Comparison of latest DAC chips


I own a Bluesound Node 2i which greatly improved sound after I added the Cat 6 cable.  I do not own a separate DAC but am told it would be the next step improvement.  I have done enough reading that it appears the two latest chips are the Sabre or ESS ES9038PRO and the AK4499.  The brands I have looked at are Sabaj d5($469) and a Topping D90($699).  I saw a great review on Audiocircle of the Sabaj D5 which is now a year old.  The Topping D90 is newer and I hear the build quality of the Topping as well as customer service are both better.   Other brands cost more and most don't use these new chips. 

Is there a difference in how these chips sound?  I would appreciate any comments. 
0b757f55 e87d 4432 abc7 4a114b772fd0daledeee1
The entire system matters. Power supply, input circuits, USB isolation and output stage design all matter.

I have a Topping DX3 and quite frankly it is just OK despite being the darling of ASR. I mean there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s also not something I’d suggest you would find worth the spend. I like the Mytek a lot better and I have no idea what is in it.

Prior generations I seemed to favor Burr Brown DACs, but ages and ages ago.
I'd pay more attention to common reviewer impressions of a particular piece than the underlying chipset.

If I were deciding (and I did recently do a dac shootout, see my systems page), I'd just decide what particular characteristics I'm trying to get in my system (e.g., accuracy, clarity, tonality, holographic soundstage, dynamics, neutrality, warmth, speed, etc) and then read as many reviews/impressions as possible and see what dacs tend to elicit your keywords from listeners. 

Outside of home demos, I find that the most effective decision method.
And consistent with @erik_squires I tried one of those top measuring dacs (matrix x-sabre pro) and it was in my bottom tier.
I have tried top tier days such as Ayre QX-5 twenty, Ps Audio Directstream.  Currently using the topping d90 and I'm loving it so much so than the more expensive dacs.  
I have always hated ESS chips and products in general as I have found them to be too analytical at the high end. However I recently bought a Pure Audio Lotus 5 DAC which has an ESS Sabre 3098Pro Dac and much to my surprise it beat the pants off some highly regarded and reviewed R2R ladder DACs in my all tube system. I have also owned a Topping D50 Dac which made absolutely no difference to the sound. I believe the Pure Audio Dac can be had new online for $1499 with an upmarket power cord but I can't recall the name of the store. It is well worth that price in my OP.
Oppo sonica or RME ADI-2 DAC. The DAC from RME has a dizzying number of settings and menus as well.
+1...on the Oppo Sonica, if you can find one.  Excellent DAC.
I have a Topping DX3 Pro and a Sabaj D5.  I also have other dacs that I built. 

The Topping DX3 Pro is OK but the Sabaj D5 blows it away. The D5, seems to demonstrate the typical ESS characteristics of being very exact and clinical.  I'm not sure that is all bad but it depends on the auxiliary equipment and what you like.  I don't mind.

I have a Classe AMP2 class D amp with B&W 705 S2 speakers and if I play a "harsh" recording, that's what it sounds like. The harshness typically only comes through at high volumes but its definitely there.  When I use a Parasound A23 amp, I don't hear the harshness.

I have an AK4497 based dac and I liked it quite a bit but I expect I would like the AK4499 a bit more. 

Basically, right now, the Sabaj D5 and the Topping D90 are competing, but the Topping cost about 75% more. 

For the price, I believe the Sabaj unit is a heck of a deal and the customer service is great. Also, I have seen no reason to believe that the quality of the Topping units is better than the Sabaj units.  
Get a FPGA based dac and forget about the chips. Software can be updated much easier than replacing or upgrading chips.
-1 on any Oppo DACs. I found them all bright if not screechy. Definitely one to audition before purchasing.
I don't think the chip is that important. A lot of things around the chip affects the sound and if those part are not done correctly you won't get good sound anyway. 

At some price point the brands tend to start using special chips or technologies but that is when they have fixed everything else. Like dCS and Chord or PS Audio that uses FPGA (a programmable chip).

I heard a Kalista Dreamplay and Dreamplay Stream last weekend and they sounded great. Did not ask what chip it was but it might have been some common chip surrounded by other great parts.
The best cheaper DAC I’ve heard is the Audio-GD R2R 2 Ladder DAC in NOS mode. I can’t recommend high enough
I have a Denafrips Ares 2 R2R dac. I really enjoy the music from it. But as said earlier in this thread - Implementation of the chips is more important. How is the total pkg.? 
Does the DAC play well with your other components?
I like that the Ares 2 is a stand alone DAC

Oh, I also have a Node 2i, I use it now just as a streamer.


https://www.schiit.com/reviews/modi-1

It’s only $99 - worth every penny IMHO.

Try it out - keep it for a second system, it’s a win win. 
I was looking for an inexpensive DAC to extend the life of a Sony X303ES CD Player and the Schiit Modi 3, with its AKM 4490 DAC chip and DC-coupled output, was exactly what I was looking for. I actually like it better than the Peachtree DAC-iTx and Rega DAC-R that I briefly owned. At $99, I consider the Modi 3 a real bargain and an easy recommend.
Audio Science Review is the Julian Hirsch of DACs. They fail to do science and instead bake-in confirmation bias to everything they hear.
Yeah, I wouldn't pay much attention to ASR.
ASR recently did measurements on the Mola Mola Tambaqui and said it was  the best dac he ever tested. Bruno Putzeys chimed in on the comments as well. ASR is a source like any other.

So is the Sabaj D5 a DAC giant killer? I was going to buy the Chord Qutest as an upgrade to my Mytek Liberty.

Anyone here with first hand experience with both the Sabaj D5 and Qutest?

daledeee1
Comparison of latest DAC chips

Give me one of the now many discrete R2R Mulibit conversions circuits in dacs that a lot of hiend manufactures are now using, over any DSD chip equipped dacs.

Cheers George   
Hello check these very good dacs the orchid for the money around $800 is excellent and vacuum tube 
http://www.mhdtlab.com
Yes merosen that is the seller but I got an email from them a couple of weeks back and they had it on sale for $1499
Just a follow up the Denafrips Pontus and the mhdt Orchid and Pagoda were some of the DACs that the Lotus 5 beat hands down.
The Hans Beekhuyzen Channel "Quite often I see people seeking for the cheapest digital to analog converter using a given DAC chip. For they think that the DAC chip is the only factor influencing the sound quality. Well, they couldn’t be further from the truth…"
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MonWnHnWHTc
Thanks very much for the suggestions.  Since I never owned a DAC can anyone explain R2R, multibit, or anything else that applies.  So far the D90, Denafrips(backordered at least 8 wks) and Sabaj D5 all look good at a reasonable price.  I have a Schiit amp but don't know if a DAC from them would match the three above(at comparable price)

Also, I started out at ASR but found some threads that talked about numbers but don't even mention sound characteristics. 
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daledeee1 OP
Since I never owned a DAC can anyone explain R2R, multibit, or anything else that applies.
This is a good as simple as one could do article, that compares the two hardwares (converters) and softwares (recordings).
https://www.mojo-audio.com/blog/dsd-vs-pcm-myth-vs-truth/

Cheers George
Thanks George.  Lots to absorb. 

 I've been reading a lot about this subject online in forums such as this one and I've come to the conclusion that should have been obvious to me from the start. There are some great DAC chip manufacturers out there and there are a lot of great equipment manufacturers that use them. It always comes down to this...you have to listen to the different combinations of chips and equipment before you can make a decision. I've read a lot of reviews about the Hegel H390 and the fact that it has a great DAC. They use the AK4490 and many reviews also stated, as many of you have in this thread, that it's the electronics after the chip that makes this one shine. I now own a H390 and I've listened to the DAC. I have a Cambridge Audio Azur 650C and I hooked it up to the H390 with a coax cable. I found myself becoming restless while listening to music. On edge. I didn't think it sounded bad, but something wasn't right. I removed the coax and replaced it with the analog outputs of the 650C. The dual Wolfson WM8740 in the 650C made the music sound fuller and silkier. There was a quality to the music that is hard to explain, but I could listen to it and relax. I went back to the AK4490 setup after a few weeks to see if I would change my mind and I went right back to the analog output using the 8740's. By the way....the Hegel H390 is by far the best integrated amp, or any preamp-amp combo, I've ever owned. I highly recommend it!
ASR has some good discussions and links that explain the differences in DAC architecture. First the analog has to be converted to digital nowadays this is done almost exclusively with Delta Sigma ADCs. The goal is get the signal as true as possible this is where your numbers and measurements come in. Next comes the DAC to reverse the process. All of the differing architecture’s will accomplish this which does it with the least distortion and noise is the point of the DAC. It doesn’t matter which architecture of DAC you use as long as it can do the job accurately. Delta Sigma DAC’s are easier to implement so they are usually cheaper though not always but since you aren’t looking to buy a 5 figure DAC we’ll stick with that premise. R2R DAC’s can measure very well but they usually cost more see the above link to the Mojo DAC that runs about $5500. You can get a DS DAC that will measure just as well for about $250-$1000. The Topping D90 is a good example as well as the Sabaj. Don’t worry to much about how the DAC works just know they take a digital signal and turn into analog. The differences in the sound as was pointed out by the comparison of the Wolfson and AKM DAC’s has more to do with the type of filtering they employ. My guess is the Wolfson is using a Slow roll off hi pass filter or bypassing the internal and Cambridge used an outboard filter, AKM might have used the Sharp roll off giving different sound characteristics, the Wolfson emulating a LP sound that a lot of people find more pleasing to listen too. The best thing is listen for yourself and find what you like whether it measures good doesn’t matter if you like it.
I am using an Ayre Codex and both inputs, usb and optical. It sounds quite good to me. Aside from the connectivity limitations, is the Codex still competitive?
The Sabaj is now out of stock at Amazon so I am wondering what is going on there.  Topping seems to be more of an established brand.  The D90 looks very nice after watching youtube and reading threads.  I read the article George sent me and it is easier to understand the terms.  Thanks again to all.. 
@jc4659
The Ayre Codex has one of the most delightful output stages, especially for headphones.

Best,

E
+1 on the Schiit Modi 3. It's a hundred bucks! A great DAC to start with.
It looks like the demand or supply issues are causing shortages in items made in China.  Many brands are out of stock.  Sabaj, Topping, SMSL.

Did you try apos audio?
I really enjoy my Metrum Pavane. I feel it keeps me a warmAnalog turntable type sound.
As the US Distributor of Italy's Audio Analogue, we received their new AAdac that uses the Sabre ES9038, a chip brand that has a reputation of being analytical at the expense of musicality.

I agree 100% with the above poster who stated the whole package including power supply, analog output circuit, component quality, etc can easily change the sound of any DAC chip.

tmhaudio/Jim Ricketts
Sabre ES9038, a chip brand that has a reputation of being analytical at the expense of musicality.
Not even analytical, a good "discrete" R2R dac is even more detailed, yet it’s airier with much more musical sense and far more body to the mids, and then there’s the unmatched bounce and slam to the music they have as well.

Cheers George
I ordered a Topping D70 so we shall see...
It’s got a AKM (Delta Sigma) dac in it, said to be better than ESS, they did use to use ESS and then went to AKM.
Good for the money, but they are not hiend sound, I found them sweet polite not much "jump factor" didn’t keep me interested in what I was playing, chopping and changing albums looking for something to keep my attention

Cheers George
I think the AKM is better for my setup.  I bought it from Apos with a nice return policy and guarantee.  I think it will probably be an improvement over the Bluesound included DAC.  "not highend".  My whole system is probably not considered high end.  This is all new territory to me.  Five months ago, I didn't even know what to type to search for something that will play new technology through an old hobby.  Just last week I had a dealer tell me don't bother with a DAC you can unplug them and not know the difference.  LOL  Part of me wants to prove him wrong.  Thanks for following this George and others. 
P.S. I switched my order to a Topping D90. Another review and... What’s another couple hundred?!!
Not even analytical, a good "discrete" R2R dac is even more detailed, yet it’s airier with much more musical sense and far more body to the mids, and then there’s the unmatched bounce and slam to the music they have as well.
Sorry, but this is complete rubbish.

Some of the best dacs out there use ESS chips - Ayre, Brinkmann, Lumin, Mytek.

I've owned a "good" R2R dac - a Metrum Pavane - and the Ayre QX5, Mytek Manhattan II and Lumin X1 with their ESS chips walk all over it. And, yes, I've owned all of them.

The idea that R2R dacs have "unmatched bounce" or are more detailed is just ridiculous. The current generation of ESS chips are outstanding which is why they are used in many very high end dacs.
+1 rossb

No way do R2R DACs have more detail, analytical, measure better than Delta Sigma DACs. Some might prefer the sound of a R2R DAC for the very reason they don't have the analytical detail of Delta Sigma DACs.
The audiophile community(I know it is just my opinion) have not come to grips with the fact that the ESS9038 PRO and AK4499 have showed up in DAC that cost less than $1000 and have outstanding performance. The intent of the new AK4499 was to be used in DAC costing over $3K. We shall see. I have a Topping D90 coming. I am NOT going to spend thousands for a component. I have kept my system under control cost wise. I went to Chicago and listened to several +100K systems and came back saying my system is "close enough". It has better bass, great sound staging, is dynamic and not fatiguing to listen to. I could spend lots of money for just a little more.
The above R2R detractors, obviously have never A/B'ed their ESS delta sigma dacs (listening to PCM) compared to a good discrete R2R dac, they have no idea what they're missing.
Yes their ESS dacs will "maybe" do DSD better, but that's a maybe, But not PCM 16/44, 24/96 or DXD.

Cheers George