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 24 responses by georgehifi

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   
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).

Cheers George
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
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
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  
Just rejecting your preposterous statement that all R2R dacs are inherently better
Didn’t say "all" sunshine, I said the better hi-end ones, now your generalizing, with that "preposterous statement".

For those interested in what the better hi-end ones are that are R2R Multibit here is a list, it’s about a year old now, there are even more now and even better ones to add to it.
Trinity Dac
Ypsilon Cdt-100
MSB Platinum
Total Dac
Audial (Peja Rodgic)
AMR top dac and cdp (Thorsten Loschec)
CH precision

This is the reason why R2R is better, Delta Sigma can only give you a facsimile of PCM, where R2R Multibit is bit perfect.

MoJo Music quote:

" When a PCM (redbook) file is played on a dsd, sacd or Bit Stream converter, the DAC chip has to convert the PCM to DSD in real time. This is one of the major reasons people claim DSD sounds better than PCM, when in fact, it is just that the chip in most modern single-bit delta sigma DACs do a poor job of decoding PCM.

Cheers George
Can’t comprehend the Queens English either sunshine, there’s no hope for you!.
Then maybe there is, after you answered this. Now you just need an R2R dac to get the best from PCM that you prefer so much.

n_brio OP12 posts08-14-2019 7:19pmrossb -> do you use upsampling to dsd?

rossb80 posts08-14-2019 8:17pmNo, I prefer PCM.

Don’t know abraxalito, got that list from someone else they sent me, didn’t bother to check all of them.

Also can say all the MSB’s are R2R Multibit save for the very first 1999-2000 LinkDac models that used bit stream Delta Sigma PCM1738-32’s then went discrete R2R in 2003 with the Platinum LinkPlus and never looked back at Delta Sigma again.

Cheers George

This can also be added to that list of R2R Mutibit dacs the Audio Mirror Tubadour III
It's getting raved about and uses the Analog Devices R2R Multibit AD1865N-K flagship DAC chip And is can do DSD if you feel the need to.
It's said to be "the best and most analog and musical sounding DAC "chips" ever made."I have heard this chip in other units it's very good like the PCM1704 in a Linn CD12 I have, but the new breed of discrete R2R sound even better, from makers like MSB I have, TotalDac ect ect ect. They bring life back to music, instead of being a bit of a yawn like the DS chips do.

Cheers George   
Yeah, ok🤦‍♂️
TotalDac measures so lousy you might as well say it’s broke.

Really!! You should hear how broke it is, in my friends system here, he’s the editor of SoundStage. It sounds magnificent.
Cheers George
I can try the Denafrips

As for the Deafrips, when I mentioned the "better hi-end R2R dacs" as the ones that will convert PCM better than DS based chips, it was the the Denafrips Terminator I was referring to.
And also from Asia the Holo Spring level 2 or level 3 are also very good, especially in NOS (none over-sampling) mode

Cheers George
Another external DAC I am interested in is the Denafrips Terminator. I am looking forward to someone doing a comparison with the Lumin X1.

Just a review on the Holo, it’s good, so are the bench tests, with questions on the NOS mode, which I thought sounded the best on the Alexia 2 and Gryphon Antillion, so big and open and effortless, with no rolling off at the extremities or any dynamic compression.

Cheers George

DCS Ring dac converters are also similar to the newer top level stuff from Burr Brown and Analog Devices, being hybrid, which are part R2R and part DS, (Delta Sigma, 1bit, Single Bit, ESS, Bitstream) or whatever other pseudo names DS has.

Burr Brown/ Texas Instruments, Analog Devices now are doing "hybrids" with their better d/a converters, 4 or so bits of R2R and the rest DS. This makes them more expensive to make than DS but said to sound better, yet still no where near as expensive to make as full R2R was, the reason R2R was dropped in the first place and 1 bit DS (delta sigma) took over, because it was very much cheaper to manufacturer than R2R.

But things seem to be going full circle again and R2R is being shown for what it is, bit perfect for converting PCM, where DS is just a facsimile.

And many Dac makers are now doing full R2R again in "discrete form", and the results of the good ones are better than the last of the great full R2R converter chips from AD Texas/Burr Brown ect ect

Cheers George

Just search read and educate at the way PCM is converted in the best possible way.
Cheers George
If you can take in what the recording people are saying and work it out, there's no hope, over and out. 
I used to own a "good" R2R dac. I was not amazed.

Good for you Ross, stick with vinyl it's more your speed
Just have a listen to any PCM redbook 16/44 24/96 or DXD through a "good" R2R dac and be amazed, then play the same through any Delta Sigma dac and hear what you get, it’s a yawn.

Really! this once again because you missed it, as I posted way back.

" When a PCM file is played on a native DSD single-bit converter, the single-bit DS DAC chip has to convert the PCM to DSD in real-time.
This is one of the major reasons people claim DSD sounds better than PCM, when in fact, it is just that the DS chip in most modern single-bit DACs do a poor job of decoding PCM."

Most all music we listen to is recorded to PCM.
Quote from the DSD last year.
" Try teaching DSD recording to a PCM engineer... even the best... and you’ll find roadblocks and complaints of how hard it is to record in DSD."
Despite the marketing hype, there are almost no pure DSD recordings available to consumers. This is partially because up until quite recently there was no way to edit, mix, and master DSD files. So most pure DSD recordings that are commercially available are the rare DSD recordings made from a direct-to-analog recording, or those recorded direct to DSD without any post-production. There are some new studio software packages that can edit, mix, and master in DSD, but these are quite rare in the industry, and mostly used by small boutique recording companies. Most DSD recordings are, in fact, edited, mixed, and mastered in 5-bit PCM

Here are some statements from recording engineers.

"Recording in DSD and then converting PCM is only introducing noise into the PCM signal."

" Recording in DSD for a DSD only release, get the best from DSD."
There are almost no pure DSD recordings available to consumers.

" Recording in DSD to later convert to PCM, doesn’t make any sense"

Yes some DS dac lovers here are going to get testy over this post, but there it is.

Cheers George

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"  
Sorry but it's because this is the title of this thread, and if it bugs you, you shouldn't even click on it.

  "Comparison of latest DAC chips"

Cheers George  
daledeee1 OP
The Denafrips would have been good except it is out of stock for 10 weeks.

The Denafrips Terminator and the Holo Spring Level 2 or 3 are very close, the Holo can also be switched to NOS (none upsampling) which I preferred, and it can do DSD if you ever need to listen to it.
Holo now have the "even better" May Dac

This is a good paragraph from the Stereophile review to give an insight to it’s sound.

The Schiit, Mytek, and HoloAudio are all elite, music-friendly DACs. I enjoy each in its own way, but my comparisons suggest that staunch audio objectivists—those who already favor DACs with newfangled sigma-delta chips (like the ESS ES9028Pro will undoubtedly prefer the Mytek products.

Meanwhile, old-school audio reactionaries—those who favor the purity of single-ended triode amps and the musicality of all those discontinued R-2R DACs—will find the chipless Spring a refreshingly clear and unusually natural-sounding alternative to both sigma-delta and all those discontinued and "obsolete" DAC chips.

What most separated the HoloAudio from the Schiit and Mytek DACs was the Spring’s astonishing transparency, which seemed to reach deeper into the digital quiet—especially with DSD recordings.

Cheers George
Hey Abraxilito nice find, it is for audio too and the pro side.

They are also voltage output, as you know I prefer current output dacs that I can do my own current to voltage (I/V) conversion stage on.

Cheers George