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. 
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Showing 16 responses by daledeee1

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. 
Thanks George.  Lots to absorb. 

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.. 
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.

I ordered a Topping D70 so we shall see...
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?!!
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.
I looked back at Denafrips and the Ares is 768 USD.  I forgot to convert to USD previously.  If the Topping doesn't work out, I can try the Denafrips.  Backordered 8-10 weeks. 
It seems the ESS and AKM chips are meeting somewhere in the middle.  The ESS chips were maligned for glaring, too analytical, etc.  The AKM had a darker sometimes murky sound.  Reviews I see say both of them have solved the criticisms.  I know this can be a debate but I can only go by what I read since I can't A/B them.  The new AK4499 is supposed to be more open and has "slam"  I will find out by Friday.  The Topping is kind of heavy so the power supply should help??  Not an EE.
Think about it.  This is 2020.  Since all of these are computer chip based regardless of R2R, hybrid or DS.  Shouldn't we able to get it right?  It is starting to sound like a tube vs SS argument.  I just read a review of an owner who had a Denafrips Term and a D90 and liked both of them.  "Why can't we all just get along"  Bill Clinton.  Me being rather frugal AKA "not rich"  I would go with the d90, which I did.
Yes, George.  I started the thread.  The comment I made referred to discussions getting personal.  I don't understand that I guess.  I asked for differences between the two brands of chips.  It is ok that we talk about R2R also. I have learned much in the last couple months about DACs.  I bought the D90 for numerous reasons:  in stock, good reviews, cost vs benefit.  The Denafrips would have been good except it is out of stock for 10 weeks.  Most of the DAC mentioned, which I am sure are good, are simply not in my budget. Thanks for the help on me understanding this topic.  Not as simple as a turntable, receiver and speakers. 
From what I read, the new AK chip addresses the laid back, dark, murky(whatever people call it)  It is more dynamic and open. 
Thank you kot.  My D90 is arriving today.  Have you tried the different filters? 
I got the D90 hooked up.  I already had good sound stage.  This thing just adds more.  No drifting of image, more air with wall to wall sound. and at times(depending on recording) I felt like I was in a holographic sphere of sound.  I opened my eyes to make sure where the speaker sits.  Everything just sounds rich and beautiful. 

When I got it I could not get it to turn on.  The manual is a rough translation and could use some work.  It will not power up unless there are interconnects with signal going through them.  Also, the instructions are backwards for the voltage setting. 

So far, everything I have done to my system has been a step up.  The next step would be very expensive and I will sit right here for awhile.  Famous last words. 
Hi charan11. 

I have listened to the D90 about 4 hours so far. This is the first stand alone DAC I have ever owned. 

I don't want to down play the Node 2I.  I think it is a pretty good item considering it cost me $420, 

I bought a $30 coax and plugged in the Topping into the Schiit Aegir power amp. Right out of the box it sounded better. There is a way to bypass the preamp but for now I am running it at full volume. I haven't spent much time evaluating the 6 filter settings. It has a better, wider, taller sound stage with accuracy and clarity.  Differences in placement of percussion is easily recognized.  Good tight bass, wonderful piano and vocals which I think are difficult to get right.  Bass guitar string vibrations I have never heard before.

I am kind of rusty on all this audio stuff since I just replaced my whole system in the last few months.  Oh how times have changed.  I have a kind of old school speaker set up.  Big Bob Crites boxes with horn mid and tweeter with a couple powered sub woofers There is no evidence of speaker anywhere in the listening experience.

There are several other brands to look at, most cost more.  From what I have been reading and am experiencing, value and performance is pretty high with the D90. 

Apos Audio is excellent to deal with.  I got my piece from Hong Kong is 7 calendar days.  They price matched, kept me updated, helped me with operator error, added a year warranty and have 30 day return.  They don't sell a wide variety of stuff but are good to deal with.