Astell&Kern (re)Join the Dongle DAC Party With the New AK HC4 USB DAC

One thing that sets the new Astell&Kern AK HC4 USB DAC apart from most other dongle DACs is its dual 3.5mm and 4.4mm outputs, perfect for headphone & IEM loving ‘philes.

The 4.4mm balanced jack offers 3Vrms output while the 3.5mm unbalanced jack puts out 2Vrms.

A to D conversion comes courtesy of an AKM AK4493S DAC chip covering PCM resolutions up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256 and the company has included their user-defeatable Digital Audio Remaster (DAR) technology that purportedly improves the sound of music through an upsampling algorithm.


On the input side, the AK HC4 USB DAC ships with two cables that support USB Type-C and Lightning connections as well as UAC 2.0 and UAC 1.0 connections, the latter aimed squarely at gamers gaming.

The new Astel&Kern AK HC4 USB DAC begins shipping from authorized dealers in December 2023 for $220.

Here’s the complete press release:

Astell&Kern Expands Audio Accessory Line With The Launch of the AK HC4 USB DAC
Experience Astell&Kern’s Signature Sound Quality on a Computer, mobile or gaming device

Astell&Kern, a global leader in hi-resolution audio products and accessories, is expanding their high-resolution audio accessory line with the release of the AK HC4 USB DAC. The AK HC4 will be available for $220 at authorized Astell&Kern dealers worldwide in December 2023.

The new AK HC4 is Astell&Kern’s fourth USB DAC/Headphone amplifier designed to provide playback of high-resolution audio from your computer or mobile device. With more mobile phone manufacturers removing headphone jacks from their devices, the Astell&Kern AK HC4 USB DAC provides users the ability to get the best sound possible out of their mobile devices while using headphones and earbuds they already own.

The AK HC4 features an AKM AK4493S DAC chip which supports native playback of high-resolution audio up to DSD256 and 32bit/384kHz PCM. It is the first Astell&Kern USB DAC to incorporate an AKM DAC. AKM DACs have earned much love when featured in Astell&Kern’s digital audio players, but due to the small size of USB DACs and the challenges of amp design, it has been difficult to implement this DAC in the USB DAC Cable lineup until now. The AK4493S DAC from AKM, used in the AK HC4, is further enhanced with improved noise control, lower power design, and ultra-precise amp design technology, delivering exceptionally high-quality Hi-Fi sound.

The AK HC4 features Dual Outputs with both 3.5mm and 4.4mm connectors, allowing you to use the AK HC4 with most Hi-Fi IEMs and headphones without the need for adapters or additional cables. The 4.4mm balanced jack provides a high output of 3Vrms, maximizing the performance of sensitive headphones and IEMs, while ensuring clear channel separation and minimal noise. The 3.5mm unbalanced jack is compatible with the majority of existing IEMs and headphones, offering a sufficient output of 2Vrms to fully experience the capabilities of your headphones and IEMs.

To gain stable output power and ultra-high-quality Hi-Fi sound through the Dual Outputs, the AK HC4 introduces an exclusive AMP circuitry that supersedes the standard built-in AMPs used in most USB DAC designs.

To maintain a compact form factor of 29.5 x 64.5x 14.5mm, Astell&Kern used micro resistors and capacitor parts to achieve a small footprint without compromising performance. Carefully selected ultra-small tantalum capacitors, which are used in AK player products to create a stable system and audio performance by controlling the power fluctuations, are also included in the AK HC4 to create an optimal audio circuit design. In addition, the output and audio performance are enhanced with Astell&Kern’s unique power management technology to minimize power drain from connected devices.

Previously only found in Astell&Kern digital audio players, the HC4 is equipped with Digital Audio Remaster (DAR) technology. DAR technology is used to upsample the sample rate of the sound source being played to go beyond the limits of the source format. The high sample rate allows more refined play and offers delicate and analog-like original sound, allowing you to enjoy the richness of the original sound, hear subtle differences in the nuance of the music and provide richer sounds at a higher level. The DAR slide key on the side of the AK HC4 provides an easy way to enable the DAR function directly from the device.

While modern smartphones, tablets, and computers support UAC 2.0 connections, many gaming devices still exclusively support UAC 1.0 connections. The AK HC4 ensures compatibility with any source by supporting both UAC 2.0 and UAC 1.0 connections for cross-platform quality sound experiences. Now gamers can connect the AK HC4 to their favorite gaming devices such as a PlayStation® or Nintendo Switch™ to enjoy low latency and enhanced, audiophile sound for an immersive gaming experience.

To ensure compatibility with both Android and iOS devices without the need for additional adapters, the AK HC4 includes two interchangeable cables that support USB Type-C and Lightning connections. The cables are dual shielded cables to minimize noise and deliver a more vivid, original sound. The copper core wire is coated with tin to prevent corrosion and strengthen tensile force for enhanced durability. The cable is then wrapped in an aluminum film to block noise with an extra layer of shielding around the power cable to further minimize noise, the biggest issue in audio. The tin-coated copper wire is then woven to further minimize noise interference. Finished with a fabric jacket on top of the TPE jacket, the cable features enhanced durability and usability with perfect aesthetic appeal.

While small in size, the AK HC4 inherits the same design philosophy found throughout Astell&Kern’s product lines – Light and Shadow, through simple, yet delicate design elements. The AK HC4 adopts a unibody structure, creating a smooth and clean appearance to the device. The front edge line is designed to be symmetrical left and right so that the line is gathered in the center, creating a balanced look that naturally focuses the gaze to the center of the device. The side of the AK HC4 features concave lines, making it easy and comfortable to use in a form naturally tailored to be held in your hand. The keys on the side are either lifted at both ends or divided into dot embossed details, allowing the user to easily control function without looking, just by touch of the fingertips.

A LED indicator on the front of the AK HC4 displays song details and USB Audio Class (UAC) status.

The AK HC4 is certified Roon Tested.

The Astell&Kern AK HC4 USB DAC will be available for $220 at authorized Astell&Kern dealers worldwide in December 2023.

Company Website: Astel&Kern