AKM makes the best DACs

OK, before you flame a reply to my heading please read this section.

It is a terrible idea to judge a DAC based on the chip.  I don't think consumer's should ever do that. I think there is a lot that goes into a good external DAC unit and the converter chip is just one of many factors that go into the final sound.

Having said that, it turns out I tend to like the sound of DACs with AKM chips over most others.  A long time ago I would have said the same about Burr Brown.

For converters which use an all in one chip what is the brand you find yourfself more likely to like the sound of vs. not?


Agree with AKM, but have heard or read the newer Sabre DAC chips like the 9028 and 9038 are much different now than before. Have owned a number of DACs with Sabre and didn't like any of them. As for Burr Brown never really cared for those either seemed a bit dark and dull to me. Wolfsons would be my second choice… I think.

I hope you don't want a new DAC from AKM since their factory burned down last year.

Replaced my Benchmark Dac3 w/the VMV D2 since a bit b4 last Thanksgiving. No regrets, but still haven’t tried the I2S connection. Looking at the Gustard U18 DDC, so maybe soon. It’s a great all round performer that utilizes the AKM 4499, and fed by an Intel Nuc running Roon Roc, the usb connection is really very good already. Given its full 2months run time, it’s a flawless performer on all types of music, running thru a handful of different speakers. ProAc 1sc w/tubes could keep a fella happy for a very long time. Zu DW’s are pretty much phenomenal. Elac DFR52 throw a beautiful soundstage and image. Daedalus DA1 are like listening to a new set of speakers. ADS 880’s just oh so easy listening to a sealed box design with a 10”. Can’t really see anyone being disappointed in this unit. It’s open, spacious, musical, organic and well balanced top to bottom. Don’t know what an output stage without opamps would bring, but for me this seems like premium performance in the sub $2000, chip dac territory with the added benefit, that it’s disaggregated design can incorporate a ddc and a clocking component to push the performance level further if required. Someone here, has gotta try one of these soon. It’s fast, has slam, micro detail, flesh on bone mids and ‘bite’ but is never harsh.

Anybody wanna take a look at its ‘external clock’ settings. I only understand ‘the ‘why of about’ half of the values, several seem odd, but I’m just getting up to speed on the value of disaggregating the dac, ddc, and OXCO’s. Anyways, if there is a better AKM dac, it must really be something…

+1 @erik_squires  on AKM.

But all we see is ESS. The AKM factory is now up and running and lets hope new DACs come with their Velvet DAC chips. But yes, implementation matters.

Isolation, FPGA, great power supply, Faraday cage, custom filters, killer analog output stage from an analog legend like Jim White…then worry about the chip.  “ best “ ? submarined your own thread……..


@milpai - I have been looking for an update on the AKM factory. Your post said, " The AKM factory is now up and running," so you seem to have found an update. Could you post a link? I imagine I’m not the only one interested in that development. Thanks!


That's right. I was about to post that link when I saw your message. There is also a discussion on ASR.

I have the Wyred for sound 10th anniversary dac, and it has the ESS sabre 9038 pro chip and this is one of the most analog sounding DACS that I have had in my system, one of the reviewers put it up against his VPI turntable with a $5,000 cartridge and he says this DAC was every bit as analog sounding as his turntable and I agree.

I would recomend listening to somethiFROM, MSB, dCS, or Chord before saying the AKM is the best. I still own an SP1000 with the AKM 4497eq chip but it is bested by my Bartok, MSB discrete or Chord TT2 and Dave. 

Thanks for posting the links. They say they are "preparing to resume the shipment of samples in 2022. ... Details will be announced in January of 2022."

To me, samples means small quantities.

Then, later in the article: "As audioXpress also learned, all the above mentioned AKM chips, including the AK4462, AK4498, AK4499 and AK4336 references are no longer in production. Asahi Kasei Microdevices intends to confirm a new generation of products starting in January 2022."

That sounds like redesign work for audio manufacturers who have been using the previous generation of chips.

I bought a DAC in late 2020 that debuted back in 2010 with an AKM DAC chip. Better than anything else overall that I’ve heard. So much so that I’ve since unhesitatingly retired all thoughts of ever looking for anything that sounds better...my own, personal endgame DAC.

I must admit that I was not expecting that from an AKM chip per se, but it was a pleasant surprise.

To be clear, I was specifically asking about ...

For converters which use an all in one chip ...

Perhaps someone should start a separate thread for DACs which use only in house electronics for the converter.

I love my Bryston DAC, which uses an AKM chip, but didn't the AKM factory burn down about a year ago?

That sounds like redesign work for audio manufacturers who have been using the previous generation of chips.


Probably not for all of them. DAC's aren't like PC CPUs which constantly need new sockets for new features.  The input streams, power supplies, and outputs are fairly consistent.  AKM would be doing itself a favor by making at least some of their  updated chips with identical footprints. 

Still, given the advances in putting more CPU/DSP capabilities on a chip I'd expect them to release some with enhance the feature set, and therefore control codes.

In non FPGA DACs, I've tended to find that AKM chips sound the most natural, but most of the AKM based DACs I've listened to tend to be more expensive than those which use ESS and Burr Brown chips so the issue of anciallary components complicates things. FPGA-based DACs are a whole other category of course.

I haven't heard or owned a lot of DAC's, but have owned California Audio, Cambridge, Theta Digital, Schiit Yggy, and Cary.  Of those, the Cary DMS-700 was by far my favorite.  It uses the AKM AK4499EQ in conjunction with a FPGA chip and find it to be very analog sounding.  I have no inclination to change for a long time.

I really like the sound of my TEAC NT-505 which uses and AKM chip, so much so that I bought a second one.  However, they have been replaced in my main system by an Aqua La Voce S3 FPGA DAC.  I also have a MHDT Labs Orchid R2R DAC.  There is no "best", just different.  I have yet to hear a Sabre based DAC that I liked.

Our OP first says, "It is a terrible idea to judge a DAC based on the chip. I don’t think consumers should ever do that." And then he goes on to do exactly that. He likes, "the sound of DACs with AKM chips over most others." He hasn’t heard most others.

My DAC running a pair of ESS9038PRO chips, a massive power supply and a discrete analog section with some of the best components available competes easily with my analog system featuring a VPI TNT and an all tube phono pre. It has been said to be comparable to one of the best discrete R2R DACs available right here on this board. Many other very well regarded DACs, some running close to 5 figures, run ESS chips.

It’s hard to argue against a mythology.

Our OP first says, "It is a terrible idea to judge a DAC based on the chip. I don’t think consumers should ever do that." And then he goes on to do exactly that


Hi @melm,

What you are missing in your argument is the sequence of events.  I think it's a bad idea to go looking for DAC's with a certain chip set and relying on that to decide whether to buy it.  This is not something I've ever done or recommended.  I am not  recommending the purchase of any DAC based on the components.

I'm doing the opposite.  In thinking of the DACs I've liked or ended up purchasing I  realized that for the most part in the last 10 years or so they have been based on AKM chips.

The order here matters a great deal in the statement.


He hasn’t heard most others.


Well, I haven't heard every DAC, that's for sure.  Don't get upset I didn't say ESS.  That doesn't mean yours isn't a very fine exemplar which does better than what I've heard. 


Still an R2R/ladder dac fanatic.


To not take a off center system sound, and then add in an AKM, and say it is perfect. Or other dacs of similar nature and type.

To consider that the ladder dacs and the like get the HF and detail aspects most correct and then design or build a correctly voiced sytem around a fundamentally more correct center of sound quality.

To understand what when we add or subtract anything in our systems we have to 'carry the 1', and compensate for knowing we have an accumulation of off center parts, in their handling of the small details in the signal, where our actual human hearing and discernment --lies.

To obtain and work with multiple ladder and r2r dacs, discrete dacs of that nature to find and understand their central points....and then, like the Spanish inquisition, 'come in again', and rebuild with this more correct origin.  and finally arrive at actual destination-like points, instead of the constant circular dance of never getting there and the window/door is too small. made small by the stack of off kilter additions. (where everything becomes either too dull or too screechy, in a vary small range of change. When this happens it tells us that we are doing it wrong. even worse, is dull and screechy at the same time. Which happens alarmingly often.

Thus, to get there, we have to start with the most neutral and wide capacity source point possible, and then make the intelligent and well considered choices past that.

In my experience, that happens with ladder/R2R/discrete dacs.

To not take a off center system sound, and then add in an AKM, and say it is perfect. Or other dacs of similar nature and type.


I literally don't know what this means.

You seem to be working hard to be linear in your interpretation of words and their possible meanings.

Audio uses engineering to sculpt it's scientific explorations of it's core intent: the exploration of more.

Exploration of science is by necessity and reality, philosophical in nature and type. As philosophy is the parent and origin of science ...and we can't get bigger than and explore science - without philosophy.

Ergo, philosophy is core and endemic to audio.

So, I made what i thought was a reasonable warning to be careful about technologies as absolutism.

which, you did not do. you stated your experience tended to center around a certain view or point. Nothing wrong with that in my book.

but... let's take it one step further back and explore again.

What we find when we look at the market, is that there is a strong tendency to find the peak of the market, in accuracy and correctness, in digital, centers around ladder and/or R2R and/or discrete dacs. (they being different names for the same type of DAC)

The problem with ESS is that for some reason it is the brand of DAC chip that's been latched on to by any DAC maker who can afford the $95 or so for the best of their chips.  Also, they make lesser lines of chips, some others of which carry the 9038 number.  They also make less expensive chips that carry the ESS name and they continue to sell 9028 chips.  Less expensive ESS chips are used in AudioQuest Dragonflys, for example.

So a whole bunch of relatively inexpensive, and some poorly made, DACs can advertise that they have the same chip as the $10,000 Weiss DAC.  The unsuspecting, believing it is all in the chip are incented to buy.  So there are a lot of poor examples of DACs out there using ESS chips.  Could be that the "average" DAC using an ESS chip is not a very good performer. 

I'd venture to say, though, that given three generations and three decades of development there has likely been more R & D into ESS chips than any other.

Don't get upset I didn't say ESS.

Oh come on @erik_squires , the DAC he has been pushing has the ESS 😄

There are many great-ladder dac chips -R2R out there to even consider any AKM chips 

not 1 upper dac maker use them ,buy a Topping if that’s your thing.

I know very little about DAC chips - ask me how to make one, or explain the design  differnces between them, and you will get a blank stare from me. And likely the same response from most others.

OP said he noticed his DAC purchases unintentionally favored AKM. Similarly, I have not based purchases on which chip is used. I have/had gear with BurrBrown (like that very much), AKM (like that very much too), ESS (didnt like), and Cirrus (didn't like). Did these chips effect the sound of any particular piece of gear... how could I possibly know, because DACs are built around the chip, so there is no A-B testing with multiple chips in the same unit - except maybe DIY. Haven't had the pleasure of trying ladder or FPGA DACs.

I have a question about DACs that use multiple stereo-capable (2-independent channels) DAC chips = 4-channels of DAC (sometimes more). How are the 4+ ch used in a 2-ch device? Are they running parallel, then averaged? Or are they run parallel then errors eliminated? Does each handle a specific frequency range? Are they double-processing in series? How are 4+ ch best used to decode 2-ch of audio?

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Hi @mwatsme 

These are some pretty cool designs.  I've seen up to 8 channels on a single DAC chip, and all of them run in parallel.  The answer is all channels get the same input and the output is averaged. I think I've even seen them run in differential mode.  That is, 4 channels do + and 4 do -

In all cases the idea is that any manufacturing errors get averaged out. If you not only run in parallel but also differential you get even a better chance of reducing errors due to manufacturing.


Hi @Carlsbad,

Field Programmable Gate Arrays are really cool, but because they are uniquely programmable by each manufacturer we can't really make any general comments about them. Is there a particular brand which uses them you like?


It is true that some of us are giving exposure to a very small and not very well known designer/producer who has provided amazing results at a good price.  By now, though, it is the newer users, including former sceptics, who are providing the favorable descriptions.

That being said, I have no dog in this fight regarding chips.  I agree with the OP (I think) that this whole chip thing is way overblown and the selection of the chip, whether conventional Sigma-Delta or R2R (whether chip or discrete) or FPGA (which is just  a chip after all) makes very little difference.  That's been shown in our thread and others, and in other places.   If we keep our eyes open we'll find great DACs made with all of these.  Because in the main, great DACs are made with great power supplies, great clocking devices and great analog stages.

To say “The Best” is such a hard title to try to hold, after all it’s all subjective to opinion, individual setups, etc.

Having said that, the discrete R2R ladder dacs coming out of Denafrips & Holo Audio are extremely impressive, and as it stands I’m in the Denafrips camp for the foreseeable. 

AKM all day ! I picked up a Gustard dac A18 when released which uses the 4499 and will be hanging on to it. feel in love with AKM through my last two Marantz pre/pro's which the latest 8805 caused me to drop plans to get an Oppo 205 but 203 and sold the 105, been happy with the sound  for for a few years but have a few upgrades coming to see if that stands.

@Audioman 58. There are many great-ladder dac chips -R2R out there to even consider any AKM chips not 1 upper dac maker use them ,buy a Topping if that’s your thing.


I suppose Esoteric (pre Mastersound Discrete Dac) doesn't count as an "upper dac maker"...

My current DAC uses an older AKM chip, it's pretty good for an older device.
I am waiting to be able to purchase a newer DAC from an Australian supplier based upon the AK4499EQ when it becomes available again. I am confident though, that AKM as per usual have been revising the chipset, and probably have a new one soon to be released. Perhaps I will hold off a few months??!

Important Notice < [link to AKM website]

We are preparing to resume the shipment of samples in 2022.
Sample shipments have previously been impacted by the fire that occurred in October 2020 at our semiconductor plant in Miyazaki, Japan.
Details will be announced in January of 2022.

I upgraded to a Topping D70s from an airist audio r2r. And I was simply astonished at the improvement in tonality, stage, depth, separation, clarity, air (all the typical buzzwords, etc). Not really comparable, very different topology associated with the D70s, but it still sounds “r2r” in many ways (Not just my opinion). This one uses two AKMs -one per channel- not a single chip, so maybe not in the category you wanted here. But -as everyone here probably agrees - so much of the cool stuff is in the output stage in combination with the chip output. The reason I got it was for its excellent reviews, good price, and great digital input variety (was looking for I2S to be included). At this point, I can’t imagine upgrading with very much improvement until getting into a Denafrips Pontus II or something else in that offering (or higher).

When I meant to talk about single chip DAC's I meant units using mass produced IC's which are sold to multiple vendors, so even if a unit uses 2 x stereo DAC chips it still qualifies.

Discrete R2R, or a ring DAC really don't except as comparison points.

Melm, following Esoterics models used AK chips: D02, D05, D07, K01, K03, K05, K07, SA50.

The list is old, but here is the link


Personally I think that this is a silly discussion, if you are trying to compare architecture of dacs (R2R, Sigma-delta or Fpga) and bring some conlusions out of it, yet alone trying to conclude something on bases which model of chip is in some dac.

Is there anybody who can know which chip is inside the dac, or which architecture is used, when simply listening something and not knowing that before?

I strongly doubt.

I have had R2R player (Burmester 001)with BB, Fpga player (DCS Puccini with clock) Sigma Delta based player (Metronome Le player 2s)with AK and 'hybrid' (chip that uses R2R and sigma delta) with BB in Burmester 089 and I liked them all, but in the context of the system they were in.

Needless to say, there are so many ways to 'screw up' something, when building the system, type of chip really should not be the first thing to worry about


When you say, "if you are trying to compare architecture of dacs (R2R, Sigma-delta or Fpga) and bring some conclusions out of it, yet alone trying to conclude something on bases which model of chip is in some dac." you seem to miss the point completely, or at least my point.

The "architecture" of any DAC has less to do with the chip (whether it be S-D or R2R or FPGA) or discrete R2R and more to do with power supply, clocks and analog section. That’s how one can begin to judge a DAC, yes, even before listening. Doesn’t anyone ever look inside one of these? Perhaps I’ve spent too much time over at head-fi.😊

Using the Esoteric D07-X as an example, some may think it’s a good DAC because it costs about $5000. But Japanese made DACs are priced (or overpriced) like US or European DACs. If you look inside the DAC it has a single relatively inexpensive, and unshielded, r-core transformer supplying both digital and analog functions, a single clock and, as far as I can tell from on-line descriptions, OP amps controlling the analog section.

That doesn’t spell high quality in my dictionary--no matter what the chip is. The chip, given something respectable, is not all that important. IMO it has been made important by marketing. It is what they want us looking for, along with a fancy case--rather than the stuff on the inside that really costs and really matters.


TBH, I was very much interested in the DAC you and sns were discussing (go and check my posts on that thread). But when there was a communication issue on the manufacturer side that some one reported, you guys pounced on such posters, acted as mediators and tried to resolve the issue. To me that raised a red flag. The product must be good - but the manufacturer is responsible for communication and getting issues resolved. The users discussing that components should not diss people reporting the issue. I also see that you both constantly punch against US and Japanese components - for their prices. Yes Japanese and US components cost more because labor in these countries is not cheap unlike the place where your favorite DAC is made. It brings more doubt to my mind. I will keep it at that, to be civil and not take it further.

Because in the main, great DACs are made with great power supplies, great clocking devices and great analog stages.

This is partially true. The final sound of a component is tuned by the designer and his ear. Copy-paste is not a great idea for building great components. Great components would definitely lead to great measurements - no doubt. But it would not necessarily mean an emotionally stirring sound. But I get it - like some one mentioned in the thread above - it is the user's opinion. Great details and separation means thrilling to one person, while sounding sterile and lifeless to another. Each person picks their poison.

Melm, I believe that we have ’noise’ in our communication.

My post was an answer to your question to another member yoyoyaya, where he questioned audioman’s remark that AK does not belong to ’upper market’ and than mentioned Esoteric as one of the ’upper market’ brands with many models using AK dacs.

Also, one can search old posts here and find Alex Peychev thoughts on Esoteric dacs and AK chips ,which he used or modified with great succes, in some of his models.

After that I have simply said that this discussion is kind of pointless, imho, because, as I have said, there are many good sounding different dacs or players with different types of chips or technology (architecture or call it as you may like)

Personally, I have no particular preference, owned different types and models and just trying to keep an open mind/ear about it

Op has clearly said that claim from the title is just something based on his taste and limited experience, so again, do not see any point for further, or heated, discussion

To be clear, I’m not actually asking anyone to make a value judgement about a specific piece of gear based on the internals. I want to go the other way.

I want to ask you, dear readers and listeners, what has your _experience_ been when evaluating DAC’s ? What have you generally experienced?

We can argue all we want to about how to judge gear, but we cannot invalidate listener's experiences.

@milpai You have made some unwarranted comments in regard to myself.

I in fact stated in that thread a desire for more comparative reviews of 005 dac. I also stated I was seeking less favorable perspectives on particular aspects of said dac performance.

And I constantly punch against US and Japanese equipment, wow! I happen to own Audio Technica tt, Jelco tonearm, Denon cartridge. As for US equipment, I own Klipschorns, Modwright phono stage, BPT power conditioner, Cardas cabling, Merlin speakers, Conrad Johnson amp, Harman Kardon tt,  many NOS tubes, Coincident Statement pre and 845 SET, Canadian, ok not US, but close enough, ok.  I happen to own one piece of Chinese equipment, certainly many internal parts of virtually all my equipment Chinese sourced.


My comments in regard to Chinese equipment have been solely limited to either business models or cost of labor. I am not a fan boy of any particular manufacturer, country of origin or topologies for that matter. Subjectivist of the highest order!


Please be accurate when making certain claims against people.



Recently switch from an older DAC using ESS 9018 chip to a more recent one using AKM 4493.  I am happy with the result though the change is not huge, it does seem more pleasant.