Warming up digital in my setup

Here's my setup:

Hint6 (using embedded DAC)

Kef LS 50

PSA Subwoofer (x2)

DIY Mogami 4 wire speaker wire

Source:  iPhone + Amazon Music HD + USB cable



I can't quite dial in the my digital setup with the above gear - hoping you can help.  Bright glassy is what I get, but what I want is warm, organic, depth of sound.  I'm able to achieve the latter using analog.  Is it possible with the Hint6 DAC? 


Here's some info on the DAC:

  • ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC (ES9018K2M)
  • Asynchronous USB 2.0 supports PCM up to 384kHz/32-bit
  • USB input decodes Native DSD64, DSD128, DSD256 and DoP DSD





Time for a new DAC and do a free trial of Qobuz. As for the DAC, given your issue I’d highly recommend an R2R DAC as they tend to have a less sharp/hard type of sound, and the new Gustard R26 just hit the market that looks like a very good option…


If that’s out of your price range I’d recommend taking a look at the Musician Pegasus (I own one) or Draco and the Denafrips Aries ll. BTW, what USB cable are you using and how long is it?

If you’re open to a tubed DAC that will get you even further down the warm, organic path, and in that case the MHDT Orchid is a great and very reasonably-priced option. Hope this helps, and best of luck.

I’ve had a few DACs with the ESS Sabre Chips, and while they are amazingly detailed they can also lead to glassy glare. Part of the fault has to be with the implementation, as I owned two DACs simultaneously with the same chip and the difference was huge. My Bryston DAC 3, which uses an AKM chip, manages to be detailed and offers a big soundstage and is without glare. Having said that, a lot of Analog or Die! folks are attracted to the sense of space that vinyl provides, which is actually an artifact.

Whatever floats your boat

Glare - that's a great way to describe what I'm hearing.  I'd like something that rounds off the edges :)  - even if it's an artifact.  I know this is all a bit personal choice, but I really couldn't tell a difference between sub 1k DAC (SMSL, Topping, Khadas).  In fact, the Khadas ToneBoard (v1) was the best sounding IMO.  Seems I might need to investigate $1.5k+ DACs?

USB cable is nothing special -- 15ft run - coming out from my iphone.  

I suggest looking at better speakers. If you really like the LS50, try the LS50 Meta. Much smoother on and off axis frequency response. In the same ballpark price-wise is the Ascend Acoustics Sierra-LX. Also measures quite nicely.


I see that distortion rises quite significantly with the LS50 (orig and Meta) when outputting high SPLs (~96 dB), so keep that in mind if you're really cranking up the volume.

Also look at the Border Patrol DAC. Very warm sounding and reasonably priced. 

My first thought it's your source. I haven't used an Iphone but USB isn't Apple's first choice of output and the USB cable length could also be a problem if you're trying to sit on the couch while listening.  I'm sure you don't want to hear this but it could also be a bad speaker / amplifier match.

I'm also an Amazon Music HD user and it sounds OK but not good Qobuz.  Saying that a lot of the music I enjoy just isn't on Qobuz so I dropped them.

+1 Soix regarding the MHDT Orchid.  It only outputs 16 bit but will accept 192/24 bit.  It was never a problem "sound wise" for me.

Re: Speakers - If I move to anything else, it will be the LS60 and ditch the Hint6 all together.  Parasound & KEF are a great match IMO.  Plus, I really don't want to mess around too much with speakers / amp because I'm finally getting what I want to hear out of my analog setup.  The LS50 are here to stay (for now at least!).

I could be wrong, but I don't think an analog source would be able to compensate for bad speaker placement or bad amp/speaker combination.  If it was a setup/pairing issue i'd also loose the depth and soundstage. 

Border Patrol, Orchid, Denafrips Aries have always been those next level DACs.  That's probably where I need to go.  DAC aside, would cable length, connector type really have that much impact?  


The following is just upgrading which should remove your issues. 

1. Better DAC - Schiit Yggdrasil if on tight budget

2. A real steamer using Qobuz at minimum Bluesound… better will help even more.


I’ve used a couple dozen different streamer / DAC combos over the last 20 years. I would not spend time worrying about cable lengths an connectors until you have upgraded and broken in my recommendations above for several hundred hours and know what they sound like.


My systems are shown for your reference.

I built a box with 2 Western Electric 111C transformers wired in parallel 1:1 between my digital and preamp. Old Japanese trick, softens it up, filters out hash, sounds more “analog”. Not for everyone but I love it.

Hey martinman, you and I seem to have similar priced setups at the moment. I believe I may have some insight for you. My system is as follows:

B&W CM9 S2
Peachtree Nova 300
Jamo sub
iFi Zen Stream + Roon (Qobuz & Tidal) with USB out

I've experimented with networking and power stuff--and I'm going to experiment with DAC's next--but for me, the big level up was moving to the iFi streamer. I wrote a little review with some thoughts, which you can read here on Agon. Some of the only other things that could compete with the level of improvement were adding a sub, adding nicer feet to the speakers/stands, and placing the speakers on stands. 


Seems you’ve accepted that your DAC should be replaced.  If so, stating your budget would help us narrow down DAC options

I wonder how much of an improvement you can get with a dedicated streamer vs connecting your iPhone via USB.  Is there any way you can borrow something like a Node or a Zen Stream just to test?  Or maybe buy a Wiim Mini for $100 and use the digital out into the DAC in your Hint6 to see if the iPhone is your weak link.

A separate streamer and a DAC would be the way to go. 

IFI or Bluesound streamer.  $500 +.  I have updated power supply on Bluesound and it is a good improvement.

Denafrips, Schiit or Topping would be some DAC around $1K or less.  I have a $50 COAX from streamer to DAC.  There is lots of debate about whether USB is better

There are many options of course.  Some streamers have cumbersome interface to look for and play music 

An inline  filter is also an option such as a Network Acoustic ENO. 

Yep, seems the DAC needs replacing  ....  which is unfortunate.  I'm quite happy with the built in phono stage, but IMO they missed the mark with the DAC; but i digress.  

Seems I have a couple of avenues to try - both dedicated devices - DAC & Streamer.  I don't have access to any of these devices locally; I'm limited to online retailers.  I also don't want to make alot of changes at once.  Likely, the biggest bang for buck here is the DAC, wouldn't you agree?  When I tested < $1k DAC in my system (both headphone & speakers), I was left with how similar they all sounded.  The $140 Toneboard that I use for my bottlehead HF amp was great, and the $900 topping, SMSL or similar didn't offer that much more.  

So, in terms of pricepoint, I'd have to go to the next level which is likely, BorderPatrol, Orchid, Denafrips, Yggdrasil type quality. 

Before you do anything, try a Vibrapod under each foot of the Hint. I never thought they did much until I tried them under my Oppo 205. The Vibrapods definitely smoothed out the sound and made it more harmonically complete.  It’s worth a try for $24 from Amazon. Just check the weight limits. If one side of the Hint is much heavier, you might need 2 different pods. Also, use cardboard drink coasters or playing cards underneath, as they can mark wood furniture. 

Maybe start w/ a real streamer, should be much better & then a upgrade on the DAC if necessary.

Hey Martinman,

So your digital sounds poor and vinyl sounds good.Common problem! Lots of good advice so far. Here's my 2 cents.

Consider looking at your system as a whole...source, amp, speakers, room.There may be more to this than just improving the digital source and the fix may be easier than you think.

I think the fact that you don’t hear much difference in DACs is testimony to the fact that your source, the iphone, is bottlenecking your sound. But that many not be the entire or even major reason for the brightness/hardness. I have heard the Kef LS 50 speakers and they have wonderful detail but have a fair bit of high frequency output and not a lot of really low bass, they themselves are quite bright, especially if your room has little to absorb all that treble. You did not post what your vinyl playback gear is and that would have been useful.

I wonder if your phono cartridge might be a smooth sounding moving magnet cartridge. Some moving magnet cartridges have a bit of a mid bass hump and a bit rolled off highs and this would work in synergy with the Kefs, while the flat frequency response of your digital does not. That may be why you enjoy your vinyl set up more than your digital.

If that’s the case consider some or all of the following, changing your speakers, changing the speaker placement to damp and absorb the highs more, and/or inserting some tone controls like a Schitt Loki. The Loki is quite transparent, inexpensive and useful to adjust for these type of frequency abnormalities. You could place it in line between the DAC and Amplifier.

I would agree with daledee1 that getting a streamer is likely also a good upgrade but might be secondary to what I have already posted above.

With entry level streamers you have 2 reasonable options recommended in previous posts, Bluesound and IFi. Considering that the Bluesound node is now in it’s 3rd generation, there are lots of 2nd gen Node 2i models available on the market for cheap. When you get a streamer you also marry into the operating system and the BlueOs system is pretty user friendly and from what I have read more so than the the IFi. The IFi reportedly sounds better but has no DAC and will be dependant on that.

That being said, both devices will do direct, where you use the actual Tidal/Spotify app to play music. If you have no stored music files, their operating systems are not as relevant.

I own the Node 2i. First used it with it’s inboard DAC and then as a streamer only with an R2R Dac. The internal DAC, though not great in quality, is reasonable, and is not bright and glassy. The DAC upgrade I did gave me better detail, naturalness, and imaging BUT the tonal balance did not change much. I have since upgraded my streamer and my new streamer is with an R2R dac in my main system and the Bluesound node is back to full time duty in my second system.

I’m all for supporting brick and mortar hifi shops but so few of them allow home try out these days or you many not live near any. If you buy new, consider buying a Node or IFi from Amazon. That way you could try it and if it doesn’t help with your issue it is an easy return.The Schitt Loki tone controls also have a 15 day free trial.

Sorry for the long post....been into audio for about 55 years.... learned a thing or 2 along the way....hope it helps. This is 2022, digital has come a long way and you should be able to get very agreeable sound out of either digital or vinyl.

I have LS50's on a pure digital system using a Pi/Allo Digione streamer and a Schiit Gumby, it sounds great. The Gumby will give you that smooth sound you are looking for at a lower price than the Yggy. That said, you should first try a dedicated streamer, they can make a huge difference. The Node is okay as a standalone streamer, I have one, but I think folks on this forum could suggest something better, and less complicated than the Pi, yet still priced reasonably.

I would try a dedicated streamer first with your present setup. I was using an iPad into the Dac on my preamp and bought a Rose 150b streamer dac and it was a night and day difference. My research and practical experience tells me you need a dedicated streamer.

Using iPhone to stream music is most likely your culprit. The DAC in the parasound integrated can’t be that terrible. Get a decent streamer, good usb cable and good power cord for your integrated and you should be ok. 

Your description reminds me of every time I have heard KEF speakers, especially the LS50.  Bright, hard metal tweeters aren't helping.  Try a speaker with a folded ribbon, like a Golden Ear stand mount.  


As for DACs, I tried a bunch of ESS chip DACs and found them all glassy and hard sounding.  I ended up with a Denafrips Pontus II.  I tried to avoid Chi-Fi, but after trying cheaper DACs from Cambridge Audio, Project, FiiO, and the Schiit Gumby, I gave in and got the Pontus II.  Still breaking it in, but it seems to avoid that harsh, glassy sound without losing any detail retrieval.

@zlone I'm intrigued by your Pi/Allo setup.  Early on, my first headphone setup used a Pi w/ HiFiBerry Hat.  It worked out really well to stream Spotify -- it was basically set and forget.  I still have a few raspberryPi 3 and 4, so I'll check this out and report back!    

@martinman I'm intrigued by your Pi/Allo setup.  Early on, my first headphone setup used a Pi w/ HiFiBerry Hat.  It worked out really well to stream Spotify -- it was basically set and forget.  I still have a few raspberryPi 3 and 4, so I'll check this out and report back! 

Worth a shot. I run mine with Moode, but Volumio is good too. Also use this low cost LPS:


I will be interested to hear your results.





Definitely the phone setup.  Get a used Lumin u1 mini, Kimber Kable D60 spdif, used RME ADI2 dac fs. You will be happy. Quboz subscription. I use this setup in my den with PS Audio BHK signature pre and m700 monoblocks into Kef R11.  No glass.

I would definitely start with upgrading your source.

I started out feeding my dac with an iPhone, and it was terrible. I bought an Auralic Aries, and it was a night and day difference. My streaming (Tidal masters) SQ now beats the pants off red book CD audio fed into the same dac. Auralic’s Lightning DS app is incredibly easy to use. I love this unit.

There’s an Aries for sale on eBay right now for $599 which is a great deal.

Here’s a couple reviews of the Aries


If you’re feeding the DAC via USB, then the Laboga Emerald is significantly warm and "analogue" compared to any other I’ve tried.

A more expensive option is the Innuos Phoenix USB - this will bring benefits across the board, as well as taming the treble

I can immediately think of 3 tactics to get rid of the glare:

  1. Get pretty much any competently designed R2R DAC--or better yet, a NOS (non-oversampling DAC). This will make a huge difference
  2. Get a tube buffer to put in line after the DAC. My NOS DAC (MHDT Labs Orchid) has a built-in tube buffer circuit, which is extremely convenient. After rolling a few recommended tubes in that circuit, I kept the best new old stock tube and am very happy with the sound
  3. And unless you're a big fan of MQA or DSD, invest in a good SPDIF converter + coax cable, enabling you to use coax, not USB straight into the new DAC. An upgrade to that is a DDC (digital-to-digital converter), which can also run a coax cable into the DAC.

I'm leaving out confusing details like I2S connections found on some DACs and DDCs.

Regardless--do at least 2 of those things and your entire relationship with digital will change for the better.

Just wanted to report back that I changed up the streamer.  I received the Digione last night and provisioned an RPI4 w/ volumio.  My first impression - I'm astonished that it made such a difference.  In the few tracks I played to test, the almost unlistenable glare is gone.  It's still a ways from the analog detail and warmth that I'm after, but this was a significant step toward that end.  I can't imagine what an upgraded DAC will bring.  

The best part is that its portable - so I also tried it with my Bottlehead Crack w/ (budget) Toneboard DAC.  Bingo -- at the very least much quieter background (in addition to the Digione, improvements could also be attributed to using SPIDF on DAC instead the dual data/power setup that I had via USB).

Overall, I'm impressed to say the least.  I'm going to let this setup burn-in for a while and really listen to it.  Much appreciate the recommendations!


Next upgrade with be to an Orchid MHDT or Border Patrol DAC


@chayro Yeap, thanks for sharing an idea using cardboard drink coasters. Using them on a wood table make sure heat resistant placemats for hot pans or serving dishes to prevent burn marks and heat damage to the solid wood. When drinking hot or cold drinks on your table, try to use drink coasters where possible. Hot drinks can ruin the tabletop finish or leave irreversible heat damage.