Astell & Kern might be best known for its high-resolution audio players, but the company is increasingly offering more affordable products aimed at the average consumer rather than the audiophile set. With mobile devices like the Moto Z and, more recently, the iPhone 7 ditching the headphone jack, the company is introducing a new combination headphone amp/DAC (digital to analog converter) that ensures your favorite wired headphones will still work with your phone.
The Astell & Kern XB10, announced on Thursday, connects via Bluetooth 4.2 and offers a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, as well as a 2.5mm jack, and acts as a middle man between your mobile device and headphones. Audio enthusiasts know that Bluetooth isn’t the best delivery mechanism for audio, a problem that the XB10 solves by using Qualcomm’s aptX HD codec, which is capable of delivering up to 24bit/48kHz sound. That’s not exactly the same quality as the company’s high-resolution audio players, but the XB10 also costs a fraction of the price of one of its lower-end players.
The XB10 combines a dedicated DAC with Astell & Kern’s AMP technology, which offers enough power to drive even power-hungry headphones. The unit also features onboard controls, including a power button, volume controls, and playback controls, offering the ability to pause and resume playback, as well as skip forward and backward. The XB10 might not be as convenient to use as an inline remote, but it does include a clip to attach it to your shirt or pants, keeping the controls within easy reach.
Astell & Kern has also handled incoming phone calls in a unique way with the XB10. When a call is received, music is automatically paused, allowing the listener to take the call using its built-in mic — meaning you never have to take off your headphones to answer a call, no matter what type of headphones you’re using.
While Astell & Kern doesn’t mention the iPhone 7 — or any other mobile device — by name, the timing of the announcement of the XB10 will likely lead to some thinking this is a perfect solution for the lack of a headphone jack on Apple’s upcoming phone. There is one issue, however — Apple hasn’t yet mentioned that aptX HD, or even plain old aptX, will be supported on the iPhone 7. Considering that no other iPhone has featured aptX support, instead opting for AAC over Bluetooth, this doesn’t seem to be a safe bet.
Most of Astell & Kern’s products cost in the thousands, and even its lower-end gear often sells for over $500, but the XB10 is comparatively affordable, selling for $190. The XB10 will go on sale this month, and will be available for purchase via the Astell & Kern website and high-end audio retailers.