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Astell&Kern AK10 smartphone DAC review (TONEAudio)

  • Fresh from their success with standalone AK100 and AK120 digital audio players, iRiver’s sub-brand Astell&Kern want to “Hifi Your Smartphone”. The AK10 is a dongle DAC and headphone-amplifier with onboard transport controls and jog-wheel volume control*. Unless you want to chance your arm with Apple’s Camera Connection kit, the AK10 is best suited to the latest crop of iPhones (5 and 5s): the AK10 connects directly to the Lightning port using the supplied cable.


    Some Samsung phones will also work IF they support ‘on the go’ (OTG) USB audio. Specifically: Samsung Galaxy S3 & S4 and Samsung Note2 & Note3. Bringing a USB OTG cable ($10 from eBay) to a Samsung Galaxy S3 allowed the AK10 to funnel audio into a pair of V-Moda M-100 with terrific results…until I slapped on Cyanogenmod, which doesn’t appear to support USB audio. The Android OS remains a bit of a lottery in this respect. To confirm AK10 compatibility with your Android phone I’d recommend contacting the guys at Astell&Kern directly. Click “Global Network” on their home page for your nearest contact.


    Sadly, the Google Nexus 5 running 4.4 KitKat doesn’t register the AK10 or any other USB DAC.

    I put the AK10 through its paces for issue 59 of TONEAudio (.pdf, 29Mb). Head on over to page 130 to read my findings.

    Further information: Astell&Kern | Addicted To Audio

    *Transport controls and volume control are iPhone-only.

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. John, when you write that ‘Support
      for a 30-pin connector is apparently coming soon’, does that mean that the AK10 will draw a digital stream direct from an iPod Classic, say, bypassing the iPod’s internals as it will do with an iPhone 5 or 5S?

      • I think the 30-pin support is only intended for iPhones but I’m not 100%. You’ll need to contact A&K directly for an answer.

        • Thank you. It’s a very, very tempting little gizmo; I love the idea of the familiar and reliable iPod/Phone OS combined with the Wolfson.
          Still, in light of the faint praise the AK100 received from Jamie Lendino in PC Mag, I want to be super-convinced that this will offer a significant step-up in SQ.
          Perhaps this is one to throw to She Who Must Be Obeyed as a potential birthday pressie…

    2. Further to my last comment, this is the response I got from iRiver:
      “Currently, it is compatible with the iPod 5th gen. due to the limited lightning cable.
      We are preparing 30pin lightning cable for iPod classic and 4th gen now, so please wait a bit more until the cable is available in the market.”

    3. I use my AK10 with my iPhone 5 when I’m out and about for several reasons: 1. I don’t want to use my other large DAC/Amps for short journeys because of the bulk. 2. I am not going to use my larger headphones and together with the ambient noise around me, the unit is sufficient. 3. The use of the Apple lightning adapter as an alternative is oh-so-cumbersome. 4. It’s small and has 11 hours battery life. 5. It is an affordable way to have a taste of the A&K sound without spending an inordinate amount of money. Granted it is a niche product but it ticks all the right boxes for me.

    4. So if I want to send a fully digital signal to my receiver, is there an output on this unit that would allow that? Or is there a better option for strictly home use? Also would it be compatible with the newer ipads that sport the lightening plug?

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