Audiophonics I-Sabre ES9028Q2M review (384kHz and DSD128 playback out of the box, and at what quality!)

The best Raspberry Pi DAC on the market I have tested and listened so far!!!

The new Audiophonics I-Sabre DAC ES9028Q2M is not only the most featured Raspberry PI DAC, but more importantly miles away from the crowd in terms of audio quality!

It is passive DAC build on a very good ES9028Q2M chip.

Out of the box I was running it on DietPi with standard I-Sabre driver from the DietPi distribution.
It was able to play audio up to 384kHz, and DSD 128 over DoP!

For folks that like extra connections and features it has connectors for screen to show what format it is playing and even SPDIF digital audio input.
Set up and configuration was few minutes - no special HW or SW configuration was this time needed, unlike for previous unfinished Audiophonics ES9018K2M DAC. It just worked!

Putting it in stack, and powering through Allo Kali reclocker was giving one amazing audio set.

In terms of audio quality it was blowing in to dust so far the best Raspberry Pi DAC, I have been reviewing and using till now - Allo Boss.
Overall soundstage is much wider, richer, super big dynamic range, and detailed - touch to strings, flow of air - I didn’t hear before on Allo Boss nor any other Raspberry Pi DACs…

Bass goes even deeper to lower frequencies, is much richer, punchier, and powerful than Boss.
Highs are amazingly detailed, accurate, transparent, and flying.
And for me personally - the voice reproduction of this DAC is starting to approach high end equipment. Vocals voice is soft, velvety, and natural - not like TI PCM5122 chip decoding, which is harsh and metallic comparing to it.


Thanks for that very good and detailed review Janis :grinning: Keep up the good work :ok_hand:

Very interesting. Two questions:
What case is that?
Do you need to power the Kali and the pi seperately or do you only need one power source?

  1. I put 5V power only to Kali - it cleans it splits it for audio and digital domains, then it provided further power internally to RPI and DAC boards.
  2. It was some kind of generic case I both some time ago in one of PRI shops - doesn’t fit perfect but does the job.

Great, thank you. I’ll probably set up a dedicated headphone listening station with this beast and a spare Schiit Magni. :nerd_face:

is this new Audiophonics Dac compatible with Volumio or Moode Audio?

I run it on Roon, might be on Audiophonics web you will find answer to this Q.

Dear Janis, did you actually try to connect through the hdmi (from the Pi to the dac)? instead of through the raspberry IO ? they advertise it is easier…
For my info, in your configuration, you are powering everything through the raspberry PI ?
Thank you,

No, I even disable HDMI in configuration of DiePi, because it is not needed in audio dedicated set-up, eats power and creates noise and CPU interruptions that negatively impact audio quality.

I2S is the golden standard for digital audio interconnect. HDMI is consumer final connection - can be used for low end audio playback (good enough for standard home theaters), but definitely not recommend for Hi Fi. Also bear in mind that after HDMI you need to have some DAC for playback. These RPI DACs have I2S over GPIO, not HDMI digital audio inputs.

So, this review is of I2S DAC.

Relating powering, no not though RPI. I already wrote it above


Hi Janis
Thank you for your review of this product.
I am looking to build a Pi based player and am looking for the very best quality output I can afford.
May I ask you a couple of questions…

Will the ES9028Q2M card work without the KALi reclocker?
If so, did you test the quality of the output without the KALi board?

I also plan to feed the power as clean as I can, do you also use a linear PSU rather than a wall wart switch mode PSU.

The Roon software looks like a very good solution to play my music over the 1Gb network. There seems to be so many potential solutions out there, some free and some not so free :-).

I did take a look at Volumio but the interface (like many others) seems not quite as it should be.

Do you know if a PI ‘end point’ in Roon can act as an airplay device (like my old apple TV did) so I can play my apple music library through it via iphone or ipad?

I may change to spotify (especially hifi if they ever release it) but a good chunk of my music is in various bit rates of FLAC from 44.1 to 192.

Sorry for so many questions, I just want to make sure I am feeding my trusty old (but wonderful sounding Audiolab 8000 Pre and Bi-Power Amp and Mission 753 floor standers) system with the best possible sources.

After I have sorted this out, the next purchase will be a turntable for my old vinyl collection, another potential mine field.

I must say, David from Audiophonics has been very helpful so far in answering my pre purchase questions.

Thanks in advance

Andrew :slight_smile:

Hi Andrew and Janis,

When reading the review of Janis I was inspired as well. David from Audiophonics has been very helpfull to me as well, and I got some anwers which I would like to share. Early september there will be a DIY kit available for the Raspberry PI, the Allo Kali and the Sabre ES9028. Great news in my opinion. What’s exactly in the DIY kit, I don’t know yet, hopefully the OLED display and the Powerswitch. You’ll need an external PSU (no more room left inside), so the IFI (like Janis) will fit. I think that I will go for the Audiophonics PSU. That one is Linear regulated. Concerning the price, I don’t know yet.

Kind regards,



Yes it would work without Kali, and I tested it without.
Certainly with Kali reclocker sound is much better because it is correcting poor quality i2s signal coming out of RPI.

I have been listening RPI DAC sound with good switching and $200+ plus linear PSUs. In my personal view there is no difference if you feed system through audio board and from it split out power to RPI. Why - because RPI and RPI Dacs are not very high end products, and if you use power cleaning via Kali or good Allo or Auphonic DAC then it is good enough for this budget HW to perform as good as it can. Other case if you feed power to RPI, and via it to audio boards - the quality is very bad.

I will not waste time to cooment no on Volumio or Spotify, if you are interested in usability or audio quality…

And finally yes, on same RPI you can run on in parallel both Roon end point and Airplay if you want to stream something from your iPhone or iPad. Very simple to set up in DietPi.


This is better feel box certainly that they might bring out in DIY kit.
However, question is if it is needed. OLED is just distracting view, and showing something that you see in Roon SW anyhow plus adding some noise, linear PSU from Audiphonics I tested, as I wrote previously if the power is cleaned via DAC there is no difference in sound quality from theses budget RPI+DAC solutions.
Certainly the kit gives semi completed product feeling comparing to sceleton style RPI+DAC construction at 250$ incremental cost. At same time the is certain makers sharm in open design RPI setup too…

Hello Janis
Now i am using MamboBerry LS with Kali and Rpi3, iFi power supply, do you think that
this Audiophonics ES9028q2m DAC brings me overall better SQ than mamboBerry?
Did you have chance to compare these…
I had also allo piano (normal and 2.1) but I came back to Mambo LS for more detailed sound…
So still waiting for better and better SQ for my Rpi

Thanks and regards


Janis, did you re-sample the signal at all or was the DSD128 sent over DoP natively? After reading your posted, I decided to try the Audiophonics ES9028Q2M DA and Kali re-clocker with my RPi3. I am running moOde audio 3.8.3 as my music player. I was able to get everything up and running BUT I am getting a clicking/ticking sound from ONE speaker when I play DSD64 and I have the following set:

DoP: Yes
SoX re-sampler: disabled

The sound is amazing, minus the clicking, so I am trying to figure out how to fix the issue. I tried using the std and advanced kernals and the clicking is there with all. If I set DoP to No or DoP: Yes and SoX re-sampler to a value, the clicking issues goes away, but the music does not seem as dynamic and lifelike as it does with DoP set to Yes and SoX re-sampler disabled. Tim at moOde as been very responsive and guiding. I am going to test with the Kali re-clocker removed (a suggestion from Tim), but I am awaiting a part to do this testing. Anyhow, I thought I would run this past you since it seems as though you successfully played DSD64 and DSD128 over DoP. Thanks, Ryan

Hello, i have the same setup as you and unfortunately the same problem as you, loud
crackling and pops on moOde 3.8.4 with Audioph. 9028, with using last rune RuneAudio image no crackling and pops also with my previous setup with mamboberry LS onto board no problem also with any MoodePlayer or last Rune, but i would like to use Moode with 9028 if I payed for moode license …also seems that Moode has sligtly better sound in some aspects (airy…and relaxed) then RuneAudio my maybe it is psychological effect …
One boy onto Diyaudio forum has the same setup as we on reported no problem with
moode player 3.8 or he didnt reported regarding any cracklings ( i think that he would realize or hear it quickly…), i will try moode 3.8.1 image which i have downloaded from past and will se if it disapper but i guess that not… also i tried all setting with 3.8.4 (switching between kernels and also changing between audio settings) but no susscess…
Another tip what i found is this (not tried it yet…)

Changing SoX resampling to 24 bit /* KHZ and reboot didn’t get rid of the pop…but changing to 24 bit/ 96 KHZ did! I clicked on random tracks, forward & Back, everything I could click, and no pop!

I will try all method and will see, do you still have the cracklings nad popus now ? also we could try for example Picore player or Volumio ? (i dont like volumio sound from past for my ears it was bright then moode or rune…)

I was able to recreate this issue in piCorePlayer and Volumio. I then tried removing the Kali re-clocker and that fixed the issue. Audiophonics told me they would work will Allo to try to remedy the issue. They suggested I return the Kali and wait for a firmware update to address the issue. Hope this help.

Hello, just back onto RuneAudio and the same crackling and cliks are there as with moodeplayer, but why Audiophonics sells combo with Kali and ES9028q2m dac if
there is exists these problems ? you meant that with Volumio and piCorePlayer it is working with no issue ? Thanks

For Janis:
Hello I have no experience with Roon Bridge. I found this guide here:
Roon Bridge for ARM: a beginner’s guide to Raspberry Pi and Cubox-i

Simply I will install OS into sd card I will make necessary steps
but question what shall I fill for dtoverlay=xxxxxxxx , in config file ?

There is no such problem with Roon bridge on Pi with Kali and ES9028q2m DAC.
Roon solution is very smooth no cracks - why don’t you use Roon?

I experienced the same issue on all players I tested (moode, picoreplayer and volumio). For me, when playing DSD with settings of DoP = Yes and SoX re-sampler = disabled and using Kali, the problem was there. The Kali reclocker seemed fine in other configurations, but there is clearly an issue in certain conditions. It just so happens that the configuration I wanted produced the issue. For some, this will not be an issue. Audiophonics told me other users were experiencing this same issue, but they were not sure what was causing it. When I told them the problem went away when I removed Kali, they said they were going to investigate it and try to get a firmware update to address the problem. Try removing the Kali and see if the problem goes away.