The ES9038PRO DAC

edit: For sale now here

The ESS Sabre ES9038PRO chip has received a lot of attention and praised as the most important new DAC chip in ages. It offers such great performance and features so this is easy to understand. Depending on how the chip is used it can achieve up to 140dB dynamic range, -122 dB (0.00008%) total harmonic distortion plus noise (THD+N) in mono mode. It also has other great features as THD compensation to “minimize THD caused by external components”. 

 

The few commercially available DACs using this chip are all quite expensive, which is understandable as the chip is more than 10 times as expensive as the ES9018K2M chip! So we are excited to announce that we are making a ES9038PRO DAC that will be very affordable, even though it will be our most expensive DAC to date.  Our philosophy has always been to make affordable gear without charging hundred of dollars for diamond casing or making expensive and hip marketing videos. 

 

 

We have made a few different samples over the last few months and are finalising the circuit and doing additional testing these days. 

 

The DAC has many of the features from our UDA18 DAC: USB and SPDIF inputs, digital volume control adjusted in DAC chip, optional (not required) external power supply. It also comes in the same sized case as the UDA18, so it is a very portable DAC. It uses the ES9038PRO chip in combination with the OPA1622 output stage chip. This opamp is a newer generation chip with greatly improved performance. It can drive both line level loads and headphones with extremely low distortion, and we found it to be a very good match for ES9038PRO.

 

211 thoughts on “The ES9038PRO DAC

  1. Catalin says:

    does it make any “clicks” or “pops” when changing source? for example when starting to play music or when going from a dsd to a pcm file(or vice versa) my other xmos dacs do make an annoying “click” that is small with headphones but almost dangerous with speakers… does this dac has the same problem? anyone using it with speakers?

  2. orange says:

    is there ASIO drivers working with common DAWs in win7x64 or win10x64? if yes, at what latency?

    you may try free daws like reaper for testing.

    • Arjan says:

      Yes, the drivers support ASIO (you can download the driver from the support page) and they work fine with Reaper, JRiver Media Center, etc.

    • Simone says:

      You have removed this specification from the description:”THD+N-116@32ohm”
      Why?
      I bought this Dac in June, trusting the specifications indicated.
      If the values are much lower as described in other sites I would like to evaluate the refund.
      Please be honest with your customers.

  3. Michael says:

    How can I tell if I have the revised version or not???

    My DAC sounds a little harsh, I wonder if it’s because it’s the first version?

    • HiFimeDIY says:

      You also get lower distortion, better performance, especially at higher impedance loads.
      A good quality, low noise power supply will also improve sound quality.

  4. wushuliu says:

    One more thing: the revision is better than the first version I received. I heard the difference immediately.

  5. wushuliu says:

    Which filter was chosen for this DAC? ESS comes with 7 choices, but the Pro doesn’t let us choose. Which filter does it come with?

  6. Aditya Rizqi says:

    Hi,

    I have received my unit here in Indonesia, pretty short leadtime in delivery.

    I use Onkyo HF player (Pro) on my Xperia XZ Premium through USB-C to USB-B cable.

    At this point of time, I am still unable to play ‘DSD direct transfer’ as I usally did with my other DAC with XMOS XU208 USB receiving chips. The best I could use is ‘DoP’. Did I miss some step here, or it’s just not supported by SA9227?

    Nevertheless, this is the best sounding DAC I have ever heard..!!

    To me, it’s presenting clarity, much detail, deepest low, with darkest background. I dont feel fatigue listening to it for hours, its sounds characteristic just easy, fun, and flows.

    • Ovidiu Adomnitei says:

      I only have two options for this product, HK Post and DHL/Fedex, both ship from China, no option to ship with Belgium Post. I just double checked again. Can someone else check? Is this problem only on my end?

    • Ovidiu Adomnitei says:

      Never mind. It looks like the problem appears when I wasn’t logged in my account. I was able to choose EU shipping from my account. Thanks.

  7. Raymond Au says:

    Just received the es9038pro dac, it works in out of the box with USB and OPT mode.
    I can hear it’s dynamic and crystal clear sound.
    Will review in more detail after the DAC has burn in for a while.

    • Rob says:

      Thanks Raymond,

      Don’t forget to let us know what type of PSU & equipment your using.
      If you can give us any comparisons to other famous DAC’s or chip sets would also help.
      Enjoy !!!!

    • Raymond CK Au says:

      PSU is really important to provide constant current to the DAC. I have used a cheap PSU 9V & 800ma. It chops the music occasionally.
      Now using a better PSU, 12V and 5A. the chopping sound problems are solved. My first impression that the new DAC gives me more detail and more transparency. Especially good in listening Jazz music.

    • wushuliu says:

      Raymond, if you using Windows 10 I suggest still installing the SA9227 driver and compare sound quality to Windows 10 native playback.

      Also, if using headphones compare headphone out jack vs. RCA out (w/3.5mm adapter).

    • Raymond Au says:

      Basically, I use foobar in MacOS platform. Performance are very good.
      I also cast android phone Flac music to Chromecast Audio through the opt input.
      The music is quite transparent and detail.
      So far so good indeed. I don’t use headphone. But I can try try the headphone jack vs RCA out.

    • wushuliu says:

      Hopefully you got the newer revised version of the dac. It sounds better than the one sent to me the first week it was released. Little more natural.

  8. Don Hall says:

    Looking to buy a es9038pro dac when available. Have been considering the Oppo Sonica. When can we find out a availability date and an idea on probable price? Looking very much forward to having some fun with you!

    Looking good, Don Hall

    • HiFimeDIY says:

      We will send out many orders this week. If you place an order now it will take 2-3 weeks until we can send it. We do accept PayPal. Send us a message if it doesn’t appear as an option, it might be related to what country you’re in.

    • Rob says:

      I too emailed them the RPi question. I was told because it complies with USB audio there should be no issues with the RPi.
      As for running any of the live Kodi OS’s they are both updated regularly, so OS compatibility chances are high. I wont commit to saying guaranteed to work even if it is tested ok. Because sometimes new updates can break compatibility, like was the case with the Android-6 update with some of HiFiMe’s 9018 products. Life can be tough when your chrystal ball doesn’t work.

      On a second note, I hope they can give us some Signal-Noise figures at the output soon.

    • HiFimeDIY says:

      We did try it, we made some tests units with isolator chip, however it had some side effects like not working at all without external power supply, so finally we decided to no include it.

    • ann says:

      Be careful with hifimediy’s external PSU’s. Once I got one of their desktop (i.e. not the tiny one) 9023 dacs with their recommended PSU but the PSU didn’t work I had to buy my own off of Ebay to match the voltage requirement. The DAC worked perfectly though.

    • Rob says:

      I have never tried any HiFiMe PSU’s, but given the excellent work they have done getting the 9038 to us; I would be extra fussy.
      HiFiMe won’t comment on other manufacturer products, but at the risk of being rude I will be looking at the “IFI” range of psu’s.
      The’re very very good bang per buck and are capable of unleashing the 9038pro’s fullest potential. Really think the clean power can bring the Hifime Es9038pro in to a final solution status, where you only have to bother looking at the rest of your system from here on in.

  9. test name says:

    Are the RCA jacks affected by the volume control? Are they real line out or are they going through the headphone gain stages?

    • HiFimeDIY says:

      Yes the volume control also adjusts the RCA outputs. The ES9038PRO chip can’t drive any loads directly, so an output stage is required, also for line level. The opa1622 isn’t just a headphone amplifier, it drives line level also. Performance to line level will increase when higher voltage (9-12V DC) external power supply is connected.

  10. HiFimeDIY says:

    Hi guys. We’re almost there and will soon put it up for sale. We have been making samples with a few different gain settings to compare by listening. This is what has taken longer than expected.

  11. Rob says:

    I think they’re still number crunching because the US Dollar has to stabilize after the FED shutdown.
    Oooohhh gone all dizzy saying that. Best get back to music listening.

    • Peter says:

      Eagerly waiting here too. Why is it taking so much longer then you first thought?
      Starting to eyeing what your competition has to offer

    • HiFimeDIY says:

      Hi guys. We’re almost there and will soon put it up for sale. We have been making samples with a few different gain settings to compare by listening. This is what has taken longer than expected.

  12. Gay audiophile says:

    Please give it a shape that is longer and more like a round cylinder with no sharp edges, instead of shaping it like a wide and flat rectangle.

  13. Rob S says:

    Will this support playback through the USB Audio Player Pro app on Android Smartphones?? I believe this would need Asynchronous playback capability and be supportive and compliant of the USB Audio 2.0 Standard. Is this within the capability of this product??

  14. Nicolas says:

    A 8ch version (same chips but not 4 layer on each channels) will be very good 🙂
    I actually need two stereo 9038 DAC and one 8ch 9038

  15. Bob Marley says:

    Why use a very power-hungry expensive multi-channel ES9038PRO for a portable USB DAC when there’s a mobile 2ch version ES9038Q2M that can be used as dual-mono along with OPA1622 or even ESS’s own SABRE9602 and still be under $200?

    Btw there are already Melokin DA9.1 desktop DAC (ES9038PRO+OPA1622) for $300 and portable Topping NX4DSD (ES9038Q2M) for $160 to consider. Dual-ES9038Q2M+SABRE9602 Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital for $400 is also an interesting package to take a look at.

    Best of luck guys! 🙂

    • anon says:

      You answered your own question. This will be portable, unlike the Melokin, and will have the full chip, unlike the pos downgraded Q2M chip used in the Topping and Pro-Ject.

  16. Brian says:

    I have the Pono portable DAC which uses the 9018 chip and an Oppo Sonica Dac which uses the 9038….Pono was about $350USD and the Oppo was $800….if you can get the 9038 for $300 I think you should consider it a great value(although perhaps more than most WANT to spend). In my opinion it’s worth it….I know I plan on getting one to replace the Pono.

  17. Steve Ryan says:

    I would like to add that the price is important however you cant make it sound poor just to be able to sell it for $250. There is no point. Like others have said get the sound right and see where you sit.

  18. Rob S says:

    Will this be compatible with Android smartphones running USB Audio Player Pro? Really curious because I currently use my phone with an ES9028-Q2M equipped USB DAC and headphone amplifier and would like something with the ES9038 Pro DAC to use with my phone. I would be appreciative of all feedback!

  19. HiFimeDIY says:

    Hi guy,
    sorry it takes a while. We’re making a few more samples to compare gain setting and some final adjustments. Once we have this set we will have the first batch ready quickly. Will update you all soon.
    Price will be around $300.

    • Shinra CEO bman says:

      Excellent, I was just going to ask about price, very interested in this, I may have to sell my uda18 for this, to confirm rca is a yes confirmed?

    • Arne Madsen says:

      Price is ok if SQ is substantially better than 9018D and its upgraded version.
      Why not offer it at an introduction price, so us loyal customers can work for you through word of mouth marketing?

    • Bob says:

      Ahhhhhh…. $300. That’s just a bit too rich. The rest of us HiFiMedies have been used to lower numbers. The playing field we’re in is a compatibility nightmare, and lower prices help us balance the risk. After all, not many of us who would be rich enough to have 140db resolution are going to be looking for $300 DAC’s. $250 would help your regular core of supporters promote your gains. Lets face it, this next radical tech step is gonna leave us doing the Beta testing on so many devices anyway. Play nice HiFiMe !

    • Tinker says:

      Very disappointing price tag. Consider creating a cheaper version without RCA, and XLR, etc… and make it upgradeable to give a little bit of DIY feeling back to it.

    • HiFimeDIY says:

      Thanks for the feedback. We’ll see very soon how low we can push the price. The DAC chip is much more expensive than es9018k2m or any other chip we have used in the past, so it’s not possible to make it within the price range of our other DAC’s. But now we will soon have all the costs figured out and will calculate the final price.

    • Earfonia says:

      Thanks for the update! $300 can be considered acceptable price if sound and features are good. Hopefully the new ES9038PRO DAC will have all the UDA18 features, with additional features as the following:
      1. RCA Line Out.
      2. Built-in USB power filter to clean the DC power from USB.
      3. Higher and wider range of DC voltage external power input, for example from 5V to 9V, for flexibility to use various external batteries, for example 2x 18650 batteries, etc.
      4. Nicer looking casing. No need to be too expensive, just something nicer 😉

      Thanks!

    • Eskil says:

      With such a high-spec DAC, it wouldn’t make sense to make a cheap design around it – putting a Mercedes motor in a Lada won’t make you happy.

  20. Hifi audiophile says:

    Can you make sure it can play older pre 1970’s music? The latest DACs are unable to play music made before 1980 due to their incompatibility with older music styles. That’s fine for those who like modern music, but some of us enjoy the older music and it’s not fair that we are unable to hear it due to technological limitations. I believe there are workarounds that will allow you to use even a brand new chip like the 9038 to listen to pre 1970’s music, possibly even classical music. Please do the work to make this happen and you will sell much more product for a higher price.

    • Blarney Stone says:

      You don’t need a Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) as they are not music players. What you need a good Analog-to-Digital Converter (ADC). Get yourself a laser disc player. You can find them used on ebay. Just make sure it is the kind that can play records.

  21. Arjan says:

    Could it be used as a pre-amp with variable audio output capability (using the volume control), by directly connecting the RCA outputs to a stereo power amplifier? (i.e. no need to to run it through an interim pre-amp)

    • David says:

      Any DAC will do for that, it’s up to the playback device/software to decode the MQA-file and present a bitstream for the DAC to convert.

    • Pepe says:

      @David, do you know any stand alone device that unfolds the MQA-file and them send the bit stream to any given DAC?

      Is there a software that Tidal could send the MQA file to and from there send it to externa DAC?
      I think not.

      In theory I hirds you are right but there are obstacles such as MQA license to deal with and now that serveral brands bought the license from MQA I doubt you’ll see what you describe (David) happening anytime soon.
      Correct me if I’m wrong.

  22. Dom says:

    Another vote for remote control! It will make your DACs appeal to much greater audience. Implementation should not be very difficult and costly.

    • HiFimeDIY Web says:

      Thanks for the feedback. This DAC will not have a remote, but we’ll keep this in mind for a next version, we can look into that when soon.

  23. Carl says:

    I agree with the comment on not rushing this implementation in any way – but can HiFimeDIY share any more detail as to a release date or price ?

    • HiFimeDIY says:

      Hi, the ud80 uses another chip (STA328) that can drive speakers directly, it wouldn’t be possible with a DAC chip like es9038, that would be a integrated DAC+amplifier device.

    • HiFimeDIY Web says:

      Hi, thanks for your advice and concern. Yes we want to get it right, it’s taken a bit longer than expected but we’re getting there.

  24. David says:

    If I were to wish for just one thing with this new DAC, it is proper measurements.

    Primarily:
    – THD at specified frequencies, maybe even multiple (i.e. 20Hz, 100Hz, 10kHz)
    – A-weighted Dynamic range
    – Frequency response

    Secondarily:
    – Intermodulation distortion
    – Linearity error
    – Crosstalk
    – USB Jitter
    – Latency

    If you take he time to do some of these measurements it would also be greatly appreciated if you could redo them for your more popular products, for example the 9018DAC and the UDA18, so that we have some consistent numbers and test methods to compare.

  25. Teddy says:

    I’m very excited about this project! I’ve been looking for a reasonably priced ES9038 implementation! I have a few questions — What regulators will you use for the various supply voltages? Also, what design/parts will you use for the output stage? Lastly, would an 8-channel version be available? I have a DSP which outputs 4 stereo pairs for a total of 8 SPDIF outputs, and I would love to have an ES9038PRO for all 8 channels.

  26. Rob says:

    To Vincent:
    The HAP-Z1 only takes flavors of Digital Input. A DAC is a Digital-to-Analogue converter. ( You knew that really ).
    So the process would be redundant even if HAPS-Z1 could take Analogue. May be you meant on the Output.
    Ideally SONY should have made it with Digital outputs so we could utilize there fabulous internal processing in other ways, say with a later/better DAC as this one.
    But with SONY they just love to be OTT about Digital rights.

    The boys at HIFIme have got there work cut out for them, as every potential component & link is a choke point for such a high performing DAC chip. Especially at a limited cost.
    Oh so wish it was Electrical SP-Diff.

  27. Rob says:

    To Vincent:
    The HAP-Z1 only takes flavors of Digital Input. A DAC is a Digital-to-Analogue converter. ( You knew that really ).
    So the process would be redundant even if HAPS-Z1 could take Analogue. May be you meant on the Output.
    Ideally SONY should have made it with Digital outputs so we could utilize there fabulous internal processing in other ways, say with a later/better DAC as this one.
    But with SONY they just love to be OTT about Digital rights.

    The boys at HIFIme have got there work cut out for them, as every potential component & link is a choke point for such a high performing DAC chip. Especially at a limited cost.
    Oh so wish it was Electrical SP-Diff.

  28. Vincent says:

    Is possible fix this DAC as external DAC into the Sony HAP-Z1ES. Very interesting in your inquiries about this matter. With the Hifime 9018D USB DAC it was not possible.

  29. Michael M says:

    Any idea when it’s going to be ready for sale? I can’t wait! Need a good DAC. Can you tell me your impressions of the tests? How does it sound?
    Regards to the Hifimediy from UK

  30. Rob says:

    HIFIme ! I totally get the difficulties of adding features for everyone’s setup requirements. It’s an impossible list. But some connections are so popular you think WHY DIDN’T YOU. Electrical SPDiff is that moment. Come on lad’s… get it sorted for us.

  31. Nile says:

    Another vote for a remote control for volume control. That would make this device perfect for going between an optical SPDIF output (like the TOSLINK output of my HD television) and my power amplifiers or powered speakers, eliminating the need for an A/V control unit.

  32. GG says:

    I would consider buying a higher end version of the HIFIMEDIY SABRE USB DAC 2. USB-in and RCA-line-level-out on the back, headphone-out and headphone-volume on the front. I do not buy DACs/amps that have no line-level output for speakers. The volume knob must ONLY control the headphones, not the back speaker output.

  33. Michael says:

    What I think would be a killer move is automatic upsampling. I see a major improvement in my files that are 44.1kHz just upsampled x2 times. The difference is day and night. However I can’t do that from my favourite player Accudio in iPhone. If it automatically upsampled music it would dramatically improve the sound of portable devices who don’t have such possibility or is rather poorly implemented.
    Such technology is used in gungnir multibit DAC which is a real killer but way too expensive.
    Please respond what are your thoughts.
    Thank you 🙂

  34. Rob says:

    Hey HIFIme ! I totally get the difficulties of adding features for everyone’s setup requirements.
    It’s an impossible list.
    But some connections are so popular you think WHY DIDN’T YOU.
    Electrical SPDiff is that moment. Come on lad’s… get it sorted for us.

  35. me says:

    +1 on socketed opamp chip. All opamps need to be socketed!

    Also, please have *fixed* line outs on the RCA — i.e. the volume knob has no effect on the output levels.

    Looking forward to this in November!

  36. Paul says:

    I hope this can accept a pure DSD input. I upsample all music files to DSD512 with HQPlayer, and my USB converter extracts the pure DSD stream – would love to plug this in.
    If XLRs are not going to be fitted – is there scope for DIY modding? My system is all balanced so I would never use RCA outputs.

  37. Andreas says:

    It’s great to hear that you’ll be adding RCA outputs to this DAC (although XLR would be even better). The main reason I’ve not purchased one of your ES9018 DACs in the past is the lack of RCA or XLR outputs.

    Could you please tell us how volume will be controlled on this DAC? Digitally through the DAC chip, or with some kind of analogue pot?

    Also, will the volume control apply to the RCA outputs? For use with studio monitors (which I assume will be the standard use for the RCA outputs on this DAC) some kind of volume control is essential.

    Thanks.

  38. Zeon says:

    I’m using UAE23HD with an headphone amplifier. One of the its advantages is I don’t need to find a USB cable and a power supply to make the sound better. With this upcoming flagship DAC, I feel like buying a good USB cable.

  39. Sarang says:

    Wonderful News!! That’s my wishlist come true. I’m hoping this will have ‘most’of the features of Oppo’s Sonica DAC, and offcourse, without the ‘snake oil’. Eagerly waiting for the knight in the shining armour!!

  40. HiFimeDIY says:

    @Vincent, RCA input do you mean digital coax input? That will probably not happen on this DAC.
    And about RCA to digital, that would require another device, as the ES9038PRO is a DAC not ADC chip.

  41. HiFimeDIY says:

    Thanks for the feedback guys !
    Yes we can add RCA output, there’s room for that on the front next to 3.5mm output. We won’t do XLR, there is no room on this smaller DAC. It could be an option if we later make a bigger size “desktop” model.

  42. David Powell says:

    Looking forward to seeing the final model and adding another DAC to my collection.

    However, you should also take a look at Schitt’s Fulla 2 form factor, as its size and big volume knob on top is perfect for that desktop usage scenario (no fiddling about with software volume controls or buttons, just dial it to exactly where you want it).

  43. Damien says:

    Yep, +1 for RCA, great enough not to be just a headphones DAC

    is there the voltage ref chip made by ESS for this dac chip ? It has sense to use that chip only if the pcb gnd and PS are very quiet…

  44. Andrew says:

    10 times more expensive, 10 times more power hungry, and for what? 140dB DR and -122dBm noise level?
    How is that even remotely practical?
    Not to mention in final product those values are much more theoretical than anything else.

  45. Stephan says:

    Amazing news. Balanced XLR would be a solution as using it as a high quality audio interface. However, the most important think is not the DAC but the loudspeakers or headphones. Looking forward in comparing it with existing DACs.

  46. Kaiser says:

    Been waiting for a ES9038 model from Hifimediy ever since I heard of the chip. Pretty much the reason I held back from upgrading my current DAC.

  47. AudioIsCool says:

    Would be really nice a similar product like SMSL Idea which works fine on android devices as a portable solution of this new lineup! Really expecting good things as always.

  48. Vincent says:

    IT would be great if the DAC could als by used as RCA line in to SPDIF out. Then I could make a didgital interlink of 5 meters between my pre amp and tube power amp.

  49. niko tomatsidis says:

    Looking forward to this one. I’m impressed with the DAC I already go from you. Would be nice if it was both Coax and Optical. My TV decoder and Android TV box only has optical out.

  50. Totoro says:

    Looking forward to this Dac, I’ve got two Dac’s from you guys and it’s been nothing but excellent! Your products are still going strong without any issues.

    Dare I say it, this could be a game changer considering your price to performance has been nothing short of excellent within your product range!

    Best of luck and will be “add to cart” when released.

  51. thunderdomme says:

    Great news!! I´m really looking forward for the release of this DAC, it looks very promising.

    I hope it can be ready to ship before the end of the year!

    Good job.

  52. Chris says:

    This sounds very promising! I’m still loving and regularly using your 9018d that is almost perfect (the only downside is that it is a bit too hissy with sensitive IEMs, however everything else is awesome) and affordable, too.

    I’m sure that if you can keep the hiss with super sensitive IEMs (very) low and if the output impedance is accordingly low as well, it could be a killer machine.

  53. Boris says:

    Can you make volume controllable by universal IR remote? And add optical input, also selectable by remote? With RCA output it could then be used to directly drive output stage amplifier, which would further improve sound and make system more affordable, by removing preamp.

  54. musiclover says:

    AHHH now your talking!! BUT it must have at very minimum RCA outputs but for this true audiophile grade chip XLR balanced outputs really should also be included to extract all the sweetness out of this chip for those who want to put this on the main sound system, this chip warrants ultimate respect. So guys make it flexible enough for both computer & audiophiles

  55. Kiwi says:

    Thanks for keeping up to date. Support for native dsd256 or even dsd512 which is within the capabilities of the chip would be much appreciated. Also rca outputs would be a must. And what about a built in battery charged from the USB as per the ifi idsd micro.

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