pro and was pleasantly surprised by the difference in audio quality, when compared to using it without the dual DAC cable. (Why haven’t I been using a dual DAC cable sooner?!)

Sound quality appeared more vibrant, punchier and seemingly comes to life. Especially when testing with the Sony WH-1000XM3’s without the dual DAC cable, the sound appeared dull and lifeless, with the audio quality further decreasing when testing audio playback using Bluetooth.

The difference much more noticeable with my ‘cheap’ Sony headphones, in comparison to the Focal headphones where the audio quality difference was far less noticeable.

For this dual DAC cable, the convenience of being able to access high quality audio without the need to use an external digital audio player (such as the Astell&Kern A&Norma SR25 Portable High Resolution Audio Player) is a huge draw card, even for audio novices.

The cable itself is compact but also weighty, but in a weigh (haha) that conveys quality, durability and craftsmanship.

It doesn’t come with a carry case, which would have been a nice touch.

Bad puns aside, this dual DAC USB-C cable is a true performer and one to be appreciated by all.

I love that I can use it with a number of devices making it so versatile and definitely offers a great bang for buck when you think of it like that!

Once using the dual DAC cable, it’s hard to consider ever going back to not having it.

Final Thoughts

If you are looking for premium, high-quality audio experiences, even when you’re on the train commuting to work, going for a run, gaming, you name it, the Astell&IKern dual DAC amplifier cable has you covered.

My only wish was that it was compatible with my iPhone, so fingers crossed they make something that will be compatible with iOS devices soon!

Although the cable is a touch pricey, it is absolutely worth it and a fraction of the price in comparison to pure digital audio players that are separately purchasable and can be less convenient.

That said, this cable is not setting out to replace the digital audio players which offer immensely high-quality uncompressed sound, instead, offering another alternative for high-quality sound which is enjoyable and accessible to all.

To learn more about the Astell&Kern DAC cable go to the official Astell&Kern site.

For Australian retailers head to Busisoft AV or to pre-order head to Addicted to Audio.


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Photography of the Astell&Kern USB-C DUAL DAC CABLE by Andrea Hobbs