This is basically a driven-by-USB-power DAC with ES9038Q2M chip. It measures quite well. He compares it favorably to the AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt, even though it’s cheaper.
More evidence that good DACs are a commodity these days. The only thing they don’t come with is bragging rights.
This place is going to turn into ASR….where Topping is king and no other DACs could possibly sound better……lovely.
Computers used to bring bragging rights, too.
Doubtless that baby computed more sweetly than the phone in your pocket does today. (And it had sofa cushions!)
Technology marches on. Get used to it.
I recall over on ASR that the Cobalt didn’t get a great review. I will dig out the link and add it later. It didn’t get a glowing review by Archimago or at AS either:
If you think your DAC beats Topping, by all means, send it to ASR.
I really liked my Cobalt can’t say it performed any worse for me than than the highly rated by ASR SMSL SU9 I now have. It just has issues with Linux and sticking itself at full volume. Absolutely nothing wrong with any of the Audioquest DACs at all wether the measure well or not. I have had all three and all have their merits and to me sounded great and where fun, where I struggle with my SMSL at times but I am lunping it as spent way too much on this silly hobby. Still have my AQ Black and it sounds great for the price.
I have three Topping DAC’s, a D10 an NX-4 DSD and an old D-50.
The first two were bought new, and is pretty good for the money, the D-50 functions and sounds the least coloured to my ears. It is, however, in a pretty typical chinese state… Had to repair the joystick for doing settings and the display has lost about half of it’s fluorescent dots…
I have had AudioQuest Dragonfly Red and Cobalt, none are still with me as i never liked the Red and the Cobalt was no noticable improvement over the headphone output on my iPhone (X), it did sound pretty good on the USB out of the MacBook Pro though.
To me, the Chord Mojo is clearly superior in alla aspects (perhaps not Amir’s measured performance?) over all of these, and has the added benefit of sounding similar and equally good regardless of transport.
The Topping NX-4 DSD also sounds similar between transports, but it has a"veil" of some sorts in the soniq signature…
All to my ears of course.
Price to performance ratio is so good now that people can have an amazing set up for really cheap.
This is good for the community as a whole imo. Nothing worse than thinking you have to spend £1000’s just to be able to listen to music properly.
It’s an easy on ramp for people in to the hobby and I hope the trend continues in to other DAC technologies like R2R and FPGA.
Not sure the motivation is there. If you can get essentially perfect PCM-to-analog conversion in a mass-produced $25 chip, why look for something else?
Agreed. @Billy_k, what is an FPGA DAC anyway?
An FPGA DAC is a gate-array circuit DAC that can be reworked in “the field” (hence FP = Field Programmable). If you are building your own DAC circuit, building an ASIC, and then building versions of it as you add improvements, can be very expensive for low-volume manufacturers. So you use an off-the-shelf FPGA chip instead, and burn your circuit into it. You can build re-programming circuitry into your DAC as well, so that improved circuits can be downloaded as firmware upgrades.
If your company’s claim to fame is digital processing wizardry unknown to the field in general (a dubious-sounding claim), you may want to burn your own D/A chip, and use an FPGA. But it’s hard to see how anybody does better than perfect, with half-a-watt.
Thanks @Bill_Janssen. I know what an FPGA is. I also know that some DACs have FPGAs in them (PS Audio’s DirectStream DAC is one), but I wasn’t sure why that was a thing worth mentioning. As far as I know, DACs need to do two things internally in terms of DSP: up-convert the signal to a sampling frequency high enough for bit reduction (like 64fs or 256fs), and then reduce bit depth using say a delta-sigma modulator. These are two well-established processes that don’t really need tweaking. Offering a number of built-in up-sampling filters is one way to allow customization, and many ASIC DACs do that already. I guess FPGAs are more useful during DAC development than in a finished product. Unless of course you want to brag about being future proof, in case another technology is invented as a solution to a non-existent problem (MQA 2.0?)
The trouble is that, for some boutique manufacturers, designing an IC and contracting with a semiconductor manufacturer to fab it is just not feasible because they’ll never sell enough units.
So they sell their prototypes as finished products.
Thanks, makes sense. I believe boutique DACs are reinventing the wheel to address perceived shortcomings of well-established technologies (oversampling, delta-sigma, negative feedback etc.) and end up being mighty expensive and measuring poorly. Current day ASIC DACs are, as @Bill_Janssen said, virtually perfect for human hearing.
To be fair, there are legitimate designs which are not currently available from existing DAC chip manufacturers. Chord (to pick the most famous example) implements a super-sharp linear-phase filter. That requires a humongous number of taps (164k taps on the Dave). So they use FPGAs.
I don’t see any issue with implementing a very large number of taps in an ASIC. If you really need customization, SHARC chips are also an option.
I was looking at the PCM1794A data sheet recently. Its built-in sharp roll-off up-sampling filter has an in-band ripple of less than 0.00001dB and an out-of-band attenuation below -120dB with a very steep transition. I doubt you need to do better than that. I don’t know if it uses FIR or IIR, but at the end of the day, does it really matter?
Why? I don’t really care how my DACs measure. I care how they sound. ASR is the place to go if you think measurements are all that matter. I am not in that camp. I think ASR and what it represents is dangerous for music lovers because it causes some manufacturer’s to stop caring about actual sound quality and focus on measurements.
Rest assured, as long as there are people in the “there’s magic in our sound machines” camp, manufacturers will keep making boutique DACs and music industry will keep selling hi-res music. I for one, the more information I have, the better decisions I can make. I see no danger in that. On the contrary, I see danger in ignoring information that may contradict my preconceptions.
If you could get £20,000 DAC sound quality from a £100 DAC would you not want that?
Or would you rather it stay at £20,000 just to keep it exclusive to yourself?