The maker of some of the world’s biggest high-res audio players has a way to turn your phone into a high-res machine, and it’s with a simple cable.
Most people listen to music, but even though we all typically love our sound to sound good, we don’t all typically listen to high-resolution audio. A different class of sound, hi-res audio is more about delivering the best sound quality on offer, except in a digital capacity.
Much like how many people listen to vinyl because it delivers a quality CD can’t quite replicate, high-res audio is like a digital vinyl, upping the bandwidth and quality level and retaining all the sounds that a 16-bit CD or MP3 might normally throw out. With audio often recorded in 24-bit and higher — and CD and MP3s a 16-bit medium — it means that listening to CDs, digital downloads, and streaming often gets you high quality sound, but not the highest quality sound.
High-resolution audio, as the name suggests, is high resolution, but it needs a few things so that you can actually hear sound in high-res. For starters, you need the source files, and while high-res isn’t easy to find in Australia, there are places. Then you need the headphones and/or speakers, and while those are typically a little more exy than most, they can be found, too.
Finally, you need something to play them on, and that’s where things can get a little strange. While phones and computers can play high-res files — a FLAC, an ALAC, AIFF, and other file types — they might not deliver the power a good pair of headphones demands. That’s why there are specialist media players specifically for this, but in an age of convergence, that’s harder to buy into.
So Astell & Kern, maker of some of the best high-res media players, is trying a different solution, building a cable made for phones and computers that ups the sound quality and allows you to turn those devices into a high-res players of sorts.
It’s not just a cable, even if it is just a cable, with two Cirrus Logic MasterHiFi Digital-to-Analogue Converters (CS43198), one for each channel, left and right. The tech allows the cable to bring high-res playback up to DSD256 and 32-bit 384kHz, the latter of which isn’t necessarily easy to find in audio, but does mean all those 24-bit 48kHz, 96kHz, 176kHz, and 192kHz recordings you can find from yesteryear and today are supported (including some of what’s in the Pickr Sound Test), allowing headphones to deliver the sound from other devices, not just the specially made media players typically focused on them.
In short, it means if you’re looking to dabble in high-res audio, and have the headphones to match, but not the media player, Astell & Kern’s Dual DAC Cable could make it work, you just need to bring with an Android phone with a Type C connection — which is pretty much any mid to high-end Android phone from the past four or five years — or a recent Windows or Mac.
The Type C connection is prerequisite, as it only works through that, but the cable itself is made from aramid fibre and silver-plated copper to keep the signal clean the sound solid, while the actual hardware is found inside of a zinc alloy body that comes with the Astell & Kern signature angular design, even if it’s not the cool off-centre approach of one of its media players that has the tendency to annoy folks with OCD.
One thing of note is support for iPhones and iPads, which isn’t found in the Astell & Kern USB-C Dual DAC Cable. While Apple offers Type C iPads, A&K says the cable requires more current than current iOS devices allow, so there’s no support for the Type C iPads yet — the iPad Pro and the recent iPad Air — and there’s no Lightning version for the iPhone, either.
However if you have an Android phone or tablet, or a Windows or Mac with USB Type C, the cable could just be a way of bringing the power of a high-res media player without the similar high cost. In Australia, the Astell & Kern USB-C Dual DAC cable will cost $169, available from April through specialist retailers across the country.