I run different setups in different rooms and each presents a flavourful sound. It would be hard to pick one.
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To my ears, I would describe the Burr Brown in my Denon as well as my Cayin as 'Chocolate'; the ESS Sabre in my Oppo like 'Vanilla'. They sound different; but is one superior to the other, I would say no. I haven't tasted the AK so cannot comment, but I suspect it would probably taste like 'Strawberry'. Now that is all I need to have a Neapolitan sound system. :)
You're quite right how it sounds in your system is the most important question. But how do you know how it sounds. Retailers in Australia carry limited stock and most are unwilling to lend out,except maybe for the stupidly named Dave and Hugo dacs, which are out of my league anyway. So I have to rely on the views of others. Those that have bought expensive dacs are, I believe, pyschologically inclined to believe their purchase was worthwhile and those that have bought cheap dacs like to think they have a bargain unless it is obviously crap. So that leaves reviewers, both the golden ear type and those inclined to believe measurements. Reviewers of both types have gone to print to say that cheaper dacs such as the Topping D50, SMSL SU8 and JDS EL DAC are excellent and that they hear or measure little difference between these and dacs costing over $1000.00. Then there are the unknown Chinese sellers with dacs sporting top of the line components at bargain prices but as has been pointed out implementation and design are key and who knows what the Chinese dacs are like. I must admit that my one experience buying from China or Hong Kong, as it was then, was positive. I bought an Audio Experience Symphonies V2R preamp from Y S Audio for around $300 and spent another $200 on mods, mainly Blackgate caps and replacing the miniwatt tubes with NOS RCA 12ax7 tubes. The guy that did the mods, a genius who custom makes amps costing megabucks, concluded that the amp was very well designed and after the mods was as good as any US or UK pre the he had heard for less than $4000. So where does this leave one? Confused I think. I'm tempted to take a chance on something like the Topping or even one from a lesser known Chinese amp builder like Weiliang or Ustars as funds are limited but then again there is the question whether I would hear a positive improvement over my 10 year old Denon Exemplar CD player. Maybe I should do nothing and be content with what I've got but that is not the way of Audio Geeks.
Truth is that the DAC chip is about the least most important question in "how good does a DAC sound?".
So many more important questions. In my opinion, who cares.
If i absolutey had to choose, cost as a factor, AK. But i would never, ever make a decision based on that, But the AK would give me a few more bucks to work on the real design.
Are you building your own DAC? If not then it comes down to how that DAC sounds in your system. You just cannot go out an buy a DAC based on the chip. I built a DAC with the Sabre chip. It will sound nothing like any other DAC with the same chip in it as my DAC has tubes and a 35lb power supply.
It's all about how the DAC was designed. Don't get hung up on the chip. You can get a poorly designed DAC w/the flavor of the month DAC chip and put it up against an older cheaper DAC chip that is properly designed and it will win every time. Companies use chips as a selling point. In a well designed DAC if you put in different chips I doubt you could tell the difference.
The “hump” is for IMD and between -20dBFS and -40dBFS. It peaks around -70dB to -75dB at -30dBFS. At -20dBFS it is at around -80dB, which makes it -100dBFS, at -30dBFS is also is around -100dBFS.
Unless my reasoning is wrong, that means it’s well below the noise floor for any room.
Implementwrion is more important (why the Benchmark using the 9018 still bests cheaper gear using the 9038), but the 9038Q2M is technically better in terms of THD, SNR, DNR; but the 4497 is more competitive, and a more apt comparison (the 4499 just came out and I’m waiting to see what products come out with that).