Astell & Kern HC4 Review

Astell & Kern HC4 Review by MajorHiFi

DAC dongles are incredibly useful for listening to HiFi audio on the go. There’s a good crop of them out there that can pair with even some very power hungry headphones. Astell & Kern is a brand known for their high-end digital audio players, but they also have a couple of DAC adapters for smartphones and laptops. They have the HC1, HC2, and HC3 that come in different prices and headphone outputs. The recently released the HC4, which is the first DAC dongle in this series to feature a detachable cable and two separate headphone outputs. Other models like this include the Questyle M15, which is one of my go-to dongles for testing headphones and IEMs. Is the HC4 good enough to potential be my new favorite?

Astell & Kern HC4 items

What You Get

  • HC4 DAC
  • Detachable USB Type C to Type C cable
  • Detachable USB Type C to Lightning cable
  • Quick Start Guide
  •  Warranty Info

Astell & Kern HC4 buttons


The edged design is a staple of almost all of Astell & Kern’s products. You get that with the HC4, bringing out the best build in their DAC dongle line. With the HC4, you get a pocket-sized chassis made from aluminum that feels super ridged and durable It’s hard to find any other DAC dongle with the same level of expert craftsmanship. Everything about its appearance is completely clean aside from a volume leveler and switch to activate DAR(Digital Audio Remaster), a setting that up-samples your sound source. The cable is detachable with USB Type C, with 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphone outputs.

Astell & Kern HC4 back


The HC4 uses an AKM AK4493S DAC chipset, hoping to achieve the high standards set by their players in terms of sound quality. With its upgraded noise-control and ultra-precise amp, the HC4 is able to perform DSD256 and  sample rates up to 32bit/384kHz. Ultra-small tantalum capacitors are used to achieve the HC4’s small form. A small LED light on the surface of the HC4 will indicate your current resolution.

  • Standby: White
  • PCM: Red
  • DSD: Blue
  • UAC1.0: Green

Astell & Kern HC4 cable

Sound Impressions

A&K dongles always have impressive sound enhancements, and on the HC4, that sound has never been more apparent. Even from budget IEMs that are only good for the price become seriously impressive. Some fifty, to a hundred dollar IEMs have the potential to sound just as good as mid-budget IEMs and even some over-ear headphones. Trying out IEMs like the Aria 2 with the HC4 totally expanded its scope, and helped peel back more layers that make specific instruments appear more distinct. That’s always been A&K flavor with their DAC adapters like the HC2 and HC3, but the HC4 goes a bit further with upgrading the scale of certain sound elements.

The reference level of detail you get from the HC4 is more suited for a pair of headphones like the Audeze MM-100, where you get a refined level of purity in the midrange frequencies that offers more depth in a realistic fashion. However, that doesn’t stop the HC4 from providing areas of color, like in the low frequencies where the HC4 is able to sustain more solidity thanks to a consistent foundation that underlines the bass with greater emphasis. Everything will always appear spaced out and balanced as it should, which is all you need from a DAC dongle like this.


Everything about the Astell & Kern HC4 represents one of the best DAC dongles you can get. Just by the way it feels in your hand, you can tell that A&K designed the HC4 up to the standards as their high-end DAPs. Using the HC4 with both headphones and IEMs enhances them with tons of power and detail. The new DAR mode is something you won’t find anywhere else either. For $220, I think the HC4 has the chance to be my new go-to DAC dongle for testing headphones and IEMs.

The Astell & Kern HC4 is available at Audio46.

Compare the ranking of various headphones, earbuds and in-ear monitors using our tools.

Discuss this, and much more, over on our forum.

MAJORHIFI may receive commissions from retail offers.
Previous articleAudeze MM-100 Review
Next articleMoondrop Aria 2 Review
Alex S. is a sound designer and voice-over artist who has worked in film, commercials, and podcasts. He loves horror movies and emo music.