Can anyone recommend a DAC/Amp that uses ESS Sabre chips? I kinda like what I’m hearing in the Qudelix 5K (Dual ES9218P chips), and want to know what else is available. This is my first long-term experience with an ESS DAC; it’s not as bad as the others (super bright), and seems to have pretty good delineation of images.
The only ones I would personally recommend would be either something from the Matrix Digital “Element” or “Mini” lines, or if you don’t mind some additional setup and paying for a bunch of functionality you probably won’t use, a Motu UltraLite (either MK4 or AVB).
What about portable DACs? Any good ones?
It’d depend how you defined “portable”, but off the top of my head … no, nothing I’d recommend (at least not today).
If I could just get this Hugo2 in a slimmed-down (feature-wise) version with much longer battery time, I’d be set …as far as portable.
You could try to find an Oppo HA-2 or HA-2SE. Oppo Digital recently closed up shop, but I’ve had an HA-2 for about five years now and still use it regularly. It’s a great little DAC/Amp. The HA-2 has an ESS Sabre32 Reference ES9018-K2M DAC. I’d describe the sound as “musical” bordering on clinical. It doesn’t come off as bright at all, so it’s easy to listen to. It’s got two gain settings, which is handy, and a bass boost which works pretty well depending on the track. Sometimes it can make bass a little muddy, but you can typically offset that with an in-app EQ (if you’re using a phone/computer).
Though, unless you’re finding one for a good price, I’d look elsewhere, since the manufacturer’s gone.
What’s the battery time like? The difference between the HA-2 & HA-2SE?
I think @ValentineLuke would recommend the Dragonfly Cobalt.
Not sure the difference between the two, but the SE is the newer version. I can use my HA-2 on high gain for several hours at a time, and I don’t normally kill the battery before I am done. Obviously, the efficiency of your headphones is a factor too.
I own a Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2v2se 10th anniversary version. I am very happy with it. It’s my second W4S DAC. W4S equipment is very reliable. It uses the ESS Sabre 9038 PRO chip.
The original Khadas Tone Board is nice. To me, it has an airy, smooth sound.
They also have a new model with a built in headphone amp and stuff , I haven’t heard it though.
I own an Audiolab streamer. They use ESS DAC chips.
Adapt Audio DAC by Dense Audio (ES9218P). Tiny and light. Measures very well. Easily runs my Hifiman Ananda and Focal Radiance.
Hi @arrakian, I picked up an EarMen Sparrow about 2 weeks ago. Extremely small, uses ESS, has a 2.5mm balanced out and sounds really very very good to my ears. My reference DAC is the Matrix Element X @Torq references. I have owned a Dragonfly Red before, and I like the Sparrow better. It is USB C, powerful enough for all my headphones except 600 ohm Beyers, and sounds less brittle than the DFR did (based on memory). I have even run my whole system off of it while my Matrix has been out on loan, 3.5mm to RCA straight into my tube amp and I was simply astonished!
I do NOT presume to be able to hear the difference between ESS vs AKM etc. I can only speak to the sum of all parts, and the Sparrow is fantastic.
FYI, I have been comparing it to a brand new Schiit Modi 3+ which is half the price and IMO kinda portable since it can be bus powered. It is also excellent. The Unison USB implementation on a $99 DAC works charms. If you do not need USB C or MQA, I think the Modi 3+ is a great deal, but obviously not ESS.
I like the Sparrow so much I may start a thread on it here, it is not much talked about currently.
I would agree with Ian, my favorite ESS Dac implementation I have heard so far is in the Matrix Element X that @MokhaMark has been letting me demo to compare to a couple other streamers for an upcoming review. I definitely want to try the Matrix mini pro next. I would say I also like the NAD streamer I am reviewing for my 2.1 channel setup which has an ESS Dac as well as Dirac.
What I have learned over the last year or so is that ESS DACs aren’t the devil but the devil is in the details of the implementation so you have to really choose wisely as some manufacturers don’t implement them as well.
Aren’t the benchmark Dacs ess chips?
Gotta get one of the Mytek units to try side by side with it
Yes, that’s right. Benchmark uses the ES9028PRO chips in their DAC3 series.
What kinda battery life do you get with the Sparrow?
I’ve heard a lot about the Matrix lately…must be pretty good.